Time heals nothing – not for the Grimmer brothers.
The men were boys when their little sister Cheryl vanished from a crowded Illawarra beach more than 46 years ago.
They endured seeing their father, then their mother, die without knowing what became of Cheryl.
For eldest brother Ricki Grimmer, the pain of his sister’s disappearance has never dulled, nor has his sense of guilt.
He was seven years old and following his mother’s instructions when he accompanied Cheryl, 3, and brother Stephen, 5, to the men's changing sheds at Fairy Meadow Beach the afternoon of January 12, 1970.
Cheeky Cheryl wouldn’t come with the boys when it was time to go back to their mother. In the moments it took to report her playful disobedience, the little girl had vanished.
Flanked by his brothers, Ricki returned to the site of Cheryl’s vanishing on Monday, as part of a fresh police appeal for information into the case.
He was overcome with emotion.
“The decisions I made on the day were wrong,” he told reporters.
“It’s been with me all my life; I just want it over with.
“I shouldn’t have left …”
“Everybody says, ‘it’s not your fault’. Come and stand where I’m standing. See what it feels like.”
Police have indicated they are closing in on the man responsible for Cheryl’s abduction and presumed murder, following a recent review into the case.
The Grimmer brothers remain desperate for answers.
“Just let us know where she is,” Ricki Grimmer said.
“Give us something that we can go and mourn.”
Stephen Grimmer welcomed the renewed police interest in the case.
He hopes the technology available to modern-day investigators will generate leads that were not available to the police of earlier decades.
Cheryl’s birthday is a particularly difficult date for the brothers to bear.
And the absent sister is always missed at family events.
“You’ll be having a family barbecue and she’s not there with her kids or her husband,” Stephen said.
“My kids, Rick’s and Paul’s kids know that there would have been an aunt out there.
“It’s always at the back of your mind.”
LITTLE GIRL LOST AS BEACH CROWD SCATTERED
January 12, 1970, was a scorcher.
As the temperature approached 38 degrees, Carole Grimmer took her four children – Ricki, Stephen, Paul and three-year-old Cheryl - to Fairy Meadow Beach for cool respite.
The water and the sand were crowded. But when a strong southerly hit, about 2pm, everyone wanted to leave at once.
Somewhere in the dispersing crowd, little blonde Cheryl was lost - and a 46-year-old mystery was born.
The Grimmers – parents Vince and Carole and the four children – had emigrated to the Illawarra from Bristol, England in the spring of 1968 and become residents of Fairy Meadow Migrant Hostel.
It was Mrs Grimmer’s habit to take her children to the beach while her husband, a sapper in the Army, commuted to and from Penrith.
Cheryl was wearing a royal blue, one-piece swimming costume as she followed Ricky, 7, and Stephen, 5, to the men’s showers the afternoon of January 12, 1970.
Cheryl emerged wrapped in a white towel, with her swimsuit draped over her arm. The towel would later be puzzled over by investigating police, because it had not belonged to the Grimmers.
Cheryl had a drink at the bubblers before returning to the sheds and refusing to come out, the boys reported to their mother.
There was no sign of Cheryl moments later when Mrs Grimmer returned to the sheds – or ever since.
In May, 2011, a coroner ruled Cheryl had died some time after her appearance, of unknown causes.
That same year, Mrs Grimmer told the Mercury she believed Cheryl was still alive. “It’s not just a mother’s hope, it’s a knowing,” she said.
The case was referred to the Unsolved Homicide Team, for review.