A landmark $1million reward for information helping to find Cleo Smith indicates police believe someone knows what happened to the missing toddler and could be enticed into coming forward.
The sixth day of the search for the missing four-year-old Carnavon girl took a sinister turn on Wednesday as police revealed they have been looking for a body, as the hopes of finding her alive begin to fade.
Abduction if now the key line of inquiry, and WA Premier Mark McGowan has offered $1million for any information relating to the disappearance of Cleo, who disappeared from a tent she shared with her mum, stepdad and baby sister during the early hours of Saturday morning.
It is the first time in the state’s history that the seven-figure sum has been offered for help solving a case within the first week of an investigation.
Renowned criminal psychologist Tim Watson-Munro said the payment – which is the highest police will ever exchange for information – is typically only offered once a case goes cold, as a means to get it back in the public eye.
A whopping $1million reward has been offered for help finding missing Western Australian toddler Cleo Smith (pictured)
‘It’s just day six and there is a $1million reward out,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I’m unaware of that ever occurring. Normally it takes years for these kinds of rewards to be offered.’
Detective Superintendent Scott Cook told the Sydney Morning Herald in 2018 that the amount offered does not reflect the importance of a case or of the person missing but is tactical.
‘If we set every unsolved homicide at $1 million overnight, no one would notice. We need to bring attention to it in order to get value out of it,’ he said.
‘An investigation might suit three (stages of reward) announcements, so we can make a fresh appeal for information.’
Such large rewards are offered in the belief that someone knows critical information but considers the benefit of revealing it is outweighed by the downside, particularly if it implicates them in the crime.
The reward is designed to make the pro’s of giving information outweigh the cons.
Once the $1 million is on the table, the price will not climb any higher.
WA Premier Mark McGowan (pictured) announced the $1million reward in a press conference on Wednesday, as police let slip they have been searching for a ‘body’
Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith has been left distraught since her four-year-old daughter (pictured) vanished from a campsite in Western Australia
The search for Cleo has entered a sixth day with crews continuing to scour the area
‘If we jump from zero to $1 million in one move, we’re done. That is the limit,’ he said.
With the hopes of finding Cleo alive declining by the day, police have immediately gone to $1 million to throw everything at the case now.
Mr Watson-Munro said the top reward being offered at this point in the case also suggests police have a lot more information about the disappearance than has been released.
‘My thoughts on the reward being announced so early is that there is extreme urgency in this case, however a lot of cases have extreme urgency and it is a lot of money to flush somebody out of the woodwork,’ he said.
‘So it is quite probable WA Police have an idea about who the abductor might be, or it could be that they have an idea that other people may know who it is.’
‘I don’t think it is a move out of desperation and I suspect they have much more information than they are disclosing to the public, which is strategically wise.’
‘It’s actually quite refreshing to see such a proactive and pre-emptive move so soon after a crime has occurred because if it goes on too long the trail will go cold,’ he said.
Of the thousands of unsolved cases across Australia, only a handful will ever be escalated to the $1million mark.
In Western Australia, three other unsolved cases have drawn seven figure price tags, including two other instances involving children.
One is for the murder of 11-year-old Newman boy Gerard Ross who vanished during a family holiday to Rockingham in October, 1997.
His body was found 20km away two weeks later, with police announcing the top reward for information last year – more than 20 years after his death.
A $1million reward is also on offer for help solving the suspected murders of 12-year-old Lisa Mott in Collie, in October, 1980, and 28-year-old Lisa Govan who disappeared from Kalgoorlie without a trace in October, 1999. Both have never been seen since.
While abductions are rare, cases involving missing children are typically treated with urgency as studies showing kids who have been kidnapped are usually killed within the first two days.
Despite the rapid response employed in these instances, Cleo’s case remains a remarkable departure from the norm when compared to similar cases.
In comparison, when three-year-old William Tyrell disappeared from the backyard of his foster mother’s Kendall home in September, 2014, it took two years before NSW Police announced a $1million reward.
The four-year-old Carnarvon local has been missing for six days after she disappeared from a tent she shared with her mum, stepdad and baby sister in the dead of night on Saturday
Hopes are fast fading that Cleo will be found near the campsite as it becomes increasingly likely she was abducted
Announcing the reward for Cleo’s case on Wednesday, Mr McGowan said the state government ‘have ensured that we have delivered all the resources that police have requested’.
‘Police are looking around the clock to try and find Cleo right now,’ he continued.
‘I urge anyone who has any knowledge of the location of Cleo, please provide that permission to police and ensure that we can provide some certainty and information to Cleo’s loved ones. and hopefully bring Cleo back safe.’
Cleo and her family arrived at the popular Blowholes campsite on WA’s northwest coast about 6.30pm on Friday, just hours before the little girl disappeared.
She was last seen by parents about 1.30am on Saturday, when she woke up her mother Ellie Smith to ask for a sip of water.
Ms Smith said she then woke around 6am to feed Cleo’s baby sister Isla, and discovered her oldest daughter was missing from the family’s tent.
Police have confirmed the zipper on the family’s tent was found open to a height Cleo could not have reached, seemingly ruling out the possibility she wandered off on her own.
Her red and black sleeping bag is also missing.
Detectives have not given up hope of finding Cleo alive but admit all signs point to her having been abducted.
A land search in the immediate vicinity of the campsite, north of Carnarvon, will wind down on Friday with the focus to shift to a criminal investigation.
The couple (pictured with their family) first appealed for help locating missing Cleo via social media on Sunday
‘Given the information now that we’ve gleaned from the scene, the fact that the search has gone on for this period of time and we haven’t been able to locate her … it leads us to believe that she was taken from the tent,’ Detective Superintendent Rob Wilde told reporters on Thursday.
More than 100 police officers, as well as SES volunteers and army reservists, have been deployed to the land search in rugged terrain north of Carnarvon.
Homicide detectives have been assigned to the criminal investigation into her disappearance, dubbed Taskforce RODIA.
Superintendent Wilde said authorities were keeping an open mind in relation to whether Cleo may have been taken by someone known to her.
Police have not ruled out the possibility Cleo may have been taken across interstate borders.
‘We’ve been in touch with all jurisdictions around Australia,’ Superintendent Wilde said.
‘We want to get this information out there and if anyone Australia-wide has information that could be relevant to the investigation, we ask that they call CrimeStoppers.’