Cleo Smith is a 4 year old girl who went missing on October 16, 2021 from Western Australia. Her story has had the most unexpected outcome and it has really captured the attention of the world.
We will start from the very beginning so that you can understand chronologically what happened. On October 16, Cleo was camping in a tent with her parents – her mum Ellie Smith, step-father/mum’s boyfriend Jake Gliddon and her baby sister Isla.
Just as a bit of background, Ellie works at a beauty salon in Carnarvon and Jake works for mining company Rio Tinto.
The group were at an area near Carnarvon in Western Australia known as the Quobba Blowholes campsite.
The area they were camping in was very remote – info according to the Carnarvon Visitor Centre website:
The Blowholes Campground, also known as Point Quobba, is located along the Quobba coastline nearby the awe-inspiring sight of the Blowholes is located just 75 kilometres north of Carnarvon on a bitumen road. Powerful ocean swells force water through sea caves and up out of narrow holes in the rocks, jets of water erupt into the air, sometimes up to a height of 20 metres, creating a spectacular sight.
Just one kilometre south of the Blowholes is a calm coral-filled lagoon known to the locals as the ‘Aquarium’, with fish and shells in abundance and a white sandy beach, making it a perfect hangout spot for the family or even a beach picnic. The lagoon is an ideal spot for snorkelling, especially for those least confident in the water.
Cleo and her family allegedly arrived at the campsite the night before she disappeared, which would have been October 15. They set up their campsite and it’s believed Cleo went to bed around 8pm.
Their camping set up was a multi-room tent, that had a divider separating the kids and the adults. Cleo was set to sleep on a mattress in one room of the tent with Isla in a cot next to her.
Ellie and Jake were on a blow-up mattress in a room next to them.
Cleo was wearing a pink and purple ‘Bonds’ brand sleepsuit to bed that night.
Ellie has said that Cleo woke up at around 1.30am. This was originally reported in the press as being an ‘interaction’ between Cleo and her mother which seemed kind of strange. It has since come out that Cleo was thirsty and asked for a drink of water.
Cleo’s mother has spoken about this and said “I checked on Isla, made sure Isla was OK. I got back in bed and that was it really, we went back to sleep, woke up to Isla wanting a bottle.
Ellie woke up again around 6-6.30am and realized Cleo was not in the tent and neither was her distinctive adult sized sleeping bag – which is still unaccounted for to this day.
“As we passed the divider, I went into the other room and the zipper was open. Cleo was gone and that was about it for Saturday morning until everything started.”
There’s been many rumors online about this case. One of the most widely spread rumors, that has since proved to be untrue, is that Cleo’s parents waited hours to call the police once they discovered she was missing. Police released a detailed timeline of the day and we now know that Ellie called police at 6.26am:
6.30am: A car with two officers is dispatched from the Carnarvon police station, using flashing lights and sirens.
6.41am: Another vehicle is sent with two officers and lights and sirens.
7.10am: The first police car arrives and the second arrives a few minutes later.
7.26am: Police establish a protected forensic area, taping off the tent and campsite.
7.33am: Police request a drone operator to be sent from Geraldton.
7.44am: A third police car is sent from Carnarvon.
8am: Friends and family members arrive to help search for Cleo. Detectives go to the family home in Carnarvon to look for signs of Cleo, then return to Blowholes to stop vehicles in the area.
8.11am: Police request an SES team to join the search around the Blowholes area.
8.20am: Third police car arrives at the campsite.
8.24am: Police incident controller John Munday, from Geraldton, arranges to travel to the area with a mobile policing facility and contacts police airwing and volunteer marine searchers.
8.34am: Police set up a roadblock at the entrance to the Blowholes campsite.
9.25am: Nine SES personnel arrive and begin searching for Cleo.
9.30am: Carnarvon detectives sit down with mum Ellie and stay with her all day.
11am: Homicide detectives from Major Crime are sent by road from Perth to Carnarvon.
1pm: Homicide officers and search experts from emergency operations leave Perth by police airwing for Carnarvon.
3pm: The officers arrive in Carnarvon.
Ellie spoke about the initial search for Cleo:
“We went looking, trekking, making sure she wasn’t around the tent,” Ms Smith said.
“Then we got in the car and started driving around everywhere.
“We grew up here, we literally grew up 100 metres from where we stayed at the same age. So we just looked everywhere that we went as kids and we couldn’t find her.
“We realised we had to call the cops because she wasn’t here.”
