HAUNTING: The abduction and murder of Daniel Morcombe broke hearts of many across the Coast and brought the community together as the Morcombe family fought for justice.
HAUNTING: The abduction and murder of Daniel Morcombe broke hearts of many across the Coast and brought the community together as the Morcombe family fought for justice. Contributed

The murder that broke hearts and changed the Coast forever

TRUE CRIME: It was the crime that broke the Coast's heart.

When bright-eyed Daniel Morcombe, 13, disappeared from beneath the Kiel Mountain Road overpass bridge at Woombye on December 7, 2003, few could've foreseen the torment that lay ahead.

He'd been waiting for a bus to do Christmas shopping for his family on the fateful afternoon an opportunistic, sadistic child sex offender, Brett Peter Cowan, was driving past.

The 1.35pm bus broke down and its replacement sped past Daniel, trying to make up time, about 2.10pm.

By the time the back-up bus came past Daniel was in the clutches of evil.

Cowan, whose record of horrific attacks had many questioning why he was even out in the community, had lured Daniel with the offer of a lift to the shops.

Video of Daniel Morcombe murder confession to undercover cops - Part 1: The first part of the video referred to as the 'big boss' video or '127' video.
Video of Daniel Morcombe murder confession to undercover cops - Part 1: The first part of the video referred to as the 'big boss' video or '127' video.

Instead he was driven to a secluded shack in the shadows of the Glasshouse Mountains where he was murdered within the hour.

It would be eight years before Bruce and Denise Morcombe and their family had answers.

An enormous search was carried out on the ground and in the air, with dozens of Oxley police recruits sent north to help as police divers scoured dams and waterways.

Bruce and Denise publicly appealed for help and on December 19, 2003, Daniel's 14th birthday, they said they believed their son had been abducted.

 

10/12/03  125144a10Daniel Morcombe missing.Press conference.Kevin Beavis, Denise and Bruce Morcombe, Monique Beavis.
APPEAL: Kevin Beavis, Denise and Bruce Morcombe, Monique Beavis front the media shortly after Daniel's disappearance. Nicholas Falconer

Former Queensland Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson visited the family on the Tuesday, two days after Daniel disappeared.

He had a "bad feeling" that something sinister had happened to the popular schoolboy.

By March, 2004, more than 4000 calls had been lodged with Crime Stoppers and in October the State Government announced a $250,000 reward.

For investigators wading through the masses of information, repeated reports of a blue car meant massive hours were poured into the search for a blue vehicle.

Video of Daniel Morcombe murder confession to undercover cops - Part 2: The second part of the video referred to as the 'big boss' video or '127' video.
Video of Daniel Morcombe murder confession to undercover cops - Part 2: The second part of the video referred to as the 'big boss' video or '127' video.

It was a red herring.

"Certainly a blue car was a focus, quite rightly, in the early stages," Mr Atkinson said.

Thirty-three witnesses claimed to have seen a blue car, while 30 slightly different comfits were created from reports.

The public passed over more than 15,000 pieces of information and more than 20,000 job logs were lodged by investigators, as they worked to follow up leads or rule out suspects.

 

Police and SES at the end of Kings Rd, Glass House Mountains at the base of the search party for Daniel Morcombe whose body they believe may be buried in the area.Detectives at the scene walk to and fro and discuss the situation.Photo: Nicholas Falconer / Sunshine Coast Daily
SEARCH: Police and SES at the end of Kings Rd, Glass House Mountains at the base of the search party for Daniel Morcombe whose body they believe may be buried in the area. Nicholas Falconer

By December, 2008, the State Government lifted the reward to $1 million, but that would expire in May the following year.

By July, 2009, the Morcombes' calls for a Coronial Inquest into Daniel's disappearance had been backed by Mr Atkinson and then-Premier Anna Bligh.

Momentum was building.

The family, the public, police, they all wanted answers.

Video of Daniel Morcombe murder confession to undercover cops - Part 3: The third part of the video referred to as the 'big boss' video or '127' video.
Video of Daniel Morcombe murder confession to undercover cops - Part 3: The third part of the video referred to as the 'big boss' video or '127' video.

On April 16, 2010, thousands of pages of the police investigation into Daniel's disappearance were handed over to the State Coroner.

The Coronial Inquest so desperately sought began in October, 2010.

 

15/10/2010 194518The Daniel Morcombe inquest continues at Maroochydore courthouse. Daniel's parents Denise and Bruce Morcombe leave the court with boxes of evidence.  Photo Che Chapman
Daniel's parents Denise and Bruce Morcombe leave the inquest with boxes of evidence. Contributed

Nambour-based lawyer Peter Boyce represented the Morcombes, and in January, 2011, a new police taskforce was established to review evidence in relation to his abduction.

It'd been seven years since Daniel had vanished without a trace.

On March 28, 2011, the inquest resumed.

