The sudden disappearance of teenager Daniel Morcombe in 2013 sent shock waves across Queensland, Australia. While police and his concerned parents believed he was alive and working to bring him home, they were heartbroken when the boy’s remains were found in a nearby hilly area after nearly eight years. As Netflix’s “The Stranger” presents a dramatized account of this harrowing case, let’s dig into the details and find out how the killer was ultimately brought to justice, shall we?
How did Daniel Morcombe die?
Born on December 19, 1989, Daniel Morcombe lived with his parents, Bruce and Denise, and two brothers in the Sunshine Coast region of Queensland. Those close to him described him as a happy, healthy boy who loved making friends and enjoying life to the fullest. On December 7, 2003, the 13-year-old left his home in the afternoon to get a haircut and buy Christmas presents at the nearby Sunshine Plaza mall. He walked about 1.3 kilometers from his home to a bus stop on the Nambour Connection Road.
Daniel was last seen at a bus stop under the Kiel Mountain Road viaduct in the Woombye district around 2.10pm. Apparently the bus he was supposed to get on broke down and he missed the replacement bus; thus, he waited for a third bus to arrive. However, bystanders and a bus driver claimed to have seen two adult men near the boy, and by the time the bus arrived three minutes later, Daniel had disappeared from the scene. As he had not arrived home in time, his parents contacted the police and a massive investigation was launched.
Bruce and Denise called for a coroner’s inquest in 2009, and two years later police finally identified the man responsible for Daniel’s death and discovered the teenager had been strangled and his body buried in the Glass House Mountains. Skeletal remains recovered from said location matched those of the 13-year-old boy, and he was given a proper burial in December 2012.
Who killed Daniel Morcombe?
After Daniel failed to return home the day he disappeared, the case became one of the most investigated in Queensland. As police began to search for suspects based on eyewitness accounts, they came across one, Brett Peter Cowan, a man with a history of sex offenses living in the nearby town of Beerwah when the teenager went missing. He twice denied his involvement in Daniel’s disappearance, the first just days after the incident and the second when police questioned him in July 2005.
Cowan said he drove along the road where Daniel was waiting for his bus to meet his drug dealer, but did not see the boy. Eventually, authorities found another potential suspect in Douglas Jackway, a convicted sex offender who had been released just a month before Daniel disappeared. Witnesses had said they saw a blue vehicle near the bus stop where the teenager was standing matched Jackway’s car. Nevertheless, after being cleared of all suspicion, he was released and the coroner’s inquest into the case began in July 2009.
Several criminals came forward, claiming they knew the perpetrator, and Cowan’s name surfaced in the investigation. When he appeared for the coroner’s inquest around 2011, police found his alibi to meet the drug dealer was bogus, as said person was not home at the time the former clarified. But due to the lack of evidence linking Cowan to the case, they were unable to arrest him. So Queensland law enforcement planned an elaborate sting operation to capture him and get him to confess to the crime.
The covert operation was named “Mr. Big,” in which a few undercover police officers befriended Cowan by posing as members of a criminal gang. persuaded to join in their fabricated criminal activities to gain his trust. Cowan initially denied any involvement in Daniel’s disappearance, but in August 2011 he eventually confessed to the crime via video to an undercover agent called “Arnold “. He revealed to Arnold that he saw Daniel on December 7, 2003, while driving near the bus stop.
Cowan then approached the boy and offered to take him to the mall, later driving him to an isolated house in Beerwah. There, Cowan allegedly attempted to undress and assault Daniel, and when the teenager resisted, he strangled him to death. According to him, he had only intended to molest the victim and knock him down, but when the latter struggled, he killed him and dragged his body up an embankment. Daniel’s clothes were thrown into a stream while his body was buried in the Glass House Mountains bush.
Besides this video confession obtained by the officer impersonating Arnold, police discovered Cowan’s white car at Russell Island; this matched what witnesses had described as the vehicle seen near the teenager before he disappeared. Additionally, Cowan even directed undercover cops to the bush where he had buried the victim’s skeletal remains. With the confession in place, he was arrested at the site of Daniel’s remains and taken into custody on August 13, 2011.
Where is Brett Peter Cowan today?
Brett Peter Cowan has been charged with the murder of Daniel Morcombe, along with other offenses including theft of children, deprivation of liberty, indecent treatment of a child under 16 and interference with a corpse . Initially, he pleaded not guilty, but on March 14, 2013, he was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
In addition, a sentence of 3.5 years for indecent assault on a minor and two years for improper handling of a corpse was added. Since 2014, Cowan has been incarcerated at Wolston Correctional Center in Wacol, Queensland. Although he is kept under heavy surveillance after being violently attacked at least three times by other inmates, one case even landed him in hospital. Cowan will not be eligible for parole until 2031.
Read more: Where was Netflix’s The Stranger filmed?