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Jane Nartare (aged 9), Arnna Kathleen (aged 7), and Grant Ellis Beaumont (aged 4) were three siblings who disappeared without a trace from a beach near Adelaide, Australia in 1966. Known collectively as The Beaumont Children, their case resulted in the largest police investigation in Australian criminal history but remains officially unsolved.
The huge attention given to this case, its significance in Australian criminal history, and the fact that the mystery of their disappearance has never been explained, has led to the story being revisited by the press on a regular basis, with the result that it has started to pass into Australian folklore. It is also viewed by many social commentators as a significant event in the evolution of Australian society, with a large number of people changing the way they supervised their children on a daily basis.
Background to the children's disappearance
The children lived with their parents Jim and Nancy Beaumont in Harding Street, Somerton Park, a suburb of Adelaide. Not far from their home was Glenelg, a popular beach suburb, which the children often visited. On Australia Day, January 26 1966, a hot summer day, the children took a five minute bus journey from their home to the beach. Jane, the eldest child, was considered responsible enough to care for the two younger children and their parents were not concerned. They left home at 10.30 am and were expected to return home by noon. Their mother became worried when by 3 pm they had still not returned.
Police investigating the case found several witnesses who had seen the children near the beach, in the company of a lone male adult, described as being tall, with blond hair, and in his mid-thirties. The children were playing with him, and appeared relaxed and to be enjoying themselves. The man and the children were seen walking away from the beach at 11.00 am. A shopkeeper reported Jane Beaumont had bought cakes with a one pound note shortly after this. Police viewed this as further evidence that they had been with another person, for two reasons. Firstly the shopkeeper knew the children well from previous visits, and on this occasion they made their customary purchase, plus an additional item, a meat pie. Secondly Mrs Beaumont had given the children only enough coins for their bus fare and food, but had not given them a one pound note, therefore leading police to believe it had been given to them by another person, who did not enter the shop with them. At approximately 3 pm the children were seen walking alone, away from the beach, along Jetty Road, in the general direction of their home. The witness, a local postman, knew the children well, and his statement was regarded as factual. He said the children had stopped to say hello to him, and seemed cheerful. Police could not determine why the reliable children, already three hours late, were strolling alone and seemingly unconcerned. This was the last confirmed sighting of the children.
Mr and Mrs Beaumont did not know who the man might have been. They described their children, particularly Jane, as shy. For them to be playing so confidently with a stranger seemed out of character. Investigators theorised that the children had perhaps met the man during a previous visit or visits and had grown to trust him.
Several months later a woman reported that on the night of the disappearance a man, accompanied by two girls and a boy entered a neighbouring house which she had believed empty. Later she had seen the boy walking alone along a lane where he was pursued and roughly caught by the man. The following morning the house appeared to be deserted again, and she never saw either the man or the children again. Police could not establish why she had failed to provide this information earlier. Sightings of the children were reported for about one year but many of them were regarded as false by police.
The case attracted widespread attention in Australia and caused a change in the lifestyle of many people. Parents were confronted with the reality that their children could not be assumed to be safe, while earlier generations had routinely allowed their children the same freedoms the Beaumont children had enjoyed. The case also attracted international attention, and a parapsychologist from the Netherlands named Gerard Croiset was brought to Australia. This resulted in a media frenzy; however, his story changed from day to day, and did not offer any clues. He identified a site near the children's home (and also near the Paringa Park Primary School attended by Jane and Arnna) in which he believed the children's bodies had been buried. At the time of their disappearance it had been a building site, and he stated that he believed their bodies to be buried under new concrete, inside the remains of an old brick kiln. The owners of the property were reluctant to excavate the site on the basis of a pyschic's claim, however his claims were well publicised and the owners soon bowed to public pressure and allowed a thorough search of the area indicated by Croiset. No remains, or any evidence linking to any of the Beaumont family were found. Police established that between the three children they were carrying seventeen individual items, including articles of clothing, towels, and bags, however none of these items were ever found.
In 1996, the building identified by Croiset was undergoing partial demolition and the owners allowed for a full search of the site. Once again no trace was found of the children, but it was a strong demonstration of the level of commitment to explore every possibility which existed even thirty years after the disappearance.
About two years after the disappearance, the Beaumont parents received two letters supposedly written by Jane, and another by a man who said he was keeping the children. The envelopes showed a postmark of Dandenong, Victoria. The brief notes describe a relatively pleasant existence and refer to "The Man" who was keeping them. Police believed at the time that the letters could quite likely have been authentic after comparing to other letters written by Jane. The letter from "The Man" said that he had appointed himself "guardian" of the children and was willing to hand them back to their parents. In the letter a meeting place was nominated. Mr and Mrs Beaumont, followed by a detective drove to the designated place but nobody appeared. It was some time later that the second letter purported to be from Jane, arrived. It said that the man had been willing to return them, but when he realised a disguised detective was also there, he decided that the Beaumonts had betrayed his trust, and that he would keep the children. There were no further letters. Some twenty-five years later, new forensic examinations of these letters proved that they were a hoax. Fingerprint technology had improved and the author of the letters was identified as a 41-year-old man who had been a teenager at the time. He had written the letters as a joke. Due to the time that had elapsed, he was not charged.
