The alarm was raised at precisely 10.03am on Sunday, August 1, 2010.
“Hi, I, I’ve just gotten up …” the emotional woman told the emergency switchboard operator, “… and noticed that my front door was open and my daughter’s not here.” The woman continued, sobbing, “… She’s six … She’s in her pyjamas … She’s got blonde hair and blue eyes.”
As the operator dispatched police to the home, an apartment in Mount Druitt, on Sydney’s far western outskirts, she gleaned further details: the little girl’s name was Kiesha Weippeart. The mother, Kristi Abrahams, shared the apartment with her partner, Robert Smith. She told police how they’d put the little girl to bed in her own room at around 9.30 the previous evening. She described how they’d awoken around 12 hours later to discover the bedroom empty.
It was as if she’d simply vanished into the night.
Kiesha’s disappearance sparked a massive search of the neighbourhood. By late afternoon more than a hundred police officers and State Emergency Services volunteers were searching bushland, parkland and stormwater drains. Police in a helicopter scanned ponds and waterways, while teams with police dogs worked their way through backyards and streets for the tiniest clue. Community and media interest was intense.
On Monday morning they were still searching when Detective Inspector Russell Oxford, driving into work, caught a radio news report about Kiesha’s disappearance. The circumstances mentioned in the bulletin seemed odd to Oxford, who was one of the most senior homicide investigators in the New South Wales Police Force.
At the homicide squad offices Oxford briefed the squad commander and within the hour Oxford and Detective Sergeant Andrew Marks were on their way to Mount Druitt Police Station. A taskforce was formed to investigate the case.
The detectives – both regarded as quiet achievers within the squad – started by combing through the available details. Abrahams’s and Smith’s accounts matched, but the evidence seemed at odds with their story. Uniformed officers who first attended the apartment had noted the neatness of the little girl’s bed: the covers had been folded back and the pillow had been puffed out. It didn’t appear to have been slept in or had been remade before the first police officers arrived.
The front door was a heavy fire door, which Abrahams had told police was ajar when she woke up. That didn’t seem right: it was the type of door that closes automatically. The two detectives couldn’t see any evidence of a forced entry but the door handle and deadlock seemed faulty. The detectives themselves had difficulty manipulating the two locks – and wondered how a six-year-old girl could manage this by herself.
Believing that it was unlikely Kiesha had prised open the door herself, Oxford and Marks turned to the theory that a stranger had abducted her from her bed. But there were no signs anywhere of a break-in. Nor were there any other obvious signs of an intruder. If she’d been alive or conscious when taken out of the apartment, the detectives tried to imagine how an abductor could possibly hold the child in his or her arms while at the same time muffling the young girl’s screams and then use two hands to manipulate the two locks on the door. It didn’t add up.
Without further evidence, however, the police had no option but to go along with the couple’s account while continuing their own investigation. As the hours passed police interviewed and re-interviewed the couple, looking for further clues as to what had happened to Kiesha or for discrepancies in their story.