Her disappearance sparked a manhunt across the Illawarra and has remained a mystery for 47 years, but police now believe three-year-old Cheryl Grimmer died within an hour of being taken from Fairy Meadow beach.
Speaking outside Wollongong police station after a 63-year-old man was arrested for the toddler’s murder Detective Inspector Brad Ainsworth said police would allege her death occurred within “an hour of so” of being taken.
He could not go into specifics of the police case before the man appears in Wollongong court on Friday, but said details of the offence we “quite horrific”.
Despite the breakthrough arrest, Det Insp Ainsworth indicated the little girl’s body was unlikely to ever be found, as the area where she went missing has been redeveloped into residential housing.
The police chief praised the work of the local detective who cracked open the case after 50 years.
He agreed the arrest – which is the oldest cold case arrest made in Australia – was a big moment in policing. He said the work of Damien Loone, Constable Frank Sanvitale and Craig Barrass, who began reexamining details of the case last year, was a fantastic accomplishment.
“We’ve had the luxury of being able to dedicate two to three detectives to this investigation, and it’s borne fruit,” he said.
“It’s a fantastic accomplishment thus far, obviously the end result is what we’re looking for, it’s got to go before the court, and as we all know that’s a different jurisdiction.”
Det Insp Ainsworth confirmed the man who has been arrested – who was 16 at the time of his alleged crime and can not be named – had been interviewed by police 18 months after Cheryl’s disappearance.
“I’m not here to criticise for one moment any investigation that was carried out back then,” he said.
“But yes, he was one of many persons of interest that were interviewed at the time and as it’s turned out, yes, he has been spoken with. And now he has been arrested.”
“But in saying that, the investigation and the whole ordeal moves into another sphere now it moves into the court process. It’s not going to be resolved for some time,” Det Insp Ainsworth said.