Morgan Tait is the NZ Herald's police reporter.

A murderer that was never caught: The 40 year search for Tracey Ann Patient's killer

The killer who strangled a 13-year-old girl in Auckland in 1976 now appears to have got away with her murder.Despite a 40-year search for whoever was responsible for killing Tracey Ann Patient, strangling her with a stocking, police have announced they are winding down the investigation into her case.

Tracey's death in the summer of 1976 shocked the country and has since become one of the most infamous cold cases in New Zealand's criminal history.

On Thursday January 29, Tracey went to a friend's house in Chilcott Rd, Henderson.

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She was due back home at her parents' house in Dellwood Ave at 9.30pm.

Tracey's friend walked her halfway home to the intersection of Great North Rd and Edmonton Rd about 9.30pm.

The last known sighting of Tracey was outside No 295 Great North Rd, Henderson.

She was only five minutes' walk from her home.

The next morning a woman walking her dog found Tracey's body in a bush area on Scenic Drive in the Waitakere Ranges.

The teenager had been strangled with a stocking and her body discarded just metres into the bush area.

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A large-scale investigation was launched and over the following months police looked at hundreds of suspects and exhausted numerous lines of inquiry.

Nearly two years after Tracey's murder, in November 1978, police received a phone call from an anonymous person who told them a signet ring Tracey owned was in a rubbish bin outside a pharmacy in Avondale.

Officers went to the rubbish bin and found a ring inside, believed to have been the ring Tracey was wearing when she went missing and given to her by a boyfriend.

Despite more than 850 people being profiled over the past 40 years, no one has been charged with the teenager's murder.

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Police have continued to receive hundreds of pieces of information about the case, including theories about the mystery caller and possible suspects.

13-year-old murder victim Tracey Ann Patient. PHOTO / FILE
13-year-old murder victim Tracey Ann Patient. PHOTO / FILE

In January - the 40th anniversary of her death - police said the team of investigators based at Waitakere Police Station had been working fulltime on the case since late last year.

After that publicity police received more than 200 calls and detectives have been following up on the information provided.

Some even travelled to Australia to follow leads there.

However, the renewed effort, which included further pleas from Tracey's family and police, still did not result in any arrests.

Waitemata Detective Inspector John Sutton said it was "disappointing that we have not been able to provide Tracey's family with the news we wanted to give them".

"We have, however, spoken with Tracey's family and have advised them of our outcome and while they share our disappointment, they are appreciative of our efforts."

Tracey's sister, Debbie Sheppard, told Newshub that she hoped the killer had a "horrible life".

"I hope he's had a horrible life. I'm saying 'he', could be 'he', 'she', 'they' - I have no idea. But whoever it is, I hope they've had a horrible life."

Sheppard told Newshub the family were disappointed police were not able to arrest anyone.

"We would love the investigation to continue - obviously we would. We would love this person brought to justice, but we fully understand the police can't continue to commit the resources to Tracey's case after all this time."

It was possible that whoever killed Tracey may have since passed away, she said.

"It would be frustrating if that was the case. If it came to light that was the case, then obviously that person would never be brought to justice - but there's nothing we can do about that."

- NZ Herald

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