William Tyrrell: Inside privileged life of foster mother, why she hates Spiderman photo

As a wealthy professional from Sydney’s north shore worth several million dollars, William Tyrrell’s foster mum yearned for little in life.

But there was always something missing – a child and family of her own. 

In recent times, William Tyrrell’s foster mother has been an enthusiastic tuckshop mother and cheerful presence at her daughter’s primary school in an exclusive suburb.

The 56-year-old, who strenuously denies NSW Police allegations she was involved in the toddler’s 2014 disappearance, also worked on the school’s parents and citizens association.

She wanted William to grow up being ‘socially aware, a good contributor to society and is happy and is fulfilling … doing the things he wants to do’.

She and the boy’s foster father are careful about children’s nutrition and access to fast food.

But en route to Kendall they would allow William to eat at McDonald’s, Heatherbrae, the halfway point, where the three-year-old was captured on CCTV the day before he disappeared. 

She and William’s foster father have experience in real estate and property, and according to a police statement by William’s late foster grandmother were assisting  in the sale of the Benaroon Drive, Kendall house on the fateful trip on which the boy vanished.

William Tyrrell’s foster mother is a wealthy professional from Sydney’s north shore worth several million dollars who always longed to have children and raise a family

William instantly bonded with his foster father after being taken from his biological parents aged seven months and placed with the wealthy north shore couple

William instantly bonded with his foster father after being taken from his biological parents aged seven months and placed with the wealthy north shore couple

The foster mother’s parents were respected, community-minded residents of the tiny town of Kendall and were involved in a heritage group on the NSW Mid North Coast.

William’s foster mother is also regarded as a solid contributor to her north shore community. 

They sold the five-bedroom house with a swimming pool where William had lived  from early 2012 until his disappearance for more than $4million last year.

The couple have since bought a four-bedroom low rise worth more than $2million. 

More than a decade ago when the couple did not have children of their own, they embarked on the lengthy process of being approved as foster carers.

William's foster mother does not like the Spider-man suit image of William which has become synonymous with his case, saying it is a 'bittersweet' reminder of the lost boy

William’s foster mother does not like the Spider-man suit image of William which has become synonymous with his case, saying it is a ‘bittersweet’ reminder of the lost boy

The foster parents were careful about William's nutrition, but allowed him (above) a fast food stop at McDonald's at the halfway point en route to Kendall the day before he vanished

The foster parents were careful about William’s nutrition, but allowed him (above) a fast food stop at McDonald’s at the halfway point en route to Kendall the day before he vanished

The foster mother said caring for kids in need of a safe and loving home was ‘just something we’ve always wanted to do’.

The parents went through a working with children check, interviews with social workers about why they wanted to foster a child, and an examination of their capacity to keep a child safe.

They were questioned about their understanding of abuse and neglect, their response to dealing with children’s behaviour resulting from neglect, and their willingness to protect a child’s identity and culture.

The foster parents successfully cleared all those hurdles and in 2011 were approved as carers of children on short term orders.

But they wanted to foster children on long term orders, which would mean they would act as the parents of children in the custody of the Minister for the former Department of Family and Community Services (FACS). 

They fostered a couple of children short term before being granted seven-month-old William Tyrrell in 2012.

William bonded with his foster father almost immediately, was slower to take to his foster mother but not long before he vanished had started calling her ‘Mum’.

The foster mother said that taking in children as foster parents was something she and the foster father had always wanted to do

The foster mother said that taking in children as foster parents was something she and the foster father had always wanted to do

The foster father (above) and his wife wanted William to grow up to be socially responsible and a happy person

The foster father (above) and his wife wanted William to grow up to be socially responsible and a happy person 

He was a boisterous and energetic child and his sometimes unruly behaviour with other children at child care became of concern the foster mother. 

But she later said she and the foster father had been ‘incredibly fortunate to have William come into out lives’. 

‘As foster carers you look after the children that you’re asked to look after, loving the children for who they are,’ she told the ‘Walking for William’ podcast. 

‘You don’t make choices about who you love and who you don’t love. With children they’re just so innocent.

‘We took our role very seriously to provide a loving caring supportive home for him. and do the best thing by him that we could possibly do.’

William was boisterous and 'jumping out of his skin' on the morning that he disappeared but he was also known to be a cautious child who didn't venture far

William was boisterous and ‘jumping out of his skin’ on the morning that he disappeared but he was also known to be a cautious child who didn’t venture far

The foster mother purchased a camera and began compiling annual ‘photo books of what we do as a family every year’.

The photo of William in his Spider-Man suit on his foster grandmother’s Kendall deck that would become a proof-of-life image for police was just one of many photos intended for the foster parents’ 2014 family photo book.

On that September 12 morning, a Friday, the foster mother had encouraged William and his sister to hand draw messages to leave on their late grandfather’s grave.

The foster grandfather, who had been born in the Netherlands and was called ‘Opa’ by William, died aged 84 in February 2014.

