Who stole Eloise?
She was the little girl from Beaumaris who was taken from what should have been the safety of her bed in the middle of the night. The
abduction of Eloise Worledge still haunts a generation of Melbourne families whose faith in their ability to keep their children safe
was forever shaken. Now, 27 years later, the state coroner is to investigate the case that played on the psyche of a city. John Silvester
examines the evidence.
She would be in her 30s now. Maybe, like her younger sister, she would have chosen to marry and have children of her own.
If she had grown up to be creative, like her mother, she might have built a career in the art world. Almost certainly, she would have
outgrown her childhood asthma and schoolgirl shyness. But she was to be cheated of the chance.
Eloise Worledge was eight when she was taken from what should have been the safety of her own bedroom in a bayside family suburban home.
A torn flywire screen and an open window were the main clues in a crime that became an iconic moment: the child kidnap case that made
Melbourne families lock their doors and wonder about strangers in the street.
Despite the biggest missing-person's search in Victoria's history and despite a $10,000 reward posted in 1976 that remains unclaimed,
no trace of her has ever been found.
The photograph of the smiling little blonde girl remains haunting. When homicide cold-case detectives began reinvestigating the case in
2001, they were surprised to discover the picture of Eloise was instantly recognisable, more than 25 years after her disappearance.
The picture of her bedroom, hung with her artwork from school and favourite pin-ups, still conjures a sense of stolen innocence.
But other images from that case have not stood the test of time. Eloise was meant to have come from a happy family and to have disappeared
on a quiet, uneventful night. In fact, at the time of her kidnap, her parents were so bitterly estranged her mother at times wondered
whether Eloise had been taken by her father; she hoped this meant her daughter was safe and would be coming home.
In contrast to the image of a sleeping, middle-class suburb, witnesses later reported more than 200 suspicious incidents in the area
on the night she disappeared.
As for the torn flywire that so frightened Melbourne parents - it could, police concluded, have been a red herring.
In January 1976, Gough Whitlam had only weeks earlier been voted from office. A lingering, easy liberalism pervaded Australian life,
but in suburbs like Beaumaris, couples like Patsy and Lindsay Worledge found a conservative sanctuary.
Married just over 10 years and with three healthy and happy children, they appeared the perfect family. But the marriage was on the
verge of collapse.
Patricia Ann Watmuff was a student teacher when she met her future husband. New Zealand-born Lindsay was three years older and
building an academic career.
Eloise was their first child, born on October 8, 1967. She was followed by Anna two years later and Blake in 1971.
By the time Eloise was born, the couple had settled into a four-bedroom weatherboard home in Scott Street on the corner of Gibbs
Street, about 500 metres from popular Beaumaris beach.
Little traffic passed through Scott Street. It was an Australian dream realised - an affordable home by the sea, with an outdoor
lifestyle close to shops, schools and work.
But above all else, it was safe; so safe many people still felt you could leave doors unlocked.
The area filled with young, middle-class families with similar aspirations.
Soon the couple built an extensive friendship network in the surrounding streets. Their children played together and families grew
close in a relaxed atmosphere.
Eloise went to the Beaumaris Primary School, just two streets away, and was due to start grade four. She was shy but intelligent and
like her mother - a qualified arts and craft teacher - exhibited a creative flair. She was becoming more confident through Brownies,
and her interest in art was encouraged by her parents and a local group called the Hubble Bubble Club.
Patsy was well-liked. She was energetic and enthusiastic, the sort of person who attracted friends. Lindsay was introverted and
bookish. He was clever and, according to some, did not mind letting people know it. "He was often described as thinking of himself
as intellectually superior," a police review of the case found.
After a decade of marriage, the Worledges found they were drifting apart.
Patsy immersed herself in her children, local friends and her passions for art and craft. Lindsay spent more time at the Caulfield
Institute of Technology, where he was a lecturer, and completing his masters in business administration at Monash University.
Soon the marital tensions became obvious, including to Eloise. Friends noticed Lindsay's comments to his wife becoming increasingly
sarcastic. Some became uncomfortable in his presence and felt he was damaging the vibrant Patsy's self-esteem.
She thought they should try counselling, a move her husband refused. But Patsy went ahead alone and, while it did not improve their
marriage, it helped her come to terms with the crumbling relationship.
