The search for Cleo Smith: How it unfolded

After 18 long days, young Cleo Smith is home safe and sound. This is how it unfolded.

After 18 long days, young Cleo Smith is home safe and sound. This is how it unfolded.

The disappearance of Cleo Smith is the story that has well and truly gripped the nation over the past three weeks.

The four-year-old has been found safe and is back in the arms of her parents, mother Ellie and stepfather Jake, after 18 days.

Authorities have been tight-lipped on the exact intelligence that led officers to a house in Carnarvon where Cleo was found in a bedroom.

A 36-year-old Carnarvon man is being by police who were yet to lay charges by early Thursday morning.

The man has no connection to Cleo’s family, police said, and he was not at the house when police burst in to rescue the girl.

Here, The New Daily looks back at what we know so far about the suspected abduction.

Friday, October 15: Weekend away

Ellie Smith, Jake Gliddon, Cleo and sister Isla arrive at the Blowholes Campground.

The family regularly visit the camp site, just 50 kilometres from Carnarvon, where they live.

The stunning Blowholes Campground, where Cleo’s family set up camp on Friday night. Photo: Carnarvon Visitor Centre

Saturday, October 16: Alarm raised

Cleo was last seen at 1.30am on Saturday when she woke mum Ellie asking for a drink of water.

She was then put back to sleep in the family tent, sleeping in a pink one-piece sleep suit.

When Ellie woke at 6am, she noticed that both Cleo and her sleeping bag were missing, with the tent left unzipped.

Ellie dialled 000 at 6.30am, and two police cars arrive at the site just after 7am.

Police begin their preliminary search for the four-year-old at their Carnarvon home, and scout the area for any signs of Cleo.

The search soon escalates as police stop vehicles travelling away from the campsite along Blowholes Road, and bring in a helicopter to start an overhead search.

By 3pm, nine SES personnel arrive had arrived in the area to assist in an air, land and sea search.

But there were no signs of the toddler to be found.

Sunday, October 17: Concerns grow over rough terrain

Concerns grow for missing Cleo, and onlookers speculate that she may have wandered from the campsite, which is close to the ocean, and gotten in trouble either in the water or in the spectacular – but dangerous – blowholes that adorn the area.

The Carnarvon blowholes can spurt water into the air erratically, up to 20 metres into the air.

However, mum Ellie firmly disputed this theory, saying that her daughter would “never” abandon the family tent, labelling her disappearance as “very unusual”.

Specialist police and a helicopter tourism company joined the desperate search later that afternoon in hopes they could bring Cleo home to her devastated parents.

People at the Blowholes Campground were also questioned, with each vehicle leaving thoroughly searched for any signs of Cleo.

Hordes of Carnarvon residents also showed support to the authorities, joining the search’s efforts.


Monday, October 18: Search continues

The air, land and sea search resumed, to no avail.

The marine search was scaled back, as authorities turned their attention to whether Cleo could have been abducted and moved from the area.

Still, no sign of Cleo.

SES members continue the search for Cleo. Photo: SES Carnarvon

Tuesday, October 19

A storm put a pause on the search for Cleo on Tuesday morning as bad weather hit the Carnarvon area.

“We’ve got heavy rain and high winds here and it’s simply not safe for the SES volunteers at the moment,” Inspector Jon Munday told Perth radio 6PR on Tuesday.

“We’re reassessing that hour by hour.”

Temporarily unable to continue their search, police issued a nationwide plea to the public for any information that may lead to Cleo’s whereabouts, releasing an image of the sleeping bag and sleep suit Cleo was last seen with.

WA Police released these images, hoping the public would assist them in their search for missing Cleo. Photo: WA Police

The search resumed after lunch on Tuesday as the weather cleared up.

Inspector Munday confirmed that the search was now focusing on the possibility Cleo had been abducted, and that three days into the search, she “could be anywhere”.

“She could be anywhere by now, which is really concerning.

“That’s why time is really of the essence here and we’re throwing everything we can at it.”

Wednesday, October 20: Bring our girl home

Cleo’s family issued a heart-rending plea via WA Police for Cleo to return home as the desperate search enters its fifth day.

“We’re gonna find her. We have to,” said mum, Ellie.

“Everyone asks us, ‘What do you need?’, and all we really need is our little girl home.”

Ellie encouraged the public to report pieces of information “small or big, or if you’re sure or not”.

