Wanted poster for the missing Beaumont children. Courtesy Alan Whiticker
The morning of Australia Day (26th January) 1966 was already hot in Adelaide, with the temperature due to peak at almost 40°C. Jim Beaumont, a linen goods salesman, wondered whether to go to work or go swimming with his children. Work on this day meant a two hour drive to Snowtown to see some customers. Staying home and taking his children to the beach sounded more appealing. Being a good salesman, however, Mr Beaumont decided that he'd better see his customers. It was a decision he would regret for the rest of his life.
The children left their home at 109 Harding Street, Somerton Park, on the corner with Peterson Street, at 10am. They were catching the bus to Glenelg. It was only a short distance and they could have ridden their bicycles. Being a hot day, however, it seemed more sensible to catch the bus. It was understood by the children that they would return home on the noon bus. There was no way they could be confused about the time because the clock tower at Glenelg was highly visible. Mrs Beaumont gave Jane eight shillings and sixpence for expenses 78.
The children having left for the beach and her husband gone to see potential customers, Mrs Beaumont visited a friend. She returned before the noon bus arrived, and was waiting at the bus stop. The children were not on the bus. She didn't consider this serious as the children could have decided to walk home, which they had done before. Or they could have missed it, and would be on the 2pm bus instead. Some friends visited and Mrs Beaumont didn't worry for the moment.
The children did not return on the 2pm bus, and Mrs Beaumont began to feel uneasy. She could have gone to look for the children but their route home could equally take them down Moseley Street, Partridge Street or Brighton Road. She could very easily miss them, so it was best to wait.
The children did not return on the 3pm bus, and if Mrs Beaumont was uneasy before, she must have been distinctly worried now. Jim Beaumont returned home early (his customers had not been available) and when his wife explained what had happened, he immediately went out searching for his children. He drove to the beach, searching, and was home again by 3:30pm. He picked up his wife and returned to the beach, and kept searching. The children were finally reported missing to the police at 7:30pm. Jim Beaumont stayed out all night, still searching.
The next morning the Beaumont children were officially declared missing. One apparently comforting fact was that children almost never disappear in groups. There is something of safety in numbers, even for children. The typical missing child is one who has run away for one reason or another. But the Beaumont children had absolutely no reason to run away, and Jane would never have let her younger siblings do so anyway.
This left two possible explanations for the disappearance of the Beaumont children. Either they had met with some kind of accident, probably drowning, or someone had abducted them. From the outset, the latter looked more likely.
A massive search was launched. The coast was scoured for kilometres both north and south of the Colley Reserve, in the hope of finding something. However, the children's belongings were not found at the beach, and the question had to be asked: Even if it were possible that on a hot summer's afternoon at a crowded beach that three children could be swept out to sea and drowned without anyone noticing, was it possible that the children could carry their towels, a book, and other belongings into the water, and for none of them to be found? It was clearly very close to being impossible.
At the Beaumont home, Mrs Beaumont was kept under sedation. Friends and relatives gathered to wait for news, and a telephone was installed so that the family could keep in touch with Glenelg Police Station. Mr Beaumont visited the station twice a day for news.
By the weekend the disappearance of the Beaumont children was a national news item and the search had become one of the biggest ever mounted in Australia. Mr Beaumont had once been an owner-driver with the Suburban Taxi Service, and when the drivers found out that it was his children who'd gone missing, 40 of them joined the search. The search itself had been extended to every seaside suburb, and beyond. Sandhills were searched, and police knocked on the door of every house that the children could have passed on their way home. As well as the taxi drivers, hundreds of ordinary citizens asked if there was any way in which they could help.
On 31 January, five days after the disappearance of his children, Mr Beaumont went on national television to appeal for their return. He expressed the hope that whoever was holding his children would return them, then he broke down. Hundreds of calls were received, mostly from people believing that they'd seen the children. Every lead was followed up.
Following Jim Beaumont's appeal, the South Australian Police Commissioner asked Adelaide householders to search their properties, to investigate sheds and hiding places. Despite the resources that were being poured into the search, the police were just as baffled as the public.
In order to sustain public concern about the disappearance of the children, and at the same time increase the abhorrence of the abductor, police released a letter written by Jane Beaumont two days before she disappeared. It had nothing to do with the case but was designed to play on the emotions of the public. By this stage, police were willing to do anything to try to find a lead. The letter had been written when Mr and Mrs Beaumont went out for an hour or so, returning a little after 9pm, and having left Jane in charge of her brother and sister.
Dear Mum and Dad, I am just about to go to bed and the time is 9. I have put Grant's nappy on so there is no need to worry about his wetting the sheet. Grant wanted to sleep in his own bed so one of you will have to sleep with Arnna. Although you will not find the rooms in very good condition I hope you will find them as comfortable as we do. Good night to you both. Jane XXXMrs Beaumont had kept the letter, intending to show it to Jane when she'd grown up.
PS I hope you had a nice time whereever you went.
PPS I hope you don't mind me taking your radio into my room Daddy.
On 3 February the Patawalonga boat haven was searched for the bodies of the children. At low tide the wooden lock gates were closed, and while police divers searched the deeper water near the lock, a line of police cadets armed with long forks oozed their way through the often waist-deep mud, feeling for bodies. They found nothing.
On the same day Mrs Beaumont held a press conference in her garden. She admitted that while she remained hopeful, she believed that her children were probably dead. She also shed light on the possible behaviour of her children, saying: "If the other two were very keen to go with someone, Jane would go with them to look after them and wouldn't leave them alone." 84. Mrs Beaumont added when asked that she was very surprised by the reports that the stranger seen with her children had dressed them. Jane was a very shy child, and it seemed to her impossible that Jane would have let someone else pull up her shorts over her bathers.
The search continued, but nothing was found. The Adelaide Hills were searched, to no result. On 14 February, 19 days after the disappearance of the children, Australia switched to decimal currency. And so February passed by.
In March ex-policeman Ray "Gunner" Kelly flew into Adelaide. A legendary figure in the NSW Police Force, he had only recently retired with the rank of Detective Inspector, and had been probably Australia's most famous policeman. He was employed on a private investigation into the disappearance of the Beaumont children by a Sydney newspaper. The South Australia Police welcomed him politely but Kelly left after only one day. It seemed that the case had beaten even him.
The search for the Beaumont children eventually had to be scaled down. There was only a certain length of time that the South Australia Police could continue searching for the children, without anything to show for it. Despite the best efforts of the police, all that were found were people who'd seen the Beaumont children at the beach. They were located in the first week. Nothing else, not a single clue, was uncovered.