She found she was able to cope with her husband's barbs and pursued her own interests which, according to police, "only increased
Lindsay Worledge's resentment towards her".
By 1975, their relationship was in free-fall and they began to build independent lives. As their marriage was dying, both found
comfort with others. Their personal troubles would have remained private if their tragedy had not been so public.
In September 1975, four months before Eloise's abduction, Patsy started talking of a separation. Lindsay agreed in principle, but
in practice tried to delay the inevitable.
The timing, he said, would have to be on his terms and the split would have to wait until he completed his final exams in November.
It appeared that it would be a civilised arrangement. She would stay in the marital home with the three children and he would have
unfettered access to them. Neither parent wanted the split to damage the children.
But once his exams were over, Lindsay told Patsy he needed more time.
They agreed to stay together over Christmas for the sake of the children and then he would move out. They set a date. Lindsay would
leave by his wife's 33rd birthday on January 10.
As the day approached, Patsy broke the news to the children.
According to Patsy, Eloise had picked up on the coldness between the parents.
Patsy observed that Eloise had grown distant to her father because of the obvious tension in the house. Nonetheless, her daughter
"took the news in her stride".
The plan for an amicable separation collapsed when Patsy's birthday arrived and Lindsay had not departed. What his wife did not
know was he had secretly begun to prepare to move. He inspected a rental property in Carnegie that day, telling the agents he
needed two days before making a final decision.
According to police: "There was little communication between them and it appeared they were leading separate lives although
living under the one roof."
Jane Mirvis, Patsy's friend from across the road, offered to host a birthday dinner for her on the Saturday.
About 10 people were invited but Patsy came without Lindsay. It was a public statement of independence.
The friends knew enough about the Worledge's domestic problems to be concerned the snubbed husband may react badly. "A general
feeling that this was a humiliating act and that a serious confrontation could result pervaded the group," police found. "During
the course of the evening, some of the members of the group felt that someone was spying on them through the windows."
Twenty-five years later, Lindsay denied this allegation, although he did admit he walked the street, inspecting the vehicles of
the guests who attended the birthday celebration. "He indicated he was only curious and denied being motivated by jealousy or
suspicion that Patricia Worledge may have been with someone at the party."
It was 2am before Patsy walked across the street to her home. Lindsay was awake and "a heated and spiteful argument between them
ensued", according to police records. It went for nearly two hours, with the screaming and yelling reaching a point where neighbours
considered ringing the police "out of concern".
But no one wanted to intrude in the Worledge's business.
Lindsay liked to appear in control but he would admit he was bitter about the planned separation and had become severely depressed.
When he woke on Sunday, January 11, his mood had not improved. Patsy wanted to know when he would finally leave, and he promised to
make arrangements by Monday.
He took the children to the beach and returned that afternoon to contact the estate agents, committing to rent the Carnegie property.
He said he would sign the contract the following day. He went to bed early. It had been a long and traumatic weekend.
On Monday morning, he went to Honeywell Securities, where he was a guest speaker. He had lunch with an executive, returning to the
institute about 2.15pm. The summer break meant that work was still quiet at the college so he joined members of the faculty for drinks
at a local hotel. He had shared a carafe of wine at lunch and a jug of beer at the pub.
About 4pm, he rang the real estate agent to cancel his meeting, rescheduling for the following day. He left the hotel about 4.45pm and
went home for dinner. Patsy did some sewing while Lindsay played Monopoly with the children. Around 8.30pm, she went to her regular jazz
Eloise left her bedroom around 9.15pm for a glass of milk. She then went into the television room and sat on her father's lap while he
quietly explained his side of the marital break-up. He later told a friend he was relieved he had cleared the air with his daughter.
Eloise went to bed around 10pm, wearing a two-piece, yellow, baby-doll pyjama set with "Rock 'n' Roll" on the front and a musical clef
emblem on the back.
Lindsay had continued drinking at home.
He had two scotches and a bottle of wine with dinner. He drank port while watching television and eventually fell asleep.
Patsy walked home from jazz ballet and stopped at Jane Mirvis's house across the road.
She then went home to grab a dress she was sewing to show Jane. Lindsay was in the lounge room in darkness with the television on. Patsy
told him she was going back to Jane's.
