Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

36 years later, hunt for strangler goes on

No one should get away with murder, says schoolgirl's sister.

Tracey Ann Patient was 13 when she was murdered while walking to her Henderson home in January 1976. Photo / Supplied
Tracey Ann Patient was 13 when she was murdered while walking to her Henderson home in January 1976. Photo / Supplied

Two detectives are still chasing leads in the cold-case murder of Tracey Ann Patient in West Auckland 36 years ago tomorrow.

The 13-year-old was strangled by pantyhose in the bush of the Waitakere Ranges on January 29, 1976. Her murder remains unsolved.

Superintendent Bill Searle, Waitemata district commander, said police are committed to solving the homicide investigation despite the passage of time. Several lines of inquiry had been followed up in recent years.

Two specialist investigators were seconded to the inquiry last year but Mr Searle said there had been no specific developments.

He urged the public to come forward with any information.

"Police will always make inquiries on any relevant and credible leads provided to us."

The lead investigator is Detective Sergeant Murray Free, whose perseverance led to the arrest and conviction of Joseph Reekers for the murder of Marie Jamieson eight years after she was found dead in 2001.

However, the Henderson CIB has been focused on other serious crime in West Auckland, including the homicide investigation into the death of security guard Charanpreet Singh Dhaliwal in November.

The Patient family returned to Britain after Tracey's murder. Her sister Debbie Sheppard told the Weekend Herald the family had never recovered but hoped the 36-year anniversary of her sister's murder would jog memories.

She believed the investigation was on the "back-burner" in terms of police priorities but urged anyone with information to come forward to help solve the cold case.

"Nothing will bring Tracey back or make our grief easier to bear. But nobody should get away with murder - especially the murder of a child."

Tracey was last seen at 9.30pm on January 29, 1976, in Great North Rd outside the old Henderson police station. She said goodbye to her girlfriend and crossed the road to ask an elderly couple what the time was.

Appearing upset that she was late, Tracey ran towards her home 1.6km away. She was found dumped in the Waitakere Ranges.

Two years after the murder, police found Tracey's signet ring in a wastepaper basket at an Avondale shopping mall after an anonymous phone tip. The informant quoted the number 126040, but police were unable to trace the caller or decipher the meaning of the number.

The anniversary of the Patient cold case comes in the same week Bay of Plenty police searched a Kawerau property in connection with the Mona Blades inquiry. Nothing was found and the disappearance of the 18-year-old in 1975 remains unsolved.

But in December, a 70-year-old man was charged with the 1979 murder of Rodney Tahu in Turangi which police believe is the longest-running cold case in New Zealand to end in an arrest.

Can you help?

Anyone with information about Tracey Ann Patient's death is urged to call Waitakere CIB on (09) 839-0600. Alternatively, people can call Crime Stoppers anonymously on 0800-555-111.

- NZ Herald

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