For Napier woman Diane Turner two words are caught in the back of her mind - as they have been for the past 20 years.

Missing man Richard Woods.
Missing man Richard Woods.

Unfinished business.

"We would just like to know what happened."

Her brother Richard Woods, a well-known face around town through his devotion to performing as his idol Elvis Presley in bars around the city, simply disappeared on March 23, 1996 - a couple of months after his 50th birthday.

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He was an equally familiar face on the streets as he walked everywhere and would offer a cheery "hello" to everyone he met.

For a man who often called family members from his room at Healthcare Hawke's Bay's Lincoln Grange residential centre in Napier up to 30 times a day it was well out of the ordinary.

Richard Woods left his room at the central Napier Hill facility, walked off and was never seen or heard from again - although there had been a couple of possible sightings reported in the hours after he left.

The money he had in his bank account went untouched and there was nothing missing from his room which would indicate he had planned to leave.

"It is just a mystery," Mrs Turner said.

Mr Woods did have health issues - he was prone to depression and suffered forms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, although there was nothing clear and present occurring on the Saturday he disappeared to indicate something serious had emerged.

He had visited his daughter Leonie, one of his four children with ex-wife Jan, in the morning for a cup of tea before heading back to Lincoln Grange for lunch.

A couple of hours later he called his brother Phil to say he did not feel too well and wanted to go to hospital to get checked out.

But when his brother arrived to pick him up a short time later there was no sign of him - his room was empty.

"But he may have already gone out and made the call from somewhere else ... we don't know," Phil Woods said.

Richard had also called a fellow member of his church saying he wanted to pop around to see her, but he never turned up.

Without the medication he required daily, Richard was in no real shape to simply get up and walk off, Mrs Turner said.

He was not unused to walking however, having once decided to return home to Napier from the psychiatric unit in Porirua.

He walked the route, using the rail track and got as far as Waipukurau before stopping at a house and asking the occupants to call family for him.

Mrs Turner said a couple of weeks before he disappeared she told him she would take him to Auckland to see one of his sons, Gavin.

"Maybe he decided to start to walk there - that's one theory," she said.

There was one significant sighting by a man who had been to school with Richard and knew him reasonably well.

He later told police he saw him walking along Austin St in the Onekawa industrial area and spoke to him briefly.

There were also sightings in Kennedy Rd and the central city later in the day.

The Onekawa industrial area, and the streets and open land between it and the airport were targeted by teams of up to 30 or 40 friends and family for a major search but not a trace was found. They also searched the railway tracks of the area as well as Pakowhai and Meeanee and across the Napier Hill. Not a single thing was found.

In 2001 the family held a "letting go" service, acknowledging he was missing and more likely than not deceased.

An eventual coroner's report was released in 2010 and he was judged to have gone missing on March 23, 1996, and was presumed dead.

"It's the not knowing what had happened that's tough - we still talk about him all the time," Phil Woods said. "And of course we think of him every time Elvis comes on the radio."

How it unfolded:

* March 23, 1996: Richard Woods leaves his room at the Lincoln Grange on Napier Hill some time just after 3pm.

* Family members concerned within hours as he was known to make sometime up to 30 calls a day to them - they had heard nothing.

* March 23, 1996: There are sightings from several areas of a man believed to be Richard Woods during the afternoon and into the evening.

* March 23, 1996: Family report the disappearance to police later in the afternoon.

* March 26, 1996: Napier Police publicly ask for any sightings or information and express fears for his safety as he required medication.

* March 31, 1996: About 35 Woods family members and friends gather to carry our an extensive search of areas and routes between Napier and Hastings.

* April 10, 1996: Family place photo and appeal for sightings in local newspapers and put out "missing" posters.

* August 8, 1996: In a letter to Mr Woods' bank police state it is the opinion of the investigating officer that he has "died at an unknown place and time".

* October 31, 1996: Another search of an area between Tamatea Drive and the airport is carried out for clues - nothing is found.

* 2001: The Woods family hold a remembrance day for Richard - "time to let go...a bit".

* May 2006: A psychic states an interest in the Napier-Taupo Rd with a trail stopping at Te Haroto as well as a "a faint impression" of the Rotorua region.

* December 17, 2010: Coroner's certificate of findings released - it concludes Mr Woods date of death was "on or after March 23, 1996" and that the place of death was "unknown".