Man who confessed to murder might finally give evidence

 

The pensioner who confessed to the murder of little Cheryl Grimmer at Fairy Meadow beach in 1970 may be forced to give evidence for the first time as homicide detectives review one of the state's oldest unsolved cases.

At the same time, NSW State Coroner Teresa O'Sullivan has called for the files on the three-year-old's disappearance after Cheryl's brother Ricki Nash called for a second inquest.

Cheryl Grimmer (centre) with her brothers Paul (left) and Stephen.
Cheryl Grimmer (centre) with her brothers Paul (left) and Stephen.

The retired security guard who confessed to murder, was then a teenage runaway, is now 66 but he cannot be named because he was 15 and a juvenile at the time Cheryl disappeared.

He could not be found to be questioned at the first inquest in 2011 and after finally being charged with murder in 2017, his confession was thrown out by the Supreme Court leading to the charge being dropped earlier this year.

It meant that he has never been forced into the witness box to be asked about telling two police officers in April 1971 that he had picked Cheryl up as she used the water bubbler outside the beach shower block, took her to Bulli pass meaning to have sex with her but put his hands around her throat and panicked when she started to scream.

Cheryl had been at the beach with her three brothers and their mother.

Cheryl Grimmer disappeared from a Fairy Meadow beach near Wollongong in 1970.
Cheryl Grimmer disappeared from a Fairy Meadow beach near Wollongong in 1970.


He told the police at the time that he covered her body with dirt and bushes: "I did that to the little girl. I didn't mean to do it."

Mr Nash said he hoped that a fresh inquest would be held and the man subpoenaed to give evidence.

"He has never been on the stand," Mr Nash said.

"Maybe it will shake his tree a bit."

The major crime review by the homicide squad was requested by Wollongong detectives frustrated by the decision to throw out the man's confession. The court ruled that as a juvenile, he should have had an adult with him during police questioning - despite that not being a legal requirement in 1971 nor required by police guidelines.

A panel of senior homicide detectives will review all the evidence including the results of the reinvestigation of Cheryl's disappearance which tracked down a witness who in 2017 picked the man out of a photo identification parade and recalled his distinctive tattoo.

Another witness confirmed the man's story that there was a steel cattle grid at the property where he said he had carried a bound and gagged Cheryl.

Cover of Daily Mirror. Cheryl Grimmer went missing in 1970.
Cover of Daily Mirror. Cheryl Grimmer went missing in 1970.

In court earlier this year, the man's lawyers did not dispute what he had said to police in 1971 but submitted it was a false confession from a disturbed teenager with mental problems who had been in and out of care and was vulnerable to suggestion.

The man, who was then 15, had run away from a Victorian juvenile custody facility and was staying at a Sydney hostel when Cheryl disappeared from the Wollongong beach.

Her body has never been found.

After his confession, he took police on a walk-through of where he had taken Cheryl and had told one of his doctors just days later that he would plead guilty so he could be "put away in the public interest".

L to R: Brothers Stephen, Paul and Ricki. Grimmer. Picture: John Appleyard
L to R: Brothers Stephen, Paul and Ricki. Grimmer. Picture: John Appleyard

 

The first inquest into Cheryl's disappearance in 2011 found she had died sometime after January 12, 1970.

The major crime review will not reinvestigate the case but if it is found that facts have "substantially changed" could refer it to the coroner or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for fresh charges. The DPP has already ruled out appealing the court's decision this year over the confession.

A spokesman for the NSW Coroners Court confirmed that one of Cheryl's family members had contacted the court and requested a second inquest.

A man was extradited from Victoria in connection with the 1970 abduction and murder of Wollongong toddler Cheryl Grimmer. Picture: AAP
A man was extradited from Victoria in connection with the 1970 abduction and murder of Wollongong toddler Cheryl Grimmer. Picture: AAP


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