true crime

"We think about Theo every minute." It's been almost a year since Theo Hayez vanished.

For the past year, the disappearance of Belgian backpacker Theo Hayez has baffled the Byron Bay community and police alike.

On May 31, 2019, the 18-year-old was seen leaving Cheeky Monkey’s nightclub in Byron Bay. As he made his way back to the hostel where he was staying, Hayez messaged a friend back home in Belgium just after midnight.

Almost a week later, however, the 18-year-old was reported missing when he failed to check out from the WakeUp! hostel in Byron Bay, leaving his belongings – including his passport – untouched in his room.

Watch the trailer for The Lighthouse podcast below. Post continues after video.

Video by The Australian

Following Hayez’s disappearance, State Emergency Service volunteers, dogs, drones and members of the public searched unsuccessfully for the backpacker in a months-long search, finding little clues in regards to his disappearance.

Three and a half months after Hayez vanished, however, the case was referred to the New South Wales coroner – bringing the official police search to an end.

In November last year, The Australian podcast team behind the award-winning podcasts The Teacher’s Pet and Who the Hell is Hamishv released The Lighthouse podcast, which investigates the search for Hayez.

Now, nearly a year on from his disappearance, Hayez’s family have released a message in the Looking for Theo Hayez Facebook group, thanking the public for their ongoing efforts to help find their son.

“Since the beginning of the year, we have spoken less publicly about developments,” the post read.

“Far from us giving up hope or dedication, the main reason is because the ongoing police process means we need to be careful about what we say. We think about Theo every minute and would like to share any information that may help to find out what happened to him but we have to be careful that we also give the police the best chance of finding this out.”


“It breaks our hearts every day and we hope that they will soon have some clarity for us. The police investigation is ongoing and we are grateful for this but we have been asked not to provide details.”

The family have urged anyone with information to contact them and the police. They have also launched a new website and created new posters to increase awareness both nationally and internationally.

“It will soon be one year now and it is still important that you keep talking about Théo, we still believe that someone out there could help us to find out what really happened by providing us with some information about that night,” the post concluded.

Here’s what we know so far about the ongoing investigation.

A bloodstained club.

Three weeks after Hayez disappeared, a Byron Bay resident reportedly found a “bludgeon stick” in the Clarkes Beach dunes.

According to, the stick – which had “The Judge” written on it in black letters and dark blood-coloured stains – was handed in to police, however, the club’s location was not recorded at the time.

theo hayez missing
Image: Facebook.

"Found in Clarke's Beach dunes campsite... three weeks after Theo disappeared," the wife of the resident who found the club posted on Facebook.

"Handed into police at the time. Stains on bludgeon stick [looks like blood]," she continued.


"The writing on bludgeon stick says: THE JUDGE. Never heard back?"

The club was reportedly found less than a 10-minute walk away from where Hayez's mobile phone last "pinged" off a mobile tower in the early hours of the morning on June 1, 2019.

New podcast allegations.

On The Australian's podcast The Lighthouse, the path of Hayez on the night he disappeared was revealed, as tracked by Google Maps tracking data.

After leaving Cheeky Monkey's, Hayez's phone was tracked at Tallow Beach, where a grey Puma cap was found in bushland on July 7, 2019.

Police are yet to release the results of DNA tests on the cap, but a Facebook post on the 'Looking for Theo Hayez' Facebook page confirmed the family strongly believed it belonged to the 18-year-old.

“Over the past months, many of you have been wondering about the results of the DNA testing of the hat found in bushland off Tallows Beach on July 7th,” the post read.

“Although no DNA results have been released publicly and may not be for some time, the family is certain that it is Théo’s hat.

“The hat found was the exact same model and colour (grey, not black), shows the same wear and tear on the brim, and the position precisely matches one of his last known GPS locations.”

According to the family's most recent Facebook post, DNA testing has been conducted on the two hairs found inside the cap. However, there's still hasn't been any public comment on what the tests have found. 

The podcast also revealed that Byron Bay residents were turned away during the search for the 18-year-old missing backpacker.

Speaking to The Australian, George and Miriam Healy shared they were bounced between police and the State Emergency Service when volunteering to join the search.

“We rang the police first when we heard the whole thing,” Mr Healy said. “They said, ‘Check with the SES, they’re co-ordinating the searches’. So we ring the SES. SES said, ‘No, check with the police, we’re not involved in it anymore’.

“The police kept saying to us, ‘Oh, there’s plenty of searchers out there’,” Ms Healy added. “That wasn’t actually the case. But that’s what we were being told."

The Irish couple, who are based in Byron Bay, later join an unofficial search group for Hayez, which was made up of largely local residents.


Speaking to The Lighthouse, another volunteer and Byron Bay resident, Noeline Smith, shared that she joined the search for Hayez as she feared his drink may have been spiked.

