Cleo Smith rescue: Abduction suspect was ‘oddball’ who lived less than 3km from girl’s house

A 36-year-old Australian man has been taken into custody for questioning over the disappearance of 4-year-old Cleo Smith after she was found alone in a locked room in his house less than 3km from her parents’ home following a weeks-long manhunt.

The man, whose name has not yet been officially released, is now in hospital being treated for head injuries suffered while in a holding cell on Wednesday morning, reportedly after being attacked by fellow inmates.

Footage has since been aired on local TV channels showing what is claimed to be the suspect with a bandaged head in the back of an ambulance.

No charges had been announced as of Wednesday evening.

Cleo was feared abducted after she disappeared from her family’s tent at a remote campsite about 620 miles north of Perth, on October 16.

A massive search was conducted throughout the region and police officers interviewed more than 110 people who were at the campsite on the night Cleo arrived with her family. A reward of A$1 million ($1.03m) was also offered.

The case has drawn national attention and prompted comparisons to that of Madeleine McCann, the British toddler who went missing while on holiday with her family in Portugal in 2007.

Neighbours described the suspect as a “quiet guy” and a “bit of an oddball”. He is reported to have undergone psychiatric assessment after being deemed not mentally stable.

One said he had seen the man buy nappies on Monday, despite not having children, but the penny didn’t drop until after the raid.

Police say he is the only suspect in the case and that he was “known” to them but not on the registered sex offenders list.

There was no known connection between the suspect and the Smith family, they added.

“It appears as though it was opportunistic,” said lead investigator Superintendent Rod Wilde.

The man was detained after police smashed their way into a suburban house in Brockman, Carnarvon on Wednesday following a tip the day before.

Reportedly the suspect was brought to the police’s attention after he began driving laps around his property before pulling into the driveway. He also apparently moved his dog from the back of his house to the front, which was unusual, according to neighbours.

The man was arrested separately early on Wednesday morning while police raided his house to rescue Cleo.

Police spent the rest of the day collecting evidence and have seized several items, including a rug which was taken to Perth for forensic examination. Forensic officers are expected to spend several more days going through the house.

The suspect’s house is a six-minute drive from her family home and just two minutes from the police station where 100 detectives, data analysts and specialist investigators working under Task Force Rodia had set up.

Henry Dodd, a neighbour of the suspect, told Nine News that the man had been “acting a bit strange lately”.

Dodd said: “Everyone that knows the person that stays in that house, wouldn’t think that it would be him… We got a shock ourselves that it was him.”

Everyone knows each other in the sleepy suburb, which is home to just over 1000 residents.

Another neighbour, Rennee Turner, told the Today show that the suspect was “a bit of an oddball” but she was very surprised.

“He is a very quiet guy, bit of an oddball,” he said. “[I] definitely wouldn’t have picked him… it has completely derailed me.”

Western Australia’s Police Commissioner Chris Dawson told reporters it was a “wonderful day” and one officers had been hoping for.

“I’m not going to elaborate further in terms of that man, other than to say he is a local man from Carnarvon, and we will be having something further to say later.

“I once again want to reinforce my thanks to a great team, assisted by a great community — the town of Carnarvon can stand strong.

“Yes, we have one man in custody but that is not the town of Carnarvon — that is one person. I want the town of Carnarvon and everyone else to come together as a community as we move forward.

“We can rejoice that this little girl has been found, but we need to move forward as a community as well.”

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