The skeletal remains of 42yo Thea Liddle have been found by police near Tallow Bay, in the same area Theo Hayez vanished from. Her case is being investigated by homicide.
Thea Liddle was not the kind of person you’d expect to be sleeping rough in NSW north coast bushland.
She enjoyed living off the grid because she cherished the self-sustainable lifestyle, not because she couldn’t afford otherwise or was a victim of social disadvantage.
The 42-year-old microbiology graduate documented her travels on social media, from sunrises on the beach to sunsets over picturesque villages.
She moved from the hinterland around Nimbin to the bush that lined the beaches of Byron Bay, making friends in the vibrant nomadic community along the way.
Now police are trying to piece together her unexplained death after forensically identifying human remains found near Tallow Beach on July 15 as Ms Liddle.
Missing for more than three months, Ms Liddle’s case joined the 765 other long-term files in NSW.
On November 4, 2019, Ms Liddle left her ex-partner’s property on Tweed Valley Way in Mooball, north of Byron Bay.
The former partner had recently been released from hospital, according to police, and Ms Liddle “being the big hearted person she was”, went to check in on him.
The couple had difficulties in their relationship in the past but as far as police are aware, the visit was without issue.
Before Mooball, Ms Liddle had been staying at a campsite near Nimbin with friends.
At 2.36pm on November 4, she texted her friend to let her know she was heading into Byron Bay but planned to return to Nimbin.
At 3.50pm, she was captured on CCTV buying a carton of milk from the Caltex Service Station.
It was the last known sighting of her alive and one police only tracked down after finding the half-empty milk carton near her remains and contacting the retailer this month.
On January 20, Ms Liddle’s parents reported her missing and Tweed/Byron Police Area District took on the investigation.
Ms Liddle’s nomadic lifestyle was one of the greatest challenges.
She was known to move around and set up camp in remote spots throughout the Northern Rivers.
It was difficult to know where to start looking.
Speaking to detectives, locals fondly remembered Ms Liddle as someone who took great interest in other people’s lives but didn’t seem to fit the mould of rough sleeper.
Police searched her ex-partner’s property in April but there was no sign of her. Coincidentally, the ex was charged with unrelated offences.
The breakthrough came two months later from Ms Liddle’s electronic footprint.
She lived off the grid but maintained a strong social media presence and connection to her friends and family.
MPR analyst Alex Cowan crunched Ms Liddle’s phone data, taking pressure off detectives on the ground who could focus on interviewing locals and friends to build another integral part of the investigation – victimology.
From the phone tower Ms Liddle’s phone activity last “pinged” from, Ms Cowan created a search arc.
Combined with local insight, police started a two-day search for campsites in the scrub and sand dunes skirting the Byron Bay coastline.
On July 15 at 1.20pm, near Tallow Beach and in the shadows of the iconic lighthouse, officers stumbled across a tent.
At the site there was luggage, women’s clothing, a library card, mail and the milk carton with the use by date November 7, 2019.