A top detective who investigated the abduction of British toddler Madeleine McCann has weighed in on the eerily similar disappearance of Cleo Smith, who hasn’t been seen since she vanished from a remote campsite in Western Australia.
The four-year-old girl, wearing pink pyjamas, was last seen by her parents at about 1.30am on Saturday in the family’s tent at the Blowholes camping grounds near Carnarvon on the remote north-west coast.
By the time her mother Ellie Smith and step father Jake Gliddon woke up at about 6:30am, she was nowhere to be found – with the tent zip leaving the entrance open.
It has since emerged that the little girl wouldn’t have been tall enough to open the zip herself, with investigators now focusing on the grim possibility that she was snatched.
With ‘grave fears’ she has been snatched, but investigators not ruling out that she wandered off alone, a massive land, sea and air search has continued across the area for the past five days with homicide investigators and missing person’s specialists scouring the scene.
But Dr Graham Hill, who flew to Portugal to help in the desperate hunt for three-year-old Madeleine back in 2007, said there is one ‘real complication’ that’s leaving seasoned investigators baffled – the fact that her red and grey adult-sized sleeping is also missing.
The search for Cleo Smith (pictured) is now entering its sixth day, with police not ruling out any scenarios – but also not identifying any potential suspects
The adult-sized sleeping bag Cleo was sleeping in has also disappeared, police confirmed
‘I would say it’s a remote chance that she’s got up, wandered off and taken her sleeping bag with her. I think that’s highly unlikely because there’d be some disturbance. You’d see where she dragged the sleeping bag and how far is a four- year-old child going to get in the dark?’ he told the West Australian.
The disturbing worst-case scenario is backed up by a worrying new development in the case on Wednesday.
Police have revealed little Cleo is too short to reach the zipper of the tent entrance, which was found hanging open by her mother at 6.30am.
WA Police Inspector Jon Munday said the height of the zip opening on the tent was a major piece of evidence that could point to the possibility Cleo was now in the hands of an unknown third party.
‘The positioning of that zipper for the flap is one of the circumstances which has caused us to have grave concerns for Cleo’s safety,’ he said on Wednesday.
‘There are circumstances around her disappearance that make it very concerning … like the fact that the zipper was allegedly up so high (and) the sleeping bag is missing.’
Police have revealed little Cleo (pictured with mother Ellie Smith) was too small in stature to reach the zipper of the tent entrance, which was found hanging open by her mother
Police roped off the area where Cleo vanished from her tent (pictured) in the middle of the night as they continue to investigate her disappearance
Madeleine McCann (pictured) went missing in Portugal during a family holiday in 2007, with a child abduction expert who flew to Praia da Luz to help saying Cleo’s disappearance had ‘real complications’ because of her missing sleeping bag
CLEO SMITH AND MADELEINE MCCANN: THE EERIE SIMILARITIES
Age at disappearance
Maddie: At a holiday apartment in Praia de Luz, Portugal
Cleo: In her family’s tent during a camping trip in WA
Both were sleeping near to younger siblings at the time
Cleo and Maddie’s parents were all unaware of the exact time their child disappeared
Maddie’s parents had been eating with friends at a nearby tapas bar, while Cleo’s parents were asleep in another area of the tent
The family tent had several entry points that could be unzipped, with the one found open being at the front-facing area of the tent where the little girl had been sleeping.
Dr Hill – then a Surrey detective superintendent seconded to the UK’s new Child Exploitation and Online Protection centre – flew to Portugal to lend expert help to the hunt for Madeleine back in 2007.
An expert in the abduction and murder of children by sexual predators, he told her father Gerry that if Madeleine had been abducted – she would likely be dead.
In the majority of cases where a child is taken by a stranger, they are usually killed within three to six hours, with Dr Hill admitting ‘the statistics don’t lie’.
The new detail comes after other campers claim they heard the sound of a car speeding off around 3am and police revealed up to 20 sex offenders live near the campsite where Cleo was last seen five days ago.
Police have disclosed that while there are currently no concrete suspects for Cleo’s disappearance, there are ‘groups they are interested in’.
The startling zipper development means that if Cleo was abducted, an intruder would have had to have crept into the family tent in the middle of the night and taken Cleo, along with her sleeping bag without waking anyone up.
Dr Hill said it’s vital for investigators to know who was near the campsite that evening – as a potential abductor would have noticed Cleo and decided to pounce.
‘When people abduct children, they have to see them in the first place. They have to know that they exist. So if that little girl turned up at the campsite late last Friday. Was she running around whilst they put the tent up?’ he said.
The four-year-old was last seen by her parents (pictured with her mum Ellie and partner Jake Gliddon) about 1.30am on Saturday when she woke up and asked for a drink
Cleo Smith woke up in the middle of the night and asked her parents for a sip of water hours before she disappeared
‘Offenders only abduct children they know exist. They don’t wander around people’s tents at night in the hope they’re going to bump into a little child.’
As each hour passes the situation grows more and more concerning for Cleo.
