A 36-year-old man is being questioned about the disappearance of Cleo Smith, a four-year-old Australian girl who was found locked in his house, less than three kilometres from her parents’ home, after a weeks-long manhunt.
The man, whose name has not been officially released, is now in hospital with head injuries he sustained in a holding cell yesterday morning. It has been reported that he was attacked by other inmates.
Television channels have aired footage of a man they claim is the suspect in an ambulance with a bandaged head. No charges had been announced.
Cleo was feared abducted after she disappeared from her family’s tent at a remote campsite about 1,000km north of Perth on October 16.
A search was conducted throughout the region and police officers interviewed more than 110 people.
Neighbours described the suspect as a “quiet guy” and a “bit of an oddball”. He is reported to have undergone psychiatric assessment after being deemed mentally unstable.
One said he had seen the man buy nappies on Monday, even though he had no children, but the penny did not drop until after the raid.
Police said that the man was the only suspect in the case and that he was “known” to them but was not on the registered sex offenders list.
There was no known connection between him and the Smith family, they added.
“It appears as though it was opportunistic,” said Superintendent Rod Wilde, the lead investigator.
The man was detained after police smashed their way into a suburban house in Brockman, Carnarvon, in a night-time raid. They had received a tip-off the day before.
The man was arrested separately as police raided his house to rescue Cleo.
The suspect was reportedly brought to their attention because he began driving laps around his property before pulling on to the driveway.
He also apparently moved his dog from the back of his house to the front, which was unusual, according to his neighbours.
Police seized several items, including a rug that was flown to Perth for examination. Forensic officers are expected to spend several days going through the house.
The suspect’s house is a six-minute drive from the Smiths’ family home and just two minutes from the police station where 100 detectives, data analysts and specialist investigators working under Task Force Rodia had set up their HQ.
Neighbour, Rennee Turner, told the Today show that the suspect was “a bit of an oddball” but she was very surprised.
She said: “He is a very quiet guy, definitely wouldn’t have picked him. It has completely derailed me.”
Detectives who specialise in crimes involving children have arrived from Perth to help interview Cleo Smith. (©Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2021)
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