The Disappearance of David Eason

The disappearance of 46-year old British company director David Eason in 2001 on Fraser Island, Australia, presented a compelling mystery to investigators. Even after his body was discovered two years later, Australian police remain unsure as to what caused his untimely death on an island that is visited by upwards of 600,000 tourists every year. 

Fraser Island is perhaps best known for the large number of wild dingoes that live there, a population that appears to be growing increasingly bold, resulting in an ever growing number of encounters with human visitors. While dingoes being responsible for the disappearance of David Eason was initially discounted by the Australian Federal Police as no remains were found, the subsequent discovery of a skull and bones ultimately identified as those of Mr Eason two years later brought the dingo theory back into the realm of possibility.

David Eason visited Fraser Island on the 28th March 2001 as part of a four-week touring holiday around Australia, travelling in a four-wheel drive minibus alongside other international tourists to see the largest sand island in the world and listed World Heritage site. At 1pm they arrived at the One Tree Rocks camping ground, situated on a sandy beach on the east side of the island, overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Mr Eason and four other travelers opted to follow the well-defined track to nearby Lake Wabby, agreeing to meet up with the bus and fellow passengers at 3pm at Kingfisher Bay, on the other side of the narrow island.

Lake Wabby, close to the location that Mr Eason was last seen. Photo: Wikicommons

As the other tourists that had disembarked prepared to set off for Lake Wabby, Mr Eason told them that he would sunbathe for 30 minutes before catching them up. All four later described him then reclining on the beach and lighting a cigarette. This was the last time David Eason was seen alive.

After arriving at Lake Wabby and waiting for David, his fellow passengers eventually walked to Kingfisher Bay to ensure meeting with the bus on time. When he had still not appeared by 6pm, the tour leader alerted authorities to a missing person, triggering a massive search of the island, with police, park rangers and volunteers combing the island with torches and spotlights. Helicopters and light aircraft later joined the search, hunting for the missing British tourist for several days to no result.

A group of 80 trained emergency services personnel carried out a painstaking search of a 2km area around David’s last known whereabouts. Not only did they fail to find the missing man, they were similarly unable to locate any apparent trace of him; no footprints, clothing, cigarette butts or camera equipment (David had with him a brown leather bag containing an expensive camera and lenses). Searches continued, and authorities canvassed holidaymakers that had visited the island during the busy Easter break period. Nobody had seen any sign of Mr Eason.

A baffled police force began to consider the range of possibilities, searching for an explanation for David’s disappearance. His sister Janice Eames flew out to join the search, vehemently denying any possibility that her brother might have taken his own life. Described as financially stable and in a happy and loving relationship, suicide was discounted as totally out of character. After an exhaustive list of possibilities were examined, David’s family drew the conclusion that he had been murdered. However, with no body, evidence or even tracks, Queensland Police declined to announce a homicide investigation.

A tragic incident a month after Mr Eason’s disappearance lent further credence to the theory that Fraser Island’s large population of dingoes could be responsible. On the 30th April 2001, nine-year old Clinton Cage and his seven-year old brother were attacked by a pair of dingoes close their family’s campsite. Clinton was mauled to death, while his brother was badly injured. Attacks by dingoes on Fraser Island have persisted, with a recent incident seeing a six-year old airlifted to hospital after being attacked by dingoes in January 2019. A month later, a nine-year old and his 24-year old mother were similarly airlifted to hospital with severe lacerations after being attacked by a group of four dingoes.

While the majority of severe attacks have been on children, numerous attacks on adults have been recorded, and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that a pack of the wild dogs were able to overcome a possibly tired or injured David Eason. One aspect that lends some support to this theory was a claim made by MP Ted Sorenson to the Queensland Parliament in 2009 that changes in the availability of food for wild dingoes linked the two recorded fatal dingo attacks in Australia; that of Clinton Cage, and the 1980 death of Azaria Chamberlain, a two-month old baby taken from her family tent and killed by a dingo close to Uluru. In the Chamberlain case, feeding stations for wild dingoes had been recently discontinued, cutting off a food source they had come to rely on. For that of Cage, park rangers on Fraser Island had issued new instructions to visitors weeks before his death that fish offal must be buried, as well as the closing of municipal dumps on the island. This similar removal of a food source for the island’s dingo population likely came at around the same time that David Eason went missing. The lack of any remains, clothing, blood or possessions following Mr Eason’s disappearance, however, was generally considered by authorities evidence that dingoes were not responsible.

For two years David Eason remained missing, until an english tourist discovered bones and personal effects scattered at the base of a steep slope close to Lake Wabby in April 2003. The advanced state of decomposition meant that a cause of death could not be established, but an inquest ruled out homicide and suicide. In his report, the coroner noted that the most likely explanation was that David had for some reason fallen down the steep slope and subsequently died. A heart attack was considered the most likely culprit, although a snake bite was also considered a possibility. However, these remain only possible explanations, and an alternative one that he was chased over the edge during a dingo attack remains a possibility. The coroner’s report specifically noted that some of the recovered bones had been gnawed by dingoes, although it is very possible that this took place post-mortem.

The full report from the Queensland coroner is available to read here: https://www.courts.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/86566/cif-eason-dj-20041206.pdf

Feture Image: Wild Dingo on Fraser Island. Photo: Glen Fergus/Wikicommons

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