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The Case of William Tyrrell: An Investigator’s Perspective

The Case of William Tyrrell: An Investigator’s Perspective


The Background

On the 11th of September 2014, William Tyrrell, in the company of his foster parents and his older sister, journeyed from Sydney to Kendall, NSW. The purpose of the visit was to see William’s foster grandmother, whose house sat directly across from the Kendall State Forest.

On the day after their arrival, at about 10 – 10:30 am, William (aged 3) was playing hide and seek outside with his sister while his mother and grandmother supervised them. His mother left them briefly to make herself a drink inside, but began to worry after William hadn’t made any noise for several minutes. At close to 11am on the same day, emergency services were called and the boy was reported missing. Thus began the lengthy and unfruitful search for William Tyrrell.

Initially, hundreds of emergency service members and members of the public were involved in the search for William. In addition, the police deployed specialist resources to the area like ‘Strike Force Rosann’, a group of specially trained investigators with experience working cases of unexplained disappearances of young children using K9 detention dogs. Despite all this, within the first 5 days, police could not produce any leads.

Investigations were then shifted to focus on suspicious cars seen parked on the road leading to the residence where William had disappeared. The cars, which were also noticed by William’s mother, were unknown to the closely-knit community and had not been seen since the young boy disappeared. Struggling to find any logic as to why these two cars would be parked on the street before William vanished, police began to view these vehicles as suspicious. At around the same time that the children were riding bicycles, a green or grey sedan drove by the Tyrrell home, did a U-turn and exited the street. At about the time William disappeared, another vehicle was seen driving along the street and later that same day, the same vehicle was seen speeding down another street nearby.

After clearing the Tyrrell family of any involvement in William’s disappearance, the police began to believe that he was most likely abducted by an opportunistic paedophile or one linked to a paedophile ring. This wasn’t too far-fetched as, at the time of his disappearance, there were approximately 20 registered sex offenders residing in the surrounding area. Based on this information, focus was then shifted to two individuals. The family of one of these paedophiles told police that he said he was going to visit another sex offender on the day of the disappearance. However, his story differed when the police contacted him. The reason for suspicion regarding the men was that they lived within the area and had cars matching those seen earlier on that day. Despite this circumstantial evidence, both have denied playing any part in the disappearance.

The Tyrrells’ washing machine had also been repaired by a man who has been facing child sex offences. In an online video posted in September 2015, the man denied all involvement saying that he had only visited the house on the 9th and 18th of September, not on the 12th.

As is often the case with a story like this, there have been a vast number of suspected sightings of William over the years. All in all, there have been approximately 1100 to date with 2 being worthy of note; a photo of a boy who looked very similar to William and another photo of a young boy and woman who looked strikingly similar to William and his grandmother. After some investigation, the police ruled out both leads. In addition, a record number of phone calls have been received by New South Wales Crime Stoppers. Over 600 people have been interviewed as persons of interest so far, raising the likelihood that detectives may have already interviewed the person(s) involved.

There is currently a $1 million reward for any useful information about the case as was announced by the New South Wales government in 2016. This is significant as it represents the largest ever award offered to find a missing person in New South Wales history.

Despite all efforts, police have so far been unable to determine what happened to William. The police are treating the case as though William is still alive, and it will remain this way until definitive evidence to the contrary is discovered.


The Investigator’s Perspective

From a strictly investigative point of view, any evidence that is indisputable is of greater value than all the circumstantial evidence one can muster. Firstly, establish what is certain (or as certain as it can be, if one is working with secondary sources) and then work outwards, always considering any other possible findings in light of what is certain while testing for inconsistencies.

The evidence considered by the police to be indisputable here is the fact that William went missing from the house of his foster grandmother. Little else is known for sure. So, what does one do with this limited knowledge?

One of the great fictional criminals, Hannibal Lecter from Silence of the Lambs, gives us perhaps the best guidance. “Of each particular thing, ask what is it in itself? What is its nature?” In the course of conducting some basic online research about the case, it’s possible to identify the address from which William went missing. One should immediately notice “its nature.” It is an address in what is effectively a long, dead end street, just outside of a small town nestled by the Pacific Hwy on the Mid-North Coast of NSW. One does not need to be a traffic engineer to know that the volume of traffic in this street would be low. One cannot see the house from the nearest cross street that feeds the only source of traffic into the subject street.

Contrast this with, for example, the infamous abduction of Richard Kelvin by Bevan Spencer von Einem in North Adelaide in the 1980s. The location of this abduction (available on Wikipedia ) was in a comparatively higher-volume traffic area, in a back street close to busier thoroughfares forming part of a grid pattern street system. This could be said to have been an “opportunistic” abduction in that it appears the perpetrator/s did not target Kelvin in advance, he was simply grabbed because he was seen alone. Von Einem, and perhaps others, were no doubt looking for a victim but it is unlikely they were monitoring Kelvin.

The use of the word opportunist or opportunistic is problematic in relation to the abduction of William Tyrrell. Opportunistic implies that the perpetrator/s seized an opportunity that presented itself without an emphasis on planning. Ask yourself, what is the likelihood that a serious criminal or criminals (a small percentage of the population) would be driving down the end of a long, quiet dead end street in regional NSW on the morning of a weekday, twiddling their thumbs and hoping for an opportunity to present itself, the perfect opportunity then immediately presenting itself and being taken advantage of flawlessly.

No – this was planned. Almost any serious crime that remains unsolved was planned and probably planned well. Close to 90% of homicide cases, one of the most impulsive crimes, are solved by detectives. It’s not just the execution of the act that must go off without a hitch, it’s the management of the aftermath, whatever that might entail. It was the discovery of Richard Kelvin’s body that ultimately led investigators to von Einem in that earlier case. There is no body in the Tyrrell case and no understanding as to whether he remains alive

The nature of the crime, the location and the lack of any resolution leads us to form the untested opinion that this was not an impulsive act and had been planned, at the absolute minimum, from the day prior to the abduction, when William arrived in Kendall. Someone in the street, or someone who had visited the street or seen William arriving in Kendall helped plan the abduction or carried out the abduction him or herself. This narrows the number of those under suspicion however it is still a long list to examine – neighbours, friends, relatives, tradesmen, maintenance workers, engineers, door knockers, etc. The other possible inference we can draw from the effectiveness of the abduction is that this might not be the work of a paedophile. It might, for example, be a child abduction by someone who wanted to give William a home.