William Tyrrell’s foster family led a $141,000 campaign to uncover what exactly happened to the little boy for seven years before they were suddenly identified as persons of interest.
The couple spearheaded the official ‘Where’s William’ campaign and have made regular pleas for his safe return since the three-year-old’s disappearance on September 12, 2014.
They also worked closely with ex lead detective Gary Jubelin – who swiftly ruled them out as persons of interest.
But when Detective Chief Inspector David Laidlaw took over the case from Mr Jubelin in 2019, he went back to the drawing board and refused to rule anyone or anything out.
With 44 years’ experience in some of Australia’s most enduring cases, the seasoned cop had his own theories about who was involved and exactly what happened to the little boy in the Spider-Man suit.
William Tyrrell’s foster family lead a $141,000 campaign to uncover what exactly happened to their little boy for seven years before they were identified as persons of interest
They appeared on 60 Minutes to reveal what happened the morning William disappeared, and shared a video of William with his foster dad (pictured together)
The dramatic shift in the seven year hunt came as police seek an apprehended violence order against his foster father in relation to the alleged assault of a child (pictured, William’s foster mother who wept while giving evidence about the boy’s disappearance at an inquest in 2019)
Police are seen examining garden beds at the property where three-year-old William Tyrell went missing
Rural Fire Service volunteers search an area of bush, 1km from the former home of William Tyrrell’s foster grandmother
In early September, a leak from a NSW Police source revealed cops had zeroed in on a suspect which prompted William’s foster family to issued a scathing statement downplaying the claims.
‘Imagine waking up to an unsubstantiated article published by a large media outlet claiming a “senior officer” within NSW Police shared that they have a NEW person of interest, whilst inferring that this heinous crime is on the brink of being solved,’ they said in a statement shared to their ‘Where’s William’ website.
‘Once again we are forced to watch others objectify William for personal gain… fake news causes more heartache for William’s loved ones.’
The statement came just weeks before police took out an apprehended violence order against the foster father on behalf of a child relative.
On Monday, William’s foster parents were identified as among hundreds of persons of interest in the case and detectives descended on the small mid north coastal town of Kendall where the three-year-old was last seen on September 12, 2014, seven years ago.
It is not suggested that the foster parents were actually involved in William’s disappearance, only that they have been named as persons of interest.
There have been at least 600 persons of interest over the course of the seven-year investigation, however nobody has ever been charged. During the inquest into William’s disappearance, the counsel assisting Gerard Craddock said the fact someone is a person of interest does not necessarily make them a suspect.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller confirmed police are looking at ‘one person closely,’ but did not want to disclose too many details to avoid ‘compromising the potential outcome’.
The couple spearheaded the official ‘Where’s William’ campaign (website pictured) and have made regular pleas for his safe return since the three-year-old’s disappearance on September 12, 2014
A military-style operation to dig up a covert burial site to find William Tyrrell’s body has begun to roll into a pocket of bush just 700m from where the three-year-old vanished in 2014
The foster parents of missing toddler William Tyrrell have been identified as ‘persons of interest’ by detectives investigating the mysterious fate of the three-year-old (pictured, William’s foster father helping police during an earlier search)
Officers armed with chainsaws and whipper snippers (pictured) began cutting into bush and felling trees on Monday in eucalyptus scrub close to William’s foster grandmother’s home
Specialist search dogs (pictured) were brought in to assist police as the investigation takes a dramatic new turn
Three dig areas within metres of each other have been marked out with tape and numbered poles, with digging equipment including piles of shovels stacked by the white Forensic Services van parked at the site
On Tuesday a team of eight officers and two detectives gathered at the house as one policeman in blue coveralls took a cadaver dog through the house’s lower floor and a garden bed at the property was dug up.
Operational Support Group officers searched under the balcony on which William was last seen playing on September 12, 2014. They also looked around a rock ledge located underneath.
Officers sifted through evidence on the front lawn while another cut back overgrown plants underneath the house with brushcutters.
Three dig areas within metres of each other have been marked out with tape and numbered poles, with digging equipment including piles of shovels stacked by the white Forensic Services van parked at the site.
Detectives admit they believe William is dead, and they now only expect to find the toddler’s remains.
William’s foster parents have maintained an official campaign where they often write press releases and share details of the search.
By December 2018, the campaign had spent more than $141,000 to raise awareness about missing William. They’d received at least $183,000 in donations.
The portal to donate was active until recently, with support from the Daniel Morcombe Foundation.
The new search of the NSW Mid North Coast town of Kendall is expected to take two to three weeks and involve forensic and bone experts (pictured, search teams prepare for the hunt on Monday)
Detective Chief Superintendent Darren Bennett said the renewed search (pictured, the house on Monday) would take two to three weeks
The couple, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, anonymously appeared on 60 Minutes a year on from his disappearance to offer the public their version of events on the day he vanished.
His mother recalled hearing William playing in the front yard before ‘the world came to a screeching halt’ and she realised he was no longer ‘roaring like a tiger’.
