A Bay couple's son vanished after getting involved in "the dark underworld" of Tauranga's P scene. More than nine years on, they are still waiting for his body to 'come home' and tell their extraordinary story of loss, torment -- and hope.

Te Puke mother Fiona Crawford has two photos of her stepson Darrell in her wallet.

One shows him smiling, tanned, attractive and in the prime of his life at 32.

The other, taken just two years later, depicts a gaunt face, thin skin stretched over his skull, sunken cheeks, and a hunted, desperate look in his eyes.

Te Puke couple Dave and Fiona Crawford, parents of Darrell Crawford who was addicted to methamphetamine and murdered. His body has never been found. Photo/Andrew Warner
Te Puke couple Dave and Fiona Crawford, parents of Darrell Crawford who was addicted to methamphetamine and murdered. His body has never been found. Photo/Andrew Warner

"I carry these photos with me all the time. Whenever anyone mentions P, I pull them out. You want to see what meth does? This is what it does. The change in him was astronomical. P takes away your soul. It took away our son."

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A few months after the second photo was taken in 2007, Darrell, aged 34, vanished. His car was found with the keys still in the ignition. Police upgraded the case to a homicide inquiry in 2008, linking his disappearance to that of William Taikato, who was believed to have been murdered around the same time. Police said both men were involved in the local drug scene.

The couple believe criminals involved in the underbelly of Tauranga's meth world murdered their son.

Darrell started taking P two years earlier after "falling in with the wrong crowd". He ended up cooking it himself.

"We had no idea he was that deep into it. We were gullible, naive."

Mrs Crawford believes if there had been more help available for meth addicts -- "if we had known where to turn" -- their son would still be alive.

"Only a few months before he disappeared we said, 'son, your dad and I are behind you, we will help you'."

His killers, they will get their justice one way or another. When you are involved in methamphetamine, there are no good outcomes.

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The couple could not afford a private hospital at $4500 a week. When Darrell began to be so paranoid he thought people on television were talking about him, he was admitted into Tauranga Hospital's acute mental health ward but released after a few days with anti-depressants.

A few months later he was dead.

Mrs Crawford says that over the two years Darrell took meth, his life crumbled,

"He was really clever. Before he took P, he had a good job as an aluminium joiner, a race car, all his own furniture. Bit by bit he sold it off, to pay his drug debts. Then he started cooking it... we think that is why he was taken out, maybe he was in someone else's territory, maybe he was a bad cook - he just learned it off the internet."

Their loss is as raw today as it was nine years ago. Last month, the family marked August 13 -- the day he vanished -- with a family dinner, as they have done every year.

Mrs Crawford weeps as she holds Darrell's photo.

"They say time heals. It doesn't."

The hardest thing, they say, is not knowing what happened to their son or where his body is.

William Taikato, believed to be murdered as part of Tauranga's underground P scene. Photo/file
William Taikato, believed to be murdered as part of Tauranga's underground P scene. Photo/file

In September 2008, Te Puke's 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. A judge acquitted all three men in April 2011.

The files remain open and no bodies have been found despite extensive searches in rural Oropi.

The desperate couple themselves searched everywhere.

"We looked in picnic spots, in reserves, everywhere we go, we are always still looking."

Every few weeks, Dave Crawford phones Detective Brian Dudley at Tauranga police to see if there has been any update,

"He has been our rock. We are confident... we hope... that one day someone will come forward, someone who knows what happened."

The couple have been "tormented" over the years with widespread rumours over what had happened, including stories that the two men's bodies had been fed through a tree mulcher and doused in acid.

Mr Crawford closes his eyes and nods.

You are naive if you think you can just dabble in this for fun. When you get involved in the meth scene ... they will get rid of you. Bury you.

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"We heard that a lot. I don't let myself think it was that. But it wouldn't have been pretty... the meth world is not pretty. We think he was shot, his neck snapped, and that the two bodies are buried on top of each other."

At the time of the trial in 2011, then Crown prosecutor Greg Hollister-Jones said that Tauranga was in the grip of an out-of-control methamphetamine scene in which violence and conflict were common.

Dave Crawford believes that scene is far worse today,

"It is getting to unbelievable levels... it is everywhere. Everywhere, even in schools. Everyone knows someone on it. People don't realise just how quickly it will suck them in. Once you take that first hit, you are finished."

The couple warned parents to be vigilant about any changes in their children.

Mr Crawford suspects more and more business people are using the drug but believes few people know the consequences not just of addiction, but the violent criminals involved.

"You are naive if you think you can just dabble in this for fun. When you get involved in the meth scene, you will come across people that, well, you wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of them. If you do get on the wrong side of them, they will get rid of you. Bury you."

Mrs Crawford no longer focuses who did it. She just wants their son's body to be found so they can give him "a proper farewell".

"His killers, they will get their justice one way or another. When you are involved in methamphetamine, there are no good outcomes. Darrell was a good person, who became an addict and got involved in a terrible scene,'' she says.

''He needed help... but he ended up dead. I just want someone to tell us where he is. We just want to bring him home."

TIMELINE
August 12 2007: Darrell Crawford goes missing. He was last seen at his home in Oropi.
December 18 2007: William Taikato goes missing. He was last seen at his home in Welcome Bay.
March 7 2008: Cases upgraded from missing persons to homicide.
March 19 2008: Police search a picnic spot in rural Oropi after a tip-off Mr Crawford's body was buried there.
April 16 2008: Police offer a reward of $50,000 for each of the murders for information.
October 2008: Three men arrested and charged with the murders.
April 2011: Judge acquits the trio.