They were two boys who mysteriously vanished near bushland in cases that for years transfixed the nation and frustrated police.
Lists of hundreds of suspects were narrowed as investigators undertook seemingly fruitless searches, made regular public appeals and offered $1million rewards.
All the while the boys’ fates and the identity of their presumed abductors remained frustratingly unknown.
Now a ‘fresh set of eyes’ could help solve the disappearance of toddler William Tyrrell, just as it did in the search for murdered schoolboy Daniel Morcombe and his killer.
Queensland police had been looking for Daniel for more than five years when they took the case to a coroner, who was later able to narrow the number of suspects to four, then just one.
William Tyrrell, 3, was last seen outside his grandmother’s home on the NSW mid-north coast in September 2014. Another recent search of bushland around that home has just finished
Daniel Morcombe, 13, was last seen alive at a bus stop on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. A coronial inquest into his disappearance led to the number of suspects being narrowed to one
Police gather in bushland near the home of William Tyrrell’s grandmother last month to commence another search for evidence related to the three-year-old’s disappearance
An inquest eventually led to the arrest of Brett Peter Cowan who was subsequently jailed for Daniel’s murder, and the recovery of 13-year-old Daniel’s remains.
New South Wales police have now been searching for William, the three-year-old who disappeared from Kendall on the state’s mid-north coast, for almost four years.
There is hope that a coronial inquest like the one that helped solve the Morcombe case could lead to the breakthrough needed in the Tyrrell investigation.
As with the Morcombe investigation, a number of persons of interest have already been identified and their stories could be soon tested in court.
Another intensive search of the area from which William disappeared has just been concluded ahead of putting the case before a coroner.
That search, which began last month, took officers back to the dense bushland around William’s foster grandmother’s home where the toddler in the Spiderman suit was last seen in September 2014.
Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin has led the investigation into William Tyrrell’s disappearance and says the case could soon be headed to the NSW Coroner’s Court
Queensland SES volunteers help search for the remains of Daniel Morcombe at Beerwah on the Sunshine Coast in 2011, eight years after the 13-year-old boy was murdered by Brett Cowan
While no sign of William was found, the search could be a signal the investigation is moving to its next logical stage, rather than slowing down.
Deputy state coroner Harriet Grahame was in Kendall to observe part of the recent search, the results of which may be used to help show William met with foul play.
The head of the Tyrrell investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin, explained the difference between the initial searches for William and the latest operation.
‘The purpose of this is that if we present evidence to a court, whether coronial or criminal, [we can show] beyond reasonable doubt that William’s disappearance was the result of human intervention and not through misadventure,’ he told reporters last month.
Police have reportedly identified four ‘high priority’ suspects and another ‘person of interest’ as part of the investigation. Two years ago they had a list of 690 names.
Detective Chief Inspector Jubelin this week told the ABC’s 7.30 program the case could soon be headed to the NSW Coroner’s Court.
An SES volunteer searches for the remains of Daniel Morcombe in Queensland’s Glass House Mountains in 2011. A coronial inquest led to the arrest of Brett Cowan for Daniel’s murder
Brett Cowan (pictured) was revealed as Daniel Morcombe’s killer as the result of a coronial investigation and further police work. The inquest also led to Daniel’s remains being found
‘It will be sooner rather than later that we refer the matter to the coroner,’ he said.
Asked if handing the case to the coroner was a sign police had run out of lines of inquiry, the veteran homicide investigator was blunt.
WILLIAM TYRRELL MYSTERY TIMELINE
* SEPTEMBER 12 – Dressed in a Spiderman outfit, three-year-old William Tyrrell goes missing from the front yard of his foster grandmother’s home in Kendall, 40km south of Port Macquarie in NSW.
* SEPTEMBER 21 – Police stop searching for the missing boy after scouring surrounding bushland and neighbouring houses.
* FEBRUARY 19 – Homicide detectives take over the case and say it’s likely William was abducted.
* MARCH 2 – Police search bushland near Bonny Hills for three days after a tip-off.
* APRIL 17 – William’s foster parents speak publicly for the first time in an emotional video released through police which does not identify them.
* APRIL17 – Police say the boy may have been a victim of a pedophile ring.
* SEPTEMBER 12 – ‘Where’s William’ week is launched one year after he disappeared.
* SEPTEMBER 12 – A $1 million reward is offered for information leading to William’s return.
* AUGUST 24 – William’s foster child status is revealed after a court ruling.
* JUNE 12 – NSW Police announce the start of a four-week forensic search of bushland in Kendall conducted by Strike Force Rosann.
* JUNE 14 – William’s grandmother scolds police who have failed to find the young boy after four years, and claims their latest search is ‘just for show’.
* JUNE 26 – the forensic search continues on what would have been William’s seventh birthday.
* JUNE 27 – Strike Force Rosann announces it will move the search to an 800sqm block of bushland just 4km from where William was last seen alive.
* JULY 5 – The latest search ends with Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin saying the case could soon go to a coroner.
‘If anyone has got false confidence that we have run out of lines of inquiry and that is why we are referring it to the coroner, they are mistaken,’ he said.
An expert in the coronial process told Daily Mail Australia an inquest could be forensically productive when police were not making obvious progress and had nothing to lose.
Suspects could be cross-examined under oath in a manner not available to police in an interview room and witnesses could be compelled to give evidence.
Even if that evidence cannot be used directly against the witness it can provide useful leads to investigate and lock the suspect into lies.
Detective Chief Inspector Jubelin also ran the investigation into the disappearance of Matthew Leveson, whose remains were located after that case was sent to a NSW coroner.
Matthew had been missing for almost a decade when his skeleton was found in Sydney’s Royal National Park last year after his lover Michael Atkins was compelled to give evidence.
In a case with closer parallels, the parents of Daniel Morcombe asked for their son’s disappearance to be investigated by the Queensland coroner and a subsequent inquest heard by Michael Barnes helped lead to Brett Cowan’s arrest.
Counsel assisting that inquest, Peter Johns, told 7.30 that after four years of investigation – as there has been in the Tyrrell case – the ‘likelihood of there being a result is something that decreases sharply day by day.’
A coronial inquest could be the next step. It worked with Daniel Morcombe and could work with William Tyrrell.
‘I believe it was simply a fresh set of eyes to a case that had been going on for so long,’ Mr Johns said of the Morcombe coronial process.
‘It is something when the coroner’s office can bring great resources, I believe, where police are unable to progress an investigation further.’
The Morcombe inquest reduced the number of suspects in his presumed kidnapping from 35 to four, then to just Brett Cowan.
Detective Chief Inspector Jubelin said of the coronial process: ‘There is an opportunity for the evidence to be explored in the courtroom environment and that often elicits further information that we weren’t aware of.’
There is a $1million reward in place for information that leads to the recovery of William, just as there was for Daniel Morcombe.
Detective Chief Inspector Jubelin has repeatedly said he was confident of finding the person responsible for William’s disappearance.
Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin (second from left) with the parents of Matthew Leveson, Mark and Faye, at the site where Matthew’s body was found due to an inquest