The face on the children's television show looked hauntingly familiar. It was February 1967 - a year after the baffling disappearance of Adelaide’s Beaumont children – yet this audience member was the mirror image of the eldest, Jane.
Six people who knew the missing children, including grief-stricken mother Nancy Beaumont, were so convinced of the mystery girl’s identity they contacted detectives.
In a case that offered so few leads, this seemed promising. Perhaps producers of Pied Piper, which was then a Channel 10 children’s favourite, would have some record of this perplexing audience member’s name and address.
‘There was some kind of investigation and everyone in the studio audience could be accounted for – except for that one girl,’ says psychic detective and bestselling author Scott Russell Hill, 60, who was a childhood playmate of the Beaumont children.
‘Ten was going to send her a prize, but she had given a false name and address.
‘It’s interesting that six people who knew Jane Beaumont well, including her mother, were convinced it was her a year later.
‘But if it was her, what happened? Why was she the only person to give fake contact details? And if it wasn’t Jane, it still raises the question... is there other information out there.’
It was a blazing hot Australia Day in 1966 when the Beaumont children – Jane, nine, Arnna, seven, and Grant, four – vanished without a trace on a carefree trip to Adelaide’s crowded Glenelg Beach.
Nobody saw a struggle or heard a scream, and despite wide-ranging searches and a $1 million reward for information, their bodies have never been found.
Following the failed excavation earlier this month, Scott believes it is time to take a fresh look at all the evidence. And that includes the prime suspect – a tall, blond, thin-faced man seen playing with the children under a sprinkler at beach-side Colley Reserve before 12.15pm, when the children were supposedly last sighted.
‘Perhaps we should look at the case from a different angle,’ says the former Sensing Murder star.
‘I firmly believe people saw something, but based on the information that’s out there, they thought they must be wrong.’
Scott believes late Adelaide businessman Harry ‘Satin Man’ Phipps – who once owned the factory where this year’s dig took place – was somehow implicated in the 52-year-old crime. But was he the only person involved?
‘My father, who knew all the Beaumont family very well, was taking a shortcut to beat Australia Day traffic, when he saw the children standing on the corner of Augusta and Durham Streets in Glenelg at 1.30pm,’ says Scott.
‘They were with three other people – a thin-faced blond stranger, a strapper he recognised from one of the local racing stables with shoulder- length hair, and a middle-aged woman wearing a pale blue patterned dress.
‘Dad was surprised they were with another woman, not their mother Nancy.
‘He did report it to detectives at the time, but there were so many sightings not all of them were followed up. To his dying day in May 1982, my father swore black and blue it was the Beaumonts he had seen.’
Scott has since been approached by several other people who confirmed his father’s eyewitness account, right down to the distinctive design on the unknown woman’s pale blue dress.
‘It makes sense,’ he says. ‘One woman told me her mother saw the children with the very same people near the Rotunda in Colley Reserve. That lies in a straight line to Augusta Street – and Augusta Street is where Harry Phipps lived. It’s definitely linked.’
After the failed factory dig, Scott says hope of solving the case waned.
‘It was like Christmas, Christmas, Christmas, and then it’s gone. No more Beaumonts. The day after, it was like nothing had ever happened. But where does the investigation go next?’ he asks.
Like so many others, Scott would love to solve the case before divorced and devastated parents Jim and Nancy Beaumont – now aged 92 and 90 – pass away.
‘These are real people, not just grainy black and white photos from 1966. Jane, Arnna and Grant were my friends, with personalities of their own,’ he says. ‘Jane was the highly intelligent “mother hen” who wanted to be a teacher, Arnna was more reflective, and Grant was a little tearaway. I will never forget them.’
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This article originally appeared on New Idea.