Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Young baker died the day he vanished, coroner rules in cold case from 1965

Graeme Timlin would now be 68.
Graeme Timlin would now be 68.

A baker who went missing in 1965 died the day he disappeared, a coroner has ruled.

But the circumstances in which 19-year-old Graeme Leslie Timlin met his death remain a mystery.

Coroner Gordon Matenga said the evidence pointed to a body found on Kawau Island 23 days later as being Mr Timlin. A fisherman who found the body later picked Mr Timlin's photograph from 30 others as the person he saw lying dead on the island in the Hauraki Gulf.

The coronial inquest at the Hamilton District Court yesterday heard that Mr Timlin vanished from his bakery in the city on May 15, 1965.

An assistant baker, Carol Sanders, arrived at work that day to find the shop locked and Mr Timlin's Bedford van gone, but an oven was still hot and baking sat on the bench as if Mr Timlin had "just popped out". She reported him missing and police began a search the next day.

Five days later his van was found abandoned at Mt Maunganui with two flat tyres. Inside were three cigarette packets. Mr Timlin did not smoke.

Police searched ships at the Port of Tauranga but, despite being in dire financial straits with his business, Mr Timlin was not thought to have tried to flee to Australia.

The case was wound down until three weeks later when Mr Timlin's mother, Ursula Purchase, read an article in the Herald about a body that had been found on Kawau Island. She went to Auckland but police had not been able to find the body so she found the fisherman who identified Mr Timlin as the body he saw.

Though she told Mr Matenga the fisherman confessed to being drunk at the time of the sighting, Mr Matenga said he believed it was Mr Timlin.

"How he got there is not known and cannot be known unless someone comes forward to offer fresh information."

He could not rule out the possibility of foul play but said there wasn't enough evidence to know what really happened that day 49 years ago.

Outside the court Mrs Purchase, now 88, and her supporter, cold case investigator Scott Bainbridge, said many questions remained.

They included that Mr Timlin's assistant, Ms Sanders, was the person who found the van abandoned on Marine Parade at Mt Maunganui.

Mr Bainbridge said Ms Sanders told police Mr Timlin was into diving and that was why she and her father went to Mt Maunganui looking for him but Mrs Purchase rubbished the idea her son liked to dive.

She said she half expected Mr Timlin, who would have been 68, to walk into the inquest but at the same time she believed the story of the fisherman, who had since died.

Mr Bainbridge said they accepted the findings but "how the hell did he get up to Kawau Island from Hamilton, and his van over to the Mount?"

"I hope that somebody may come forward after all these years, somebody that's had a guilty conscience."

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