No one could stop us searching for our boy
William’s foster parents, 2020
‘There was no wind, no birds, no movement, nothing… I didn’t expect any of this to happen, I thought he’d be back,’ she said as she struggled to breathe.
Separately, the couple recalled how they went from house-to-house asking neighbours if they’d seen the toddler and as the day wore on, almost everyone in town joined them to help in the search.
‘Children, teenagers on bikes and mothers pushing prams came to help search. The town of Kendall all came to help search for our precious little boy. We searched everywhere. We searched in drains. We searched in bush – bush so rugged and so overcome with lantana that it seemed impossible for William to have ventured there; but we searched there anyway trying to find our boy,’ they said.
‘We searched under houses, in sheds, in garages. We searched along bush tracks, anywhere that William might have wandered.
NSW Police search an area of bush, 1km from the former home of William Tyrrell’s foster grandmother in Kendall
NSW Police search the front garden of William William Tyrrell’s foster grandmother’s house in Kendall
His mother recalled hearing William playing in the front yard before ‘the world came to a screaming halt’ and she realised he was no longer ‘roaring like a tiger’
NSW Police are seen supervising the clearing of bushland in nearby town of Kendall. Forensic officers are also seen working at the Benaroon Drive home, sifting dirt in their renewed hunt for clues as to the missing toddlers whereabouts
‘No one could stop us searching for our boy. We had to find him. From first light and well into the night we searched. That first dark day became the second, and the second became the third – Every day our search continued – a family and a community united.’
William’s foster parents also publicly criticised the decision to stand Mr Jubelin aside, saying ‘he lived and breathed the investigation with absolute commitment to finding out what happened to William’.
They worried the taskforce would lose the passion to get to the truth of what happened without Mr Jubelin at the helm.
But child protection activist Allana Smith, who successfully advocated in court for William’s foster situation to be revealed, told Daily Mail Australia Mr Laidlaw was undoubtedly the right person to be leading the search.
Mr Laidlaw, a veteran cop who cut his teeth on bikie deaths and drug crimes, stepped into the role as chief detective on the case after Mr Jubelin was removed, fined $10,000 and convicted of illegally recording four conversations with Paul Savage, who was at one stage considered a person of interest.
Pictured: A police officer with a dog investigates a sawmill on Herons Creek Road during the search for William Tyrrell. William’s foster parents worried the taskforce would lose the passion to get to the truth of what happened without Mr Jubelin at the helm
Mr Laidlaw, a veteran cop who cut his teeth on bikie deaths and drug crimes, stepped into the role as chief detective on the case after Mr Jubelin was removed, fined $10,000 and convicted of illegally recording four conversations with Paul Savage, who was at one stage considered a person of interest
Little William vanished from his foster grandmother’s home in Kendall in September 2014, seven years ago
NSW Police and Rural Fire Service volunteers continue to search an area of bush near the family home with hopes of finding William’s remains
‘If anyone was going to seal this deal it was always going to be (Detective Chief Inspector) David Laidlaw,’ Ms Smith told Daily Mail Australia.
‘He is a great man of utmost integrity and a great detective. And I’m glad for William he has been placed on this case.’
Detective Chief Inspector Laidlaw joined the force as a trainee in 1977 and was stationed at Sutherland, where he performed general duties. Within nine years, he’d worked his way into the criminal investigation field and was promoted to detective by 1988.
By 2000, Mr Laidlaw was working with the Drug and Organised Crime Strike Force and has since worked with the drug trafficking squad and homicide squad.
He led investigations into the starving death of a seven-year-old girl by her parents and spearheaded an taskforce which saw three Brothers 4 Life gang members sentenced to a collective 142 years in jail.
And during the 2020 inquest into William’s disappearance and presumed death, Mr Laidlaw vowed under oath to stop at nothing to find the three-year-old.
NSW police officers use a sieve to sort through dirt and rubble on the front lawn during a fresh search of the house where William Tyrrell disappeared in 2014
A rarely seen picture taken minutes before the last time William Tyrrell’s foster parents saw him, playing with his sister on his foster grandmother’s balcony
A police source confirmed the current search of the house was for evidence to support or reject a theory the boy may have fallen from the 5m balcony of the property
He indicated police would return to the field to keep searching for William but refused to elaborate on potential new leads because ‘investigations were ongoing’.
Mr Laidlaw was committed to doing things differently to the former lead investigator, and refused an offer from Mr Jubelin to ‘debrief’ him on the status of the case.
‘My view at that stage was I was going to get more knowledge of the investigation from all those who worked on it, not just one person,’ Mr Laidlaw said at the time.
While Mr Jubelin felt comfortable to rule out William’s biological and foster families, Mr Laidlaw made no such promises, insisting ‘everyone was a suspect’.
Four months ago, he revealed he believed he knew who was to blame for William’s disappearance and presumed death.
‘We have thoughts about what occurred to William yes and there’s a range of thoughts about what happened to him yes,’ Mr Laidlaw said.
