Record of Investigation Into Death (Without Inquest)
Corners Act 1995
Coroners Rules 2006
I, Stephen Raymond Carey, Coroner, have investigated the death of Craig Ewen Taylor
(a) Craig Ewen Taylor (“Craig”) died on or about 3 September 1993 at or in the vicinity of Coningham in Tasmania.
(b) Craig was born in Edinburgh on 1 April 1984 and was aged 9 years at the time of his death.
(c) Craig was a student, attending Grade 3 at East Launceston Primary School.
(d) I am unable to determine the precise cause of death but in all probability believe that his death was as a result of drowning in the waters off Coningham.
(e) At the time of Craig’s death he was not being treated by a medical practitioner.
Circumstances Surrounding the Death:
Craig’s natural mother, Veronica Dunbar, had issues with the abuse of alcohol as a result of which Craig was taken firstly into temporary care, but later into permanent care when Craig was approximately 6 months old. At this time Craig’s uncle, Roger Taylor and his wife Sandra, took steps to adopt Craig. After approximately 16 months they were successful in this regard and Craig arrived in Launceston in August 1986, aged 2 years and 4 months. Due to the initial neglect in his infancy, Craig suffered low muscle tone which initially affected his speech and motor skills and he required regular physiotherapy in the early years. However by age 4 years he was assessed as having reached satisfactory development, although his coordination skills and overall strength remained affected and he had a permanent tremble in his left hand (his dominant hand). He also had a low attention span and the advice was that this would remain with him permanently and was believed to have been a result of the effects upon him in utero due to his mother drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Craig lived with his family in Launceston with two elder sisters, Susan aged 14 years and Margaret aged 12 years, at the time of his disappearance.
The Taylor family often spent school holidays at a shack belonging to Mrs Taylor’s parents located at 159 Conningham Road, Coningham. The family had been to this shack on numerous occasions and Craig would have known the local beach, main road and area about the shack well.
Mrs Taylor and the children arrived at the shack at around 4.00pm on Thursday 2 September 1993 intending to stay there until 9 September. Craig appeared happy and helped to unload the car before playing in his room. At about 9.30am the next day Craig spoke to his mother, made her toast and had his own breakfast. Later Mrs Taylor asked him to get dressed as she intended to take him with her while she travelled to Kingston to do some shopping. However, when she was preparing to leave she found that he was not in the house and calls for him in the close vicinity were unsuccessful. Mrs Taylor went to Kingston at about 11.30am leaving her daughters at the shack. She had checked the general area of the house, a vacant block nearby and the beach before she left and she also checked the area about Margate upon her travels. She returned about 1.00pm, and Craig had still not returned. At about 4.00pm Mrs Taylor drove to Kingston to inform police. She then returned to Coningham via Snug and the beach and continued to search for him in the local area. Police then attended and a search was commenced.
Police were given a history that in the month prior to his disappearance at Coningham, Craig had 2 other unexplained absences from home:
- On Sunday 15 August 1993 his parents returned to their home at approximately 3.30pm having left Craig with his sisters. Upon their arrival they noted Craig was missing. Mrs Taylor and her husband drove around the area for about 3 hours searching for him and then notified police at about 6.30pm that he was missing. At about 8.15pm police located Craig on a street approximately 5 minutes away from his home, and he appeared at that time to be returning home. Craig offered three different explanations as to why he had left home, however he was upset when he did return home and promised that he would not leave home unexplained again.
- On Monday 23 August 1993 Mrs Taylor left home at about 5.40pm to take Margaret to the doctor leaving Craig at home with Susan and expecting Mr Taylor to arrive home shortly after she left. Mr Taylor in fact arrived home within 5 to 10 minutes and noted that Craig was once again absent. Again his parents searched for him without success and notified police of his absence at about 10.00pm only to be informed by police that a child, who turned out to be Craig, had been located knocking on the door of a residence approximately 3 to 4 kilometres away from his home.
On 6 September 1993, Ms Donna Ritchie provided police with a summary of the counselling session she had had with Craig on 25 August 1993 following the second instance of him running away from home. On that occasion Craig told her that he had run away because it was boring, he said “when I’m alone I just jump the fence and go for a walk”.
Upon being notified of his disappearance, police considered the most probable scenarios being that he had become lost or injured in the area. A preliminary search of the area was conducted and mobile patrols were maintained throughout the night. A full scale search of the area was commenced at first light involving SES, horse riders, Water Police, Police Search & Rescue (including volunteer bush walking groups), trail bikes and local volunteers. The search focussed on the coast line and the entire area of the Coningham State Reserve and was suspended at nightfall without success. Investigators also examined numerous alleged sightings of a boy matching Craig’s description during the day, however this task was made more difficult by having to eliminate sightings of a large number of non-local children who were holidaying in the area due to it being a school holiday period.
On Sunday 5 September the search resumed with a further 60 searchers participating and the search comprising the same elements as the previous day. Additionally the police diving team were employed and searched water holes in the immediate vicinity of the holiday home where Craig was staying, as well as off shore on Coningham beach where a witness had reported sighting an object under water about 50 metres off shore at about 3.45pm on Friday 3 September. All dives had negative results. By night fall on Sunday 5 September it was concluded that the area had been comprehensively searched and the police command centre was relocated to the Kingston Police Station.
On Monday 6 September a police line search of the residential area of Coningham was undertaken and the waters from Snug through to Oyster Cove were again searched by the Water Police.
