Picture perfect

A handful of witnesses saw the man standing under the Kiel Mountain Road overpass the day Daniel Morcombe went missing. He was a gaunt man, scruffy, with dark straggly hair, stubble, a goatee, an earring. John Garner, a freehand forensic artist working within Queensland Police Service (QPS), spoke to several witnesses travelling on the bus that drove past the man, and the Sunshine Coast schoolboy, that tragic day in December 2003. “They had no reason to remember him,” says Garner, now retired. “But they did.” As the first anniversary of Daniel’s disappearance approached, police released several of Garner’s sketches based on witnesses’ descriptions of the man, hoping that those who saw the images of the suspect might help identify him. The response was immediate, writes Kate Kyriacou, author of The Sting. Caller after caller rang in, naming Brett Peter Cowan.

Cowan’s details were registered in a police database of convicted paedophiles so he’d already been identified as a person of interest. Police had visited him during the earliest days of the investigation. In July 2005, he was re-interviewed at Nerang Police Station by Detective Sergeant Tracey Barnes and Detective Senior Constable Mark Wright. Barnes asks, “Have you seen the Comfits that have been released in relation to this?” Cowan nods. “Do you think you look anything like those Comfits?” Cowan nods again, elbow resting on the edge of the table. An earlier forensic examination of his vehicle had yielded nil evidence; he believed himself to be on solid ground. “I thought one of them, yeah,” he concedes casually, with a laugh. “One of them actually looks more like my brother than looks like me.”

Sketchy Details

Members of the general public have become used to seeing composite faces in newspapers, on the television, or, increasingly, in Facebook feeds, as police appeal for information to help solve crimes. But only a fraction of composite faces created are released to the public. Up to 90 per cent of those created are used for internal police inquiries to narrow down the pool of usual suspects. Composite images are typically only released to the media when police have exhausted other investigative leads, such as with the decade-long investigation into the so-called ‘Bondi Beast’. Here, a review of cold cases using enhanced DNA and fingerprinting linked a series of at least 27 sexual attacks in Sydney’s eastern suburbs between 1985 and 2001. No closer to a suspect, however, NSW police in 2016 released two composites of the predator believed to be responsible …

The full story appeared on the cover of the December 2016 issue of the Australian Police JournalDue to the graphic and disturbing nature of the content and images contained within it, this publication is only available by subscription. If you’d like to read the full story, however, I can email you a pdf copy. Send me a DM via Twitter @CullenDenise.