She returned home at 10.30pm. She would later tell police the outside porch light was off, and the front flywire door
was closed but not snibbed.
According to police, "the front door was unlocked and wide open. It was not an overly hot night." (The temperature
dropped to about 12 degrees).
Her husband was still in the television room. She thought to shut the front door but forgot.
It was around 11pm. She took some ironing to Anna and Blake's rooms. Then she went into Eloise, straightened her covers, kissed
her goodnight and went to bed.
She would never see her daughter again.
Around 11.40pm, Lindsay turned off the television and went to bed. He said he checked on the children, but Patsy said that was
unusual for him.
He did not shut the front door because he did not know it had been left open.
According to Patsy, the passage light was left on for the children and then switched off by the last parent to bed. But this
night, police say, "Lindsay Worledge did not turn off the passageway light".
At 4.45am, Patsy got up to go to the toilet. She then noticed the passage light was off. Almost certainly, Eloise Worledge had
already been taken from her bed.
People under extreme stress can have different recollections of the same events. Lindsay and Patsy Worledge would give confusing
and, at times, conflicting versions of what happened the morning their daughter went missing.
In his original statement, Lindsay said he woke at 6.30am and, as he went to the kitchen for a drink of water and orange juice,
he noticed his daughter's door was shut. On it was a sign - "Eloise's Room".
He went outside to collect the milk and paper, returning to bed to read the day's news.
According to Lindsay, Anna and Blake came into their parents' room and began playing. Blake said Eloise was not in her room,
but neither parent took any notice of the chattering of their four-year-old. At 7.30am, Patsy got up. She began to get frustrated
when she could not find Eloise.
Lindsay then rose and met Patsy at the doorway of their daughter's room. He looked in and immediately saw the curtain was
pulled to one side, the flywire screen had been cut and the window was open.
Ten days later, during a re-enactment, he said he woke to find Blake was already in his parents' bed about 7am. Anna arrived about
10 minutes later. Lindsay asked his children to get the paper, but when they ignored him he went to get it himself.
He said that when he got the paper, the front door was closed. He noticed the clock in the kitchen. It was 7.15am.
In her statement, Patsy said she was woken at 7.30am when Lindsay came back to bed. She said this was unusual because it was his
habit to send the children to collect the paper.
She said Blake hopped into the bed at the same time and said that Eloise was not in her room.
She said she left her bedroom about 7.55am and went into the hallway where Anna ran up and said Eloise was missing. In her
statement, 10 days later, she said she had a shower and then Anna alerted her.
In Patsy's version of events, she was checking the front part of the house when Lindsay said he had found something in Eloise's room.
She followed him to the bedroom where he pointed out that the curtains were pulled to one side, the flywire was cut and the window
open. At this point, she realised her daughter had been taken.
She rang her sister, Margaret Thomas, and "panic-stricken", ran across the road to Jane Mirvis's home. Lindsay chose to ring the
local police rather than the emergency D24 number. At 8.27, Margaret Thomas, who had arrived at the Worledge home, rang D24 and
gave the phone to Lindsay.
"On doing so, Lindsay Worledge indicated in an unemotional and almost off-hand tone that there had been a break-in at his house
and that the only thing missing was his eight-year-old daughter," according to police.
He told police his wife was the last person to see Eloise. He did not mention he had checked her after Patsy had gone to bed.
Eight minutes after the call to D24, Sergeant Cyril Wilson from the Beaumaris police station arrived. The experienced local
policeman knew that children sometimes slipped away from their families for hours but, once he saw the cut flywire screen, his
instinct was that this was no runaway. He called for back-up and within 30 minutes, local detectives were on the scene.
Blake, the first to realise his sister was missing, became an important police witness. He said he heard someone in Eloise's
room overnight and heard crackling noises that police saywere consistent with steps on the seagrass floor-coverings in the bedroom.
Police formed a 15-strong taskforce, controlled by Detective Superintendent Fred Warnock, a father of five who, at least publicly,
remained confident Eloise would be found.
More than 250 police, including search and rescue, mounted branch, the dog squad and the independent patrol group, searched for
nearly three weeks - the biggest operation of its type in Melbourne.
They checked parks, the foreshore, golf courses and local streets.