Ms Smith described what she was thinking at the time.
“Where is she, she needs breakfast, what is she doing? Everything’s going through my head,” she said.
So this was taken very seriously from the start. The area is full of dangerous obstacles for kids – mines, the ocean, rocks, cliffs etc. The search started and did not stop for days and days.
Cleo disappeared in the early hours of Saturday October 16, and on Monday October 18, homicide detectives arrived at the campsite to begin their investigation.
Insp. Joe Munday said officers were stopping cars and caravans to search interiors and take drivers’ details before vehicles leave the area.
‘We are trying to paint the picture of who was around here during the window of opportunity between the early hours of Saturday morning and 6am Saturday and what leads that could give us,’ he said.
Locals were asked by police to check their properties and garbage bins for any signs of Cleo or her sleeping bag. The bag was grey/black and bright red and would be hard to miss if you saw it.
Information started to come out in dribs and drabs in this case as the days went on. On Tuesday October 19, we learned that the tent was almost wide open when Ellie woke up on the morning that Cleo disappeared.
The public began questioning if Cleo was ever actually at the campsite.
This is an American stat but it’s an interesting one. Over 460,000 children go missing each year. In 2015, only 0.1% of missing children cases were the result of stranger abductions.
Even though she wasn’t seen on the footage, police have said they heard Cleo talking on CCTV and this seems to be their evidence that she was there.
Police interviewed more than 100 campers who had been in the vicinity of the Blowholes campsite at the time of the disappearance.
Witnesses have reported seeing a car (believed to be a sedan) in the early hours of October 16, right around the time when Cleo disappeared. The vehicle was turning south off Blowholes Road, near the area Cleo’s family was camping, and headed for Carnarvon.
Some campers reported hearing the noise of a screeching car at around 3am on the morning that Cleo disappeared.
The timing of the car sighting coincides with evidence from other campers that they heard the sound of screeching tyres rapidly leaving the campsite about 3am.
The witnesses were travelling north on the North West Coastal Highway on their way to work when they spotted the mysterious car leaving the camping ground.
They were unable to give a description of the car or how many people were inside as it was too dark.
The search for Cleo went on.
More than 100 police officers were assigned to the case, named Taskforce RODIA.
The Australian Federal Police even used a reconnaissance spy plane.
Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said the following during a session of parliament.
“They are currently doing that in the case of four-year-old Cleo Smith, who disappeared from a camp site in Western Australia. Our thoughts are with the family, and I can assure them that the advanced capabilities of federal law enforcement are being deployed to aid local efforts to find Cleo.
“Australians can be certain that we will continue to equip our law enforcement and intelligence agencies with the tools and the resources that they need to combat this very serious crime – and especially crimes against children.”
The Western Australian Government offered up a $1million reward. WA Premier Mark McGowan said the reward was for information resulting in finding Cleo, or leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in her suspicious disappearance.
“All Western Australians’ thoughts are with Cleo’s family during what is an unimaginably difficult time,” he said.
“We want to ensure police have everything they need to solve this case and that’s why my government has no hesitation in supporting police with this reward offer.”
During a press conference on October 21, police said they were looking for a ‘body’ and that they believed Cleo has been abducted.
“Given the information now that we’ve gleaned from the scene, the fact that the search has gone on for this period of time and we haven’t been able to locate her … it leads us to believe that she was taken from the tent,” Detective Superintendent Rob Wilde told reporters.
Cleo’s mother made a few social media posts during the time that Cleo was missing.
“My sweet girl come home to me,” she wrote, posting a photograph of Cleo holding an icecream.
“If anyone sees anything at all, please call the police, please call 131 444.”
Ellie also told the media that Cleo was not the sort of child to wander off on her own, and did not even leave her side when they walked to the shops.
“She’s lazy when it comes to walking. She won’t ride her bike very far. All she wants to do is go in the bottom of our pram,” she said.
“She would never leave us, she would never leave the tent.
“When she left she was wearing a jumpsuit. She can’t go to the toilet without my help unzipping it. She would come and get me, just like she did for her water.”
As part of their investigation, police officers sifted through 50 cubic metres of rubbish that they collected from roadside bins.
The rubbish was packed into two trucks and transported to Perth, where four forensics officers and 20 recruits spent two days sorting through hundreds of bags in an effort to find any items that may assist in the investigation.
For weeks after she disappeared, drone specialists continued searching the area around the Blowholes, for any sign of Cleo or her sleeping bag. The drones were used to search for any sign of disturbance in the sand (assuming a grave site?). The investigators were attempting to “ map every inch” of the area near where Cleo was last seen.
