Nancy’s life was one of heartbreak and sadness, says Michael Madigan, the author of the book The Missing Beaumont Children: 50 Years of Mystery and Misery.
“No-one can ever imagine the torment that wonderful woman went through – she had to endure a heartache that can’t be imagined,” says Michael. “To lose all three children at once in those circumstances, and then to spend a life hoping that one day they will return, is just mind-blowing. Despite her years of hope, she died without ever finding out what happened.”
Nancy died in an Adelaide nursing home, survived by her former husband Jim, now aged in his 90s. Such was the strain of the children’s disappearance, the couple separated in the 1980s and later divorced.
Neither had any more children.
The children’s disappearance remains the longest-running missing persons case in Australian history. The three siblings – Jane, 9, Arnna, 7, and Grant, 4 ‒ left the family home in Somerton Park and boarded a bus to Glenelg at 9.45am on January 26. They were due home on the midday bus, but never returned.
There were numerous sightings throughout that morning of the children on their way to the beach, at the foreshore and at a cake shop. After that, they were never seen again. A search involving police, detectives and volunteers scoured the area, but no trace of them was found.
Over the years, a range of theories emerged, including that they were accidentally buried alive while playing in the sand hills, had been lured into a satanic cult, or were abducted by a paedophile. Months after their disappearance, Dutch clairvoyant Gerard Croiset travelled to Adelaide, and declared the children had been buried inside an old brick kiln. Despite a thorough search, they were never found.
Most tragic of all, however, were the theories that Nancy was the one responsible.
“People would come up to her and abuse her, accusing her of having something to do with the disappearance, and that would have been so very traumatic for her,” says Michael. “She lived a very tough life after that. She was a strong woman, but after all of that, she did her best to avoid the public eye.”
Never giving up hope, Nancy and Jim said they wanted to remain in their home just in case the children returned one day. Some reports said Nancy would lay a place for them at the table, hoping they might make it home in time for dinner. As various new leads and theories emerged over the years, the Beaumonts cooperated in exploring every possibility, even though each one lead to nothing. The case again made headlines in 2013 and 2018, when sections of an Adelaide factory was dug up by police, after claims the children had been buried under concrete. Both times, the exploration failed to find any new evidence.
“A friend of mine Paul went over (to Nancy’s house) just to make sure that she was OK,” recalls Michael. “She said to him, ‘I’ve been through so much – nothing can hurt me anymore’. She had such a strong armour.”
Of the many suspects and scenarios over the years, Michael believes convicted killer Dieter Pfennig, responsible for the 1983 murder of Adelaide schoolgirl Louise Bell, is a person of interest in the case.
“I have a new book coming out about him, and as he would have been 18 at the time of the Beaumont children going missing and there are a few other coincidences. I believe he needs to be looked at,” says Michael. “But, I doubt this case will ever be solved unless you have a bedside confession from someone. As the years go on, the chance of that becomes less.”
The SA government maintains a $1 million reward for information relating to the children’s disappearance.