During the inquest, critical evidence from a person of interest (P7), who was later identified as Brett Peter Cowan, revealed a major hole in his alibi.

 

** FILE ** Images re-issued Wednesday, March 12, 2014 **FILE**A supplied image obtained Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014. Accused murderer of Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe, Brett Peter Cowan. (AAP IMAGE/QUEENSLAND COURTS) NO ARCHIVING
MONSTER: An elaborate sting brough Brett Peter Cowan down. QUEENSLAND COURTS

It sparked an extensive undercover sting operation in a bid to find out whether he was the monster who'd killed Daniel.

In early-April Cowan was befriended by an undercover officer on his flight back home to Western Australia after appearing at the inquest.

What followed was almost six months of painstaking work by Queensland and Western Australian police in a joint, covert operation.

It culminated in August, 2011, when an undercover officer posing as a crime boss was able to extract a confession from Cowan.

After almost a decade police had their man.

Cowan was flown back to from WA to an old sandmining property off Kings Rd at the Glass House Mountains about 9am on August 13, 2011.

 

Supplied undated image of the demountable house at the Glasshouse Mountains in the Sunshine Coast hinterland where Daniel Morcombe was allegedly killed, the image was presented as evidence in the trial of Brett Peter Cowan for the alleged murder of Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe at the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014. (AAP Image/Queensland Courts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
SCENE: The demountable house in the Glasshouse Mountains where Daniel was killed. QUEENSLAND COURTS

Maroochydore CIB detectives, including detective Sergeant Graeme Farlow and detective Senior Sergeant Daren Edwards, were in hiding at the property.

They'd waited in a clearing until about 11am, before taking cover behind a woodpile.

A Toyota Hilux containing Cowan and two other men, whom he understood to be WA crime syndicate figures, but were actually undercover police, pulled up.

Video of Daniel Morcombe murder confession to undercover cops - Part 4: The fourth and final part of the video referred to as the 'big boss' video or '127' video.
Video of Daniel Morcombe murder confession to undercover cops - Part 4: The fourth and final part of the video referred to as the 'big boss' video or '127' video.

Cowan had led the officers to the place he'd so callously discarded Daniel's body after murdering him.

Cowan was arrested over the abduction and murder of Daniel Morcombe.

He was arrested at 4pm and charged three hours later with murder, deprivation of liberty, child stealing, indecent treatment of a child under 16 and interfering with a corpse.

 

** FILE ** Images re-issued Wednesday, March 12, 2014 ** **FILE** **FILE** Supplied undated image of a shoe covered in dirt which was presented as evidence in the trial of Brett Peter Cowan for the alleged murder of Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe at the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (AAP Image/Queensland Courts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
EVIDENCE: One of Daniel's shoes found during extensive searches of the scene. QUEENSLAND COURTS

A massive search of the area began.

Daniel's shoes were found and a week later nearby, human bones.

On August 28, then-Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson announced DNA testing had confirmed they were Daniel's bones.

The Morcombes finally had some closure.

 

Police and SES search for clues for Daniel Morcombe.
HUNT: Police and SES search for clues for Daniel Morcombe. Contributed

A total of 17 bones were found on the property.

"My own view is that it was a very fine piece of investigative work," Mr Atkinson said.

He was of the opinion that the undercover strategy executed by Queensland and WA police to secure Cowan's confession would be regarded as "one of the finest examples" of policing in Australia history.

Cowan, who former Assistant Commissioner Mike Condon said had been on police radars since December 21, 2003, pleaded not guilty to Daniel's abduction and murder.

 

Bruce and Denise Morcombe speak to the media after Bones found at Beerwah have been confirmed as belonging to Daniel Morcombe.Photo: Cade Mooney / Sunshine Coast Daily
CONFIRMATION: Bruce and Denise Morcombe speak to the media after bones found at Beerwah were been confirmed as belonging to Daniel Morcombe. Cade Mooney

It took a jury just 7.5 hours to find him guilty on all three counts in March, 2014 and he was sentenced to life in prison.

Cowan was later refused leave to launch a High Court appeal against his sentence, and remains at Wolston Correctional Centre, where he was attacked with boiling water by a fellow inmate while playing cards with other prisoners in August, 2016.

Mr Atkinson, who became a co-patron of the Daniel Morcombe Foundation in 2013, said across the board there'd been an understanding among investigators that they would not give up until they found Daniel's killer.

"I'm enormously grateful to the senior officers who managed that," he said.

 

** FILE ** Images re-issued Wednesday, March 12, 2014 ** **FILE** **FILE** Supplied undated image of Queensland schoolboy Daniel Morcombe presented as evidence in the trial of Brett Peter Cowan for the alleged murder of  Daniel Morcombe at the Queensland Supreme Court in Brisbane, Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (AAP Image/Queensland Courts) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
INNOCENT: Daniel was a popular schoolboy. Contributed