Inquiries spread to New Zealand and England with reports Eloise had been abducted but was still alive. Police chased leads and rumours;
they even consulted clairvoyants. They found nothing.
Police scientific experts checked the scene and concluded the flywire screen was probably cut from the inside. The wind-out window
had been opened to its maximum 38 centimetres.
It was a narrow opening, difficult to climb through and then take an eight-year-old through the gap.
The flywire was cut from a height of 195 centimetres. Dust and cobwebs around the window were undisturbed. Tan bark from the garden
was found in the room.
The abductor would have had to wind open the window from the outside, lean in, cut the fly wire and roll the wire on the inside - a
difficult but not impossible task.
Investigators concluded: "On balance, based on all the information on-hand, it appeared more likely that the person or persons
responsible for Eloise Worledge's disappearance had affected their entry and exit through a point other than her bedroom window."
In other words, someone tried to make it look like Eloise was abducted by someone who grabbed her through the open window.
Random child kidnapping cases shake the confidence of the community. Like the disappearance of the Beaumont children in Adelaide a
decade earlier, or Karmein Chan from Templestowe 15 years later, the Worledge case appalled and fascinated. The factual void was
filled with rumours, half-truths and gossip.
Police briefed the press every day. "Such was the magnitude of the media coverage that her image continues to be recognisable to
the public at large, some 26 years later. The story generated immense public interest and led to thousands of separate pieces of
information being reported to police by the public," police found.
The original investigators began by saying they were confident Eloise would be found alive. But they also asked Lindsay and Patsy
to delay their separation, wanting to keep public concern at its highest.
The parents gave interviews separately to the media. Patsy spent most of her time across the road at the Mirvis house. The Worledges
became more distant and, like the Chans and the Beaumonts, eventually separated.
Lindsay moved out in June to a rented flat. They have both since remarried.
Between January 21 and 23, police canvassed 6000 homes in the area with a prepared list of questions. They were able to log 200
suspicious incidents that occurred on the night she was abducted.
At 10pm on January 12, Wayne Cheeseman of Scott Street heard a prowler outside his house. At 7.15 the following morning, he
discovered the tool shed in the backyard had been burgled. Three chisels, an oil can and a pair of garden shears had been left
on his nature strip. Police later decided the shears had not been used to cut the flyscreen.
At 10.30pm on January 12, a neighbour at 57 Scott Street saw a car travel down the road with the headlights turned off. At 11.40pm,
Patricia Cunningham of 26 Scott Street saw a green Holden stationwagon parked near the Worledge's home.
Around midnight, Ann Same of No.64 saw a young man walking along the Worledge fence line. She felt so uneasy she crossed the road to
Around the same time, Molly Salts, at No.9, saw a young man run in front of her car as she drove along Scott Street near the Gibbs
Street intersection and jump the fence into the Worledge property.
Just after midnight, at 12.16, Andrew Jones of 41 Scott Street heard noises outside his house that he thought were made by a prowler.
At 2am, Daphne Owen-Smith, at No.66, heard the cry of a child and the sound of a car door slamming. Anne Same also heard a car door
slam at that time.
Months later, Catherine Marling told police that she had seen a green 1966 model Holden in the street on January 6, 1976 - a week before
the abduction. Police found a car fitting the description had been stolen from Carlton on December 1975, but it was never recovered.
In child abduction cases, police believe there is nearly always a link between the victim and the offender. In the Worledge investigation,
there were two theories: she was the victim of a random attack; or she was taken by someone she knew - a friend or associate of the family.
Patsy, deeply distressed in the days and weeks following the abduction, had thoughts that her husband may have been involved because he
wanted to create a reason to stay in the house.
As a result, police say, "she was confident that no harm would come to Eloise Worledge".
Because scientific evidence found it unlikely that Eloise was taken through her open bedroom window, both parents were initially treated
as suspects, although police soon began to concentrate on the father.
According to police: "His unemotional and seemingly cold demeanour in dealing with the situation only added to the investigators' concerns.
A case in point: when they learned Lindsay Worledge contacted the real estate office only a few hours after the disappearance had been
reported to cancel his 4pm appointment, suggesting to staff in an off-handed manner they should read the newspapers to find out why."
