One hot day in January, three-year-old Cheryl Grimmer walked back into a change room at Fairy Meadow Surf Club – and disappeared.
On Monday January 12, 1970, Cheryl and her family – mother Carole and brothers Stephen, Paul and Ricki (father Vince was away on army duty) – headed to Fairy Meadow Beach.
Shortly before 2pm Carole sent the children to the change rooms to get ready to leave.
Ricki saw his sister come out of the sheds and then back inside. He went to tell his mother she wouldn’t come out.
But Cheryl wasn’t there. Cheryl was gone.
A search of the area by bystanders uncovered nothing.
There was no phone at the surf club so Carole had to walk to a house on Elliotts Road and ask them to call the police.
The day after her disappearance, police announced they had four theories as to what had happened.
Perhaps she was hiding and had fallen asleep, she had wandered off into the surf or fallen into one of nearby waterways.
The final option was the one everyone dreaded – that she had been enticed into a car and taken away.
Two days later, that horrible possibility was the only police were left with.
Police chased up plenty of leads – from a blue Kombi seen near the sheds to a ransom note saying Cheryl was unharmed but the writer would kidnap another child if he wasn’t paid $10,000.
The letter was treated seriously but the writer never showed at a meeting and never contacted police again.
Slowly but surely, the case began to go cold.
But no one in Wollongong ever forgot about little Cheryl Grimmer.
In 2011, attention was refocused on the girl’s disappearance, when a coroner formally ruled Cheryl was dead and recommended the NSW Police Force’s cold case squad look into it.
A year later, a $100,000 reward was offered to help find out what happened to Cheryl but the money didn’t help to shake free any information in people’s heads.
In late 2016, that information was at long last brought to police. Three people at the beach that day remembered a teenage man loitering around the sheds.
Investigators’ attention in January turned to Mt Penang reformatory school near Gosford, believing former staff and residents could help in their inquiries.
The now-accused man was in the boys home in the early 1970s and allegedly spoke about Cheryl’s disappearance – but he was not charged at the time.
But in 2017 the man – now living in Melbourne – was charged. And the heartbreaking story of Cheryl Grimmer entered another chapter.