The people of Australia have never stopped looking for the Beaumont children.
When Jane, 9, Arnna, 7, and Grant Jr., 4, disappeared without a trace on Jan. 26, 1966, it changed the whole tenor of a nation. Parents who didn't think twice about letting their kids go out to play unsupervised, or in the Beaumonts' case, hop on a bus for a five-minute ride to the local beach, were suddenly terrified.
And anyone who was around to absorb the shock of what happened never really got over it. Not least because no one ever found out what, exactly, happened. Though investigators have certainly had their theories and found certain people of interest more interesting than others, the case remains open to this day.
"After the Beaumont children went missing, we realized that children doing something as innocent as having a day at the beach may not be such a safe thing to do," crime writer Michael Madigan, author of the 2016 book The Missing Beaumont Children: 50 Years of Mystery and Misery, told Australian magazine New Idea in March 2021. "There was a sense of safety that ended that day."
It was the morning of Australia Day when Nancy Beaumont entrusted her reliably responsible eldest child, Jane ("She's got the brain of a girl of 15," her father later told reporters), with taking her younger siblings to nearby Glenelg Beach. Just the day before, they had made the short trip back from the beach to their home in the Adelaide suburb of Somerton Park on their own.
Grant "Jim" Beaumont had taken his brood to the beach on Jan. 25, making sure they understood how far out they could swim and reminding them not to talk to strangers before he headed off to work, according to Madigan's book.
The traveling linen salesman had to hit the road after four weeks of summer vacation, and his first stop after leaving the beach was Snowtown, about 93 miles away from Adelaide. "The last memory of his children was a happy one," Madigan wrote.
By all accounts of what happened on Jan. 26, Jane, her sister Arnna and brother Grant left the house at 10 a.m. and were first spotted on the beach at 10:15.
The trio were supposed to come back at 12 p.m., but when Nancy went to the bus stop to meet them, the kids weren't there. She wasn't too worried, though, figuring they just got caught up playing or decided to walk home. They lived less than a mile away from the beach.
The next bus was due at 2 p.m., so when 2:15 passed and the children still weren't back, Nancy started to worry. A friend who was over for a visit offered to drive her to the beach to look, but Nancy wanted to be home when the kids inevitably walked through the door.
Instead, Jim arrived just before 3 p.m., home a day early from his sales trip. So he drove to Glenelg Beach to look for Jane, Arrna and Grant Jr. Not spotting them in the crowd, he returned home, hoping they'd be there.
At 5 p.m., the Beaumonts walked to the Glenelg Police Station to report their children missing.
"I knew there was something wrong if they weren't home," Jim later recounted, per Madigan. "The thought going through my mind was that they had been taken away. I didn't think they could have been drowned because there were so many people down there."
What would eventually become one of the most haunting crimes in Australia's history started with a search of the Beaumonts' residence, police wanting to rule out that the children weren't hiding. That night, Jim rode in a patrol car as they scanned Somerton Park and Glenelg, street by street. And when the cops dropped him off, he got back in his own car and kept looking.
By morning, boats from the Sea Rescue Squadron had joined the search efforts, the airport and train stations were alerted and roadblocks were put up to monitor anyone driving in and out of the state of Adelaide. Police patrolled the streets with loud speakers so that everyone could hear them asking if anyone had seen the Beaumont children. Taxi drivers got the word out, Jim having been a former driver and therefore one of their own, and people of all ages, including members of Jane's Brownie troop, combed the area on foot.
And, naturally, reporters flocked to the family's house, and Jim addressed them mid-morning on Jan. 28 from his back porch. "Somebody must be holding them against their will, they would otherwise have come home by now," he said. "It's a complete mystery, I can't understand it. My kids will be crying their eyes out. It's like a nightmare."
Within 24 hours of the kids' disappearance, people were already inundating the Glenelg Police with tips and insistence that a solitary abandoned flipflop or towel had to be a clue. The bus driver on the beach route told police he remembered the children getting on his 10:10 a.m. bus on Jan. 26, but he couldn't recall them making a return trip.
