Following an extensive investigation into the mysterious disappearance of Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez, the New South Wales coroner has now ruled that the 18-year-old “is deceased”.
Hayez, 18, arrived in Australia in 2018 for a backpacking holiday before disappearing a week before he was set to return to Belgium. He was last seen leaving Cheeky Monkey’s bar in Byron Bay at approximately 11:00 pm on May 31, 2019.
Police were notified of Hayez’s disappearance after his family hadn’t heard from their son for some time and when he failed to return to his accommodation.
Despite extensive searches that utilised helicopters, drones, cadaver dogs, trackers, divers, and rock climbers, the 18-year-old was never found.
Hayez’s final phone signal was determined to be in the proximity of Cape Byron on June 1 2019, with suggestions that Hayez’s last possible whereabouts was in the vicinity of Cosy Corner, Tallow Beach
Despite a grey Puma hat, similar to the one Hayez was wearing when he was last seen, being found in bushland at Tallow Beach by community search volunteers the case’s momentum stalled with police arriving at the theory that Hayez fell from the cliffs near the lighthouse.
After examining the evidence, NSW Coroner Teresa O’Sullivan handed down her findings, telling the an inquest into his disappearance that she had arrived at the “tragic conclusion that Theo is deceased”.
“The only trace of Theo that has ever been found was the grey Puma hat that he was wearing that night,” O’Sullivan said.
Although O’Sullivan ruled out suicide or intentional disappearance as the cause of Hayez’s fate, she did present two theories that could have led to his disappearance.
The first theory presented to the inquest was that Hayes was “met with a terrible accident while he was alone” while the second theory purports that he met “one or more persons” who were responsible for his death.
“There is certainly no evidence that someone would want to harm Theo and there is overwhelming evidence that he was a gentle and non-confrontational person,” O’Sullivan said.
However, O’Sullivan conceded that there was insufficient evidence to confirm or exclude either theory.
Prior to O’Sullivan’s ruling, the former lead detective on the William Tyrrell case, Gary Jubelin, weighed in on the high-profile case, telling 60 Minutes that “you can’t discount anything” regarding the disappearance and that if he were leading the investigation he “would be treating it as suspicious circumstances”.
Jubelin holds this view after examining the digital trail left behind by Hayez which shows him making a stop at some local cricket nets after being kicked out of a bar on the night he vanished.
“I keep coming back to the reasons why he might spend seven minutes here,” Jubelin said.
“And I can’t for the life of me think other than he’s speaking to someone.”
Hindered by privacy laws, Australian police had no clue where to look for backpacker Theo Hayez after his disappearance. It came down to his mother to make the biggest breakthrough in the case – but by then, so much time had been lost. #60Mins
— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) October 17, 2022
The fact that Hayez headed towards the beach, which was in the opposite direction to his accommodation, and the path he took makes Jubelin believe he was led there by another party.
“I choose my words carefully. The evidence that’s presented, that I’ve had access to, is suggestive of the fact that he was in company with someone,” Jubelin revealed.
“It could still be an accident. It could be something happened, that he ran away from the people.”