In 1992 Amber-Lee Cruickshank vanished at Kingston near the southern end of Lake Wakatipu.

Despite exhaustive searches, there has never been any sign of the 2-and-a-half-year-old.

Last week the Herald launched Chasing Ghosts, a six-part podcast series, news feature and mini-documentary about Amber-Lee's disappearance and the aftermath.

Chasing Ghosts marks the 25-year anniversary of the toddler going missing.

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• READ MORE: Chasing Ghosts - The baffling disappearance of Amber-Lee

You would think, in a country as small as New Zealand, children would not disappear into thin air.

But Amber-Lee did - and she's not the only one.

Morrinsville toddler Betty Wharton, last seen in 1964, is considered New Zealand's oldest missing-person case.

Despite more than 52 years of investigations authorities cannot shed any light on what happened to little Betty.

Police are now preparing to officially close the case and refer Betty's disappearance to the coroner.

Betty was the daughter of farm workers Charlie and Marion Wharton, who were considered suspects in her disappearance for many years.

They were both sent to prison after the death of Betty's older sister, convicted with failing to provide the necessaries of life.

Betty Wharton went missing more than 52 years ago. Photograph supplied
Betty Wharton went missing more than 52 years ago. Photograph supplied

When Betty was born the couple were being monitored by authorities, but because they moved around a lot for work they fell through the cracks.

And when child welfare workers eventually located the Whartons, Betty was no longer with them.

The couple told police Betty was in the care of her grandfather, but later changed their story to say she had been informally adopted by a Te Awamutu woman named Martha.

Both Marion and Charlie Wharton have since died.

In 1957 Avondale schoolboy Peter William Boland was reported missing.

Like Amber-Lee and Betty, there has never been any sign of the 9-year-old.

Peter was staying at a farm in Oponae, between Whakatane and Gisborne, during the school holidays when he disappeared.

At the time he was out looking for a horse with the people he was staying with.

He was with one man part-way up a hill when they spotted the animal.

The man told Peter to run back down and tell the other man.

He never made it.

Somehow, somewhere along the way he went missing.

Searchers descended on the area and hunted for any sign of Peter.

Efforts to locate the boy were eventually abandoned.

Retired detective Warwick Walker was the officer in charge of Amber-Lee's case when she first went missing.

He said it was extremely rare for a child to go missing and never be found in New Zealand.

"[Amber-Lee] was the most baffling case that I worked on in my 20-plus years in the police.

"I worked on some strange and weird things but nothing which is so unresolved.

"In spite of the isolation, in spite of there not being lots and lots of people around, how a 2-and-a-half-year-old girl can go missing in daylight is just baffling."

Walker and the current officer in charge of the case believe Amber-Lee was taken, killed and her body disposed of.

"The most likelihood is that somebody has taken her, somebody is involved and there is somebody out there who knows that," Walker said.

Amber-Lee's mother Nicola Cruickshank on the shores of Lake Wakatipu near where the toddler was last seen. New Zealand Herald photograph by Mike Scott
Amber-Lee's mother Nicola Cruickshank on the shores of Lake Wakatipu near where the toddler was last seen. New Zealand Herald photograph by Mike Scott

Chasing Ghosts tells Amber-Lee's story in unflinching and enormous detail. It was researched and written by senior crime reporter Anna Leask.

Visual journalist Mike Scott did the field recording and produced the mini-documentary.

Leask said the project aims to bring fresh attention to the case in the hope that someone comes forward with information that could help bring Amber-Lee home.

Help bring Amber-Lee home

If you know what happened to Amber-Lee, or have information you have never shared with police that could help the investigation, please come forward.
Contact Detective Sergeant John Kean at the Invercargill police on 021 191 5321 or email john.kean@police.govt.nz.

To pass on information anonymously, contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or fill out their online form here.

This service is completely confidential and you do not have to reveal your identity. Police have no way of tracing who passes on tips to Crimestoppers.

You can also email anna.leask@nzherald.co.nz.

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST HERE:

• iHeart Radio https://www.iheart.com/podcast/211-Chasing-Ghosts-28579572/
• iTunes https://itunes.apple.com/nz/podcast/chasing-ghosts/id1299949050?mt=2