The Beaumonts received a huge amount of sympathy from the Australian public for the fact that they lost their entire family in such a manner. It was never suggested that the children should not have been allowed to travel unsupervised, or that Mrs Beaumont was in any way negligent as a parent, simply because at that time in Australian society it was taken for granted that it was safe and acceptable.
They remained at their Somerton Park home for many years. Mrs Beaumont in particular held hope that the children would return and stated in interviews that it would be "dreadful", if the children returned home and did not find their parents waiting for them. Over many years, as new leads and new theories emerged, the Beaumonts fully cooperated in exploring every possibility, whether it was claims that the children had been abducted by a religious cult and were living variously in New Zealand, Melbourne or Tasmania, or some clue that suggested a possible burial site for the children. Every search for their bodies failed to provide any further information. In recent years, the couple has sold the home and moved away, and while the case remains open, the South Australian Police Force remains informed of the couple's address. They are reported to have accepted that the truth may never be discovered, and have resolved to live their final years away from the public attention that followed them for decades.
Other cases and a possible solution
In 1973 two children, Joanne Ratcliffe (aged 11) and Kirsty Gordon (aged 4) disappeared from the Adelaide Football Oval during a football match. Their parents had allowed the two girls to leave their group to go to the toilet. They were seen several times in the 90 minutes after leaving the oval, seemingly distressed and in the company of an unknown man, but then they vanished. They have not been seen since.
In 1979, the body of a young man was found in Adelaide. Identified as Neil Muir (aged 25), his body was badly mutilated. In 1982, the mutilated body of Mark Langley (aged 18) was found. Before his death, he had been subjected to "surgery" — his abdomen was sliced open, and had been shaved prior to this. Part of his bowel had been removed and Langley had died from loss of blood. Over the next few months more bodies were found. The dismembered skeletal remains of Peter Stogneff (aged 14) were found almost a year after his disappearance and Alan Barnes (aged 18) was found mutilated in a similar manner to Langley. In 1983 a fifth victim Richard Kelvin (aged 15) was found, once again with the same mutilations.
Investigations led police to a 37 year old accountant Bevan Spencer Von Einem. Witnesses began to come forward, many claiming to be in fear for their lives and telling of a secret society of highly placed Adelaide professional men who preyed on boys and young men, by drugging, raping and sometimes killing them. Von Einem was charged with the murder of Richard Kelvin only.
One of the witnesses, regarded as highly credible by police due to the accurate information he had provided about Von Einem and the killings, related a conversation between himself and Von Einem. Von Einem boasted of having taken three children from a beach several years earlier, and said he had taken them home to conduct experiments. He said he had performed surgery on each of them, and had "connected them together". One of the children had died during the procedure and so he had killed the other two and dumped all the bodies in bushland south of Adelaide. Police had not considered Von Einem in connection with the Beaumont Children, but he very closely matched the descriptions and police sketches from 1966. Furthermore he was known to have frequented Glenelg Beach and to have been fond of children. The reference to surgical experimentation also corresponded to the coroner's reports on several of the murdered men. Von Einem also told the witness that he had taken two girls from the Adelaide Oval during a football match. He said he had killed them but did not elaborate.
Von Einem received a life sentence for the murder of Richard Kelvin, and is assumed to have been involved in the deaths of the other young men. No accomplices were ever charged. He has refused to co-operate with investigators since his arrest, and although attempts have been made to interview Von Einem about his possible connection to other murders, he has maintained his silence.
The cases of the Beaumont Children and of Joanne Ratcliffe and Kirsty Gordon remain open, though many investigators believe that Von Einem was responsible for their deaths also.
Another suspect was named in 1998 as Arthur Stanley Brown. Then 86, he was charged with the murder of the Mackay sisters in Townsville, Queensland. They disappeared while on way to school on 26 August 1970.
When Brown was charged it was noted that he bore a similarity to the suspect in the Beaumont children and Adelaide Oval cases. Nothing could be proved, however, and Brown's trial did not reach a verdict. He was never retried as he was considered to have deteriorated too much mentally. He died in 2002, officially an innocent man. Along with Von Eimem, he is considered to be the best suspect for the Beaumont children abduction.
- Kidd, Paul B. The Missing Beaumont Children. CrimeLibrary.com.
The Beaumont Children. beaumontchildren.com.
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