Behind Seven News’ investigation into the Beaumont children disappearance

Michael Usher on the discovery that could solve an infamous cold case

The Seven News investigation into the 1966 disappearance of the Beaumont children made headlines this month after a new lead was found that could possibly unravel the infamous Australian cold case.

Journalist and news presenter Michael Usher is a part of the Seven News Investigates team. He told Mediaweek that the broadcaster has been working on the story for about a year. Investigating this story was a “no brainer”, Usher said. This came down to the advances in technology and the ages of the people involved in the case. “We were mindful that the witnesses, the detectives and the case were getting quite old. We thought now is the time to look at it before memories and good accounts are lost.

“If you are going to look at a cold case you have to go back to those people originally involved and ask, ‘What did you see at the time? What did you hear? What do you know?’”

The team led police to a factory site in Adelaide managed by local businessman Harry Phipps in 1966 after a geophysical test showed disturbed earth the size of a grave. Subsequently, police established the site as a crime scene and will be excavating the area in the coming weeks. In light of the new lead, Seven is making the most of what they have got and will be airing a special about the disappearance on January 31 at 9pm.

“It was quite an emotional reaction when it was found that there was something under there. At the very least what it found was that the two brothers who dug that hole in 1966, three days after the Beaumonts went missing, were telling the truth. They were doubted for so long,” Usher said.

Police had previously excavated the factory site in 2013 but nothing was found.

“I am very mindful that when you shine a spotlight on such a strong case like this you can easily raise false hopes. So we have been so careful to do this scientifically and properly with the cooperation of the major crime squad in South Australia,” Usher said.

When the Seven News Investigates team expressed interest in pursuing this case to news and current affairs boss Craig McPherson he asked the tough questions as expected. But he has supported the team every step of the way, Usher said.

“The real test of patience and the most time-intensive part of the whole process was seeking the right permissions and approvals. We had to seek the right approval from the current owners and leaseholders of the factory site where the dig is going to happen. We had to do this in cooperation with the police. We eventually wanted to say to them, ‘Look, if we find anything, we are prepared to hand it over. We want to be working with you and not do it as a stunt. That would be silly.’”

Usher joined Seven in October 2016 from Nine, where he had been working on the network’s Sunday night news program 60 Minutes. In 2017, he hosted Seven’s true crime series, Murder Uncovered. He is currently the host of Seven News Sydney’s Friday and Saturday nightly bulletins, and is filling in as a presenter on Weekend Sunrise.

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