But Lindsay's perceived flippancy may have been a simple self-defence mechanism - a way to build a shield around a frightened and
Certainly, Detective Superintendent Warnock believed he was unfairly judged. "Mr Worledge, I think, has been seen in a bad light.
A lot of people think he has acted callously. He's not the kind of person who wears his heart on his sleeve. Deep down, he cares
about his children and he is very distressed about this whole business," he said nine months after the abduction.
Lindsay believed his daughter was taken by a stranger. At the time, he said, "I can't buy the theory that it was someone she knew.
She would not have gone willingly with anyone in the middle of the night. Eloise has a timidity. She is not adventuresome. She
would not go out on the street without her brother or sister. She is a shy, sensitive child who suffers asthmatic bouts."
On the day the abduction was discovered, Lindsay asked police to give him a lie-detector test. They refused the offer but on day
four, he was taken to the Russell Street police station and interviewed - this time as a suspect.
He studied psychology during university and, when he was left alone in the interview room, he felt it was a "subtle psychological trick".
He described the interview process as "a fairly terrifying experience".
Both parents were hypnotised about a month after the abduction in the hope that new information could be found.
Less than a week after his daughter disappeared, Lindsay felt he had to deny unsubstantiated stories that he was involved in the
abduction. "These rumours will be answered when the truth finally emerges," he said.
But it never has.
The police review of the case has found: "At the conclusion of investigations into Lindsay Worledge, no evidence in regards to his
involvement has been uncovered."
Police looked at 10 general types of suspects: known sex offenders in Melbourne's south-east, any sex offenders within Australia
involved in child abductions or who broke into houses, known prowlers in the area, local service providers, babysitters, tradesmen,
door-to-door salesmen, staff and parents at the Beaumaris Primary School and government agencies with any contact with the family.
Police interviewed more than 100 family and extended family members in Australia and overseas, more than 200 friends and associates
of the family, neighbours and work colleagues and students of Lindsay Worledge.
On February 20, 1976, the Worledge taskforce was disbanded. The file was sent to the local detectives at Moorabbin and any new tips
were investigated and added to the thousands already gathered.
In the early 1980s, the Moorabbin CIB closed down and the Worledge file went to the Hampton CIB. A few years later the file was moved
to the homicide squad and archived as a missing persons case.
When police began to reinvestigate the Worledge case, they found that key evidence and vital files were missing.
But two new suspects have been unearthed. In their happier days, Patsy and Lindsay Worledge were connected with a Beaumaris amateur
theatre. In 1975, another man drifted into the group. Police now know he was a convicted child molester.
Detectives also know that a man convicted of child sex offences worked at a nearby milk bar. But police have found nothing to link the
men to the abduction.
On February 6, 2002, Lindsay was formally interviewed by homicide squad detectives. He told them he did not know what happened to his
The day Eloise disappeared, Lindsay offered to take a lie-detector test; 26 years later, police finally agreed.
On February 14, 2002, he was connected to a polygraph machine and asked questions about the abduction.
Like so many elements of the case, the results were not conclusive.
Detective Senior Sergeant Jan Lierse worked on the Worledge case for nearly two years and has lived with it ever since.
Interviewed this week by The Age, she said: "We are no further advanced now than when the balloon went up when she was first
reported missing about 7.30 in the morning.
"I have no suspects whatsoever."
The open window and the cut flywire remain a mystery. But, she says: "I believe she was taken out the front door, which had
been left unlocked."
On Monday morning, Coroner Frank Hender will hold a brief public hearing into the Worledge case because, by law, all suspicious
disappearances must ultimately go to inquest. Booked in for just two hours, he will listen to a police summary of the case. There
will be no evidence produced and no eye-witnesses called - because there are none. It will remain one of Australia's great mysteries.
THE FATHER -
'It (the speculation of his involvement) was hardly pleasant. It was not of my making.'
Three decades after his daughter disappeared, Lindsay Worledge is "constantly" reminded of his loss. When he is introduced to
strangers, they still often ask if he is related to Eloise.
"I am amazed at the reaction, even now," he says.
Lindsay knows he was treated as a suspect by police not because of evidence pointing to him but because of the lack of evidence
pointing elsewhere. He simply filled the void. "It was all circumstantial."
