William Tyrrell investigation: highs, lows and false hope 12 months on | photos, video

Detectives probe grandparents group: SCROLL DOWN

After months chipping away with no breakthrough, a photo came across the desks of Strike Force Rosann detectives.

It was well-focused and sharp, despite being hastily captured by a member of the public.

There was no denying the baby face in the image looked heart-stoppingly similar to William Tyrrell.

With the child was a man with a chilling resemblance to someone police investigating three-year-old William's abduction had been interested in.

The photograph, captured in central Queensland, filled investigators with hope.

Detectives had finally found the little boy in the Spiderman suit whose disappearance had captivated Australia, they thought.

They went to sleep that night in June, comforted by the thought they were about to pluck the boy from harm and place him back into his parents' arms.

The next day detectives on the soon-to-be 12-month investigation and senior police were briefed at the State Crime Command in Parramatta.

They were liaising with their Queensland counterparts about how William's extraction would play out. Flights were about to be booked.

Then at the last minute, word from the ground reached investigators and obliterated their hope – it wasn't William.

The disappointment, confirmed by multiple sources, has become one of the complex investigation's most crippling lows.

Investigators were shattered and left asking the question everyone else has since September 12, 2014 – where is he?

Next Saturday, William's family, police and the Australian public will solemnly mark 12 months since the toddler disappeared from his grandmother's yard in Kendall on the Mid North Coast.

William was playing with his sister when he stepped off a wooden deck and onto grass near the side of the home as his mother made a cup of tea inside.

He made his way around the side of the house, built on a large block in a quiet cul-de-sac where the sounds of birds chirping and a car engine pierces the air.

Police believe William went down towards the sloping backyard.

A five-minute window was all it took.

By the time his mother realised she hadn't heard his giggles, William had vanished.

A frantic search of the home yielded nothing and about half an hour later at 11.06am, police arrived.

Forty-eight hours later the sex crimes squad was involved. Less than a week on, the homicide squad had carriage of the case.

Seven days after William wandered down the side of his grandmother's semi-rural property, where neighbours said she had lived for more than 15 years, his parents and sister made the four-hour drive home with an empty car seat.

They entered their Sydney home and realised William wasn't tucked safely in bed.

It became clear after police and hundreds of volunteers searched 50 square kilometres of unforgiving bush, creeks, dams and every corner of the 31 homes in the Benaroon Drive estate that William wasn't lost.

Someone, police believe, had entered the street on the outskirts of Kendall and taken William in a bewildering set of circumstances that aligned in the abductor's favour.

A Benaroon Drive resident said his wife drove out of the street, which William's grandmother no longer lives in, one minute before William disappeared.

It was 26 or 28 minutes to 11am, he remembered with minute detail.

"She never saw a car or noticed anything strange," he said.

The man spent the next day with a pool net in hand searching through a dam and waterholes, anxious about what he might find.

Over the past year police have received thousands of reported William sightings across Australia and overseas.

Earlier this year two passengers and a member of the flight crew thought they saw William on their New Zealand-bound flight.

Police met the plane on the tarmac and watched passengers disembark. It wasn't William.

The discovery of a child's remains in a suitcase on a rural highway in July prompted a call from South Australian detectives to their NSW counterparts.

Social media was in a frenzy over the possibility the remains could be his. It was later revealed they belonged to a little girl.

Every single report of a Spider-Man suit found, from those in second-hand shops to another on a golf course south of Sydney, have been assessed by police, with some sent off for forensic testing.

While police stress there have been several persons of interest in the case, none have been pursued as publicly as washing machine repairman Bill Spedding.

His Bonny Hills home was searched in January as was his pawnbroker business and adjoining office in the main street of Laurieton.

NSW Police searching for the missing toddler.

NSW Police searching for the missing toddler.

A mattress and computer were carried away by detectives, in full view of curious locals, for examination.

A "for lease" sign is now in the window where the yellow "Speddo's" pawnbroker sign used to be.

His business name has been removed from his white van and locals says they haven't seen Spedding's familiar face around Laurieton since he was dragged into the spotlight.

A property in his former hometown of Wellington, in NSW's central west, was also searched.

However, he has strenuously denied any involvement in William's disappearance.

Dense bushland in Bonny Hills was targeted in March, after police received a tip-off about a vehicle seen driving into the thick bush.

