Blessie case: Man charged with murder

By Heather McCracken, Anna Leask

Blesilda Gotingco from Birkdale in Auckland has been remembered by her colleagues as a "very personable" woman.
Blesilda Gotingco from Birkdale in Auckland has been remembered by her colleagues as a "very personable" woman.

Blessie Gotingco's colleagues at Tower Insurance have been offered grief counselling as they cope with news that a body has been found in a North Shore cemetery.

Police believe the body, found in a bush area last night, is that of the missing 56-year-old.

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A 27-year-old man will appear in court tomorrow morning charged with murdering the mother of three.

Tower general manager customer interaction, Vanessa Dudley, said the mood among staff at the Fanshawe St office was "sombre" as the news unfolded today.

Amongst Ms Gotingco's 40 team members, Ms Dudley said some had gone to church, others had gone home to be with their families, and others were coping by focusing on work.

"Some have gone and come back, some have stayed," she said.

Support and grief counselling was being provided to those who needed it, and would continue to be offered for some time, she said.

Ms Gotingco's best friend, also a Tower employee, had remained away from work this week to provide support to Blessie's family.

"We've put a lot of support around not only the immediate team but the wider Tower staff," Ms Dudley said.

Chief executive David Hancock had been giving updates to staff as news developed today.

"As the news has elevated today it's reached its peak in terms of trying to make sure everyone's supported. Everyone knows everyone here, so we're just really trying to make sure everyone is taken care of."

About 550 people worked in the Fanshawe St office, and many would have got to know Ms Gotingco in her almost 10 years with the company.

She had worked in different roles, but spent most her time in her current position as an insurance consultant in the sales team, which involved talking to customers about their policies.

Ms Dudley said Tower had been contacted by customers who had dealt with Ms Gotingco and wanted to express their concern.

"That's just who she was - very personable."

Staff from her team described her as always positive and ready to laugh, Ms Dudley said.

"She was the one who always made you laugh, she was the one who always had something positive to say," she said.

The company had been in touch with Ms Gotingco's family, and would continue to offer them support.

"They have maintained, and I respect, that their privacy is important to them at this time. When and if they're ready, we are here to support them."

Ms Gotingco's desk had remained untouched since she left work on Saturday night, and would not be disturbed until her family were ready to retrieve any personal items she had left there.

Staff had also been asked to consider how they would like their colleague and friend to be remembered by the company.

"We've started to think about that and asked the team what it is they would like to do to remember her. I'll leave it in their hands but I'm sure there will be many things," Ms Dudley said.

"I think it's really important that we do have something in her memory."

The 27-year-old man accused of the murder was arrested today after a woman's body was found at a North Shore cemetery.

Senior Sergeant Stan Brown, who is heading Operation Lynsey, said two scene examinations were underway: one at a block of apartments in Monte Cassino Place, Birkdale, which was where the accused was arrested this morning. This examination was expected to take several days, Mr Brown said.

Watch: Body found, arrest made

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The scene examination at the cemetery where a woman's body was found today was expected to be completed by tomorrow.

A post-mortem examination would be held tomorrow morning.

"There is a still a lot of work to be done by the enquiry team in the next few weeks, including statements taken from the vast number of people who have provided police with information over the past few days," Mr Brown said.

Investigators had now confirmed that Mrs Gotingco did take the 973 bus from Lower Albert Street to Birkdale just after 7pm on Saturday night.

The enquiry team was still looking to speak to anyone who travelled on that bus, Mr Brown said.

The 0508 number was still open and more than 50 calls had come into the enquiry team today.

Anyone who believed they might have information was still encouraged to make contact with police, he said.

Police at the block of apartments in Monte Cassino Place:

As the investigation continues Mr Brown said the welfare of the Gotingco family was a priority.

"Our thoughts are with Blessie's family at this very difficult time and their ongoing care and welfare is paramount.

"We'd like to reiterate their request, please allow them the time and space to grieve as they deal with this."

Police also thanked the media for their assistance over the past few days.

Police confirmed earlier today that the body of a woman has been found in a bush area of the Eskdale Cemetery.

The body will be formally identified this evening, but police do believe it is that of Blessie.

News that a body has been found today was met with shock and sadness among those following the Help Find Blessie Facebook page, set up to aid in the search.

Sally Randal wrote: "As a local here I can tell you we have all been concerned for Blessie's safety and are now devastated on the outcome ... prayers for your family and friends right now".

