The three children vanished more than 50 years ago in one of the nation’s most haunting mysteries, but former South Australian detective Bill Hayes hasn’t let go of the Beaumont case.
Hayes, who collaborated with the Seven News investigation, The Beaumont Children: What Really Happened, tells WHO he is confident a former factory owner named Harry Phipps abducted and murdered the children.
“I tried really hard to put holes in the theory,” he says. “I’m convinced he is the one.”
On Jan. 23 police announced they will soon begin an excavation on the grounds of an Adelaide factory once owned by Phipps, an alleged paedophile who is believed to have asked two brothers to dig a hole on the factory grounds in the days after the siblings vanished.
Through a joint investigation by SA Police, Seven News and Adelaide’s Flinders University, authorities believe they may have located the site of the hole, after uncovering a “significant anomaly” beneath the surface of the factory site.
“The job is to find them,” says Hayes of the children—Jane, 9, Arnna, 7, and Grant, 4—who had spent the morning at Adelaide’s Glenelg Beach on Jan. 26, 1966, never to return home to their parents, Nancy and Jim. “Their parents deserve to know. We believe they deserve answers.”
WHO investigates the latest search for answers in one of Australia’s most enduring cold cases.
WHO IS HARRY PHIPPS?
Phipps was a married father and wealthy businessman who operated the Castalloy factory in North Plympton, Adelaide, 4km from Glenelg Beach. According to the 2013 book The Satin Man, by Alan Whiticker and Stuart Mullins, Phipps, who was tall, slim and had blond hair, was allegedly a sexual predator who had a fetish for wearing satin clothing. Former detective Hayes, who now runs a private investigation company, worked with the authors of the book. “We found out a lot of information about Phipps—especially about his sexual deviances,” Hayes tells WHO. “He was a vicious paedophile with a strong fetish that he protected.” He died in 2004.
HOW IS HE LINKED TO THE CASE?
Phipps’ son Warwick (not his real name), who told the authors he had been sexually abused by his father throughout his childhood, said he saw three children come into the backyard at his family home on the day of the siblings’ disappearance. “The oldest one had a shoulder bag, a type of carry bag,” he said. (Jane Beaumont had left home with a blue shoulder bag.) The children then went inside the house and later Warwick saw his father drive away in his car. When Warwick went inside the home the children were no longer there.
HAS PHIPPS’S FACTORY BEEN INVESTIGATED BEFORE?
Yes. Following the release of The Satin Man, two brothers, now in their 60s, came forward to reveal they had dug a deep hole for a man, believed to be Phipps, at the factory site three days after the Beaumonts disappeared. The information led to an excavation in 2013. However, the dig “was in the wrong place,” says Hayes. “It wasn’t anyone’s fault, it was that the geography had changed. When we saw the aerial photos we knew we’d dug in the wrong place.”
HOW DID POLICE LOCATE THE CURRENT DIGGING SITE?
Through the Seven Network for their special report, experts from Flinders University were brought in to investigate the area using underground probes. Forensic scientist and criminologist Xanthé Mallett, who is part of the investigation team, tells WHO the technology has uncovered “an area of disturbed earth,” she says. “It’s about a metre wide, two metres long and two metres deep—about the size of a grave.”
WAS PHIPPS EVER A SUSPECT?
“He was never questioned, never a suspect,” says Hayes of Phipps, who is now considered a person of interest in the case. “He had two personas—he had the public paragon-of-the-community persona and then there was the dark side that he hid from the world.”
WHAT IS KNOWN OF THE SIBLINGS’ MOVEMENTS THAT DAY?
After Nancy waved off her children from the gate of her home in Somerton Park, Adelaide, the Beaumonts caught a bus to Glenelg Beach, 3km away, where witnesses would later see them “playing” with a tall, blond man. He was later seen helping them put their shorts on over their bathers. The kids were also seen at a nearby bakery where they bought lunch using a £1 note, despite Nancy giving Jane only eight shillings and sixpence (Phipps was known to hand out pound notes, including to the brothers who dug the hole).
ARE AUTHORITIES CONFIDENT THIS IS A BURIAL SITE?
“We don’t know what we will find,” said SA Police’s Superintendent Des Bray, who is heading the investigation. Regardless, “I think this is the best suspect I’ve ever seen,” says Mallett, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle. “I’ve done the walk from his house, to the beach, to the factory. It’s a perfect triangle.” Both Mallett and Hayes hope the dig provides answers for Jim, 92, and Nancy, 90, who are now divorced and live in care. “Can you imagine these three kids, whatever happened to them would not have been good,” says Mallett. “If we can find them and bring them home, give them a proper burial, it would be incredible. We need to find these kids.”
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This article originally appeared on WHO.