An eight-year mystery: the brutal story behind The Stranger, the new thriller that shakes Netflix

Henry (Sean Harris) and Paul (Steve Mouzakis) met for the first time traveling by bus, in an encounter that could have remained as a simple friendly chat between strangers. But they ended up establishing a close friendship that was broken only when Paul was forced to abandon his identity and flee the country due to legal problems.

Before disappearing and in a sort of return hand, the man offered his new friend to put him in contact with the criminal organization in which he worked, the same one that helped him prepare his escape. This is how he meets Mark (Joel Edgerton), the member of the gang who will guide him on his first errands. Little by little, Henry begins to interact with higher-ups and participate in important meetings. You feel part of a group that promises to always ensure your safety.

He never suspected that it was all a big lie. Nothing was by chance, neither the first meeting with Paul nor his entry into the organization. Henry was but the prime suspect in a major undercover police operation. investigating the kidnapping and subsequent murder of a child committed several years ago in Australia.

Since its premiere on Netflix on October 18 and after passing through the last Cannes Film Festival, The stranger It has been well received by critics and the public., staying within the top 10 of the most viewed content globally over the days. In addition, it is another fiction inspired by a real case.

An important part of his argument is based on the book The Stingwhere the journalist Kate Kyriacou compiles all the details of the police deployment that ended in 2013 with the capture of Brett Peter Cowanresponsible for the kidnapping and murder of the boy Daniel Morcombe in December 2003. The case is remembered as one of the largest and most mediatic recorded in Australia, so the news of the shooting of the film During 2020, it generated various opinions in the oceanic country.

The Stranger, Netflix movie

The main detractors were Morcombe’s parents. Through a statement posted on the Facebook page of the foundation created in memory of their son, the couple stressed that the team behind the film contacted them to tell them about the project and that, even so, the making of the film I didn’t have their support.

“In a twisted way, it also provides oxygen to a sadistic beast by making his evil deeds visible. People who make money from heinous crime are parasites. In our opinion, they have been disrespectful to Daniel, his legacy and the Morcombe family. We question the values ​​and personal judgments of investors, producers, directors, cast and crew. We will not endorse it, because this is a very painful reminder to our family that triggers unimaginable personal harm.”, expresses the text.

The Sting, Kate Kyriacou's book about the undercover operation to capture Daniel Morcombe's killer
The Sting, Kate Kyriacou’s book about the undercover operation to capture Daniel Morcombe’s killer

The parents also point out that it is a film that comes at a particularly sensitive time, since next year will be the 20th anniversary of the minor’s murder. “The passage of time does not make it easier. Personally, we believe that the making of this film is morally corrupt and a cruel, insensitive and selfish money grab on the part of everyone involved,” they conclude, adding that their call to the public is not to see the film. “Save your money or consider donating to the Daniel Morcombe Foundation”, closes the post.

Despite the emphatic opinion of the family closest to the minor, director Thomas M. Wright defended the making of the feature film, arguing that it is not a story focused on violent details. “The more I read it – Kyriacou’s book – the more I saw a film that is not about violence at all. Clearly, the motif of the film is an unspeakable act of violence that embodies the worst that human animals are capable of. But that’s not the subject of the film,” the filmmaker said in an interview with The Guardian.

The film is cautious when it comes to referencing the details of the real case that inspired it. The use of fictitious names and the decision not to recreate the kidnapping and subsequent murder of the minor are clear signs of that intention. Even so, its relation to the facts is evident. Above all, as it is one of the most remembered crimes in Australian history.

It all goes back to December 7, 2003. Around 1:00 p.m., Daniel Morcombe left his home in Queensland for an unofficial bus stop located under an overpass. That day, the 13-year-old had planned to meet his brothers in the morning to pick fruit in their neighbors’ yards, and then join his parents for a Christmas picnic.

