They took my girl, I know it: Father

By Sam Hurley

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Jo Tumanako, Annabelle Tumanako's father, with her son, Andre.
Jo Tumanako, Annabelle Tumanako's father, with her son, Andre.

Time does not make Annabelle Tumanako's disappearance any easier for her father but he is sure of one thing - "someone has taken her".

The 35-year-old mother of five disappeared from her Maraenui home, a house for mentally unwell people in the community, on June 23, 2007.

During Coroner Peter Ryan's inquest into her death yesterday, Napier CIB Detective Sergeant Emmet Lynch testified there was not enough evidence to upscale the investigation to a homicide enquiry but shed light on the events leading to the disappearance. At the Hastings District Court, he said police spoke to more than 60 witnesses during the investigation and on the morning of the disappearance, Annabelle unusually visited her case officer.

The case worker later went to Annabelle's home where she and her partner of five years, Reece Walker, asked for petrol money.

Mr Lynch said that after the couple, who had a 3-year-old daughter together, went out for petrol, they headed home to bed, according to Mr Walker.

"[Mr Walker] was the last to see her alive and he woke up that Sunday morning to find Annabelle and her car gone."

Mr Lynch said about 2am on the night of June 23/24, a Westshore Hotel patron saw the car parked nearby in an old petrol station forecourt. On June 28, Annabelle was reported missing to Hastings police by a mental health and addiction officer concerned for her wellbeing, and on July 4 her disappearance was referred to the Napier Criminal Investigation Branch.

Unaware to police, her car was found unlocked and towed on July 5 by the Napier City Council, which deemed it abandoned.

Police then searched for the former Hastings Girls' High School student in the area around Westshore, Pandora and Hawke's Bay Airport, using dog squads and search and rescue teams. Nothing of significance was located.

Mr Lynch also said her Bledisloe Rd home was searched on July 16 and 17. Police noticed the "odd spot" of blood staining but "nothing remarkable" or any evidence of any significance.

In July 2008, Fielding Police notified Napier CIB that Annabelle might be buried in the back yard of the Maraenui property, however searches yielded nothing.

Police attention then turned to Mr Walker, who had previously assaulted Annabelle and had a violent criminal record, including the aggravated robbery and stabbing of a Hastings petrol-station attendant in 1998.

Mr Walker was also a mental-health patient and on medication.

Mr Lynch said there was speculation Mr Walker had a drug debt with the Hawke's Bay Mongrel Mob, however this was not verified and he was deemed to not have been involved with the disappearance.

Mr Walker's brother, Ted Walker, was also a person of interest during the investigation, having become "infatuated" with Annabelle while his brother was in prison. Mr Lynch said Ted Walker developed a sexual relationship with her and seven months before her disappearance allegedly abducted her, though this was not reported to police and not verified.

During his police interview, Ted Walker was considered "nervous and uneasy" but the questioning detective felt he was not involved.

Coroner Ryan yesterday asked Annabelle's father, Jo Tumanako, when he last saw her. He emotionally said the day before she vanished and "she wasn't herself, she was somewhere else".

Mr Tumanako, supported by family members including Annabelle's son, did not believe she had taken her own life. She hadn't mentioned suicide or having suicidal thoughts.

On June 21, 2007, her psychiatrist had not observed unusual or suspicious behaviour from her.

Coroner Ryan said it was a possibility Annabelle deliberately hid and did not wish to be found but that would have required "considerable resources."

He said he was forced into the "unhappy situation" of not being able to make a conclusive finding into her death. Instead, he ruled an open finding and concluded she died on or after June 23, 2007, at an unknown location. The cause remained open and unknown.

"I acknowledge the difficulties of the finding for the family and the fact no closure is offered here today. It would be nice for the family to say when, where and how it happened, but I can't."

Mr Lynch said Annabelle never accessed her bank account nor contacted family and was the victim of misadventure, foul play, or had taken her life. At the time of her disappearance she had a zero bank balance and had no mobile phone or passport.

Mr Tumanako did not believe the Walkers played a part in Annabelle's disappearance or death but was sure of one thing: "I just know someone has taken her. I do still hold out hope of one day finding her her body."

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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