Theo Hayez was an 18 y/o Belgian man who disappeared in Byron Bay, Australia in May 2019.
His disappearance is very puzzling as there are lots of unexplained gaps in the timeline. A human bone has recently been found in the ocean near where he disappeared and his case has been in the spotlight again, so we wanted to cover it and tell Theo’s story.
Theo was born in Belgium in 2000 to his mother Vincianne Delforge and father Laurent Hayes. He has a younger brother, Lucas and a step-sister named Emma. He was also very close with his cousin Lisa.
His friends described Theo as friendly, funny and sociable but not especially loud or outgoing. He was also said to be intelligent and studious. Theo’s family described him as fit, confident and sometimes adventurous but they said he was also cautious and responsible.
Theo arrived in Australia in November 2018. He had a working holiday visa and planned to spend quite a while in the country.
Theo flew to Melbourne firstly from Belgium and he stayed with his godfather there for over a month.
Between November and May 2019, Theo did a lot of travelling. He went to Tasmania, Northern Territory, Cairns and the Barrier Reef. He started making his way down the East Coast of Australia from around mid April.
On May 25, 2019, Theo had dinner with his cousins in Brisbane. He stayed with them overnight.
The following day, May 26, Theo took a bus to the Gold Coast (around a 1 hour drive away). Theo seems to have stayed there for a few days until May 29. He took a bus to Byron Bay and checked into a hostel there called the Wake Up! Hostel at 2.30pm. He paid upfront for his stay – until 3 June, 2019. He had a bus ticket booked to Sydney for 3 June and another one booked to go to Melbourne on 4 June.
Located at the Belongil beach front and refurbished in 2018, Wake Up! Byron Bay offers modern accommodations with the bohemian beach vibe of Byron Bay. It features an onsite bar and restaurant and free high speed WiFi.
Wake Up! Byron Bay has a wide range of accommodations options, including double and twin rooms with attached bathroom, en suite dormitory rooms with options of eight, six or four beds and female-only rooms. The property has renovated bathrooms and communal areas with fully air-conditioned rooms. Personal bedside lights, power points and USB ports are included for every bed.
Olivia to discuss Byron Bay.
Up until this time, Theo had kept in touch with his family regularly. He spoke to his mother pretty much every day on Facebook messenger.
It seems that Theo spent a quiet couple of days in Byron Bay and he didn’t seem to interact much with other guests at the hostel. The people in his dorm said that he watched movies on his phone and that he seemed friendly.
On May 30, 2019, Theo sent a photo of a beach in Byron Bay to his cousin Emma. He told her that he had taken the photo during a walk that day.
On Friday May 31, 2019, Theo attended a BBQ at the hostel. It was an unusually cold night in Byron Bay.
At that BBQ, Theo met another Belgian, Antoine Van Laetham. They started speaking and Theo told him how he was excited to go back home soon. At around 7.30pm, Theo and Antoine took a shuttle bus from the hostel into the Byron Bay town. They bought a two litre cask of Rose Wine. Theo can be seen on CCTV at 7.44pm, wearing a grey cap, black hoodie, tan pants and black shoes.
The two then returned to the hostel in an Uber. They got back just after 8pm and Theo paid the fare. He also sent a text to his cousin Emma around this time, telling her that he was going out and that he might be a little slow to respond to texts later.
Theo and Antoine went to the back terrace at the hostel and they interacted with some of the other guests. We don’t really know how much Theo drank of the cask wine, I am assuming some. The hostel also provided some free alcohol at the BBQ.
The people who Theo spoke with that night said they did not remember him drinking a lot or being affected by alcohol.
At some point after 9pm, the group decided to go to a bar in town called Cheeky Monkeys. The bar has since closed and been bought by a developer but it was infamous in Byron as being ‘loose’.
A lot of beer, dancing on tables and people getting drunk.
Theo can be seen on CCTV outside the bar at 9.35pm. He was wearing the same clothes as seen in the earlier footage. Theo does looks slightly unsteady on his feet at one point as they wait to go into the bar, but the group later said that nobody recalls him being unsteady.
Bank records show that Theo bought two schooners of Carlton Draught beer – one at 9.51pm and one at 10.14pm.
