Murder of Daniel Morcombe

Daniel James Morcombe (19 December 1989 – 7 December 2003) was an Australian boy who was abducted from the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, on 7 December 2003 when he was 13 years old. Eight years later, Brett Peter Cowan (born 18 September 1969),[3] a former Sunshine Coast resident, was charged with Morcombe's murder. In the same month, DNA tests confirmed bones in the Glass House Mountains were Morcombe's. On 13 March 2014, Cowan was found guilty of the murder,[1] and was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder, indecently dealing with a child, and interference with a corpse.

Murder of Daniel Morcombe
Daniel Morcombe
LocationAbducted from
Nambour Connection Road, Woombye, Queensland
Remains discovered near
510 Kings Road
Glass House Mountains, Queensland
Coordinates26°40′1.5″S 152°58′38.5″E / 26.667083°S 152.977361°E / -26.667083; 152.977361
Date7 December 2003 (2003-12-07)
Attack type
Child murder by strangulation, child abduction, child rape
VictimDaniel James Morcombe, aged 13
PerpetratorBrett Peter Cowan
VerdictGuilty on all counts[1]
SentenceLife imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 20 years
Publication bansLifted after parents' request[2]



Morcombe was abducted from an unofficial bus stop under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass in the Woombye district of the Sunshine Coast approximately 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) north of the Big Pineapple on Sunday, 7 December 2003.[4][5] Witnesses reported seeing Morcombe at approximately 2:10 pm under the overpass. Morcombe planned to catch the 1:35 pm bus to the Sunshine Plaza Shopping Centre for a haircut and to buy Christmas presents, but the bus had broken down.[6] When a replacement bus eventually arrived, it did not stop, because it was behind schedule and the stop was unofficial.[4] The driver radioed the depot for another bus to go and pick up Morcombe.[6] The driver and other witnesses later reported seeing two men near Morcombe. When the second bus arrived three minutes later, Morcombe and the men were gone.[7]



Morcombe's disappearance was one of the most extensively investigated crimes in Queensland's history.[8] By 12 December 2008, rewards of A$250,000 from the Government and A$750,000 donated privately had been offered.

The private reward expired at midnight on 31 May 2009. That day, the Seven Network reported that a known paedophile, Douglas Jackway, could be of interest to the police. Jackway had been released from prison one month before Morcombe's disappearance.[9] The Queensland Government came under criticism over Jackway's release; independent Queensland MP Peter Wellington claimed the Supreme Court had presented clear evidence of Jackway's risk of reoffending.[10] This publicity prompted civil liberties groups to call for laws banning media outlets from naming people linked to criminal cases.

Earlier in the month, a full-size clay model of the man believed to be involved in Morcombe's abduction was placed at the spot where he disappeared. Within a few days more than 300 tips were received.[11]

In July 2009, Morcombe's parents called for a coronial inquest into his disappearance.[12] Of particular interest to the family were several criminals who had told police they knew who killed Morcombe. A coronial inquest was held between October 2010 and April 2011. The inquest called as witnesses the bus driver who had failed to stop for Morcombe at the overpass, a woman who had seen a man loitering near Morcombe, and several persons of interest.[13]

On 13 August 2011, after an extensive Mr. Big police operation, police took Brett Peter Cowan into custody and charged him with Morcombe's murder, child stealing, deprivation of liberty, indecent treatment of a child under 16, interfering with a corpse, and other offences after having led undercover detectives to Morcombe's remains. In 2006, Cowan had been interviewed over the Morcombe case and had admitted to police that he travelled along Kiel Mountain Road on his way to purchase marijuana from a drug dealer on the day of the disappearance.[14][15] Cowan confessed to having seen and approached Morcombe to offer him a lift to the shopping centre,[16][17] having parked his car in a nearby car-park of the church he attended.[4]

Around this time, a white Mitsubishi Pajero was seized from a property on Russell Island. The vehicle was believed to have been involved in Morcombe's abduction after a witness at the coronial inquest reported seeing a vehicle of similar description parked 100 metres (330 ft) north of the site where Morcombe was last seen.[18]