Acting Police Commissioner Col Blanch spoke to ABC Australia on November 2:
“We are looking for disturbances in sand,” he told ABC radio. “We’ve used satellite technology, we used aircraft to take high-definition photos. We really need to make a good quality mapping of that area to make sure that we cover every inch.”
Blanch said the initial search focused on looking for Cleo if she had potentially wandered off. “Now we are in a stage where we need to forensically go over that ground inch by inch to see what disturbances might be in the nearby areas for any sort of evidence that might give an inkling as to what happened,” he said.
He also spoke more about the circumstances of Cleo’s disappearance:
“I think it’s more than likely an opportunistic-type event,” he told Perth radio 6PR. “We know they got there on the Friday night, it was getting dark, and there would have been limited opportunity for people to observe Cleo at that time.”There are 100 people on the taskforce searching for Cleo – 50 locally and 50 in Perth. The working theory is that she was still in WA because it was a “high-risk proposition” someone would try and take her out of the state, Blanch said.
WA police also begged the public to stop trolling Cleo’s family during the investigation. Officers said there was nothing to suggest the account given by Cleo’s parents was anything but “accurate and truthful”.
The Western Australian Premier even chimed in about the trolling.
‘I just don’t get why all these people get all this courage when they get a keyboard and say the most horrible and shocking things that they would never say otherwise so I just urged them to stop,’ he said.
‘I urge people to go back to a sense of decency and civility towards one another, particularly people who are suffering.’
There was GoFundMe raising donations for the search for Cleo – it raised over 87k.
It was taken down in early November at the request of Cleo’s parents. I am assuming they were being trolled about it, considering the government was basically offering up every available resource, causing many to question why a GFM was needed.
So for weeks after Cleo disappeared, there were hundreds of police scouring possible evidence over literally thousands of kilometres.
The search literally never stopped, but things were not looking good. By early November, Cleo had been missing for more than two weeks, with basically zero sign of her.
It is rare for missing children to be found alive after so long when they are taken by someone who is not a relative. In Australia, approximately 25,000 young people are reported missing each year, according to the authorities.
“The likelihood of her being recovered alive was very low and getting lower as the days passed,” said Xanthe Mallett, an associate professor of criminology at the University of Newcastle. “For a child to be taken and found well after nearly 19 days, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this kind of outcome.”
Police had entered a home in Carnarvon (literally minutes from Cleo’s family home) at around 1am local time on November 3. They found Cleo alone in the locked up house. Some reports say she was playing with toys.
Detective Cameron Blaine is seen on the now viral video of Cleo being rescued.
“I asked her what her name was. One of the guys jumped in front of me and picked her up and I just wanted to be absolutely sure … I wanted to be sure it was her,” Blaine said.
“I said: ‘What is your name?’ She didn’t answer, I asked three times and then she looked at me and said: ‘My name is Cleo.’ And that was it.”
Police held a press conference later on Wednesday and they released a bit more info:
Blaine told how he broke the news to the couple after some of the “shock and elation” of finding Cleo had passed.
“We had always hoped for that outcome but were not prepared for it. It was absolutely fantastic,” he said. “To see her sitting there in the way that she was, it was incredible.
“I turned around and walked out of the house. Not long after that, we got into the car … we called Cleo’s parents and said, we’ve got someone here that wants to speak to you. It was a wonderful feeling.
All we knew at the time was that a 36 y/o man was ‘assisting police with their enquiries’. There were many online rumors going around about the identity of the man and Channel 7 even screwed up royally and released a name and photos of the wrong person. They have since retracted their statements and issued an apology:
“Earlier on Wednesday 7NEWS wrongly showed images of a man that were incorrectly labelled as the person under arrest over the disappearance of Cleo Smith,” a notice on the news outlet’s website says.
“These were removed promptly, but 7NEWS apologises for the error,” the notice continues.
The man was pictured in an ambulance, being taken to hospital. There are varying reports as to what his injuries were – some outlets say he was beaten by other inmates, while others say he injured himself by banging his head on the cell wall.
Police said during a press conference on Wednesday that they hoped charges would be laid that day, but nothing came from it.
On Thursday November 4, the man was taken to hospital AGAIN. WA Deputy Police Commissioner Col Blanch was asked about reports the man was injured after banging his head against a wall in a holding cell Blanch said “there’s no serious injuries”.
