One photo stood out in the offices of the Napier CIB during the opening months, and then years, of the Teresa Cormack inquiry.

It was a cheerful little colour photo of the youngster smiling.

"I can see it now - it is not something you ever forget it," former detective Keith Price said as he pondered the passing of 30 years since the "terrible day" the six-year-old had gone missing while on her way to school.

"I worked on the case initially for a short time," Mr Price said.

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Part of that work had been at the Whirinaki Beach scene where Teresa's body was discovered.

And he saw the photographs which had recorded the scene.

"Horrific," he said quietly.

"Just being there, looking at the scene - it was cold and there was rain - pretty horrific."

It all comes back every time he drives by the great bluff on the beach.

"It was a tough one to work on," Mr Price said.

Like many other police on the case he had a youngster at home.

He would return home after the end of another day and cherish his little five-year-old boy's company - and his mind would swing to what had happened to the innocent little Teresa.

"We had the photo of her up on the wall at work and we would look at it all the time - that was the motivation to solve this - to keep at it."

Keeping at it led to Mr Price and his late colleague Brian Schaab heading for Stokes Valley in Wellington in 2002 to knock on the door of the man who would later be convicted of Teresa's murder and sent behind bars.

Detectives had "blooded" several thousand people in their search, and DNA upgrades had stepped in.

"I very clearly remember the morning we got him - that was a very big moment for me, for everyone."

He did not pass the news on to Teresa's mum Kelly.

"Pretty sure Schaaby made that call."

He had caught up with Kelly several times during the inquiry, and after the arrest, and paid tribute to her strength and stoicism through what he described as "a bloody horrible" time.

"It really affected some of us working on it - it'll never go away."

While he had worked on homicide cases before, both here and in Wellington, the loss of the little girl with that chirpy little smiling face hit hard.

"It was a real changer in this country - people looked at how they were getting their kids to school - everything changed from that day."

Current Hawke's Bay Police Detective Sergeant Darryl Moore had only been in the job for a short time and was a uniform constable.

"I was on the search team," Mr Moore said.

"Out there scouring the beaches and the bushes," he said of the first week of the case while Teresa was missing.

"I was just out of Police College and this was a tragedy I was just trying to get my head around as a new cop - it was a pretty horrible experience."

It was 15 years later that he was back on the case front in the wake of profile updating and progress - progress which eventually led to the identification of Jules Mikus.

"We had the profile and we had to find him."

Mr Moore said it was unsettling that more than a thousand people had come to police attention as being potential suspects in the case.

He recalled an earlier memory of when he was at the family home down in Mt Pleasant near Christchurch and seeing lines of people in the valley below walking along through farmland.

"I asked dad what they were doing."

His father told him a little girl nearby had been playing with her brother at their front gate and during the time the boy had gone inside for a short time the little girl had disappeared.

"She had been abducted."

That scene returned to his mind later down the track when he was in his policing role of carrying out searches for Teresa.

"It was a tough time and I still find it hard to think someone could do that - but as a police officer you have to move on."

Which he did, but the hard memories remain.