Remains found


On 21 August 2011, two shoes and three human bones were found at a search site at Glass House Mountains.[19] The shoes were similar to the ones that Morcombe was wearing when he disappeared.[20] Underpants and a belt were also found. However, Morcombe also owned a distinctive fob style pocket watch with "Dan" engraved on it, which has not been found.[7] By the end of the investigation, seventeen bones had been found, including a rib, hip, leg, arm, and vertebrae. They were all confirmed as belonging to Morcombe using DNA from his toothbrush to make the match.[21] As a result of the find, Morcombe's funeral was held at Siena Catholic College on 7 December 2012. More than 2,000 people attended it.[22]



On 7 February 2014, Cowan was ordered to stand trial.[23] He was charged with murder, indecently dealing with a child under the age of 16, and improperly dealing with a corpse.[23] The trial, at the Supreme Court of Queensland, began on 10 February 2014[23] under Justice Roslyn Atkinson.[24] The prosecution closed its case on 7 March. 116 witnesses gave evidence, and over 200 exhibits were tendered in evidence.[24] Cowan pleaded not guilty and declined to give evidence.[24]

On 13 March 2014, Cowan was found guilty of all charges.[1] Cowan had two previous convictions for child sex offences.[25] On 14 March 2014, he was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years. He was also sentenced to three-and-a-half years' imprisonment for indecently dealing with Morcombe, and two years for interfering with his corpse, those sentences to be served concurrently. Judge Roslyn Atkinson said "I don't think you should be released in 20 years' time".[26] Cowan appealed his sentence to the Queensland Court of Appeal, under Justice Margaret McMurdo, seeking to have his conviction overturned. His legal team argued "... that the confession elicited through an undercover sting by police was inadmissible as evidence at trial". On 21 May 2015, Cowan's appeal was dismissed. The former Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie had appealed to have Cowan's 20-year minimum sentence increased. This was also dismissed.[27]



The Daniel Morcombe Foundation


The Morcombe family started the "Daniel Morcombe Foundation",[28] and put its resources into keeping Morcombe's disappearance in the public eye and trying to find out what happened to their son. The foundation is committed to educating children about personal safety, and to raising awareness throughout Australia of the dangers of predatory criminals. These efforts are supported by the Australian media, especially on each anniversary of Morcombe's disappearance when a "Day for Daniel" is held to promote awareness of the vulnerability of children. An accompanying event is the "Ride for Daniel", which covers 50 km of the Sunshine Coast, held each year since 2005.[29]

In 2015, Bruce Morcombe spoke to the family of another missing child, William Tyrrell, and warned them that psychics would descend on them with "bizarre and offbeat ... distracting information". He called it distressing and said that although they received hundreds of leads telling them that there was a "shed or a water tank", none were of any help, but still couldn't be ignored in case they included a "disguised confession". Capturing data from CCTV and ATM cameras was more helpful, as once the police have a person of interest it may help disprove an alibi. Morcombe's advice was to "remain positive, that's all you can do, the police will be working hard, they want to solve it as well".[30]



Morcombe's murder was the focus of the Crime Investigation Australia season 1 episode "Tears for Daniel"[31] aired in 2005. A film based on Morcombe's murder, titled Where is Daniel?, was planned. Directed by Peter Cousens and cinematography by Dean Cundey.[32] On 2 July 2017, the case was covered by Casefile True Crime Podcast.[4]

Morcombe's father, Bruce Morcombe, appears in a series six episode of the ABC's You Can't Ask That focused on "Families of Missing Persons". In this episode, Morcombe describes the family's perspective on the events, as well as the aftermath.

The Stranger, a film that fictionalises the undercover police operation to catch the murderer, was released in October 2022. In July 2022, Morcombe's parents "demanded" that the filmmakers stop using his name to market the film and were upset that they continued to do so.[33]