Eventually it was determined that the three kids had gone to Wenzel's Bakery near the beach at around noon, and Jane bought pasties and a meat pie for their lunch. She paid with a £1 note that her mother knew she did not give her.
Their neighborhood postman, meanwhile, told authorities that he saw the kids that afternoon, "holding hands and laughing," while on his route—but he couldn't remember if it was at 1:45 p.m., when he got started, or 2:55 p.m., when he was finishing up.
The next morning, Jan. 27, the mailman told police he was pretty sure it was closer to 3 p.m.
"We had one phone for the main police station, that's all we had, and people were queuing up to give statements and what have you, and we only had a sergeant and four men there," Mostyn Matters, one of the original detectives on the case, recalled to Australia's ABC News in 2018. "They were just snowed under and by the time you interviewed people and [typed] up their reports and everything, it was just one of those things, where you could only do your best. We still had our own work going on, there were still crime being committed in Glenelg."
Amid the glut of ultimately unhelpful information, police heard from multiple witnesses who said they saw Jane, Arnna and Grant Jr. playing on the beach with a tall, thin-faced blonde man who looked to be in his 30s. They seemed to know him, or at least were willingly hanging out with him.
But that was that.
Weeks after her children vanished, Nancy told reporters, "I don't think they're alive, but I haven't lost hope, and all I want is that they come back."
A year after that, however, she had put more stock in hope.
"The longer this goes on, the more confident I feel that they are still alive," she said in a February 1967 interview, per Australia's Daily Telegraph. "Do you know, I dreamed about them last night. I don't usually dream. In fact this is the first real dream I've had since the children went. But last night I dreamed I heard a knock, on the back door. It was the children. They said, 'Hullo, Mum.'
"The only thing I said was, 'Where have you been?' They were standing there in the back lobby. I cried, and felt them all over. Do you know, it's the first dream I've had."
The Beaumont mystery would collide with another, however, on Aug. 25, 1973, when Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, and Kirste Gordon, 4, disappeared from a soccer match at the Adelaide Oval.
Joanne was there with her parents and Kirste was sitting next to them, with her grandmother. According to multiple news accounts of that day, Joanne volunteered to take Kirste to the bathroom and, since the game was in the middle of a play period—no going to the bathroom during the more crowded breaks was one of the Ratcliffes' rules—her parents said okay.
There was no issue. But when the two girls went again during the third quarter, they didn't return to their seats.
Witnesses recalled to police seeing the girls with a "skinny-faced man" who looked about 40, according to a 2020 examination of the Beaumont disappearance and possibly related cases by Australia's News.com.au.
Anthony Kilmartin, who was 13 when Joanne and Kirste disappeared, had been selling drinks and candy at the Oval. Per the 2020 report, he told police he saw a man pick up the younger child and start carrying her toward the stadium gates, while the older one ran after them. The man then grabbed the older girl's arm and pulled her along.
"The child was crying," Sue Laurie, who was 14 and had mistaken what she witnessed for a fraught parent-child moment, remembered to Adelaide radio station 5AA in 1998, "and a second girl who looked a few years younger than me was running after the man, thumping him and punching into him and shouting, 'We want to go back.'"
Also from News.co.au, the last reported sighting of the girls or their apparent abductor came from a man who said he drove past the trio less than two miles away from the stadium, about 90 minutes after the other sightings. Noticing that the older child seemed to be in distress, the motorist pulled over. He reconsidered though, and, deciding not to interfere, he drove away.
The sketch derived from all the witness accounts from the Adelaide Oval abductions boasted a startling resemblance to the suspect sketch from the disappearance of the Beaumont children seven years prior.
But both cases would only grow colder.
"No one could imagine the torment those parents went through," Madigan told New Idea of Nancy and Jim Beaumont, who separated in the early 1970s. Nancy died in September 2019 at the age of 92. Jim, 96, was still living in Adelaide as of last year.
