ActivePaper Archive 14 CLUES KEEPING A COUNTRY GUESSING - The West Australian , 10/30/2021




Campers who were staying at Blowholes campground reported the sound of screeching tyres at the time Cleo Smith went missing early on Saturday morning, October 16. Four days later Assistant Commissioner Darryl Gaunt said: “(Police) haven’t ruled (that report) out — it is a little bit unsubstantiated, but we haven’t ruled it out.”


In what the public saw as a surprise move, the marine search for Cleo was scaled back on Monday, October 18, just three days after she went missing. Investigators focused their attention on land and roads, meaning police had dismissed the possibility that the four-year-old was in the ocean. The clue here put even more emphasis on the belief that Cleo had been abducted and the whole police focus was inland.


On Monday, October 18, three days after Cleo was reported missing, police released an image of her red and black Wanderer sleeping bag and said they were combing a number of “shacks” along the coastline at the camp site.

The confirmation that Cleo’s bulky sleeping bag was missing added more questions to those already bouncing around the internet on how an intruder was able to snatch a girl and her sleeping bag in the dead of night, with some thinking whoever was responsible may have been watching the tent the night before.

Friends of the family also said Cleo was a “whip-smart” little girl who definitely wouldn’t have wandered off by herself. Finding the sleeping bag would be a major clue in the search for the missing girl.


When last seen, Cleo was wearing a pink flower and butterfly-patterned jumpsuit. On Tuesday, October 19, four days after her disappearance, police released an image of the pyjamas in a bid to trigger a memory from anyone who may have seen a girl in that coloured clothing.

Police said there were “quite a lot of people” at Blowholes campground the night she went missing, suggesting someone may recollect the distinctly patterned jumpsuit.

Local chopper pilot Justin Borg was one of the first people to begin looking for Cleo and saw nothing that shed any light on Cleo’s disappearance.

“We were pretty sure she wasn’t in the area when we conducted our second search,” he said. “When we go and search for somebody, if they are in the area you find them really quick. Especially if you are talking abnormal colours.”

Mr Borg said the pink jumpsuit that Cleo was wearing when she disappeared would have stood out starkly against the landscape.

“We flew at a height where we were just glancing over the country side. And then when we found nothing on the broad area search, we started a more slow and thorough search,” Mr Borg said. “We made sure we looked under every rock, every tree, and every bush with the chopper.”


Probably the grimmest revelation in the early part of the search came on Wednesday, October 20, when Insp. Jon Munday admitted Cleo could not have reached the zipper to leave the tent herself. It was seen as confirmation that she was abducted, and that someone else opened the door to the tent and took the four-year-old.

“One of the major circumstances that has given us the cause for alarm for Cleo’s safety is the fact that one of those zippered entry-ways was opened,” Insp. Munday said. “The positioning of that zipper for the flap is one of the circumstances that has caused us to have grave concerns.”

He said the height at which it was left was one of several key details in the case that has investigators particularly worried.

“There are circumstances around her disappearance that make it very concerning . . . like the fact that the zipper was allegedly up so high (and) the sleeping bag is missing,” Insp. Munday said.


On Thursday, October 22, Premier Mark McGowan announced a $1 million reward for any information that enabled police to solve the mystery of missing Cleo. Never before has such a reward been offered so quickly.

The offer triggered a mass response from the public. A week later Taskforce Rodia leader Det-Supt Rod Wilde revealed there had been more than 200 reported sightings of the little girl from across the nation — but all have proved “unfruitful”.


Because the Smith family arrived at the Blowholes campground late on Friday, October 15, there was speculation bouncing around the internet that no one had seen Cleo at the site.

But Acting Police Commissioner Col Blanch revealed that CCTV audio from a beachside shack near to where the Smith’s tent confirmed the four-year-old was there.

Apparently, Cleo’s voice can be heard on the footage. The motion-sensitive camera picked up the family’s vehicle and recorded Cleo talking just after they arrived at the campsite on Friday, October 15.

This revelation by police was another way to stop speculation that the family were involved with Cleo’s disappearance. In two interviews Cleo’s mum, Ellie Smith, and stepfather, Jake Gliddon, denied any involvement as they poured out their hearts pleading for their daughter to be returned. On a number of occasions police have also said the family are not suspects and that Ellie and Jake have been nothing but helpful.


On Friday, October 22, a week to the day the Smith family arrived at Blowholes, Det-Supt Wilde said he believed there were still campers who hadn’t come forward.

Police said there were about 100 other people at Blowholes when Cleo was at the campsite, but wouldn’t reveal how many had not come forward.

“We still believe there are people there that we haven’t identified yet,” Det-Supt Wilde said. “I don’t want to get into specifics, but certainly we know, there were other people that could’ve camped on that coastal strip and there’s different access points.

“So we’re still calling those people to come forward.”


A week to the day Cleo was reported missing, forensic police spend hours at the Smith’s family home in South Carnarvon dusting for fingerprints and examining the outside of the property. It leads to speculation that a stalker may have been watching the property and potentially taken the little girl. A large portion of the search was believed to be focused on obtaining DNA from fences and windows.


On Friday, October 22, police made an unprecedented appeal to the public by asking for all dash cam and CCTV footage within a 1000km radius from where the four-year-old disappeared.

Investigators not only asked for vision from service stations, truck stops and fast food outlets but also cosmetic, camping and children’s clothing stores as well as pharmacies.

They wanted vision taken from 6pm Friday, October 15, to 6pm on Sunday, October 17.

The intriguing clue behind this mass request for vision from clothing stores and cosmetic outlets indicated detectives believed the kidnapper or kidnappers could have changed their appearance as well as Cleo’s.


In a stunning breakthrough on Sunday, October 24, — eight days after Cleo’s disappearance — Det-Supt Wilde revealed a mystery car had been spotted.

He said two witnesses travelling together for work had come forward saying they saw a sedan turning right from Blowholes Road, heading south along the North West Coastal Highway towards Carnarvon between 3am and 3.30am on the morning Cleo went missing

He said the new witnesses were unable to provide a detailed description of the vehicle other than it was a passenger vehicle, like a sedan and the car’s headlights were on when it turned south off Blowholes Road.

“Obviously at that time when the people observed it, it wasn’t anything of great significance,” the detective said. “Fortunately they came forward after hearing about Cleo. We are keen to speak to the person who was driving and anyone who was in that vehicle.”


On Tuesday, October 26 — three days after forensic police had searched the outside of the Smith family home in South Carnarvon — they return to the property but this time go inside the house. Detectives are also in attendance. They are let in and assisted by Cleo’s stepdad Jake Gliddon and police emphasise the family are not suspects and the search is part of a normal investigation for a missing person. Forensic officers scoured the home and stay until almost 10.30pm, leaving with several evidence bags.


In an intriguing development, forensic officers returned to the Blowholes on Wednesday, October 27, checking out campsites and taking samples of ashes from burnt-out campfires. They were in the area for a few hours. There was speculation as to what clues they could be looking for 12 days after Cleo was reported missing. Police said it was part of normal investigation procedures.


Multiple teams of police on Thursday, October 28, flooded the Carnarvon light industrial area collecting CCTV footage. Industrial warehouses and offices were visited, mostly along Robinson Road — the main entrance to the Gascoyne town.