Brett Peter Cowan, killer of Daniel Morcombe
Brett Peter Cowan, killer of Daniel Morcombe

However, an unexpected morning rain changed the itinerary. With the engagement at her neighbors’ house cancelled, Daniel decided to take advantage of the time by going to the mall to get a haircut and buy Christmas gifts for his family. with the money he saved little by little thanks to the passion fruit harvest. Although he insisted one of his brothers to accompany him, the 13-year-old boy ended up leaving his house alone.

The route did not involve any apparent danger. The bus stop was barely a kilometer from their house and the children had internalized the instruction that they had to return home no later than 5:00 p.m., when the last bus left the center. In addition, they always carried a phone card with them in case of any emergency.

Upon reaching the bus stop, Daniel waited a few minutes for the locomotion that usually passed at 1:35 p.m. to approach. But a technical problem suffered on the way caused the bus to be delayed.

As Daniel waited, a tall, thin, brown-haired man emerged from the parking lot of an adjoining church and approached the stop. The bus was almost 30 minutes late, although it did not stop. The driver tried to explain to him with signs that in a few minutes another vehicle would pass by the stop, but everything indicates that the boy did not get the message.

Daniel Morcombe
Daniel Morcombe

Even so, the driver made sure to notify his colleague that two passengers, a boy and a man, were waiting for him there. “Make sure you pick them up,” he communicated to his partner over the radio. A few minutes later, the transporter passed through the indicated place. However, he noticed that no one was waiting. The man and the boy were gone.

Time passed and Daniel did not appear. The concern of his parents intensified when the time came for the last bus to pass and the minor still did not enter the house or communicate by phone. They went through the stops, the shopping center and the surrounding streets thinking that his son could be injured. Finally, they reached the bus company, but no one knew anything about Daniel.

That’s when Bruce and Denise decided to contact the police. The child’s character made the possibility of an act of rebellion such as escape very unlikely. That same morning, the family and neighbors began a search around the bus stop. The police deployment began shortly after.

It didn’t take long for the city streets to fill with officers. They extended the registry to the cane fields, water courses and backyards of the houses, although without success. The first clues pointed to a blue car and a white truck that had been spotted by witnesses near the road. Some said they had seen two men. Others, three.

Parents of Daniel Morcombe
Parents of Daniel Morcombe

The only repeated track referenced a square-shaped blue sedan. That testimony, plus an extensive list of previous sex crimes, positioned Brett Peter Cowan as one of the suspects in the crime.

Time passed and the investigation bore no fruit. All the alarms went off, but it was as if Daniel had been swallowed up by the earth. Thus, eight years have passed since the disappearance of the child. At that time, Cowan remained the main suspect for the police, but the lack of a clear timeline to prove his participation in the events made it difficult to obtain an arrest and subsequent conviction.

That was when a procedure known as Mr. Big was launched, also baptized as the Canadian technique, where undercover agents pretend to belong to a criminal organization to get the confessions of criminals. Thus, a fictitious gang was created to attract Cowan by seducing him with the promise of participating in the next big hit. However, and as a show of loyalty, it was necessary for the man to confess his worst crimes to the leader.

Daniel Morcombe Foundation
Daniel Morcombe Foundation

Cowan fell for the trap and laid out all the details of Daniel’s crime. According to Australian press records, the criminal had abused about 30 children throughout his life. His plan was to do the same with Daniel, but at the moment of acting he panicked and ended up killing him. In the process, Cowan even led the agents to the place where he buried the boy’s body.

Finally, Brett Peter Cowan was arrested on August 13, 2011, on charges of murder, child theft, indecent treatment of a minor, imprisonment, and interference with a corpse. The search for the remains began the next day, and it wasn’t until four days later that rescuers found Daniel’s first clothes.

Gradually, various bones belonging to the child were found. On November 26, 2012, the trial began against Cowan, who was found guilty of the crime. Daniel’s remains were buried by his family in August of that year. As a way of honoring his memory, the minor’s parents created the Daniel Morcombe Foundation, aimed at educating children in situations of risk and which continues to function.

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An eight-year mystery: the brutal story behind The Stranger, the new thriller that shakes Netflix