Her shell-shocked parents fronted the media for the first time on Tuesday fighting back tears as they made a public appeal for information.
When Ellie Smith first realised her ‘delicate and funny’ daughter was missing from their family tent before the sun had even risen, she made a beeline for her old favourite spots to play.
Dr Graham Hill is an expert in the abduction and murder of children by sexual predators, and assisted on the Madeleine McCann case. He said if Cleo has been taken, it is likely by someone who had noticed her at the campsite earlier in the day
Ellie Smith and her partner, Jake Gliddon (pictured) fronted the media for the first time on Tuesday after four-year-old Cleo (middle) went missing near the Blowholes campsite north of Carnarvon in Western Australia five days ago
The mother-of-two has been visiting the Blowholes camping ground since she was a child and immediately thought to go ‘everywhere we went as kids’.
It would be at least another three hours before she alerted police, who arrived on the scene ‘mid-morning Saturday’.
She hoped to find Cleo hiding out somewhere, although she knew it was unlikely.
‘[Cleo] would never leave us. She would never leave that tent alone… She’s lazy when it comes to walking,’ Ms Smith said on Tuesday.
If Cleo needed anything, Ms Smith is certain she would have woken her up rather than wander out of the tent alone, just as she did when she wanted a sip of water earlier in the night.
Cleo’s stepdad Jake Gliddon was frantic, according to a camper on the scene who assisted with the search
Pictured: A timeline of Cleo’s holiday with her family, from before she disappeared to the present search
Emergency services and police have been scouring shacks near the scene for five days
Cleo’s stepdad Jake Gliddon was frantic, according to a camper on the scene who assisted with the search.
Mr Gliddon started dating Ms Smith two-and-a-half years ago, when Cleo was barely one.
It’s understood he has raised Cleo as his own ever since.
‘You are incredible and the best dad Cleo could ask for,’ Ms Smith said in a tribute post to her partner last Father’s Day.
‘Thank you for stepping up and being her Daddy. We love you… our favourite man.’
A close friend of the couple said Mr Gliddon ‘absolutely adores Cleo [and] took her on as his own not long after she was born’.
‘He may be a stepfather but those kids mean the world to him… He’s a great dad.’
A close friend of the couple said Mr Gliddon ‘absolutely adores Cleo [and] took her on as his own not long after she was born’
A number of touching new photos of Cleo (left) with her family, including mother Ellie (centre) and baby sister Isla (right) have emerged showing a cuddly, affectionate little girl
Police have not ruled out any possibilities and continue to search the scene (pictured, checking a shack at the Blowholes campsite)
Cleo’s parents last laid eyes on her at 1.30am on Saturday, hours after they arrived at the campsite about 6.30pm on Friday.
She’d been sound asleep but woke up to ask for a sip of water. Her mum tucked her back in her red and grey sleeping bag and went back to sleep herself.
Four-and-a-half hours later, she was woken again by seven-month-old Isla, Cleo’s sister and Mr Gliddon’s biological daughter. Cleo was gone.
Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon immediately alerted all other campers in the vicinity.
Some of the guests sent up privately owned drones to search for Cleo from the sky, while others were on motorbikes scouring the area.
Her mum and stepdad, meanwhile, searched high and low.
‘We went looking, checking, making sure she wasn’t around the tent, and then we got in the car and started driving around everywhere,’ Ms Smith said.
Friends of Cleo’s family said the smart four-year-old (pictured) ‘wouldn’t just wander’ away from the tent
Pictured: The tent where Cleo disappeared from in the early hours of Saturday
‘We literally grew up probably like 100m from literally where our tent was — that was where we stayed at the same age, so we just looked everywhere that we went as kids and we couldn’t find her,’ she said.
It was only after this that the couple ‘realised we have to call the cops because she’s not here’.
By the time detectives arrived, the ground search was well underway.
‘The mother and stepfather were absolutely distraught,’ one of the fellow campers said.
The woman claimed all tin sheds at the site were opened and searched, but that the camp ground wasn’t closed ‘for hours’ after police arrived.
New campers were permitted to arrive well into Saturday morning, while many more left.
Mr Gliddon started dating Ms Smith two-and-a-half years ago, when Cleo was barely one. It’s understood he has raised Cleo as his own ever since
All you need to know about Cleo’s disappearance
Friday 6.30pm: Cleo and her family arrive at the campsite as the sun begins to set. They quickly set up their tent and get settled in, feeding both of the girls.
Friday 8pm: Cleo went to bed while her younger sister and parents stayed up for a little while longer.
Saturday 1.30am: Cleo woke up asking for a drink of water. Ellie tended to her and checked on Isla, who was in a crib right next to Cleo’s mattress in one room in the tent.
Saturday 6am: Ellie woke up to Isla wanting a bottle. She passed the divider that separated the two rooms in the tent and immediately noticed the zipper was almost entirely open. Cleo was gone.
Saturday ‘mid-morning’: Police and emergency services arrive to assist with the search, starting with local Carnarvon officers.