The foster mother had intended taking family photos of William placing a drawing on Opa’s grave, which is in Kendall cemetery on a ridge above the Benaroon Drive house. 

The foster mother now says she’s not fond of the photo of William in the Spider-Man suit.

The Benaroon Drive house from which William vanished in 2014 (above) has been the subject of the latest high intensity search by police for traces of the missing toddler

The Benaroon Drive house from which William vanished in 2014 (above) has been the subject of the latest high intensity search by police for traces of the missing toddler

Photos of William playing on his foster grandmother's deck were meant for a family photo book, but ended up as proof of life images examined by police

Photos of William playing on his foster grandmother’s deck were meant for a family photo book, but ended up as proof of life images examined by police

‘It’s bittersweet,’ she told ‘Where’s William Tyrrell’. 

‘I actually don’t like looking at that photo.’

The foster father said his reactions to the image were ‘mixed … seeing his face, the joy of play but also it also means I feel like I have lost … I feel like he’s lost the opportunity for everything’. 

The foster mother described the connection between William and his foster father as ‘incredibly special’. 

‘I’m not saying this to detract from the relationship he had with his biological parents,’ she said, ‘because I think that’s incredibly precious and special.

‘But (it was ) .. just fabulous to watch’. 

William’s biological parents had been seeing him every month, but as he became a long term placement that access was reduced to bimonthly.

The birth mother said in a police statement she had been told that the foster mother and her husband were not comfortable meeting her and the birth father.

On one contact visit supervised by Ben Attwood from the Salvation Army, the birth and foster mother passed each other, but they never met.

The birth mother said in her police statement that she worried about William being ‘a bit too skinny’.

William Tyrrell's birth mother (above) last saw her son on an access visit in August 2014 when she noticed he was 'more affectionate than usual' and cuddled her rather than racing around

William Tyrrell’s birth mother (above) last saw her son on an access visit in August 2014 when she noticed he was ‘more affectionate than usual’ and cuddled her rather than racing around

William's birth father (above) last saw his son at the Chipmunks Playland at the Macquarie CVentre in North Sydney in August 2014

William’s birth father (above) last saw his son at the Chipmunks Playland at the Macquarie CVentre in North Sydney in August 2014

‘I don’t want to come across as if I’m blaming them or being mean, but it’s just been really hard,’ she said about losing William, who she still hoped would be returned to her care.

‘Up until the beginning of the year William called me Mum. The last time I saw William he didn’t really call me anything. 

‘The visit before he called me his “birth mum”.’

The last time the birth mother and father saw William was on August 21, 2014 at the the Chipmunks Playland at the Macquarie Centre in North Sydney, from 10am until midday.

Mr Attwood had warned the birth mother before the visit that William had a black eye.

He had been climbing up as the foster mother was having a cup of tea with a friend and had fallen on a piece of furniture.

On this final occasion, the birth mother said, William was ‘more affectionate than usual’ and ‘happy sitting on my lap and giving me a cuddle’.

William lived at his foster parents' north shore home from the age of seven months until his disappearance in September 2014

William lived at his foster parents’ north shore home from the age of seven months until his disappearance in September 2014

The foster parents had asked their Salvation Army caseworker about the possible adoption of Wiliam by applying to the NSW Supreme Court

The foster parents had asked their Salvation Army caseworker about the possible adoption of Wiliam by applying to the NSW Supreme Court

Willliam was deemed a long term placement in the care of the FACS Minister in April 2013. 

Unbeknown to the birth parents, the foster parents had spoken with their Salvation Army foster caseworker about applying to the NSW Supreme Court to formally adopt William.

The foster parents were preparing for a massive renovation of their north shore house to make their ‘forever home’, after obtaining DA approval by Ku-ring-gai Council in July 2013.

The home renovations included a new bedroom that was meant for William.

In July 2014, they took William to Bali on a holiday and it was there they bought the Spider-Man obsessed toddler his blue-and-red Spider-Man suit. 

The family returned to Sydney in early August and William was attending day care at a north shore child centre.

The foster mother, who has a sister and two brothers, had intervened in a minor squabble between two of her siblings over property stored at her mother’s Kendall house ahead of its proposed imminent sale.

The foster mother was working from home on the day before William vanished, her husband out having meetings with clients or colleagues, when they made a snap decision to get their cats boarded for the night, grab William and head up to Kendall a day early.

The foster parents collected William from day care, left their cats at a boarding kennel and drove up to Kendall a day earlier than planned to start a family weekend

The foster parents collected William from day care, left their cats at a boarding kennel and drove up to Kendall a day earlier than planned to start a family weekend

A previous search for William, (above in 2018) failed to find any trace of the toddler or the Spider-Man suit he was wearing when last seen alive

A previous search for William, (above in 2018) failed to find any trace of the toddler or the Spider-Man suit he was wearing when last seen alive

The weekend the foster mother had planned included sorting through family belongings, getting the foster mother organised ahead of the Kendall house sale and taking the kids up the road to visit her father’s grave.