“How I’m feeling is how I never want any mother to feel with their child. She would never leave that tent alone.”

Police admit there was no evidence at the site to confirm that Cleo had been taken – except that the tent zip had been found open at a height Cleo would not have been able to reach.

However, Assistant Commissioner Darryl Gaunt told Perth radio 6PR on Wednesday the police were not certain Cleo had been abducted.

“We’re treating it as a search-and-rescue mission, first and foremost, and that remains our mission.”

Police confirmed they had also spoken to Cleo’s biological father at Mandurah, south of Perth, as part of their investigations.

They said there was no suggestion he was involved in her disappearance.

cleo smith missing

Ellie Smith and Jake Gliddon issue a heartfelt plea to the public. Photo: WA Police

Thursday, October 21: $1 million reward

As fears grow for young Cleo, WA police announce a $1 million reward to anyone who could provide information leading to Cleo’s whereabouts.

Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch fronted media to plea with the public.

“Someone in our community knows what happened to Cleo. Someone has the knowledge that can help. Now there’s a million reasons why you need to come forward.”

Police say they believe Cleo was abducted from the site.

Sunday, October 24: Fresh lead

More than a week after Cleo was reported missing, detectives want to speak to a driver of a car seen turning south off Blowholes Road between 3am and 3.30am the morning Cleo went missing.

Police also want to hear from anyone camping near where Cleo Smith went missing.

Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said there was no information to suggest Cleo was not still in Western Australia, and the search remained focused on the local area.

Wednesday, October 27: Top-secret technology

Police search Cleo’s family home in Carnarvon for a third time, with concerns that the family was potentially stalked over an extended period of time before their camping trip.

As the general public grow more and more frustrated with little progress in the case, Prime Minister Scott Morrison made the announcement that “top-secret technology” was being used in the search for Cleo, and that authorities were helping “in every way they possibly can”.

“In terms of technology and tradecraft, the AFP have some very advanced capabilities, leading edge, not just here in Australia but all around the world,” he said in a radio interview.

“As much as I’d love to reveal exactly what some of those are, and how they’re being used, we certainly can’t talk about that on air.”

Still, the $1 million reward for any key pieces of information had failed to bring any new leads forward.

Friday, October 29: WA Police stand their ground

As new information about progress on the case seemed to thin out and hope Cleo would be found safe became increasingly strained, WA Police reassured the public they had not yet thrown in the towel.

Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde, who was leading the taskforce of more than 100 officers investigating Cleo’s disappearance, fronted the media to outline their response.

“The first officers on the scene did a really good and thorough job.”

Superintendent Wilde said more than 100 people who were at the Blowholes on the night had been interviewed, and 200 false sightings of Cleo had been investigated by authorities.

Tuesday, November 2: Onto something

Police sniff out a fresh lead, and investigate immediately.

Reports say the investigation turned to satellite vision and mobile phone towers to narrow down their investigation.

Wednesday, November 3: Cleo’s found

In the early hours of Wednesday, a whopping 18 days into Cleo’s disappearance, police followed a forensic lead to a Carnarvon property, not far from Cleo’s home, at 1am.

Police located little Cleo in one of the rooms, said Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch.

“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘What’s your name?’ She said, ‘My name is Cleo’.”

A 36-year-old man from Carnarvon is in custody and is being questioned in relation to the suspected abduction.

WA Premier Mark McGowan fronted the media and confirmed Cleo was safe and “smiling”, resting in hospital.

“We are all so pleased and so happy with the great news that little Cleo Smith has been found alive and well,” he rejoiced.

Mr McGowan credited the vast team of investigators on the case, who “didn’t leave any stone unturned”.

He said that the investigation would receive attention from police forces “around the nation”.

“I think this will be looked at by police forces around the nation and, indeed, around the world, as to what can be done if you have the right people and the right way of looking at it, and [if] you do it methodically, [and with] determination, which is exactly what has occurred here,” he said.

The news brought joy to onlookers all around the country, as they all collectively breathed a sigh of relief upon hearing the good news.

Cleo is finally home safe.

Missing persons

It’s very rare that missing persons cases like this have a happy ending.

According to the AFP, more than 38,000 missing persons reports are received by police each year.

Cleo and her family are extremely fortunate to be reunited, but there are numerous missing persons cases across the country that require the public’s assistance and attention.

To view information about the ongoing missing persons cases in Australia, click here.

Have any information about a missing person?

Contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or go to

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