Skeletal remains found in Byron Bay search where Theo Hayez went missing

Skeletal remains have been found in bushland at Byron Bay near where backpacker Theo Hayez has been missing for more than a year.

The grim discovery was made on Wednesday afternoon during a hunt for clues into the disappearance of another missing person, nomadic woman Thea Liddle.

Ms Liddle, 42, was known to move between homeless camps, but vanished last year.

Belgain backpacker Theo Hayez, 18, was last seen leaving a bar on May 31, 2019.

NSW Police say they are yet to determine if the bones discovered belong to a man or a woman, or even if they relate to either of their disappearances.   

Police brought in sniffer dogs and rescue specialists to scour Byron Bay bushland on Tuesday, as part of the hunt for answers about Ms Liddle’s disappearance.

Thea Liddle (pictured) also vanished in the area last October

Skeletal remains have been found during a search of bushland around Byron Bay near where Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez (left) went missing last May and nomadic traveller Thea Liddle (right) vanished last October

Police fence off an area (pictured) near Tallow Beach, to the south of the Byron Bay lighthouse

Police fence off an area (pictured) near Tallow Beach, to the south of the Byron Bay lighthouse

NSW Police say they are yet to determine if the bones discovered belong to a man or a woman, or even if they relate to either of their disappearances

NSW Police say they are yet to determine if the bones discovered belong to a man or a woman, or even if they relate to either of their disappearances 

Ms Liddle’s last known address was a rural property where she was living with a 46-year-old man.

While she was known to lead a transient lifestyle, her disappearance has prompted a major search amid fears for her safety.

Officers have searched homeless camps where she was known to reside in the months before her disappearance.

Byron Police District Commander, Superintendent Dave Roptell, said the search area is relatively wide because of her nomadic lifestyle.  

‘Thea lived a very transient lifestyle – shifting from place to place, changing campsites often and would opt for places in remote bushland away from the public,’ Superintendent Roptell said.

One of those sites was a section of bushland around the Youth Activity Centre near Byron Bay’s town centre.

This was the same site police searched as part of investigations into the disappearance of Hayez.

Theo, 18, was in Australia on a working holiday visa and had gone out to Byron Bay's popular nightclub Cheeky Monkey's on May 31, 2019

Theo, 18, was in Australia on a working holiday visa and had gone out to Byron Bay’s popular nightclub Cheeky Monkey’s on May 31, 2019

Ms Liddle, 42, disappeared on Halloween last year from Mooball in Northern New South Wales

Ms Liddle, 42, disappeared on Halloween last year from Mooball in Northern New South Wales

Officers have been searching homeless camps in the bush where she was known to reside in the month's before her disappearance

Officers have been searching homeless camps in the bush where she was known to reside in the month’s before her disappearance

Theo's father Laurent (pictured) flew out to Australia to join other family members, police and local volunteers in the search for his son last year

Theo’s father Laurent (pictured) flew out to Australia to join other family members, police and local volunteers in the search for his son last year

The 18-year-old was in Australia on a working holiday visa and had gone out to Byron Bay’s popular nightclub Cheeky Monkey’s on May 31.

He was seen on CCTV leaving the bar, but his movements after that are unknown.

He never returned to the hostel where he was staying and it was not until June 6 – a week after he was last seen – that his family in Europe raised the alarm.

His father Laurent flew out to Australia to join other family members, police and local volunteers in the search for his son.

‘When I left Belgium I promised Hayez’s little brother, Lucas, I would bring his brother home, please help me keep my promise to him’, Laurent said on his arrival. 

A grey Puma hat similar to the one Theo was wearing when he vanished was found in bushland last July. 

Despite speculation Australia could have a second backpacker serial killer in a similar vein to Ivan Milat, there is no indication the two missing persons cases are linked.

Hundreds of locals and people from all over Australia joined in the desperate search for Theo in the days and weeks after he went missing

Hundreds of locals and people from all over Australia joined in the desperate search for Theo in the days and weeks after he went missing

A grey Puma hat similar to the one Theo was wearing when he vanished was found in bushland last July

A grey Puma hat similar to the one Theo was wearing when he vanished was found in bushland last July

Thea was reported missing by her family in January 2020 and police hope the search will uncover new evidence which may assist with investigations.

When she was reported missing officers launched Strike Force Holby to investigate her disappearance.

She is known to frequent several areas around the New South Wales Far North Coast including Mooball, Nimbin and Byron Bay.  

‘We are conducting thorough searches throughout these locations for any indication of Thea’s presence there,’ Supt Roptell said.  

‘It wasn’t uncommon for Thea to travel throughout the Far North Coast, however, is it unusual for her to go this length of time without speaking to family members.’  

THE TIMELINE OF THEO HAYEZ’S DISAPPEARANCE

May 31st 7.45pm: Theo Hayez and an unnamed friend were caught on CCTV camera at a local bottle shop in Byron Bay.

May 31st 11pm: The last confirmed sighting of Hayez. He was spotted leaving the Cheeky Monkey’s bar.

June 1st AM: The last confirmed WhatsApp message was sent from Theo’s phone.

June 1st 1:42pm: Theo’s phone pinged for the last time.

June 6th: Theo was reported missing to local police .

June 9th: Police conducted a major land, sea and air search in the Byron Bay area with the assistance of rescue officers, the State Emergency Service, a lifesaver helicopter and lifesavers.

June 10th: Locals and other backpackers joined in the search for Theo.

June 10th-June 16th: SES crews, the dog squad, lifeguards, local volunteers and police are continuing to search the Byron Bay headlands, east and north of the town, as well as beaches and swamps. 

June 16th: Theo’s mother Vinciane Delforge, told a French broadcaster in Belgium she is holding out hope her son is safe and well, but said his disappearance is entirely out of character.

June 17th: Theo’s father Laurent Hayez travels to Byron Bay to help search for his son Theo. He makes an emotional plea asking Australia to keep looking for his son and vows to stay in the country until he is found.

He says he hopes WhatsApp will cooperate with police to decode the messages that Theo last sent – a feat, he says, which could change the course of the search. 

Police confess they are still ‘baffled’ by the case, and are keeping all lines of inquiry open.

Homicide detectives join in on the search for Theo.

July 3rd:  NSW Police announce the full-scale search for the teenager had been called off, but investigations are ongoing.

July 12th: Theo’s heartbroken father flies home. 

July 17th: Top forensic psychologist Tim Watson-Munro says believes Theo could have been the victim of an unknown serial killer, along with two 20-year-old backpackers who went missing on the NSW north coast months prior.

July 18th: Theo’s parents reveal they believe he is still alive and are holding out hope he is in a commune. 

August: A dedicated group of Byron Bay locals have brought in cadaver dogs to search for missing Belgian tourist Theo Hayez.

The dogs and their handlers scoured bushland in the Arakwal National Park including Tallow Beach.

September: Theo’s father Laurent Hayez arrives back in Australia to continue his search for his son.

September 16th: Police call off the search for Theo and refer his case to the coroner.

October 13th: Theo’s family confirm a cap found in dense bushland near to where the missing backpacker’s phone last ‘pinged’ belonged to him. 

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