Gone without a trace, leaving loved ones at a loss

By Amy McGillivray

The nightmare of having a loved one vanish without a trace is the reality for 17 families of people who have gone missing in the Western Bay.

Western Bay police have 17 ongoing missing-persons cases the oldest is a 76-year-old man who vanished in 1946, but the most recent disappearance took place in March.

Eleven of the missing people were Western Bay residents, six were not.

Tauranga Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Turner said he had growing concerns for the well-being of a man who set sail from Sulphur Point in March and had not been seen or heard from since. His family had asked the police not to reveal the man's identity at this stage.

"He was living on a boat at Sulphur Point. Around March 31 he has actually sold up his car and few possessions and sailed out of Sulphur Point," Mr Turner said. "There was a howling easterly gale and he was seen sheltering at Matakana Island for a couple of days and he hasn't been seen since."

Police have made inquiries throughout the Pacific but there are no records of him entering Australia or any of the Pacific Islands. "He could be somewhere around the New Zealand coast. He never cleared Customs," Mr Turner said. "I have concerns for his safety."

Investigations into his whereabouts were continuing.

Western Bay police are also investigating the disappearance of Russell resident Richard Rusbatch this year.

The 56-year-old set sail from Tauranga Bridge Marina headed for Paihia on his boat the Honfleur on February 12 but the boat was found deserted and motoring in circles about 20km east of Mayor Island two days later.

Tauranga South Sergeant Chris Summerville said a dive team was called in and there was a land search of Mayor Island and an extensive air and sea search. "We just covered all the bases." The search turned up nothing and Mr Summerville has since referred the case to the coroner for a ruling.

Tauranga yachtsman Paul van Rensburg went missing in similar circumstances to Mr Rusbatch.

Mr van Rensburg set sail from Tauranga on his yacht Tafadzwa on March 12, 2010, to start a new life in Gisborne, but was reported missing when he did not arrive as scheduled.

A search was launched and his unmanned boat was found drifting off the Chatham Islands on March 28. His dog Junita was found alive and well aboard the boat. Friends launched a huge private search for Mr van Rensburg but turned up nothing.

Warwick Gowland told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekendall hope of ever finding the body of his friend had been lost. "It's been a couple of years now. Gone without a trace, leaving loved ones at a loss

HEADS DOWN: Police officers painstakingly search for clues to try to establish someone's fate.

The cold hard reality of life sets in," Mr Gowland said. "I think we can all safely agree that he's ... in the ocean somewhere and that's where he'll be forever."

Mr Gowland said he was satisfied everything possible had been done to find Mr van Rensburg but the memory of his friend and the search would remain with him.

"I think about him all the time. I imagine everyone is exactly the same," he said. "Paul, obviously, will be with everyone forever."

Dave Crawford, father of missing man Darrell Crawford, agreed it is not something one forgets.

"He's always there. It's been a long time it's been about four years now. He's never far away," he said. "It's not as if it's something you forget."

Darrell, 34, went missing from his home in Oropi on August 12, 2007. He was last seen in a vehicle in Burns St, Gate Pa, on August 14, 2007. Police upgraded their investigation to a homicide inquiry in March 2008. It's believed his disappearance is linked to that of William Taikato, who is believed to have been murdered around the same time. Mr Taikato was reported missing on December 18, 2007.

Police said both men were involved with the local drug scene.

In September 2008 Te Puke Mark Puata, 53, was charged with the murders of the two men. Welcome Bay man John Aitken, 36, and 44-year-old David Anderson from Ohauiti were charged with the murder of Mr Taikato.

All three men were acquitted by a judge when their case went before the court in April 2011.

Detective Senior Sergeant Turner said the files remained open and had been referred to the coroner after the trial. "I am confident that Taikato was murdered and his body has been disposed of somewhere along with his green Holden Kingswood motor car."

Dave Crawford is realistic about the chances of ever finding out what happened to his son. "It's one of those things. Until somebody actually talks I guess we'll never know." He said police were still confident they would find his body eventually. "We'd like to find him. We're not holding out a lot of hope but it would certainly be nice. We had a memorial service for him but it's still not the same as having him there."

As well as the ongoing cases Mr Turner said teenagers were constantly being reported missing. "By far the biggest issue is that 13-17 age group. They are an extremely regular age group and we normally find those within a week or so. In the last couple of years we've had some that are missing for up to six months. That's a massive drain on our resources.""

Such a case is that of Laura Finlay, 15. "She's a habitual runaway and she has run away again," Mr Turner said.

She is believed to be with her boyfriend whom she has run away with before.

Police would like to hear from anyone with information on her whereabouts.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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