Fairy Meadow beach and toilet block today. Picture: Stephen Cooper
Cheryl and her brothers Cheryl with her father Vince
A composite image assembled by Police depicting how Cheryl may have looked in 2003, when she was 37.
The NSW Government has increased a reward to $1 million for information into the abduction and suspected murder of Cheryl Grimmer five decades ago.
Cheryl Gene Grimmer, then aged three, was kidnapped outside the change sheds at Fairy Meadow Beach on Monday 12 January 1970, where she was spending the day with her mother and three brothers.
Despite extensive searches at the time and over the years, she has never been found.
A Coronial Inquest conducted in 2011 found Cheryl had died but her cause and manner of death remained undetermined. Her body has not been located.
The Coroner recommended the investigation be referred to police for future investigation.
In 2012, a re-investigation was conducted by Wollongong Police District under Strike Force Wessel.
Following a major crime review late last year, the case will be moved to the Homicide Squad’s Unsolved Homicide Unit for potential further re-investigation.
In acknowledgement of today’s 50-year anniversary, the NSW Government has increased the reward for information which leads to the arrest and conviction of those responsible to $1 million.
Homicide Squad Commander, Detective Superintendent Daniel Doherty, said detectives would welcome any information from the community that may help provide answers to Cheryl’s family.
“By offering the highest value NSW Government reward five decades after Cheryl disappeared, we are appealing to those people who know something but have not previously been inclined to assist police,” Det Supt Doherty.
“Witnesses at the time reported seeing an unknown male carrying Cheryl towards the car park 50-years ago today but there has been no trace of her ever since.
“We welcome any information that may assist the investigation. There are now a million reasons to come forward.”
Cheryl’s brother, Ricki Nash, said the Grimmer family are hopeful the reward will help close the case.
“There are no words to describe the pain of losing a sister and the impact Cheryl’s disappearance has had on our entire family,” he said.
“Every day we are reminded of the tragic way she was taken from us and we hope this reward is what is needed to bring justice for Cheryl.”
Anyone with information that may assist Strike Force Wessel investigators is urged to contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000 or https://nsw.crimestoppers.com.au. Information is treated in strict confidence. The public is reminded not to report crime via NSW Police social media pages.
Cheryl, who disappeared from Fairy Meadow Beach almost 40 years ago, had a medical condition that made her bellybutton protrude about 10mm.
If she was abducted and raised with another family - one theory that was investigated - she would still be carrying this physical feature or would have had it removed.
It is a vital fact about the case that was published only once but never repeated.
With the launch of National Missing Persons Week tomorrow, Wollongong detectives are preparing a report for the NSW Coroner on Cheryl's case that may finally put it to rest.
Cheryl's brother, Stephen, 45, of Mount St Thomas, said his family was hoping a vital clue would emerge beforehand.
Mr Grimmer was just five years old when, on January 12, 1970, he and his elder brother, Ricky, and three-year-old sister Cheryl, went to the dressing-shed at Fairy Meadow Beach.
Within minutes the little girl had disappeared, launching one of the nation's biggest manhunts.
Despite intensive investigations over the years, not a single clue on her fate has been found.
Mr Grimmer said the torment suffered by his family had been immense.
He was extra vigilant with the safety of his own children - Jade, 10, and Aiden, 3 - and checked public amenities blocks with almost obsessive compulsion, making sure the buildings were clear of predators.
"I watch my children like a hawk," he said this week.
"Going to the beach, riding a bike - they are never out of my sight."
Mr Grimmer said he had little recollection about his sister's disappearance, or the intense investigation and media frenzy that followed.
"I just remember standing outside the dressing-shed with my older brother, waiting for my sister," he said.
The sensation surrounding the case eventually died down, only to resurface over the years when new policing technology emerged.
In 2003, police used photographs of Stephen, who is similar in appearance to his blue-eyed, fair-haired sister, to compile a computer image of what she might look like at the age of 37.
With the advent of DNA technology, he provided his DNA to the NSW Police database.
After 40 years, Mr Grimmer said his sister was always at the back of his mind, especially as his son is now the same age as Cheryl was when she disappeared, and bears a strong resemblance to his dad.
