Gage Wilson: Theo Hayez’s disappearance gripped Australia five years ago today. Now Byron Bay has been rocked by a new mystery

Byron Bay has been rocked by another missing persons mystery – in a case eerily similar to the disappearance of Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez back in 2019.

Theo’s disappearance sparked headlines – and conspiracy theories – around the world after the 18-year-old walked out of Cheeky Monkey’s bar and vanished.

Now another baffling case has captured the attention of the coastal town and its surrounding areas – and in a chilling twist, it has happened exactly five years after Theo vanished without a trace.

Gage Wilson, 31, was seen leaving Hakea Court in Mullumbimby, in the Byron Shire, in a white ute at about 5am on May 18 

The 31-year-old's vehicle was later found crashed into a tree on Koonyum Range Road in Wilsons Creek

The 31-year-old’s vehicle was later found crashed into a tree on Koonyum Range Road in Wilsons Creek 

Gage Wilson, 31, was seen leaving Hakea Court in Mullumbimby, in the Byron Shire, in a white ute at about 5am on May 18.

His sister Niki Manidakis says he was then spotted at a cafe in Mullumbimby at about 8am 

The 31-year-old’s vehicle was later found crashed into a tree on Koonyum Range Road in Wilsons Creek – just a 20-minute drive from Byron Bay – with the driver nowhere to be found. 

Mr Wilson did not have his phone on him at the time and it is not clear if anyone else had been in the ute with him. 

A massive search party has been launched for Mr Wilson, with his family fearing he may have stumbled out of the ute and into the bush in a daze. 

Heat-seeking drones and the Northern Rivers Dingo Rescue – which uses dingoes with remarkable tracking abilities – have been brought into hunt for Mr Wilson over the past 12 days.

A 24/7 search base was established at Teales Lookout on Thursday as selfless locals refuse to give up on Mr Wilson, who is autistic and about 170cm-180cm tall with short brown hair and tattoos on both his legs and arms.

Residents in the area have been urged to search their properties for any sign of the man.

Ms Manidakis says her brother is a ‘unique individual with a wonderful, generous heart and quirky sense of humour’.

‘He is incredibly talented, intelligent, and artistic. He is honest and authentic, and his presence is greatly missed,’ she said on a GoFundMe page set up to raise money towards the search.

Theo Hayez’s family have called on locals to help search for Mr Wilson.

The Coroner completely rules out suicide and said that Theo had been looking forward to reuniting with his family back in Belgium when he vanished

Theo Hayez’s family have called on locals to help search for Mr Wilson 

‘It is hard to believe that it has been five years that we have not heard from Théo,’ a post by Theo’s family on social media said.

‘His laugh, his voice and his beautiful smile are still so fresh in our memories.

‘It has been a tough journey, to say the least, but the hope to find out what has happened to him has never left us. 

‘For those who wish to honour Théo tomorrow, five years on, we encourage you to join the ground search for Gage Wilson.’ 

Mr Wilson did not have his phone on him

Mr Wilson did not have his phone on him

‘Our hearts go out to his family and friends as they desperately search Koonyum Range near Byron Bay.’

Theo, 18, disappeared after being kicked out of the Cheeky Monkeys bar in Byron Bay and was last seen by his friends at about 11pm on May 31, 2019. 

At his inquest in 2022, State Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan said two main theories existed about the disappearance of Theo, who she found had died on or about June 1, 2019 in or around Byron Bay, but she couldn’t rule that either was definitely the case. 

She said the teenager had either ‘met with a terrible accident while alone he attempted to climb towards the (Byron Bay) lighthouse’.

Or he had met ‘with one or more persons’ between the cricket nets area at Byron and Cosy Corner beach ‘and those persons caused his death and disposed of his body’.

But she could not determine between either theory as the actual cause of Theo’s death and urged anyone with information to come forward.

The Coroner did, however, completely rule out that Theo had taken his own life. 

The coroner said those who suspected foul play theorised that Theo had ‘met one or more persons at the cricket nets and walked through Arakawal National Park to Tallow Beach.

Police are seen searching on the Byron Bay cliffs for Theo Hayez back in 2019

Police are seen searching on the Byron Bay cliffs for Theo Hayez back in 2019 

She said that he ‘stopped for seven minutes at the cricket nets, may have met somebody with local knowledge who helped him navigate the streets until start of the track

‘There was a long term camp in the bush where he deviated sharply off the path, where his hat was found.’

Coroner O’Sullivan also said it was ‘unusual’ that Theo ‘walked nearer soft sand in the dune’ before climbing through ‘rugged bushland for eight minutes’.

However she said there had been no reported attacks in the area, ‘and ‘no-one saw anyone at the cricket nets’ and a ‘random murder of a backpacker in Byron Bay’ would be extraordinary.

Theo’s online activity between midnight and 1am, watching a comedy show on YouTube and texting his sister and a friend was ‘inconsistent with his feeling afraid or in danger’.

The coroner said that the misadventure theory had Theo falling off the Byron cliffs and his body washed out to sea.

But she said that the ‘ascent to the headland at Cosy Corner is very dangerous, especially at night’.

The officer in charge of investigating Theo’s disappearance, Detective Senior Constable Philip Parker had ‘found the walk scary and intimidating when he attempted it alone at night’ and that it was ‘unmarked, extremely dark an difficult to find, even in daytime.

‘The final part through bushland would have been very hard going,’ the Coroner said.

‘Theo may have been lost and confused, or potentially affected by alcohol or drugs. 

‘(But) there was no evidence he was on drugs, or drunk. I’m not critical of staff at Cheeky Monkeys … but staff have accepted in evidence there were no clear signs of actual intoxication.’

Ms O’Sullivan said Theo’s phone, which has never been found, was last detected on the Byron headland between 12.05am and 1.02am on the night he vanished and continued to transmit until it disconnected at 1.47pm. 

‘The fact the phone continued to transmit… for 13 hours could suggest he became separated from phone and went into water without it.

‘The major difficulty with the accident theory is Theo’s character. He was responsible and cautious and it would be out of character to attempt something so reckless.

‘Importantly, none of the other young backpackers observed him to be drunk. It’s difficult to accept he ended up at Cosy Corner by mistake.

‘He was a regular and competent user of Google Maps. He searched searched for his hostel .. it would have been readily apparent to him he was going further in the wrong direction.

‘I cannot conclude that Theo died by misadventure. There is insufficient evidence to substantiate or exclude wither theory.’

Coroner O’Sullivan hopes a police reward would encourage anyone with information to come forward, and also recommended that police improve their technological skills using Google and Facebook to trace missing persons.

Call police or Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 with any information.