On Tuesday morning, a team of eight officers and two detectives gathered at the house where William was last seen as one policeman in blue coveralls took a cadaver dog through the house’s lower floor.
Officers began to sieve through evidence on the front lawn while another cut back overgrown plants underneath the house with brushcutters.
Police were handed bright orange buckets to pick up plant growth and sort through it.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller this morning confirmed police are looking at ‘one person’ in relation to the disappearance of missing toddler William Tyrell
On Tuesday morning, a team of eight officers and two detectives gathered at the house where William was last seen as one policeman in blue coveralls took a cadaver dog through the house’s lower floor
Timeline of William Tyrrell’s disappearance
Still missing: William Tyrrell vanished from his foster grandmother’s home five years ago
September 12 – Dressed in a Spider-Man outfit, three-year-old William Tyrrell goes missing from the garden while visiting members of his foster family on the NSW north coast.
September 21 – Police stop searching for the missing boy after scouring surrounding bushland and neighbouring houses.
January 20 – Police search the home and business of washing machine repairman Bill Spedding, who had been due to carry out repairs at the house at the time the three-year-old went missing.
Detectives take items for testing including a mattress, computer and vehicles. They drain his septic tank.
January 23 – The washing machine repairman publicly denies any involvement in William’s disappearance and says he and his wife are on the verge of a breakdown due to the public attention.
February 19 – Homicide detectives take over the case and say it’s likely William was abducted.
March 2 – Police fruitlessly search an area of 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.
April 17 – Police say the boy may have been a victim of a paedophile ring.
September 6 – The Nine Network’s 60 Minutes reveal two suspicious cars were parked on the street the morning William went missing.
September 12 – ‘Where’s William’ week is launched one year after he disappeared.
September 12 – A $1million reward is offered for information leading to William’s return.
August 24 – William’s foster child status is revealed after a landmark court ruling.
June 12 – NSW Police announce the start of a four-week forensic search of bushland 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.
June 5 – The latest search ends with Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin saying the case could soon go to a coroner.
August – Investigation leader Detective Chief Inspector Gary Jubelin and a sergeant get into a disagreement during a briefing.
September 13 – Police reveal they found a burned out car wreck belonging to a former person of interest.
December 19 – Coroners say William could still be alive and the inquest will determine if he died or not.
February – DCI Jubelin is removed from the investigation amid a misconduct probe.
March 25 – The inquest into William Tyrrell’s disappearance begins, with William’s biological and foster parents appearing over the course of a week.
The inquest’s first batch of hearings focused on William’s family situation and the events leading up to his disappearance.
Both his foster and biological parents were quizzed, as were neighbours who helped in the search.
It was disclosed that William’s biological parents absconded with him for six weeks in 2012, following a children’s court order.
William’s biological father slammed authorities for letting them down.
‘Authorities f***ed up … The minister had a duty of care to keep William safe until he was 18. That was not the case at all.’
May: DCI Jubelin quits the Police Force.
June: Four charges of breaching the Surveillance Devices Act are laid against DCI Jubelin. He denies any wrongdoing whatsover
August: The second tranche of inquest hearings began on Wednesday August 7
Inquest hears Bill Spedding, a NSW mid-north coast repairman and one-time person of interest in the disappearance of William Tyrrell, met his wife for coffee about 9.30am in Laurieton, a 15-minute drive from Kendall, on the day William went missing.
They then attended a school assembly across the road to see a child in their care receive an award.
The inquest heard how a man who claims he saw William Tyrrell unrestrained in the back of a speeding car on the day the child went missing was waiting for police to interview him to tell them what he saw.
He told the inquest he contacted police but did not hear back about an interview.
It took it took almost 1000 days before he was able to reveal what he saw to police.
The coroner orders an urgent probe into the final image that was taken on the day William vanished as metadata suggests the picture may have been taken 118 minutes earlier than originally thought.
The image has a ‘created time’ of 7.39am and a ‘corrected time’ of 9.37am, a new document from the 2000-page evidence brief.
The coronial inquest has been delayed for another eight months with the next round of hearings happening in March 2020.
November 11: The deputy state coroner releases footage of William Tyrrell and family at Heatherbrae McDonalds, on September 11, 2014
Feb – March 2020: Gary Jubelin defends four charges of illegally recording person of interest Paul Savage in court hearing
February 21: Daily Mail Australia reveals Frank Abbott was arrested in custody for the purposes of a police interview about William’s disappearance
March 2020: The coronial inquest into William’s disappearance resumes but stops with two days to go due to the coronavirus outbreak
April 6, 2020: Magistrate Ross Hudson delivers his verdict in Gary Jubelin case
April 8, 2020: Jubelin is convicted of all four charges and fined $10,000. Ex-cop says he will appeal
June 22, 2020: Police and SES launch new search for William Tyrrell near Herons Creek, where Abbott once lived
June 26, 2021: Police acknowledge William Tyrrell’s 10th birthday
November 15, 2021: Detectives return to Kendall after receiving new information and admit they are searching for a body. His foster parents are reported to be persons of interest in the case