See also



  1. ^ a b c Calligeros, Marissa (13 March 2014). "Daniel Morcombe murder trial verdict: Brett Peter Cowan found guilty". Brisbane Times. Archived from the original on 14 March 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2014.
  2. ^ "Suspected killer of teen named in court at parents' request". The Sydney Morning Herald. 17 August 2011. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  3. ^ Baskin, Brooke (13 March 2014). "Brett Cowan guilty of murder of Daniel Morcombe". The Courier-Mail. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  4. ^ a b c d "Case 54: Daniel Morcombe - Casefile: True Crime Podcast". Casefile: True Crime Podcast. 2 July 2017. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  5. ^ Kyriacou, Kate (6 February 2013). "Accused killer Brett Cowan claims to have taken only seconds to lure Daniel Morcombe away". Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  6. ^ a b Kyriacou, Kate; Murray, David; Viellaris, Renee; Hall, Peter (6 March 2014). "Worst nightmare: The day Daniel Morcombe never came home". The Courier-Mail. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Daniel Morcombe Foundation - The Investigation". Retrieved 31 May 2009.
  8. ^ "Daniel Morcombe: the timeline". Brisbane Times. 6 December 2012. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  9. ^ "Paedophile linked to missing Morcombe case". ABC News. 31 May 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  10. ^ "Qld Govt slammed over paedophile's release". ABC News. 3 June 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  11. ^ Green, Glenis (19 May 2009). "300 tips in Daniel Morcombe case". The Courier-Mail. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  12. ^ Doneman, Paula (5 July 2009). "Parents want coronial inquest into Daniel Morcombe loss". Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  13. ^ "Morcombe inquest-Ruling on further witnesses and venue", State Coroner Michael Barnes, 3 November 2010|url= March 2014 |
  14. ^ "Man charged with murder in Morcombe case". Sky News Australia. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  15. ^ Viellaris, Renee; Hall, Peter (14 August 2011). "Man, 41, charged with murder of Daniel Morcombe". Retrieved 1 August 2011.
  16. ^ Kyriacou, Kate (6 February 2013). "Accused killer Brett Cowan claims to have taken only seconds to lure Daniel Morcombe away". Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  17. ^ Shorten, Kristin (7 December 2013). "Daniel Morcombe was abducted 10 years ago today". News Corp Australia. Retrieved 7 December 2013.
  18. ^ Dibben, Kay; Donaghy, Kathleen (28 August 2011). "Police investigating Daniel Morcombe disappearance seize four-wheel-drive on Russell Island". Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  19. ^ Shorten, Kristin (21 August 2011). "Bones found at Daniel Morcombe search site". Retrieved 21 August 2011.
  20. ^ Walker, Jamie (28 August 2011). "Qld police say remains are Daniel Morcombe's". The Australian. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  21. ^ Calligeros, Marissa (28 August 2011). "Police confirm remains were Daniel Morcombe's". Brisbane Times. Retrieved 28 August 2011.
  22. ^ Atkinson, Bruce (7 December 2012). "Community farewells Daniel Morcombe". ABC News. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  23. ^ a b c "Timeline: Daniel Morcombe case". ABC News. 10 February 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  24. ^ a b c Bavas, Josh (6 March 2014). "Daniel Morcombe murder: prosecution closes case against accused killer". ABC News. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  25. ^ "Daniel Morcombe murder: Brett Peter Cowan guilty of killing Queensland teen". ABC News. 13 March 2014.
  26. ^ Calligeros, Marissa (14 March 2014). "Daniel Morcombe's murderer Brett Peter Cowan sentenced". Brisbane Times. Archived from the original on 14 March 2014. Retrieved 14 March 2014.
  27. ^ Stephens, Kim (21 May 2015). "Daniel Morcombe murder: Brett Cowan loses appeal". Brisbane Times. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  28. ^ "Daniel Morcombe Foundation Inc". 10 February 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2014.
  29. ^ "Queenslanders to Ride for Daniel". ABC News. 21 June 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2013.
  30. ^ Barlass, Tim (21 June 2015). "Daniel Morcombe's fears for William Tyrrell 'It is looking very grim'". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
  31. ^ "Tears for Daniel". Retrieved 7 December 2012.
  32. ^ Hall, Peter (6 July 2016). "Daniel Morcombe movie cinematographer coming to Queensland to work on Where is Daniel?". The Courier-Mail. News Corp Australia. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  33. ^ Spence, Hamish; Achenza, Madeleine (15 July 2022). "Daniel Morcombe's parents demand film stop using son's name to promote film". Retrieved 18 October 2022.