“I know the area quite well; the fact that it was Cheeky Monkey’s concerned me, because that place is very well known for people having their drinks spiked … and not very nice things happening," she told the podcast.

"His drink could have been spiked, just maybe run into trouble, he was lost. We just had to try and think outside the box."

Ransom demands.

The Lighthouse podcast reported that Hayez's friends and relatives were sent anonymous messages claiming he'd been kidnapped. The messages demanded a ransom of $300,000 in bitcoin for his release.

Hayez' godfather, Jean-Philippe Pector, received one of the messages on Facebook from someone calling himself 'Mike Larry'.

“I am aware how scary this message is going to be. We have Theo,” the message begins.

“Please inform his father that he is OK. He is not in Byron. We had to move him and lay low due to all the looking around.

“He is OK for now if his father follows what we want to the letter.

“This is not a hoax your son is kidnapped.”

According to the podcast, the messages were investigated by police.

The 'hiding' theory.

In the latest episode of The Lighthouse podcast, a new theory about Hayez's disappearance was shared.


According to the podcast, Hayez spent five and a half minutes in a densely vegetated area above Tallow Beach.

"This is why I think he was hiding," Byron Bay local Sheri D'Rosario said in the episode. "The branches are horizontal and there's vines with sharp prickles everywhere."

"It's very sort of dark in here. At night it would be absolutely pitch black and it's hidden from the beach."

The beach where Hayez is last known to have been was also the site of illegal late-night parties, which were often frequented by backpackers and young tourists.

Theo's Adidas sneakers.

On November 12, 2019, a volunteer who was involved in the search for Hayez claimed they had been informed the 18-year-old was wearing black Adidas sneakers on the day he disappeared.

"We've recently discovered that the shoes Theo was wearing when he went missing may in fact have been Adidas," they shared on Facebook, according to Daily Mail.

"We're still trying to confirm whether this is fact."

Police believe Hayez was wearing a black hooded jumper with an unknown motif on the front, beige pants, black shoes and a grey Puma hat when he disappeared.

Theo's WhatsApp messages.

In June 2019, Hayez's father, Laurent, asked encrypted service WhatsApp for help in obtaining his son’s messages, which he believes may hold the key to finding him.

In a statement, WhatsApp said it was working with law enforcement but it was limited in what data it can access from Theo’s account.

“WhatsApp cares deeply about the safety of our users and our hearts go out to Theo Hayez and his family,” a spokesman told AAP.

“We understand the important work being carried out by law enforcement and are assisting them in accordance with applicable law and our terms of service.”

WhatsApp uses end-to-end encryption, a system of communication where only the communicating parties can read the message. Even if WhatsApp accessed Theo’s account, they could not have the encryption key needed to read his messages.

In November 2019, the missing backpacker's final text messages were shared after his family gained access to his Google account.

An hour after leaving Cheeky Monkey's, at 12.20am, Hayez messaged a friend in French on Facebook, discussing an upcoming U2 Australian tour.

At 12.55am, Hayez sent his final message on WhatsApp to his stepsister, writing 'Merci' with a kiss emoji.


The police theory

According to the ABC, police investigators are of the belief that the backpacker fell from the cliff on the night of his disappearance - a theory that Theo's family rejects.

Theo's godfather, Jean-Philippe Pector, said: "The likely scenario presented to us by the police is that Theo, after leaving the bar, went along to try to get back to the Wake Up! hostel but got lost and ended up at Cosy Corner," according to the publication.

"There, he climbed towards the lighthouse and fell from the cliffs into the ocean.

"We believe that scenario is not likely, especially the fact that Theo would have been alone, without meeting anyone."

The family continue to appeal for new information.

A possible sighting

On June 2, 2019, Leesa Horn, a beauty therapist from Queensland, reported to police that she had a seen a man 'looking dead' on the side of the Pacific Highway, 10km out from Coffs Harbour.

She told officers she was waved down by a hitchhiker 'in his 30s' as she drove down the road at around 4.30am. Sprawled at his feet was a younger man, who was wearing clothes similar to those worn by Theo Hayez on the night he went missing.

The sighting was four days after Theo was last seen leaving Cheeky Monkey's in Byron Bay, 240km away.

On the same day as her sighting, Leesa Horn filmed a video detailing what she saw and shared it to Facebook.

She said  she initially thought to reverse and assist the men, before changing her mind.

"Something in my stomach said this is not right. I thought ''No Leesa, just go''," she said in the video.

"I started crying when I'm driving off because I thought what if somebody's really hurt and they need my help. I didn't know what to do. So I decided to ring 000."

Coffs Harbour police later called her back to say they had patrolled the highway and hadn't found anyone.

It was only later, when she saw the CCTV footage of Theo Hayez on the news, that she connected the two and recalled the similar clothing.

With AAP.

This article was originally published on November 25, 2019, and was updated on May 5, 2020.

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