The man accused of murdering three-year-old Cheryl Grimmer at beach near Wollongong on the New South Wales south coast almost 50 years ago had intended to have “sexual intercourse” with the girl before murdering her, a court has heard.
On Wednesday the Wollongong local court heard that on the day Grimmer disappeared the man, who cannot be named because he was 15 at the time of the alleged offence, had watched her drink from a bubbler outside of the changing rooms at Fairy Meadow beach before he “grabbed” her.
The prosecutor, Emilija Beljic, told the court that the crown’s case “largely depends” on an admission made by the man less than 18 months after Grimmer disappeared.
The court heard that the man – who allegedly told doctors in 1970 that he had “urges to kill himself and kill other people” – told police at the time he had hid with the toddler in a nearby drain for about 35 minutes, gagging her with a handkerchief and tying her hands behind her back with a shoelace before taking her to the spot where he allegedly murdered her.
In never before-heard detail of the way Grimmer is alleged to have been killed, the court heard that after hiding in the drain with the young girl, the man walked towards the suburb of Balgownie – about 3km away – where he was “intending to have sexual intercourse with her”.
Appearing via an audiovisual link from Silverwater prison where he has been in custody since March last year, the accused man inhaled sharply and said “bullshit” when Beljic revealed that detail.
But Beljic told the court the man had told police that Grimmer “started to scream as soon as he took the gag off her and he put his hands around her throat and told her to shut up”.
“She stopped crying and stopped breathing,” Beljic said.
She said the man had told police he “panicked”, took off her clothing and placed “bushes and dirt” over her body before heading back to Fairy Meadow beach.
“The only items he left there were shoelaces,” she said.
Wednesday’s appearance in the Wollongong local court relates to evidence to be provided by four detectives who worked on the Grimmer case, including one who was involved in the original 1970 disappearance.
The crown is seeking to only provide written statements while the defence is seeking to cross-examine the witnesses.
It has previously been reported that officers did not charge the man at the time of his confession because of inconsistencies in his evidence.
On Wednesday the court heard the inconsistencies related to details of his description of the area. A few days after the man confessed to Grimmer’s murder in 1971 he took police on a “walk through” of the events of that day and described a tubular steel gate and cattle guard near the scene of the murder.
Police interviewed the property owner at the time, who told them there had not been a cattle guard in place.
“An inquiry with the owner of the property revealed that he said that cattle guard wasn’t in place [on the date of her disappearance] and indeed that [there was] no tubular fence,” Beljic said.
“That seemed to form part of their reasons not to pursue any charges against the accused.”
But as part of a new investigation into Grimmer’s disappearance as a result of a 2011 coroner’s report, the property owner’s son had been interviewed by police and told them “the cattle guard was certainly in place [and] that he recalls the tubular gate”.
Beljic also said parts of the man’s confession included information “which could only be known by the accused because of his presence [at the beach]”, including that Grimmer had been lifted up to drink from the fountain.
As part of the reopened investigation, Grimmer’s older brother Ricki Grimmer told police that he remembered lifting his sister to drink from the bubbler outside of the beach change rooms.
The Crown will also rely on psychiatric reports dating from 1970, where the man told police about suicidal and homicidal urges. The man’s defence lawyers have previously argued he was mentally unwell at the time of the alleged confession.
Grimmer’s disappearance in January 1970 prompted a high-profile police investigation. The case was reopened after a 2011 Coroner report found that Grimmer was dead and recommended police reinvestigate.
The man, now in his 60s, was arrested in March last year.
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