On Saturday 25 August 1973, a South Australian National Football League game was in progress at Adelaide Oval. North Adelaide was playing Norwood. Joanne Ratcliffe, aged 11, was at the match with her parents. Kirste Gordon, aged 4, was there with her grandmother.
The Ratcliffes were regular visitors to the Adelaide Oval. So too was Kirste Gordon's grandmother, who knew the Ratcliffes, but Kirste never been there before. She was being looked after by her grandmother while her parents had a weekend away. The Ratcliffes, Kirste and her grandmother were all sitting in the Sir Edwin Smith stand.
Joanne was the motherly type and when Kirste needed to go to the toilet, Joanne offered to take her. The toilets were about 300 metres away on the other side of the ground. They went and came back without any problems. Later in the match, the two girls went out of the stand to get some straws for their drinks.
Kirste needed to go to the toilet again during the third quarter, at about 3:45pm. This time they did not return and at 4:06pm Mrs Ratcliffe left the stand and went to the secretary's office, to report them missing. She asked if an announcement could be made.
The request was refused. The explanation given later was that nothing would have been heard over the crowd noise. This may have been true, however Mrs Ratcliffe was given the distinct impression that the staff in the office did not want the match interrupted. Mrs Ratcliffe was advised to return to her seat and report the matter to the police if the girls didn't turn up.
The Ratcliffes and Kirste Gordon's grandmother spent the remainder of the match searching for the missing girls. Mr Ratcliffe searched the back of the stands, the carpark, the bowling area and the tennis courts. His wife searched the female toilets. Mr Ratcliffe was convinced that his daughter would not have left the oval "on her own steam." 81
At match end Mr Ratcliffe spoke with Mr Blundell, secretary of the South Australia cricket association, and told him that the children were missing. Mr Blundell had an announcement made immediately.
The girls were reported missing at police headquarters at 5:12pm. Police began an immediate search of the area.
Several eyewitnesses were located. Anthony Kilmartin was a thirteen-year-old who'd been selling lollies in the Sir Edwin Smith stand. He'd had to move over for two girls who came walking down the stairs. He'd also seen a man, who'd been watching the girls, go "running or trotting" 81 after them towards the gate.
In the statement he gave to police, Kilmartin said the man had caught up with the girls, had lifted the little one up, and had carried her to the gate. The bigger girl looked frightened and had grabbed at the man.
"He told her to 'take off' or something, and I thought he must have been a friend and they had just had an argument," Kilmartin said 81. He assumed the man was the girls' father.
The man had grabbed the bigger girl and gone towards the corner of the tennis courts near a pine tree. After that he hadn't seen anything more.
The assistant curator of the oval, Ken Wohling, saw two girls trying to lure some kittens out from under a car. There were plenty of cats at the oval and children were always trying to play with them. However, Wohling then heard a man's voice say "I'll try and get him out for you." 83. Joanne's father later commented that his daughter was a "terror for cats and dogs" 82
Wohling saw a man walk towards the southern gate, the two girls following a few metres behind. They then rounded the corner and were gone. Wohling only saw the back of the man but noticed he was slightly stooped.
"Not long afterward the father came looking in the shed," Wohling said later. "I assumed he was looking for the two girls. I said to him, 'they're not here!'" 82 Unfortunately neither man realised the significance of the conversation until much too late.
Over the next 90 minutes there were four different sightings believed to be of the man and the two girls. In three of these sightings the older girl appeared distressed. In one case a man driving past went so far as to stop his car, but then decided that it was none of his business and drove on.
The girls were last seen with the man about three kilometres from the Oval, 90 minutes after they'd left. Neither they nor the man have been seen since.
It needs little imagination to suggest that the Beaumont disappearance and the Oval abduction were the work of the same man. The artist pictures of the men are very similar. The modi operandi, or what was known of them, were similar. And in both cases the suspect and the children vanished, as though into thin air. Months of intense investigation produced no identity for the suspect and nothing to go on.