A baseball cap thought to be the one worn by Theo Hayez on the night of his disappearance in Australia was discovered near the site where his phone was last tracked, providing new evidence in the months-long search for the missing Belgian backpacker.
The cap was found by a civilian around ten days ago near a bushy area scoured by police and volunteer search parties for weeks. It was handed to forensic police who are examining the item for potential evidence in the backpacker's disappearance, according to media reports on Friday.
Surveillance camera footage shows the 18-year-old wearing a beige Puma hat on the night of his disappearance on May 31 in Byron Bay, a common destination for backpackers in Australia.
The news comes after Hayez's parents, who flew to Australia after news of their son's disappearance, returned to Belgium at the start of the week.
Despite the extensive search operation deployed by local police —with assistance from Belgian authorities—, the discovery of the hat is the first piece of potential evidence found since Hayez's disappearance was reported on June 6.
The discovery follows an emotional interview given by his parents to RTBF in which they said they would hold on to hope until a body was found, and that their son could have been "kidnapped or drugged."
Link to other disappearances
Pictures of the hat were sent to friends and family members of Hayez, who said they believed it belonged to the missing Belgian, according to Het Laatste Nieuws.
News of the finding followed the discovery of human remains in another beach town which police identified as belonging to a 21-year-old French backpacker gone missing in the area in February.
The 21-year-old Frenchman was last seen with a British backpacker, 20, and both were reported missing after their rental vehicle was found abandoned with their belongings still inside.
The news has roused concerns that a link may exist between the three disappearances, with some Australian media pointing to a serial killer theory.
"Three young men with similar profiles who disappear in two coastal towns that are reasonably close to each other by Australian standards — it would be naive to call it a coincidence," forensic expert Tim Watson-Munro said, according to Australian media.
Australian police have said that there is no evidence to indicate that there was violence involved in Hayez's disappearance, and have not said whether there are any links to establish between the disappearances of the three backpackers.
The Brussels Times