Gina van den Bos posted: "Poor Blessie. I don't know her or her family but my heart goes out to them all. they going to need the support of our community. Let's show them that we do care and this is not on and not going to be tolerated in our community."

Another post on the page, from Rose Burrowes, read: "rest in peace, blessie the whole country is sending their love to your family in this heartbreaking time."

Tash Swinburne wrote: "Thoughts and prayers are with Blessie's family, friends, and loved ones. So sad . Hopefully our community will be able to feel some sense of ease now, and the family will have a little bit of closure. So unimagineable."

Mrs Gotingco's husband Antonio, who was visiting the Philippines when the 56-year-old went missing, is expected to arrive back in Auckland this afternoon.

He is travelling home with Mrs Gotingco's brothers and they are expected to go straight to the family home on Salisbury Rd to support the couple's three children.

When asked how they are coping, a family friend said "devastated is an understatement".


Police continue their search of the cemetery on Eskdale road in Birkdale. Photo / Chris Gorman

Tower Insurance staffer: 'We all just loved her'

Staff at Tower Insurance, in downtown Auckland, are supporting each other following the news that a discovery had been made.

A staff member who did not want to be named said Ms Gotingco, who worked in the sales department, was very popular.

"Everyone is just really sad. We've been sent emails asking us to keep Blessie and her family in our thoughts. She was a very valued person."

The staffer said the mood was sombre in the offices.

"It's just quiet. People are trying to do their work but everyone's thinking of Blessie. We all loved her."

A "bright" themed day had been scheduled on Monday, but had been cancelled following news of Ms Gotingco's disappearance over the weekend.

"We got messages on Sunday telling us what had happened - that's when we found out about her."

Birkenhead residents: 'It's such a shock'

Birkenhead residents milled around the cemetery this morning, shocked that their usually quiet community could be the scene of a gruesome crime scene.


Police search and rescue teams set out along Salisbury Road for clues. Photo / Chris Gorman

Tracey Flaws said Mrs Gotingco's disappearance was "frightful" for the community.

"I've lived here all my life and I don't feel safe anymore - especially at night," she told the Herald.

"It's such a shock. You see this stuff in the news overseas... you sort of expect it. But not in little New Zealand and especially little Birkenhead.

"This isn't right, that poor woman. There's children left behind.... Being a mother, that really hit home. It's such a shame."

Mrs Flaws said she would be more vigilant about her and her family's safety.

"People are sick. The frightening thing is that it looks like she was just grabbed off the street."

Another resident told the Herald that the situation made her feel sad.

"Why do people do this?" she asked.

"I hope and pray that they find the person who did this. It's so very sad."

"Keep them in your prayers."

Yesterday Detective Senior Sergeant Stan Brown revealed police were looking for Mrs Gotingco's "very distinctive" Omega watch and her red-frame reading glasses which they believe she had on when she went missing.

The watch is two toned, with a diamond bezel and mother-of-pearl face.

Background to Blessie's disappearance

She was last heard from at 6.21pm on Saturday when she spoke to her adult son to say she would be leaving her job at Tower Insurance about 7pm to catch a bus home.

Some of her belongings - including her cellphone and shoes - were found on Salisbury Rd about 400m from the bus stop where she would have disembarked.

Watch: Possibilities of what happened are "limitless"

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The Herald has learned that police have access to a list of names of every passenger who used a registered Hop card on two buses Mrs Gotingco could have travelled home on.
She is likely to have caught a Birkenhead Transport bus at 7.20pm or 7.40pm. The number would have been 973 or 974.


Police search and rescue teams begin a search along Salisbury Road for clues. Photo / Chris Gorman

Auckland Transport can trace all registered Hop cards, but those who paid cash would be harder to find.

Police believe Mrs Gotingco used a Hop card regularly but had not registered it.

They said a man who believed he might have been on the same bus as her had been in contact with them and inquiries to confirm this were under way.

Last night two volunteers were sticking up flyers on lampposts close to where Mrs Gotingco's home, asking people if they had seen her and providing the police number.


Blessie Gotingco

Screams were heard near Mrs Gotingco's home after she went missing, and belongings, including her phone and shoes, were found near the closest bus stop, 636m away.

Anyone who noticed anything that may have seemed out of the ordinary or suspicious in the Birkdale area on Saturday is asked to phone 0508-596-739 and speak to the staff of Operation Lynsey.

- Additional reporting APNZ

- NZ Herald

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