A chance sighting of a car turning off Blowholes Road in the dead of night, about the time Cleo Smith vanished from a nearby campsite, could be the crucial clue police need to find the four-year-old.
As the desperate search for the missing girl enters its 10th day, detectives are now hunting a vehicle seen in the vicinity of Blowholes, north of Carnarvon, about the time Cleo was probably abducted.
Det-Supt Rod Wilde revealed that “credible sources” had seen a car turn south off Blowholes Road in the early hours of October 16.
The two witnesses, travelling together for work, were driving north on the North West Coastal Highway that Saturday morning when they saw a car turn right off Blowholes Road between 3am and 3.30am.
This comes after witnesses at the camp site reported hearing tyres skidding about 3am.
After arriving at the camp site on the evening of Friday, October 15, Cleo’s mum Ellie Smith and partner Jake Gliddon had put the small girl to bed about 8pm.
Cleo was last seen in the tent about 1.30am when her mum got her a drink of water.
When Ellie woke about 6.30am, the tent was unzipped to a height Cleo could not have reached and she was gone. A large-scale land, air and sea search has since failed to find any trace of Cleo or her sleeping bag.
Police now believe the girl was probably snatched from the tent in an opportunistic kidnapping. Supt Wilde said the new witnesses were unable to provide a detailed description of the vehicle they saw other than to say it was a passenger vehicle, like a sedan, and not a truck and the car’s headlights were on when it turned south off Blowholes Road.
“Obviously at that time when the people observed it, it wasn’t anything of great significance,” the veteran homicide detective said.
“Fortunately they came forward after hearing about Cleo and the news.
“We are keen to speak to the person who was driving and anyone who was in that vehicle.”
Supt Wilde said his team at Taskforce Rodia, which is investigating Cleo’s possible abduction, was yet to identify the vehicle through other methods.
“We have CCTV and other footage that we’re working through but we are specifically appealing for anyone who was travelling with dash cam on the North West Coastal Highway or within the Carnarvon township around that time of the morning to come forward and provide that vision to police,” he said.
“And we want the person or persons who were in that vehicle to contact us.”
Supt Wilde said the occupants of the mystery car were not necessarily involved in Cleo’s abduction but that the new information was “certainly of interest” to investigators.
“They’re not suspects but we need to find out what they were doing,” he said.
“It may be insignificant but because of the timings we want them to come forward as they themselves might be witnesses to something. So, we’re just calling upon that driver or those persons to come forward and talk to us about where they were going that morning.”
Meanwhile, a single CCTV camera, left, at a beach shack about 10m from where Cleo and her family were camping captured the little girl’s voice that day, before she disappeared.
The inconspicuous motion-sensitive camera — which records audio as well as vision — faces the front of the shack, capturing a wide shot of anyone who approaches the beach home.
“It was just after they arrived, it’s motion-sensitive so it was by (their vehicle),” Supt Wilde said. “It’s very limited … we’ve reviewed that and we believe it’s Cleo’s voice that’s heard on the CCTV.”
The shack owner said the audio “clears the parents” of involvement in their daughter’s disappearance.
Supt Wilde would not reveal what Cleo said in the footage but revealed that police also had other evidence from Cleo’s parents which put her at the scene.
The veteran detective said officers remained “hopeful” that Cleo would still be found alive.
He said that CrimeStoppers had received “hundreds and hundreds” of calls since the announcement of a $1 million reward for information that leads to finding Cleo.