Sunday: Cleo’s mum issues a desperate plea on Facebook to find her daughter.
Sunday/Monday: Homicide detectives, bush trackers and more volunteers are brought in to assist with the search.
Monday: Police confirm Cleo’s grey and red sleeping bag also disappeared. They are yet to comment on whether there were marks that indicate it was dragged from the tent.
Police reveal they are not ruling out any possibilities relating to Cleo’s disappearance.
Tuesday morning: Search is suspended due to wild weather.
Daily Mail Australia confirms the ‘interaction’ Cleo had with her mother was ‘not sinister’ and simply the four-year-old asking for a sip of water.
Tuesday midday: Search continues again as storm passes.
Tuesday 1.30pm: Cleo’s mum and stepdad, Jake, speak to the media for the first time since she disappeared, revealing key pieces of evidence, including:
– The tent they were staying in was left almost entirely open. Cleo and Isla were in the room nearest to the entrance, which was unzipped when Ellie woke up at 6am. Isla remained in her crib unharmed, but Cleo was gone
– Cleo is ‘not the sort of child to wander off’ and would have woken her parents if she needed anything, like when she woke hours earlier to ask for a sip of water
Wednesday: Police confirm reports a car was heard ‘screeching off’ from the campsite at about 3am.
Assistant Commissioner Darryl Gaunt revealed there are ‘between 10 and 20’ known sex offenders in the Carnarvon area, but none are suspects into Cleo’s disappearance following inquiries.
‘We don’t have any concerns about that,’ he said on 6PR Mornings.
‘I know part of the investigative strategies have included reaching and making inquiries into their whereabouts and movements, and this point in time we’re very comfortable where we sit with those inquiries.’
Investigators confirm Cleo would be too short to open the tent zip by herself, stoking fears she was abducted
Cleo vanished from the Blowholes campground near Carnarvon, on WA’s remote northwest coast, in the early hours of Saturday morning
After police arrived, the camper said they were ‘very thorough in taking everyone’s details who left the site before it was officially closed’.
Police have not ruled out any theories relating to Cleo’s disappearance – including the possibility that she was abducted.
Cleo’s mum noted the four-year-old was ‘terrified of the ocean’ and wouldn’t wander into the water, but that she was excited about building sandcastles on the beach.
She was also preparing to learn to ride her bike without training wheels.
As the search enters its fifth day, there are mounting concerns Cleo could be anywhere – including potentially interstate.
‘We can’t rule out the fact that Cleo may be still in the area, we can’t rule out the fact she’s left the area and if she’s left the area that is probably is our worst case scenario because that really paints a sinister picture with what’s happened,’ Inspector Jon Munday said.
‘It is a race against time. We’re just trying to find answers.’
Cleo Smith (left) with her mother Ellie, her partner Jake Gliddon and her baby sister Isla (right)
Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith revealed yesterday that Cleo had been sleeping in a separate area of the tent, with her baby sister Isla just metres away
Mr Munday vowed to continue ‘throwing everything at this’ for as long as it takes to bring Cleo home.
Police have also identified up to 20 sex offenders who live near the campsite where she was last seen five days ago.
In a radio interview on Wednesday, Assistant WA Police Commissioner Darryl Gaunt said detectives have been making inquiries about all known sex offenders’ whereabouts but do not believe any were involved in Cleo’s disappearance.
The camp ground is located 75km from Carnarvon and 875km from Perth with nothing but bushland and scrubs in between.
Cleo’s biological father Daniel Staines voluntarily spoke with police at Mandurah Police Station on Monday in relation to his daughter’s disappearance.
He was 1,000km away at the time and is not considered a suspect.
It’s not clear what relationship he and Cleo had, particularly given Ms Smith referred to her new boyfriend as Cleo’s dad.
Mr Staines is yet to comment publicly on her disappearance.
Police say they have grave concerns for the child (pictured) and that ‘everything is on the table’ in the unusual and disturbing case
Body language expert reveals Cleo’s mum and stepdad are struggling to hold it together
The mother and step-father of missing four-year-old Cleo Smith are experiencing ‘genuine sadness’ as they struggle to keep it together, body language experts have revealed.
When Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon fronted the media on Tuesday, they appeared emotional and ‘lost for words’.
‘In the cases similar to this that I’ve worked on I’ve seen much more emotion from both parents. I think she’s working hard to keep it together,’ body language expert Traci Brown told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I heard her voice waiver a bit and that’s the only way I could tell real sadness is there. I think his stress response is to shut down so that’s what we’re seeing.’
She added the couple appeared to be ‘wired differently’ in terms of emotional responses, pointing out Mr Gliddon gave off a ‘heavy energy’ despite appearing stiff and less reactive.
‘My guess is he’s the strong silent type,’ Ms Brown said.
Both had their arms crossed, which was a sign the pair were facing ‘stress triggers’ as the pair exhibited ‘self-comforting behaviour’ during the interview.
Body language experts have weighed in on the interview analysing the gestures, tone of voice and facial expressions of the couple