Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

'People don't just vanish': Police are determined to find missing mother-of-three Kim Richmond

A signpost at Arohena in the Otorohanga District shows how isolated the farming community is where Kim Richmond disappeared from. Photo / Natalie Akoorie
A signpost at Arohena in the Otorohanga District shows how isolated the farming community is where Kim Richmond disappeared from. Photo / Natalie Akoorie

The evening began as any ordinary Saturday night in Arohena, a small Waikato farming community 40km south east of Te Awamutu.

Members of the Arohena Social Club gathered at the Arohena Hall before 7.30pm on July 30 to watch a Super Rugby semifinal, the Chiefs versus the Hurricanes.

Among the 60-odd farmers enjoying the game over a drink and winter barbecue were sharemilkers Kim Richmond and her partner Corey Jefferies.

They chatted with friends and neighbours, caught up with other members of the Arohena School community, and watched as the Chiefs lost a place in the final.

Jefferies was the last out of the hall, about 10.30pm, and as one of the trusted members of the community who had a key, he locked up the building on Pukewhau Rd.

Kim Richmond, a former Bay of Plenty table tennis champion, was a devoted mum and mad about sports. She had been competing in triathlons for two years. Photo / NZ Police
Kim Richmond, a former Bay of Plenty table tennis champion, was a devoted mum and mad about sports. She had been competing in triathlons for two years. Photo / NZ Police

The couple drove back along the winding rural road to their Mangare Rd home where it's believed Jefferies and Richmond watched the second semifinal in the wee hours of July 31, between the Highlanders and the Lions.

It's not clear why, but some time after that Richmond got into her silver 2014 Ford Ranger ute, registration number HKD553, and drove off.

What happened after that is a mystery because the 42-year-old mother-of-three hasn't been seen since.

"Something's wrong. She wouldn't leave those children," says Arohena Social Club chairman Hubert 'Herbie' Lenssen.

Richmond, a former Bay of Plenty table tennis champion who was mad on sports and had been competing in triathlons for two years, was a devoted mum.

She was fit and strong despite suffering severe hearing loss in both ears in recent years.

By all accounts she and Jefferies appeared a "normal" couple. Described as happy and hard-working they were heavily involved in the community and highly regarded by other Arohena residents.

Kim is pictured here with her and her partner Corey Jefferies.
Kim is pictured here with her and her partner Corey Jefferies.

Lenssen said the community was in shock at her disappearance.

"Nobody knows anything. We all want her back. It was a late night. We were all drinking. I know they went home and watched the second game."

No-one can explain the disappearance and despite a massive and extensive search by police, land search and rescue, the police Eagle helicopter, a specialist dive squad who searched a lowered Lake Arapuni, Richmond's extended family and dozens of the community, her whereabouts remain a mystery.

"People don't just vanish," Te Awamutu Detective Greg Flintoff says. "Someone out there must know something."

Flintoff said police were "very determined" to find Richmond and "bring her home to her family". It was just a matter of time.

Soon after Richmond disappeared, Jefferies rang the parents of his partner of 26 years, Matt and Raywynne Richmond in Te Puke.

The hall where Kim Richmond watched a rugby game on the night she went missing from the small Waikato farming community of Arohena. Photo / Natalie Akoorie
The hall where Kim Richmond watched a rugby game on the night she went missing from the small Waikato farming community of Arohena. Photo / Natalie Akoorie

It was possible she could have driven back to the town where she grew up and where she and Jefferies met when she was 16.

She hadn't. Two days later on Tuesday, August 2, Richmond was reported missing to police and word began to spread around the tight-knit community.

By 6.30 Wednesday morning locals were mounting a search that would last weeks.

Even though it was the height of calving season at least 26 farmers put aside their work and doubled up in vehicles to search from Arohena in the Otorohanga District and Wharepapa South down to Arapuni Dam, Waipapa Dam, Tirau, Putaruru, Mangakino, Kinloch and back up through Atiamuri, Whakamaru, Korakonui and Ngaroma.

Co-ordinating the search from their home and in conjunction with police were Richmond's friends Nick and Cathy Prendergast.

"When we heard there was a problem Nick went up to see what we could do and the community were ringing us saying 'We've got to do something, what can we do?'," Cathy Prendergast said.

The search involved driving main and back roads between the farming settlements and towns at least twice, and stopping to physically check some of the rugged terrain, including looking down banks, over cliffs, through forests and around lake edges.

"The police said right from the start, find the ute and you'll find Kim."

It was exhaustive but no clues were uncovered. To make matters worse the weather packed in. It was freezing cold, with howling wind and rain. It didn't put anybody off but the conditions were difficult.

In the background women cooked and baked for Richmond's family and farmers lent a hand to Jefferies on the 400ha property, despite the busy calving season.

The Prendergasts agreed the case was frustrating, the emotion still raw and the situation surreal.

"The hardest thing in a situation like this is ... there's no resolution," Nick Prendergast says. "From that perspective it's just incredibly sad. It's a tragedy."

Three weeks after Richmond disappeared police held a community meeting at the Arohena Hall.

The Prendergasts say the hall was packed with concerned residents who wanted answers, but unfortunately there were none.

In early October Richmond's bank cards and a farm card were found on a road near Rangipo but police haven't established how they came to be there.

Raywynne Richmond says her eldest daughter's disappearance has been very hard.

Somehow though the family had managed to shield Richmond's two young sons and daughter from media reports on the disappearance, and the possibility their mother might never come home.

"All they know is mummy is missing, and the police are trying to find her."

Jefferies is understood to be devastated by Richmond's disappearance. He did not want to speak to the Weekend Herald.

Police won't speculate on what happened to Kim and say they are keeping an open mind to all possibilities.

On Thursday police said that after five months it was unlikely Richmond would be found alive.

Te Awamutu Police Detective Paul Galletta is urging anyone with information about the whereabouts of Richmond or her ute to ring police, no matter how insignificant it might seem.

"This has been a trying five months for Kim's family and friends and we thank them for their support in our investigation," Galletta said.

"If you think you may have even the smallest piece of information about Kim or the vehicle which may help us in our investigation, please come forward."

Richmond is described as 162cm tall, with long brown hair and olive skin. She was last seen wearing a Highlanders rugby jersey, blue jeans, brown leather jacket and brown leather boots.

Anyone with information on Richmond's whereabouts should contact Te Awamutu Police on 07 872 0100, or to remain anonymous contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

- NZ Herald

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