New evidence in the case of missing backpacker Theo Hayez suggests the 18-year-old met up with a mystery local who knew Byron Bay’s dark places and may have lured him to his death.
The clues also suggest he may have met with foul play at the hand of one or more people connected with the drug trade in the notorious Northern NSW town of Nimbin.
The new turns in the Theo Hayez case were aired on the Channel 9 programme Under Investigation in Australia on Monday.
Special investigator Ken Gamble told the programme there was a suggestion Hayez’s belongings were taken from Byron Bay’s Tallow Beach and dumped in an abandoned house in Nimbin, 70 kilometres away.
When they searched the house they didn’t find Hayez’s belongings, but they did find items belonging to another person who went missing from Byron Bay, Thea Liddle.
Liddle’s remains were found during a search in July last year.
The data examined by Nine comes from detailed analysis of Google tracking on Hayez’s mobile, which charts the Belgian teenager’s every step despite the fact his phone was never found.
Hayez vanished without a trace three years ago after being kicked out of a bar in Byron Bay and wandering off into the night.
NSW Police believed he was alone and lost, but the Google tracking data suggests the teen met up with someone and was lured into dense bush.
Deep analysis of his mobile phone data shows him taking an “erratic route” towards Byron’s Tallow Beach in the early houses of the morning after the night he vanished.
The tracking shows Hayez making a sudden turn down an almost impenetrable bush track on one of the coldest nights in Byron that year.
Gamble said it was obvious that Hayez took the turn “because someone knew a short cut to the beach”.
Fellow investigator Nigel Phair said it “has to be a local to know … the route”.
Just hours earlier, Hayez had been drinking in a Byron Bay bar on a short break after finishing a six-month backpacking holiday across Australia.
He’d spent time staying with his uncle and family in Victoria and his cousins in southeast Queensland before stopping off for several days in the holiday town.
Described by his family as “level-headed” and “cautious”, Hayez was not known as a big drinker or drug taker.
But on the night of May 31, 2019, he accompanied fellow Belgian backpacker Antoine to a drinking hotspot called Cheeky Monkeys.
One of the bar’s doormen threw Hayez out because he appeared intoxicated.
It was a “sliding doors” moment for Hayez, who wandered into the night, alone, never to be seen again.
CCTV of Hayez out on the street shows him looking at his phone. Checks of his data showed he looked up the hostel he was staying at, the Wake Up, but was headed in the wrong direction.
Although police say he was lost, Gamble and Phair believe he wanted to continue his night out and met up with someone.
Every search Hayez made on his phone that night was picked up by mobile phone towers and that raw data has been analysed by the two private investigators.
Gamble said they knew “when he walked and we know when he stopped”.
Hayez’s movements after he left Cheeky Monkeys are on a path in the opposite direction from the Wake Up Hostel.
He stopped at a recreation ground for seven minutes, Gamble said, then met up with someone who led him away towards the bush path to Tallow Beach.
Hayez then moved away from the beach into bushland and a small clearing, where his GPS was switched off.
Nigel Phair believes Hayez went into his settings and turned off the GPS, but the phone still tracked him.
And even when his activity on the phone stops, 12 house later the phone itself is on the move along paths near the Byron Bay lighthouse.
It finally runs out of power around 1pm in the afternoon.
A tearful Jean-Phillippe Pector, Hayez’s uncle and godfather, told Channel 9’s Under Investigation of the emotional toll the mystery of the teen’s disappearance – and believed death – has taken on his family.
In early June 2019, Hayez’s family flew to Byron Bay and his father Laurent issued an emotional plea.
Locals responded and massive searches for Hayez discovered his favourite baseball cap lying near a track leading to Tallow Beach.
Police believed he’d attempted to scale steep cliffs and may have fallen to his death into the raging surf.
The case also raised the spectre of the tourist paradise’s seedy underbelly of drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and homelessness.
All these factors were considered to have possibly contributed to Hayez’s demise.
The new digital evidence unearthed by the Under Investigation programme would be presented at the Coroner’s inquest into Hayez’s death, Channel 9 said.
The inquest, which starts in November, will also investigate the death of Thea Liddle, which Gamble and Phair believe is linked to Hayez’s death.
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