“We’ve had to take him off to hospital again this morning, so that’s twice,” he told Sydney radio 2GB.
Blanch said it was important that before an interview takes place police are sure a person is of sound mind, healthy, fed, and has had sufficient rest.
“So we’ve got to make all the right accommodations for this person … so we can make the right decisions going forward today.”
He also said that he expected to charge a man in his 30’s with kidnapping today (Thursday at the time).
“If there are any other charges they may take some time,” he said.
“A lot will depend on what evidence if any they are able to extract from the home behind me where Cleo was allegedly held captive. There is also a possibility that specialist officers will be having a chat with Cleo today, possibly in the coming days and a lot will depend on what she tells those officers.”
Later on Thursday, the man in custody was finally identified and charged. His name is Terence Darrell Kelly and he is a 36 year old man from Carnarvon.
(The man who was wrongly identified the day before this had the same name, just with different spelling). He spoke to the media after the correct person was identified:
“I got really upset yesterday. It put me in a state where I had to come into the hospital,” Flowers told SBS News. “They gave me drugs just to calm me down.”
“What they did was go straight on Facebook. The first person they seen got through my photos and uploaded on social media, and spread it around, not just in Australia, this is worldwide,” Flowers said, adding that he’s exploring the possibility of a lawsuit against the media company.
The real Terence faced court quickly on Thursday. He was charged with two offences – one being forcibly taking a child under 16, commonly referred to as child stealing. The other charge has not yet been made public which I don’t think I have ever seen happen before?
He did not apply for bail at this hearing and was not yet required to enter a plea.
Terence was barefoot when he appeared in court and was pissed that reporters were there. At one point he looked over at the journalists and swore, saying: ‘Why are they here?’. Another reporter said that Terence screamed at him and said ‘What the f**k are the media doing here?’
He then yelled ‘I’m coming for you!’, The Australian reported.
Terence was represented by a Geraldton Aboriginal Legal Service lawyer and he is due to appear in court again on December 6.
Reports have also emerged that Terence was not in the home at the time Cleo was rescued: Minutes before Cleo was saved, her now alleged abductor and the man who had been living at the home she was found in, Terence Darrell Kelly, 36, was pulled over in Carnarvon by police and arrested.
Since his initial arrest, Terence has been moved to a maximum security prison.
Even before Terence’s identity was officially confirmed, there were many online rumors about him. Terence had MANY social media accounts – one of our members counted at least THIRTY. Some were for him, while others were for members of his family. The only catch is, we are 99.9% sure none of these people existed.
Terence created a perfect life with a wife and a bunch of daughters.
He seemed to have a real obsession with daughters, the term daddy’s girl etc.
Terence also seems to have had an obsession with Bratz dolls.
Bratz is an American product line of fashion dolls and merchandise manufactured by MGA Entertainment and created by Carter Bryant. The four original 10-inch dolls were released on May 21, 2001—Yasmin, Cloe, Jade, and Sasha.
Terence had MANY social media accounts dedicated to Bratz dolls.
One of Terence’s neighbours, Henry Dodd, saw him driving around with a bunch of dolls in his car, about a week before he was arrested.
‘There were around ten or twelve dolls… and it looked like he had picked them up after they were delivered somewhere,’ he told Daily Mail Australia.
‘You could see them in their boxes like he ordered them online.
‘They were all piled in the back of his car.
‘I thought it was weird. But I didn’t know anything about him collecting dolls or anything. I didn’t know he had a whole room full of them in his house.
‘We didn’t know that until it (was reported) today.’
Other neighbours spoke to the media about seeing Terence buying nappies (diapers) at the local supermarket.
People online have been analysing the photos of Terence’s home and finding some pretty creepy stuff:
Terence also followed Cleo’s parents Ellie and Jake on some of his fake social media accounts:
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan flew to meet Cleo and her family following her safe return.
“It was a lovely experience to meet her,” he said.
“Cleo was a delightful little girl who was playing in the backyard.
“She was a very bright, upbeat, sweet little girl.
“She was, I felt very well-adjusted .. and the family were very appreciative of everything that had been done for them.
“[They are] fundamentally decent, honest human beings, they were lovely people and it was great to meet them and acknowledge what they have been through.”
The Premier took two teddy bears for Cleo and her sister.
Cleo’s family have also issued a statement:
As of November 10, there is not much confirmed news to report. Police are still conducting investigations at Terence’s home and are also looking into the possibility of multiple people being involved in Cleo’s disappearance.