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Beaumont Children Case Breakthrough Possible

It is, without doubt, Australia's most enduring cold case and a mystery that may never be solved.

On Australia Day 1966, the three Beaumont children left their parents' home in Adelaide for a day at Glenelg beach.

They were among hundreds, if not thousands, of people who flocked to the coast to seek relief from the stifling heat.

Yet, despite being surrounded by so many, so few seemed to notice them and none could say definitively where they went and who they were with.

The case has been the subject of intense police investigation, media scrutiny and public conjecture for more than half a century.

But it's just possible that detectives, who have never regarded it closed, are on the brink of a major breakthrough.

On Friday they will excavate at an Adelaide factory where a recent scientific investigation has revealed signs of a large hole dug on the site back in 1996.

They can't say it's a grave and don't know what they will find, but can't rule out that could be the final resting place of Jane, who was nine, seven-year-old Arnna and four-year-old Grant.

The site, at the back of an Adelaide factory, has become the focus of attention because it was owned at the time by businessman Harry Phipps.

For several years Phipps, who died in 2004, has been considered a person of interest in the disappearance of the children with police unable to rule him out or say for sure that he was involved.

He bore a resemblance to an identikit picture prepared at the time and lived close to Glenelg Beach.

His own son, who accused his father of years of sexual abuse, believed he was responsible.

Phipps also had a reputation for handing out crisp one pound notes, and a woman who worked across the road from the beach told police the children had come into her shop and bought food, paying with a one pound note.

More recently two men came forward with the story of digging a large hole at the North Plympton factory at the request of Phipps on the Australia Day weekend.

An excavation in 2013 found nothing, but it now seems it was done in the wrong spot.

Hence Friday's return for a second attempt.

"We don't know what we will find," Superintendent Des Bray told reporters when preparations were announced last week.

"There's never been anything to prove that the Beaumont children are in the hole.

"However, common sense says, that even with the slightest chance that this hole could be relevant, we should search and that's what we're doing."

But there's also the possibility police may find nothing and, just like thousands of other clues and leads, this latest one, significant though it may seem, will be just another dead end.

There's been so many it's been hard to keep track.

One early report said the children were living in the Mud Islands, in Victoria's Port Phillip Bay, which were duly, but unsuccessfully, searched.

In 1968, the entire crew of the British freighter Devon was questioned and photographed in New Zealand.

And then several years later a Perth woman came forward to claim that for about nine months in 1966 she had lived next door to the Beaumont children in an isolated railway town near the SA-WA border.

But it was the visit of Dutch clairvoyant Gerard Croiset that probably generated the most interest.

He claimed to have had a compelling vision that the children had been buried less than two kilometres from where they went missing.

Mr Croiset later said he believed the children were buried under a brick kiln in a nearby warehouse.

Extensive excavation of the areas he pointed to were carried out, without result.

In 1997, a former investigator on the Beaumont case, Stan Swaine, said he believed a woman living in Canberra was actually Jane Beaumont.

Police checked his claims and questioned the woman concerned but eventually said they were convinced she was not the eldest of the three children.

And still the theories continued.

Several years ago there were more suggestions the children were alive and living in New Zealand and then, just before the 40th anniversary, Tasmanian Police Commissioner Richard McCreadie said he believed convicted killer James O'Neill could easily have kidnapped the three children.

Mr McCreadie admitted he had no evidence to support his theory and SA police said they had interviewed O'Neill and ruled him out.

Less than a month later detectives travelled to Victoria where they were thought to have interviewed child killer Derek Percy who had spent more than 30 years in Ararat Prison for the rape, torture and murder of a 12-year-old girl.

Percy was said to have travelled to Adelaide around the time the Beaumonts went missing.

One theory that has persisted over the years is a possible link between the Beaumont case and the disappearance of Joanne Ratcliffe, 11, and Kirste Gordon, 4, from Adelaide Oval in 1973.

Just like the Beaumonts, despite being surrounded by thousands of people, it seems no one saw or heard anything, or at least anything suspicious.

Some believe the same person was involved and that person was Phipps.

Police said a breakthrough of any kind in the Beaumont case on Friday would be "huge".

"It would be significant for the country if we could find out what happened to the three Beaumont children many, many years ago," Detective Inspector Greg Hutchins said.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill said it would just be a "great relief".

"It would be a great relief for many people, family, friends and the broader South Australian community if we could finally bring justice to that family," he said.

AAP

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