Nothing significant was found.

Now almost 12 months on, the 12-person strike force is revisiting square one.

In the past few weeks detectives have returned to the scene of William's abduction to talk with Kendall residents and canvass the area again.

The investigator in charge of the case, Detective Inspector Gary Jubelin, previously said they would treat the case as though William was alive until they had evidence proving otherwise.

"There's is not a day that we wake up and think 'is this the day we are going to crack this case?'" he said earlier this year.

Fairfax Media approached William's family for comment. They are away and expected to respond in the coming days.

The investigator in charge of the case, Detective Inspector Gary Jubelin, middle, near Queens Lake during a search south of Port Macquarie earlier this year.

The investigator in charge of the case, Detective Inspector Gary Jubelin, middle, near Queens Lake during a search south of Port Macquarie earlier this year.

Detectives probe grandparents group

Detectives investigating the disappearance of William Tyrrell have examined two grandparent support groups, one of whose former members included two paedophiles, after looking into washing machine repairman Bill Spedding. 

Mr Spedding, 63, became a person of interest in the missing toddler probe after he agreed to source a part to fix William's grandmother's washing machine before the toddler vanished almost 12 months ago. 

He has strenuously denied any involvement and police have stressed he is not the only person of interest in the case.

Police said at the time their investigations into Mr Spedding became known that it was not a major breakthrough in the case.  

The investigation into Mr Spedding's background led police to believe he knew people within the Port Macquarie-based group, Grandparents as Parents Again. 

The group, formed by UnitingCare Burnside and a branch of the Country Women's Association, supports grandparents as they raise grandchildren.

However GAPA's chaplain Alan Battishall said Mr Spedding had nothing to do with them. 

"We didn't even know who he was until it all blew up," he said.

Mr Battishall said police interviewed him, his wife, who is the GAPA president, and other members earlier this year and went through the group's records. 

"It was a long time ago GAPA was interviewed by police but we were found to be clear," he said.

GAPA's former president Paul Bickford, who stepped down last year, has been charged with the indecent assault of a child. 

Another former GAPA member, Anthony Jones of Wauchope, has also been charged with indecent assault.

It is understood he was charged shortly after William vanished from his grandmother's yard in Kendall on September 12, 2014.

Mr Battishall said the men left GAPA as soon as members found out about the alleged assaults, which he said occurred before William disappeared. 

He said every person who came to GAPA had to get a working with children check.

"You have to take their word for it," he said. "And it is hard when this does come out.

"We are trying our hardest to support grandchildren and support grandparents raising their children."

He said he hoped the good work GAPA and its 35 member families did wouldn't be overshadowed by the ex-members behaviour.

Strike Force Rosann detectives travelled to the Mid North Coast in April to interview the group's members.

It was a few days after Mr Spedding was arrested and charged with unrelated historical child sex offences, allegedly committed in Sydney's west in the 1980s. 

The GAPA members were quizzed on their knowledge of Mr Spedding and whether he was a member of the group, sources have confirmed. 

Missing: William Tyrrell

Missing: William Tyrrell

Jones and Bickford were also questioned at length about any connection to William's disappearance and they were asked to provide details of where they were on September 12.

It is understood Jones used to live in Wellington in north-west NSW, where Mr Spedding also lived and ran a pawnbroker business until his move to the Mid North Coast. 

Police also turned their attention to another local support group, believed to be the Grandparent and Kinship Care Association. 

Mr Spedding offered "no comment" when approached by Fairfax Media this week. 

Mr Spedding's Bonny Hills home and Laurieton business were searched earlier this year as part of William's case. 

He told police he had been to the toddler's grandmother's home in the days before he went missing to look at fixing her washing machine. 

On Friday, September 12, he said he missed a call from the grandmother's phone and told police and family he tried to call back but got no answer. 

He claimed he went to have coffee with his wife in Laurieton and then watched his grandson receive a school award. 

Later that afternoon Mr Spedding claimed he called William's grandmother's phone again and a member of the toddler's family answered, said they were busy and he would have to call back. 

Mr Spedding told police and his family he never went to Kendall that day. 

Police search Bill Spedding's home.

Police search Bill Spedding's home.

This story William Tyrrell investigation: highs, lows and false hope 12 months on | photos, video first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.