There is footage of Theo dancing on tables at around 10.45pm and he went to the bathroom at around 10.55pm.
As Theo started to head back to the dance area, a guard stopped him and asked him to step outside. The guard told Theo that he suspected he was intoxicated. He was asked to leave the bar and not come back.
Theo appeared cooperative with the guard. This info is from the coronial inquest documents:
Mr Mackie, the security guard on duty that night who made the decision to remove Theo confirmed that Theo was “compliant, quiet and showing no signs of aggression”. He also could not recall anything about Theo’s behaviour or demeanour which indicated that he was, in fact, intoxicated. However, he said that Theo “seemed like he was losing his coordination and balance because he was swaying a little bit” and formed the view that he was approaching intoxication and should be removed.
The last known CCTV footage of Theo is from 11.03pm. He was seen walking in the direction of Kingsley Street. He is looking down at his phone and he almost walks into a pole, but avoided it.
There are no confirmed sightings of Theo after this point. The next detail about his possible movements come from his digital data trail. Google has said the data is accurate to within three metres or 10 feet.
After Theo left the bar, he searched on his phone for directions back to the hostel. It would have been a 30 min walk – around 3kms or 2 miles from the bar.
For some reason though, Theo did not follow the directions. He went in almost the opposite direction and into a residential area, Kingsley Street.
He then turned into Tennyson Street and walked to some cricket nets in a park there. He stopped there from 11.14pm to 11.21pm.
Theo could have likely heard the ocean from here but the path to the beach is not clearly visible, especially at night.
Theo used google maps at this time and zoomed in and out of the area he was in, but he didn’t search for any particular directions.
Theo’s family believe that he likely met someone at the cricket nets around this time. There is no evidence of this but that is their theory as to what happened next.
Theo left the nets and walked through dark residential streets to a bush track called the Milne Track. This led to Tallow Beach, through Arakwal National Park. He followed the Milne Track for a while before he went onto a fire trail and into dense bush.
Theo used his camera at 11.38pm and used google maps a number of times.
Theo came out of the bush onto Tallow Beach at about 11.48pm. Theo’s family find it unlikely that he would have been able to find this route on his own.
He walked at a brisk pace to the northern end near Cape Byron Cliffs, known as Cosy Corner.
At 11.56pm, he left the beach and walked up a steep incline to Lighthouse Road before returning to the beach. Theo used Google Maps again around this time.
At 12.20am, Theo sent a message to a friend on FB messenger. It was continuing a conversation about a U2 concert in September. The recipient, Lou, said that there was nothing strange or unusual about the message.
At 12.23am, Theo watched YouTube and viewed a clip from a Belgian TV show called Burger Quiz.
At 12.50am, Theo searched for directions to the hostel again.
At 12.55 and 12.56am, Theo sent some WhatsApp messages to friends. These friends later said the messages seemed normal and that slang was used and that they were familiar with that from Theo.
Theo’s phone stopped transmitting data at 1.02am. It reconnected to the network at 6.17am but there was no activity.
Theo’s friends sent messages to him at 2.33am and 3.23pm and neither of these were delivered.
The last GPS data from Theo’s phone was at 12.05pm on 1 June 2019 – around 12 hours after he entered the bush.
At 1.47pm on 1 June, his phone disconnected from the network for good.
As we mentioned earlier, Theo was in constant contact with his family and his mother became concerned very quickly when she did not hear from him. She could see that he had no Facebook activity after 1 June, 2019.
After Theo failed to arrive in Melbourne as planned on 6 June 2019, his family filed missing person reports. The staff at the WakeUp! Hostel also filed a missing person report on June 6. They had been trying to contact Theo since June 3 when he did not check out as planned. They searched his belongings on 6 June and found his passport. This caused them to become concerned for his welfare.
Theo had not been seen for over five days when he was reported missing. The investigation that police conducted was one of the largest ever in the region.