And reminiscent of other cases, such as that of 3-year-old Madeleine McCann, who went missing in 2007 from her family's holiday apartment in Portugal while her parents were out eating dinner about 400 feet away, people were keen to sit in judgment of the mother's parenting choices—or flat-out accuse her of harming her children.
"People would come up to her on the street and openly abuse her," Madigan said, "believing Nancy had something to do with it. It would have been all so traumatic for them."
In 1968, Nancy and Jim received two letters, the first telling them when and where to go if they wanted to get their children back. In the second, after the parents went to the designated place and nothing happened, the sender claimed to have seen a detective following them and decided not to go through with it.
Countless theories were put forth over the years, including one by Dutch psychic Gerard Croiset, who claimed to have had a vision of the children's fate, and was flown to Australia in November 1966 by a deep-pocketed real estate developer. According to Croiset, the children had been trapped under the floor of an old brick factory that was being used as a warehouse.
With no evidence other than the psychic's claims, authorities refused to get involved. But concerned citizens raised $40,000 to get the job done and an excavation under the watchful eye of television cameras began in 1967—and found nothing.
In 1986, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, three suitcases full of newspaper clippings about the Beaumont case were found in a garbage dump, most of the pages scribbled with handwritten notes in red ink. Across an image of the widely circulated sketch of the suspect was written, "Lies—all bluff."
Only a day later, however, people who identified themselves as relatives of the elderly owner of those suitcases told police that she had simply become obsessed with the case, and after she died they threw the bags out.
Numerous alleged sightings of the kids poured in over the years, from a woman in Perth who insisted she was living next door to the children in 1966 to a former detective on the case who became convinced in 1997 that Jane Beaumont was alive and well and living in Canberrra. (Investigators confirmed it was not her.)
In November 2013, more than 46 years after a psychic sent the citizenry on a wild goose chase, part of the New Castalloy factory in the Adelaide suburb of North Plympton was excavated after two brothers alleged that the building's late owner, Harry Phipps, had them dig a pit on the property on Australia Day in 1966.
Phipps died in 2004 but was posthumously investigated starting in 2007 after his son Haydn, who also told police his father sexually abused him, claimed he saw his dad with the Beaumont children. Other family members disputed Haydn's claims.
However, geophysical testing of the grounds spearheaded by Channel 7 turned up a small anomaly in the soil that indicated a hole may have once been dug at the site. Authorities started digging again on Feb. 1, 2018, but found nothing but animal bones and unremarkable rubbish.
"I can confirm that we have searched the areas of interest and reached the bottom of those areas and gone well below so that we can be 100 per cent certain," South Australia Police Detective Superintendent Des Bray, per the Sydney Morning Herald, confirming the presence of non-human remains. "Sadly this means for the Beaumont family that we still have no answers. But we will always do anything humanly possible to locate the Beaumont children and take them home to their family."
Stuart Mullins, co-author of a 2013 book about the case, The Satin Man, felt strongly that Phipps could be the culprit, telling ABC News in 2018, "It's my belief that they're in the pit on that site, but where—who knows?" But, he added, "It's trying to find a needle in a haystack. There is a cost involved, there is manpower involved. It's a huge site—where do they start?"
Still, he was optimistic that the case could still be solved. "It's for the police now," he said. "I feel very confident and very inspired."
A couple weeks after the second dig at his late father's factory turned up no evidence, Harry's younger son, Wayne Phipps, told Australia's Sunday Mail that his older brother, Hadyn, who died in 2016, had been mentally ill and their dad had nothing to do with the half-century-old crime.
"It's hurting those who I care about and the memory of those who I cared about," Wayne said of the speculation that his father hurt the Beaumont children. "We loved Harry and believe in his innocence."
In the 56 years since Jane, Arnna and Grant Jr. disappeared, no one has ever been arrested or charged in connection with the Beaumont case. A week before they dug up Phipps' factory for a second time, Detective Superintendent Bray said, "It's probably had more people nominated as a potential offender than any other case that I'm aware of."
The South Australian Government has kept what currently amounts to a $745,000 reward ($1 million Australian) on the table for information leading to the resolution of the enduring mystery.