"I take the young bloke to the playground at the lagoon there, and look across Puckey's Estate and it makes me think. My mind goes back."
Wollongong detectives are investigating the sighting of a child matching the three-year-old's description, six months after she disappeared from Fairy Meadow beach on January 12, 1970.
If the claim proves correct, it would mean Cheryl might still be alive.
Cheryl disappeared after attending the men's amenities shed with her brothers Ricky and Stephen, following a day at the beach.
After the story of Cheryl's disappearance was recounted in the Mercury on August 1, the newspaper was contacted by a 79-year-old Windang man who was adamant he saw Cheryl on Windang Beach in the winter of 1970.
The man, who asked not to be named, said the sighting had haunted him for 39 years.
''I tried twice to tell police. The second time I was told the case was too old and to just forget it,'' he said.
The man said he was with his four-year-old daughter on the beach in June or July of 1970 when a little blonde girl approached them.
''A cold westerly wind was blowing and this little girl came from nowhere. She was a blonde girl with a fringe, exactly the same as what was in the paper.
''She was wearing a pair of black school shoes with no laces in them. She had the same chubby legs.
''She was more interested in our dog than she was in us. I thought, 'what would she be doing running around by herself?'
''I asked her, 'How are you?' She just looked at me and ran off.
''I followed her back to the caravan park.
''She went into this bus where two dark people were, they were Portuguese or something and I thought, 'how could they have a little girl that fair?'''
Despite living at Windang since the 1950s, the 79-year-old said he did not connect the youngster on the beach with the Grimmer case.
''About five years later the Mercury put out a photo of Cheryl with her father and when I saw it I said 'that's the little girl from the beach'.''
The man said he reported the sighting to police, but baulked after being asked why he had not reported the information sooner.
''I thought I was interfering with somebody's life. They might have been a legal family so I left it.''
Another Mercury article in 1980 prompted the man to contact a detective who was a family friend.
''He said he would pass the information on. A couple of days later he said, 'Just forget about it, it's gone on too long'.
''But I've been unable to forget about it.
''I've worried all this time that it was her.''
The man described the vehicle in which the child entered as a newly reconditioned early model school bus that was about 6m in length.
It had a dark blue body, black mud guards and black roof and ''brilliant'' white wheels.
''Somebody must have seen those two people with a blonde girl, if not at Windang then elsewhere moving around in that bus.''
The man's sighting has some correlation with Cheryl's disappearance, when a dark skinned man was also reported carrying a small blonde girl wrapped in a blanket leaving the Fairy Meadow surf club amenities block.
Wollongong Detective Senior Sergeant Brad Ainsworth said the man's claim was being looked into.
He said if police believed it held substance, it would be included in a report to the NSW Coroner.
''The report is 95 per cent complete and the coroner will make a directive based on the information provided in the report,'' he said.
Cheryl's brother Stephen, 45, of Mt St Thomas, said he would let the detectives decide what to do.
''It's been so long,'' he said.
THE cheeky smile on Cheryl Grimmer’s face as she stood in the doorway of the beach toilet block nearly 47 years ago, refusing to come out, is etched forever in the memory of her oldest brother Ricki.
It was about 1.30pm on a boiling hot January day at Fairy Meadow beach near Wollongong.
Mum-of-four Carole had told Ricki to take his two brothers — Stephen, 5, and Paul, 4 — and his three-year-old baby sister Cheryl to change out of their wet swimmers in the nearby block.
Carole was just metres away on the sand when Ricki went to ask for her help to get Cheryl out of the toilets.
It took just 30 seconds, but by the time they got back to the block Cheryl was gone, never to be seen again.
“I can still see her standing in the doorway, saying she wouldn’t come out, and I said ‘I’d better go get mum so she can get you out’ and she was laughing,” Mr Nash, 54, who changed his name due to the publicity and for other personal reasons, recalls.
“It’s something our family has had to put up with for over 40 years. I think it put both my parents in early graves.
“Hopefully, this new investigation gives us some kind of resolution. I don’t want to blame the past for never dealing with it, but it probably caused my marriage breakup.”