Forensic evidence suggesting she was not taken through the open bedroom window meant Eloise's parents, Lindsay and Patsy, were
investigated. "We were tangible. There was little else."
He agreed to take a lie-detector test last year in the hope he would finally have the concrete proof that he was a father who
lost a child, not a man who abducted one.
"The results were inconclusive. It did not produce a result which would satisfy police curiosity."
He says that after the test he researched polygraph testing to find that 10 per cent of tests are neutral. "If I had known that
then, I would not have had the polygraph. It is a very weak science and that is why the tests are not admitted in Victorian courts."
Lindsay, 63, answers questions about his daughter in a polite and measured manner. He has been asked them all many times before.
There are no surprises, no new twists, no new evidence and no new hope.
He says without obvious bitterness that he is a "double victim" because of the constant speculation that he was, in some way,
involved in the abduction, but he knows that he is powerless to alter perceptions.
"It (the speculation) was hardly pleasant. It was not of my making."
Police say there is no evidence linking him to his daughter's disappearance. Some who worked on the case have their own theories,
but none believe they really know what happened that night.
Happily remarried for 23 years, Lindsay left tertiary teaching to establish a successful management consultancy, retiring in
January this year.
He says he was able to rebuild his life because "there is a powerful stimulus to go on trying - to go forward".
Like his former wife, he does not believe the new investigation or Monday's inquest will provide any fresh insight into the case.
"I was dubious. It is essentially the recycling of memories, which are over 25 years old."
He says the inquest is a process of completing the file rather than an initiative based on new evidence. "Essentially, it is an
interpretation of the complete unknown."
He is yet to decide whether he will attend the inquest but hopes it will finally put an end to the speculation and media
fascination with the case.
He says he has his own thoughts on what happened that night, but they "are an interpretation of nothing. They are just
THE MOTHER -
'People still see me as a victim but I don't live like one.'
Patsy Worledge still lives near the sea but no longer in Scott Street, Beaumaris. Now 60, Patsy says she is not angry.
She does not see herself as a victim even though she has twice been touched by tragedy.
The Worledges' youngest child, Blake - the boy who, as a four-year-old, was first to realise Eloise was missing - grew to be a
well-liked young man who worked as an information technology and quality manager for a forklift truck distributor.
He died when struck by a car while crossing Whitehorse Road in Nunawading on a wet night in August 1997.
Recently, one of his friends contacted Patsy to say he had just had a son and would name him after Blake.
She uses a quote, attributed to Paul McCartney over the death of his wife Linda, to describe her grief.
"You don't get over it, you just have to go through it."
These days she spends much of her time with her art work, paintings and textile pictures, and caring for her daughter Anna's
In the weeks after Eloise's disappearance, friends and family encouraged her to keep hoping but a counsellor gently told her
she may have to come to terms with never seeing her daughter again.
For about 12 years, she did keep hoping and wanting to know what had happened. But, as the years passed, she came to a point
where she accepted that Eloise was gone and she would probably never know the events of that night. "It was time to move on.
People still see me as a victim but I don't live like one."
She believed that if she became obsessed with Eloise, her remaining two children would never be able to grow up free of baggage
from the unsolved abduction.
Shortly after the disappearance, Anna and Blake made a kite and wanted to take it to a nearby park for a test flight. Patsy was
finishing cooking but let them go alone - following just minutes later. Instinctively, she says, she knew she had to let them live
normal lives and not be prisoners to their sister's mystery.
She knows that the case has fascinated many and resulted in her being the subject of bizarre rumours, including that she was related
to Lindy Chamberlain, whose baby Azaria was taken by a dingo in 1980.
The media, she says, have tried to pigeon-hole her as a victim, turning up to seek interviews on the anniversaries of the abduction,
when Eloise would have turned 21, or for routine quotes to pad out stories about mystery disappearances.
She knows that next week's inquest will raise the old questions without providing new answers."Nothing has changed since January
1976," she says.
"I don't have any guilt. I didn't leave my children somewhere or send them down the street. She was safely tucked in her bed. It
is a jigsaw with a piece missing. And it is still missing.
"The inquest has stirred up a lot of emotion that we didn't need - personally or as a community.
"I long ago realised that I didn't need to know what happened on that night."