Whilst these searches were being undertaken extensive media coverage resulted in dozens of calls from the public in relation to possible sightings of Craig. Each aspect of public information was analysed and where appropriate statements were obtained. Door knocks were conducted of the entire Coningham area, Old Station Road, Davies Road and large sections of the Channel Highway from Kettering through to Kingston.
On Saturday 4 September, Stewart and Leonie Ims of 46 (now renumbered 79) Old Station Road, Coningham reported the theft of a kayak from their front yard. The kayak was 14 foot long and was of fibreglass construction. The paddle for the kayak was still on their front veranda. The kayak had last been seen in their yard at approximately 3.30pm on Friday 3 September. From where the kayak had been positioned in the front yard there was a distance of about 15 metres across a gravel road to the top of a track that runs down to the water’s edge. At approximately 11.45am on Saturday 4 September the kayak was located by Christopher James Campbell and his friend, Rodney Pless at Howden. They were walking along the beach south of the Howden fire station when they observed the kayak upside down with the front quarter section still in the water. They pulled the kayak to shore and it was noted that the kayak had significant scratch marks on the bottom. When the kayak was later positively identified by Mrs Ims she confirmed that the bottom had a lot more scratching on it than before it had been stolen. Howden is located directly across North West Bay from Coningham.
Craig had little or no ability to swim, he had never had swimming lessons. He had never to his family’s knowledge ever used a kayak.
Of the many reported possible sightings of Craig there were 5 in particular which were deemed by investigators to probably have been of Craig. All concerned sighting him at various times during the day in or about the Coningham area. The last sighting was that by Dianne Donaghy who was at her address at 50 Old Station Road, Coningham, which is located on a sharp corner of Old Station Road near the jetty and next door to where the kayak went missing. At around 4.00pm/4.30pm on Friday 3 September Ms Donaghy saw a young boy standing behind or beside the arrow sign on Old Station Road looking around as though to see if anyone was looking for him. She watched him for a couple of minutes and thought it looked as though he was playing hide and seek although she did not see any other children in the area. After seeing a photo of Craig she thought the person she saw could well have been him. Numerous other sightings in areas adjacent to Coningham and even other locations throughout Tasmania were investigated but none were thought likely to have been Craig. One potential sighting was extensively investigated, having been reported by Sheralee May Direen of Deep Bay. Ms Direen reported that at about 5.00pm on Friday 3 September she was travelling south on Channel Highway towards Snug. As she approached the Coningham turn off she noticed a young boy standing on the side of the road apparently hitchhiking towards Hobart. She didn’t take much notice of the boy except noting that he had short brown hair and dark clothing (this was consistent with Craig). As she went past him she noticed a white 1991 Holden Commodore station wagon coming towards her. She particularly noticed the vehicle had yellow number plates and roof racks identical to one owned by a friend of hers and she was preparing to wave to her friend when she realised it wasn’t him. When she passed the vehicle she looked in her rear vision mirror and saw the vehicle pull up next to the boy. She did not see whether or not the boy got into the car. Police were impressed by the genuineness of this report and this was confirmed when Ms Direen underwent hypnotherapy conducted by Dr Guy Grant in Devonport. Whilst under hypnosis she gave a genuine and detailed account of her observations but was unable to give any further description of the boy except to say that he was about the same age as her son (10 years), he was standing in the shadow of some trees and he was of small build.
As a result of this report there was further media saturation, including a re-enactment of her observations and release of a photo fit of the driver. Despite dozens of calls suggesting the possible identity of the vehicle and driver all enquiries proved negative. Of particular note however is that no person came forward to say they were driving a similar vehicle in the area that afternoon in order to give some explanation for Ms Direen’s observations. Subsequently further searching took place. On 10 September, Water Police conducted searches of the water from Snug to Oyster Cove and another search of Coningham Bay was conducted on 16 September without result. On 21 September 14 SES staff conducted a search of the entire foreshore from Howden to Coningham and a further search of that area was conducted by police recruits on 8 November. A number of items of clothing were located during these searches however they were all positively excluded as items belonging to Craig by his mother Sandra Taylor when placed before her on 10 November. Finally on 21 September police divers conducted further searches in the Howden area where the kayak had been recovered, as well as around all vessels moored in North West Bay. All dives were unsuccessful in locating evidence relating to Craig.
Craig has not been located and there have been no indications as to his whereabouts since his disappearance on 3 September 1993. I am satisfied that detailed searches were conducted and that the most probable explanation for his disappearance is that he took the kayak from the Ims’ property dragging it across the roadway and entered the water in the kayak. He had no experience in the use of a kayak and had little or no ability to swim. I am satisfied that it is probable that this kayak overturned throwing Craig into the water and that he subsequently perished by drowning or hyperthermia.
Given the identification of an incident given by Ms Direen has not been satisfactorily excluded the possibility that Craig entered that motor vehicle and subsequently came to harm cannot be excluded and this alternate possibility remains open.
I am satisfied however given the lack of any information as to Craig’s location subsequent to his disappearance and the unlikelihood that he was able to run away and establish himself somewhere else that he in fact died on or about the day of his disappearance. His cause of death cannot be positively determined.
I have decided not to hold a public inquest hearing into his death because my investigations have sufficiently disclosed the identity of the deceased person, the time, place, cause of death, relevant circumstances concerning how the death occurred and the particulars needed to register the death under the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 1999. I do not consider that the holding of a public inquest hearing would elicit any information further to that disclosed by the investigations conducted by me.
Before I conclude this matter, I wish to convey my sincere condolences to Craig’s family.
This matter is now concluded.
DATED: 4 August 2014 at Hobart in the state of Tasmania.
Stephen Raymond Carey