The frantic search for missing 9-year-old Charlise Mutten ended Tuesday with the grim discovery of her lifeless body at the base of a barrel dumped in Australia’s Blue Mountain bushland near Sydney. A day later, Justin Stein, a 31-year-old man with “significant mental-health problems,” who was engaged to the dead girl’s mother, was arrested for her murder.
Mutten, who lived with her maternal grandmother, was reported missing on the morning of Jan. 14, at a party venue while on a two-week vacation with her mother, Kallista Mutten, and Stein. Her mother was taken to a local hospital for unknown reasons after the girl disappeared, and will be questioned by police Wednesday.
According to documents released at Stein’s arraignment, Mutten was likely killed sometime between 7 p.m. on Jan. 11 and 10 a.m. on Jan. 12, even though her disappearance was not reported until two days later.
“The search will remain ongoing to look for any clues to help us identify the cause of the death,” Acting Commissioner Webb told reporters Wednesday. “I encourage people to come forward with information. There are still many elements of this investigation that we have to work through to determine exactly what happened from the time the young girl was reported missing up until last night, when those remains were found.”
Stein is alleged to have killed the girl and then tried to dispose of her body in a barrel he filled with five 20-kilogram bags of sand he bought after she died.
Police in New South Wales say Stein drove around Sydney for five hours with the dead girl’s body in the back of his boat covered only with a blue tarpaulin while he made his plan to dispose of her. He then bought fuel for his boat and allegedly put the child in the barrel with the sand with the intention of dumping it in a nearby river. When his boat wouldn’t start, he abandoned the plan and dumped the barrel—child inside—in a nearby woodland.
“What we are sure of is that the accused that we charged with murder was responsible for, firstly, placing her in the barrel, and then disposing of that barrel in the bushland where she was located,” Deputy Commissioner Dave Hudson told reporters Wednesday. “Things will unravel over the next week or so to find a cause of death, the purpose for a death, and try and identify exactly what happened so that the remaining family have some comfort in that.”
Police also allege Stein had “numerous conversations” with the child’s mother by telephone between the time Charlise disappeared and her body was found. In court, Stein’s lawyer asked for a full mental-health assessment, saying his client had issues for some time.
The investigating prosecutor in the case asked for a 13-week adjournment to gather information, citing “the complexities of the matter.” Stein was denied bond.
Charlise’s biological father, Scott Hensby, posted an emotional farewell to his daughter on Facebook on Wednesday. “Goodbye you beautiful little girl. I love you so much. I miss you every day! You have captured the hearts of the nation and the world, and now those hearts are breaking, with mine,” he wrote. “This doesn’t happen! Kids need to be safe. What is wrong with you people???? We will get the answers for you baby, and we will honour you properly. This is not the end of you or your story.”