Cleo Smith is suffering from nightmares 18 months after police rescued her from a terrifying 18-day kidnapping that sparked interest from around the world.
The little girl, who was four at the time, was snatched away in the dead of night when she slept next to her parents and little sister during a camping trip at the Blowholes campsite near Carnarvon in Western Australia’s remote north-west.
On the morning of October 16, 2021, Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith called the police in a panic in the desperate minutes after she and stepfather Jake Gliddon frantically searched the area.
“My daughter is missing,” Mrs. Smith says during the triple-zero call.
“How old is your daughter love?” asks the operator.
“She’s four,” Mrs. Smith replies.
“Have we checked everywhere?” continues the operator.
“Yeah, we did two laps off the spot, so we checked everywhere,” says Ms. Smith.
Ellie Smith (pictured center left) and her partner Jake Gliddon (pictured right) have relived the trauma of their daughter Cleo’s abduction in 2021
On the night of the kidnapping, ice cream addict Terence Darrell Kelly unzipped the family’s tent sometime after 1:30 a.m., put Cleo in a car, and drove back to Carnarvon.
The plot was part of a bizarre fantasy for the man who had a large collection of dolls and wanted to have a “real family.”
The parents had no idea what had happened and when the police arrived they were promptly questioned.
Bodycam footage shows a remarkably calm Ms Smith answering police as they launched a massive search by land, sea and air, worried she had strayed or fallen into the ocean from the rocky cliffs nearby.
“We woke up this morning and she (Cleo) was missing,” Mrs. Smith tells the officer.
“She’s missing and her sleeping bag is gone. It is a great thermal black and red sleeping bag. It’s quite heavy, I couldn’t see her carrying it.’
The hunt for Cleo made headlines and involved 140 police officers assisted by SES crews during the first five days of the search around the campsite.
The family have revealed that Cleo, now five years old, still has nightmares every week after her 18-day ordeal
Ms Smith revealed that the family of four, including Cleo’s younger stepsister Isla Gliddon, took a four-month trip across Australia to reconnect after police dramatically arrested Kelly and raided his home to find the little girl to save.
“We were able to find ourselves again after trauma,” Ms Smith told 60 Minutes.
“As long as she (Cleo) runs, jumps, dances, she’s happy.
“We had to make sure she felt safe and comfortable.”
However, Ms Smith revealed that Cleo has “sad nights, nightmare nights” every week.
“She has no words to express what she is sad about,” she said.
Mr Gliddon explained how they reassure the now five year old that she is fine.
“(We) give her hugs, reassure her she’s okay, sneak her some chocolates,” he said.
WA Police Secretary Paul Papalia said police did a great job, but it was almost miraculous to find Cleo in the time they did with no direct leads.
Terence Kelly (pictured) has appealed his 13-and-a-half year prison sentence for kidnapping Cleo
“Almost every police officer who has made a decision about this situation has made the right decision,” he said.
“It was crucial that they had the mindset that it was a kidnapping and that they would find and rescue her.”
The breakthrough came when Kelly turned on his cell phone while driving Cleo on a dirt road to Carnarvon.
The phone’s signal was picked up by a cell tower, and this one clue eventually led the police to make Kelly their prime suspect.
Mr Papalia said arriving at this point meant that police had to sift through mountains of information.
“From one tower they would have thousands of data sets,” he said
“They had to clean up the mess.”
Police attacked Kelly on November 2 and arrested him just before midnight when they observed him behaving and driving erratically.
Ms Smith (pictured right with Cleo) said the family took a four-month journey across Australia to recover from the kidnapping
Soon after, they raided his house, which was only two miles from Cleo’s house, and found the little girl who could identify herself.
Mrs. Smith praised the work of officers.
“They were fast, they were efficient, as soon as they got details they jumped in,” she said.
It turned out that Kelly, who collects Bratz dolls for children, had reacted brutally to Ms. Smith’s social media posts begging for Cleo’s return by posting comments demanding that “whoever” had the child bring her back.
He taped Cleo up and when she screamed for her parents, Kelly drowned out the sound by turning up the radio – even as news reports about the girl were read and she recognized her name.
Ms Smith said police explained Kelly’s “disgusting” motives for Cleo’s kidnapping.
“He had his fantasies and he tried to make them come alive,” she said.
“He wanted a daughter and wanted a wife. He had to bring that to life.
“He wanted a little girl who was a little doll.”
Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon (pictured) made a surprise appearance at Kelly’s sentencing in WA court in April 2023
Kelly’s legal team confirmed this week that their client has appealed the 13-and-a-half year jail sentence he was handed after he admitted to forcibly detaining a child under the age of 16.
Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon made a surprise appearance at Kelly’s sentencing in WA court last month.
Sentencing judge Julie Wager described the fear, suffering and trauma inflicted on Cleo and her parents as “immeasurable.”
“Eighteen days with no contact or explanation, and with hours completely alone and with no access to the outside world, would have been very traumatic,” the judge said.
Ms Smith admitted she felt a ‘big ball of anger’ coming on before Kelly’s sentencing, but is now trying to put the traumatic incident behind the family.
“We have Cleo and we have our family and we try not to dwell on him (Kelly) and the bad things that happened,” she said.
“We try not to let it control our lives.”