How mystery ‘needle in a haystack’ clue led to little Cleo Smith’s miracle rescue after 18-day hunt

COPS hunting for Cleo Smith had a mystery “needle in a haystack” clue that led them to the four-year-old's miracle rescue.

Against what appeared to be unsurmountable odds, officers acting on a tip off swooped down on the property, just seven minutes away from her home.



A 36-year-old man was arrested at 1am in connection with Cleo’s disappearance, ending an agonising 18 day search that gripped Australia.

In moving bodycam footage after Cleo was found, a cop introduces himself to the her before asking: "Are you ok?"

Officers remained tight lipped about the exact nature of the final tip off that led them to the girl dubbed the ‘Aussie Maddie’.

But they followed a number of clues from the moment she disappeared that eventually led them to hear her tell them: "My name is Cleo."

What we know so far…

  • Police broke into a locked house at 1am and found Cleo in one of the rooms
  • A 36-year-old man has been arrested in connection with her disappearance.
  • Acting on a sudden tip off cops swooped on the property.
  • The house is just a seven minute drive from her family home
  • Cleo's relieved mum Ellie said: "Our family is home again."

Western Australia’s Deputy Police Commissioner Col Blanch said: “We've collected phone data, witness statements, DNA, fingerprints, rubbish along the highways, CCTV – we've collected everything.

“We had to find that needle. Last night the needle in the haystack came out and they acted in a heartbeat.”

Cleo vanished while at the Blowholes campsite with her mother Ellie Smith her partner Jake Gliddin and sister Isla Mae.

The last sight of her was in the tent she shared with her parents and baby sister when the four-year-old asked for some water at 1am on October 16.

From the start it was clear that Cleo hadn’t just wandered off but had instead been abducted.

🔵 Read our Cleo Smith blog for the latest updates in the search

Police revealed the zip of the family tent, which was found hanging wide open by her mother at 6am, was too high for the youngster to reach.

While the watching world began fearing the worst, other clues began to emerge about might have happened.

Campers reported hearing screeching tyres in the early hours of the Saturday morning and investigators said they were taking seriously.

Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde issued an appeal for occupants of a vehicle spotted leaving the Blowholes campsite between 3am and 3.30am on the morning of Cleo’s disappearance.

The witnesses who came forward to police believe the car turned out of Blowholes road and headed south towards Carnarvon.

MYSTERY TIP OFF

Then just a few days later, police confirmed that she had been heard on CCTV a camera installed inside a beach shack just over 60ft from the family tent she disappeared from. 

Information began pouring in, helped by a $1 million reward, though after Cleo was found cops revealed no-one will be getting the money.

Investigators continued to toil away, even sifting through tons of rubbish in a bid to find any clues that might lead them to Cleo.

Drones mapped scrubland and dirt tracks, looking for signs of disturbed earth or a trail left by a dragged sleeping bag.

The painstaking work by officers was combined with a team of ten analysts using technology to sift through thousands of phone calls and social media.

The work also involved collecting CCTV in at every possible site in a 600 mile radius of the abduction site.

PHONE RECORDS POURED OVER

But then on Tuesday night, a breakthrough came in the shape of information about a vehicle that may have been used to take Cleo away.

Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said he could not provide detailed information at but said that was biggest lead as to where Cleo could have been taken.

He said “we were trying to find a car. I'll leave it at that”.

The information was matched with the phone data and forensic leads in what he called a “massive jigsaw puzzle”.

"That is the way we found her,” said Mr Dawson.

A picture has since emerged of the suspect, who has been described as an "oddball".

One neighbour said they heard crying from the house while another claimed the suspect had unexpectedly been seem buying nappies in a local supermarket.



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