Newcastle academic involved in Beaumont mystery breakthrough

MISSING: The Beaumont children who disappeared near Glenelg beach, South Australia, in 1966.
MISSING: The Beaumont children who disappeared near Glenelg beach, South Australia, in 1966.

Police and forensic experts are expected to begin an excavation at the New Castalloy factory in Adelaide in hopes of discovering what befell three children who went missing in 1966.

A University of Newcastle academic Dr Xanthe Mallett is one of the key scientific minds behind the breakthrough in the case of the disappearance of the Beaumont children. 

The three siblings – Jane, 9, Arnna, 7, and Grant, 4 –  went missing after a trip to Glenelg beach, South Australia, on January 26, 1966. It is an enduring mystery which has captivated Australians for more than five decades. 

Dr Mallett is a criminologist and forensic anthropologist who is the discipline lead for criminology at the university.  

She became involved with the case about eight months ago through her role on the Channel 7 show Murder Uncovered, in which she is part of the team that tries to crack cold cases. 

Initially she was ‘cynical’ about the possibility of breaking new ground on the case. 

“I thought we were going to rehash all the old information,” Dr Mallett said. “So much work had already been done.” 

During the research stage of the project, two men aged in their 60s were questioned about a rectangular hole they dug for a well known Glenelg businessman Harry Phipps the weekend the children went missing. 

At the time of the crime the men were aged 15 and 17. It was only after the publication of the 2013 book The Satin Man: Uncovering the Mystery of the Beaumont Children, in which Mr Phipps was named, they realised their information might be of value. 

They went to the police which resulted in the excavation of a section of a Castalloy factory site, owned by Mr Phipps. It yielded nothing. 

“We learnt that the police had dug in the wrong place,” Dr Mallett said. 

“The men were very clear about where they dug the hole, even after all this time.”

For the television show, it was Dr Mallett’s job to find the expertise to locate a possible grave on the factory site. 

Dr Mallet turned to Flinders University’s Dr Ian Moffat, an archaeologist. 

He used Electrical Resistivity Tomography technology to scan the factory site. This technology had never before been used in an Australian crime investigation. 

“It won’t show skeletal remains, but it shows you something else,” Dr Mallett said. 

What they found was a section of soil, about 2m x 1m, that was different to the soil around it. It was located very close to the where the men said they had dug their hole 52 years earlier. 

Police are expected to excavate the site, now a crime scene, in the coming weeks. 

Dr Mallett said at the beginning of the investigation she did not believe Mr Phipps, who died in 2004, was a likely suspect.

However, when she saw where he lived in relation to Glenelg beach and the shop, where the children were last seen, it formed a “perfect triangulation”. 

“I don’t think they were snatched, but coerced and it would have had to have been someone with somewhere to go locally” she said. 

“Whether or not he is involved, I believe he is capable.”

Mr Phipps’ son, Haydn, told police that on the day the Beaumont children went missing he saw children fitting their description in the backyard of the family home.

“I believe his son was telling the truth,” Dr Mallett said. “It’s the best lead this case has had in a long time.”

However, working on the case has come with an emotional impact. 

“For the parents, losing all your children in one go 52 years ago, I can’t imagine how they felt,” Dr Mallett said. 

“I desperately want to find them. I believe they were abducted and killed very quickly.

“We can’t give them justice, but we might be able to give them a decent funeral.” 

The Seven News investigation will air on Wednesday, Jan 31 at 9pm.

Dr Mallett also stared in the BBC television series History Cold Case. She is also the author of the book Mothers Who Murder, which features the stories of  Kathleen Folbigg and Keli Lane.