(a) obtaining and analysing mobile phone and internet data;
(b) obtaining and viewing CCTV footage from the Byron Bay area;
(c) conducting land and sea searches;
(d) canvassing the community, local business, hostels and hospitals for any information about Theo;
(e) interviewing backpackers and contacting past guests from Wake-Up hostel who had dispersed all over the world;
(f) taking, reviewing and investigating Crimestoppers reports from the public including numerous suspected sightings of Theo;
(g) liaising with Belgian authorities who were conducting their own investigation;
and (h) organising media and social media campaigns.
Police requested info from Telstra (phone carrier) on 7 June, 2019. Theo’s mother managed to get into his hotmail account on that day, using a password that she knew. She was then able to log into Theo’s Facebook account. They did not open any of Theo’s messages as to not interfere with the investigation.
When the family met with police on 8 June, 2019, they raised the social media accounts being searched but the police believed they were not lawfully entitled to access Theo’s accounts.
The police tried to find a way to get Theo’s google data on June 8 and 9 but they were unsuccessful. It seems like Australian police were unaware that Google had a 24/7 emergency disclosure request (EDR) that they could have used.
The Belgian police did know about the EDR and they submitted one on 9 June 2019. They inadvertently provided Theo’s gmail account as they believed it was linked to his Google. This error was not discovered until 19 June when it was found that his hotmail was linked.
On June 9, Telstra provided a general area in which Theo’s phone would have been in when it was transmitting data.
The actual physical search for Theo started 9 days after he went missing. Obviously by this point, if Theo was alive, he would have been in desperate need of medical attention. They focused mainly on secluded bush areas. They also used drones in their search.
By June 20, 2019, police were using cadaver dogs in the area. The official police search for Theo wrapped up by the end of June 2019.
On 7 July, 2019, volunteers were out searching for Theo in the Arakwal National Park. They found his cap upside down on the ground. They first confirmed with his family that the hat belonged to Theo. It was later confirmed by DNA testing.
The cap was found in an area that had already been searched by police.
In August 2019, police conducted experiments with phones similar to Theo’s Oppo phone. They tried to replicate the data that they got from his phone on the night he vanished. They retraced Theo’s steps. They even abseiled off cliffs to see what data they could get.
In September 2020, Belgian police used geo-fencing as an investigation tool. This is basically when they pull Google data to determine which Android phones were in a specific area. The process is not available in Australia for missing persons cases that are not criminal.
Belgian authorities informed Australian police that no Android phones were detected within 100 – 150 metres of the locations where Theo had been.
Geo-fencing is absolutely not fool proof. It is apparently unknown whether it can detect all phones, or just phones connected to Google. It is also not known if it can capture iPhones.
In October 2021, police conducted a search for Theo’s phone. They used metal detectors and searched cliff areas. They did find an old Nokia phone, but not Theo’s Oppo.
In February 2022, the New South Wales Government and Police announced a reward of $500,000 for any information that leads to the discovery of Theo’s whereabouts or discloses the circumstances of his disappearance.
In October 2022, the NSW Coroner determined that Theo was deceased.
On May 6, 2023, a human bone was found in the ocean off Belongil Beach.
Scuba diver Jason Baker had been taking two diving students to a shipwreck when he saw the bone poking out of the sand.
”In the first 10 minutes I noticed about 10 centimetres of what I thought was bone poking out of the wreck structure,” he told 9News.
”I was quite shocked, you get an uneasy feeling, it’s not something you expect,” he said.
“It didn’t look like it should be there.
“I had a really strong sense it was human, as I moved more sand away it got bigger and bigger.”
He took the bone to police and they have forensically determined that it is a human bone.
There are some other people missing in the area, so the bone isn’t guaranteed to belong to Theo.
Ellen Wilson went missing in 2015 from Ballina. Her vehicle is also missing. Ballina is around a 30 min drive from where the bone was found.
Bronwyn Winfield went missing from Lennox Head in 1993. It is believed that she was murdered. Lennox Head is around 25 minutes from the bone site.
There are four people missing from Mullumbimby which is around 20 minutes from Belongil.
Malcolm Briggs in 1975. Rodney Clement Bradridge – 1997. Margaret Ryan – 1986 and Jeffrey Neville, 1993.
An update from police suggests that the bone had not been in the water long.
A swimmer did go missing in the area in March 2023.
As of mid June 2023, the remains are still unidentified.
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