The foster parents had learnt that despite being loud and energetic that William was not ‘a wanderer’, instead a cautious child who ‘would always stay pretty close’ to them and keep them in his line of sight.

On the morning of September 12, his foster grandmother told police, William was  ‘full of beans, jumping out of his skin with energy’.

She described him as ‘a very masculine child’ who when he was playing on her deck that morning ‘rolled the dice very hard’. 

The foster mother and grandmother were drinking tea and chatting when she said William jumped off the small side deck of the house, went down the stairs and around the corner and suddenly could be no longer heard.

The foster father had driven off that morning in the family’s new 2014 model grey green Land Rover Discovery to get a prescription filled at Lakewood, 8km away, and hold an online business conference via the GoToMeeting conference app.

The foster mother (above) had planned for William to leave a drawing on the grave of her father which is in the Kendall cemetery a short walk above the Benaroon Drive house

The foster mother (above) had planned for William to leave a drawing on the grave of her father which is in the Kendall cemetery a short walk above the Benaroon Drive house

William was three years old when he vanished and the foster parents were renovating their Sydney house with a bedroom designated for the boy in their 'forever home'

William was three years old when he vanished and the foster parents were renovating their Sydney house with a bedroom designated for the boy in their ‘forever home’

In the immediate aftermath of the disappearance, as neighbours along Benaroon Drive joined in the search for William, the foster mother took her mother’s Mazda down the street  and along Batar Creek Road as far as the Disabled Riding School before turning back to the house.

The ‘Where’s William Tyrrell’ podcast on Network Ten says the average waiting time for parents to ring the police after a child goes missing is two hours.

The foster mother dialled Triple-0 within 20 minutes and police took six minutes to arrive.

Port Macquarie Local Area Command Senior Constable Chris Rowley arrived at the house to find the foster father who ‘came out of the bathroom and was very emotional and upset’.

In the ensuing hours, the foster mother said she lost track of her husband as he darted around hyperactively searching about the street into the hours after dark. 

Public confusion about William’s family was immediate as, instead of a tearful family before the TV cameras begging for his return, a family friend stood awkwardly by then Local Area Commander Paul Fehon.

Police returned to the house from which William disappeared to search vegetation (above), a conc rete slab and a water tank onthe property

Police returned to the house from which William disappeared to search vegetation (above), a conc rete slab and a water tank onthe property 

It was forbidden under FACS laws to reveal William’s status as a fostered child, but this very fact was discussed on social media where people shared their suspicions about what had happened to William.

His biological parents, whose names have since been suppressed by the inquest into William’s disappearance, suffered baseless accusations.

The foster parents fought hard to keep their names suppressed from the media.

According to NSW Supreme Court documents in the case brought by children’s advocate Allanna Smith against FACS, the foster parents feared they would be identified and this would bring further harassment of themselves, their family and friends.

Children's advocate Allanna Smith fought FACS and won the right for William's status as a fostered child at the time he disappeared to be made public

Children’s advocate Allanna Smith fought FACS and won the right for William’s status as a fostered child at the time he disappeared to be made public 

William Tyrrell's biological family attended the inquest into his disappearance

William Tyrrell’s biological family attended the inquest into his disappearance

In 2016, despite the foster parents’ and FACS’ argument against it, the NSW Supreme Court granted Ms Smith’s application to reveal William as a fostered child at the time of his disappearance.

FACS appealed the decision and lost.

The foster family feared that the knowledge William was fostered would lead to their unmasking.

They discussed what they might have to do, including move from their home, change jobs and take steps to change their identity.

The couple forged ahead with $769,000 home renovation in 2015.

That year, a campaign entitled ‘Where’s William’ began on behalf of the foster parents, collecting donations and selling T-shirts and caps emblazoned with the boy’s image. 

Award-winning mother and daughter PRs Clare and Alice Collins’ Insight Communications spearheaded the ‘Where’s William’ campaign.

Police are into their second week of a high intensity search of bushland (above) around Kendall and the house on Benaroon Drive from which William disappeared

Police are into their second week of a high intensity search of bushland (above) around Kendall and the house on Benaroon Drive from which William disappeared

William's foster mother told a podcast that she and her husband live a 'neverending nightmare' about William's disappearance and 'can't believe it's happened'

William’s foster mother told a podcast that she and her husband live a ‘neverending nightmare’ about William’s disappearance and ‘can’t believe it’s happened’

The duo released statements, a poster of William with the foster parents’ motto ‘William, we will never give up’ and stood sentinel outside the inquest handing out  red-and-blue ‘Where’s William Tyrrell’ ribbons.

In 2019, the foster mother tearfully told the podcast which arose from the ‘Where’s William’ campaign that William’s disappearance was ‘the never-ending nightmare’ in their lives.

‘We wake up, we relive it. I just can’t believe it’s happened,’ she said.

‘We just don’t have our boy. We don’t know where he is. We don’t know who’s got him. We know nothing about it.’   

NSW Police are into their second week of a high intensity search of bushland around Kendall and the house on Benaroon Drive from which William disappeared. I

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