'Evil Meeting Innocence': The Disappearance Of William Tyrrell

The searches, investigations and dead-end leads in one of the most chilling mysteries in modern Australian history.

Police have concluded their bushland search in Batar Creek for missing boy William Tyrrell, the latest chapter of a desperately sad story that has captivated Australia for nearly four years.

The most we know about the little boy is from photographs; his beloved Spider-Man suit, his cheeky grin beaming out and lighting up the frame, absolutely oblivious to the unwanted infamy he and his family would soon find.

Happy and innocent; as children deserve to be.

He vanished without a trace on an otherwise ordinary September morning in 2014, sparking years of searches, investigations, dead-end leads and theories in one of the most chilling and emotional mysteries in modern Australian history.

Police search dense bushland for the boy in 2015 (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

On Wednesday, the day after William would have turned seven, police narrowed their previously-announced search of bushland to a new area just kilometres from where he disappeared.

"He was roaring and then nothing."

William, aged three, disappeared from his foster grandmother's home at Kendall, near Port Macquarie on the NSW north coast, on the morning of September 12, 2014.

The boy had been with his sister in the backyard, which backed onto the Kendall state forest. One minute, the children were playing hide-and-seek; the next, William was gone. Vanished, as if into thin air.

William's mother noticed him missing around 10.30am. By 11am, police had been alerted and commenced a search.

The last thing William's foster mother remembered was the boy roaring like a tiger, as he played in the yard.

(AAP Image/NSW Police)

"He was roaring and then nothing. The world just came to a screaming halt. There was no wind, there were no birds. There was just nothing," she told 60 Minutes in 2015, a year after the boy vanished.

"I’m looking out around this garden. I’m thinking, ‘where are you?’ And there was nothing."

The first search

A small search party of police and family soon swelled into 200 people combing nearby streets and bush for the missing boy in the superhero suit.

State Emergency Service, Rural Fire Service, and neighbours joined police in scouring the area, but no sign of William was found.

Police tape cordons off an area near a search zone (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Searches continued overnight and for many days. At first thought to be lost, thoughts began to turn to a more sinister explanation for his sudden disappearance.

By September 21, the search was called off.

The investigation

The case went quiet -- at least publicly -- until early 2015, when police searched the home and business of a local tradesman who had been scheduled to carry out repairs at the Kendall home around the time William disappeared.

Several items were seized, and a septic tank at the home was drained. The man, later named as a "person of interest", publicly denied any involvement in the case, and has never been charged in relation to the disappearance.

In February, homicide detectives took over the Tyrrell case, and police said it was likely the boy had been abducted. In March, another search of bushland in the nearby suburb of Bonny Hills.

NSW Police divers search a dam in 2015 (AAP Image/Pool/Dan Himbrechts)

In April, William's biological mother gave an emotional TV interview with Channel Seven, where she said she believed her son was still alive.

“Don’t hurt him. Just let him come home. He hasn’t even met his little brother yet. That’s not fair,” she said.

The leads

Also in April 2015, police announced they were investigating reports of "a paedophile ring that may be operating" in the area William disappeared.

In the 60 Minutes interview in September 2015, Detective Inspector Gary Jubelin said police were actively investigating the idea of a predator abducting the boy.

Homicide Squad Detective Inspector Gary Jubelin addresses the media with an update on the search (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

“Those two worlds colliding -- it’s like evil meeting innocence,” he said.

The 60 Minutes report revealed police were investigating reports of two unknown cars which were parked on the street near the site of the disappearance.

The vehicles' positioning was curious, parked between two properties on a dead-end street, with no reason to be there.

“There’s no logical explanation why they would park where they were,” Jubelin said.

In the first year of the investigation, police had tabled more than 1400 information reports, interviewed more than 1000 people and received more than 407 reports from people believing they had seen William in public.

By June 2018, police had collected some 15,000 pieces of evidence.

Police in the latest search, June 2018 (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

In September 2016, marking two years since his disappearance, police offered a $1 million reward for information leading to William's return.

The public

William's disappearance captivated the public, leading to a massive public information campaign -- citizens offering information, tips, and claims of sightings.

Facebook groups, social media campaigns and hashtags all sprung up in helpful attempts to share information and awareness, but others have muddied the waters by bandying around their own amateur detective theories about the disappearance.

Nonetheless, the major 'Where's William?' campaign was started -- spearheaded by child protection organisation Bravehearts -- to keep the case in headlines and top of mind for the public.

Events, fundraisers and merchandise were all organised, with money raised going back into the campaign to spread the word.

"Until we know conclusively that William is not alive, we'll treat it with the possibility that he is still alive,"

On June 12, police began a new search of bushland near Port Macquarie.

"The initial search, while extensive, was focused only on finding William -- a little boy who was lost -- and not with a view of deliberate human intervention," NSW Police said in a statement.

"Until we know conclusively that William is not alive, we'll treat it with the possibility that he is still alive," Jubelin said.

Police initially advised of a four-week forensic search of bushland, and on Wednesday, the search shifted and narrowed to a new area just kilometres from where the boy vanished.

However, after two-and-a-half days, that search was concluded with no evidence uncovered that William was ever there -- although "new information" was found.

As the search concluded at Batar Creek, Jubelin directly appealed to the public for information.

"There is a person out there who knows why we are searching this area," he said, noting that his person may be feeling the heat of the investigation.

"I would suggest people close to this person might notice a change in their behaviour. I would encourage those persons to come forward with any information they have."

William, who went missing on September 12, 2014, would have turned 7 on Tuesday.