By Tony Wall and NZPA
METHVEN - Plaster casts of tyre tracks lifted from a Canterbury farm may become precious evidence as detectives apparently begin the hunt for the killer of Ashburton teenager Kirsty Bentley.
The body of a female, under guard by police after being discovered on the farm alongside the Rakaia River on Sunday, was brought out yesterday. It was taken to Christchurch where an autopsy will be held today.
Police have so far refused to confirm the body is that of the 16-year-old, who has been missing since New Year's Eve. But everything suggests that the agonising wait that Kirsty's parents have endured for news of their daughter's fate is now over.
Detectives are expected to confirm the identity today, and last night the head of Operation Kirsty, Detective Senior Sergeant Lance Corcoran, would only say:
"Of course there is the chance it is Kirsty, but until that is confirmed anything else is speculation."
Yesterday, as detectives and forensic experts began a meticulous search of the area where the body was found, Kirsty's parents, Jill and Sid Bentley, and her brother John suffered the longest day of their lives 55km away at the family home in Ashburton.
Kirsty would have turned 16 yesterday, and the family had planned to go ahead with the poolside party she had been planning when she disappeared while walking her dog.
Instead, they sat and waited, pleading with reporters to stay away. Kirsty's boyfriend, Graeme Offord, and her closest friends, joined them in their vigil.
A team of forensic scientists and police searchers spent all day scouring the area around the body for clues. Scientists made careful plaster casts of tyre marks on the farm track leading to the remote, heavily overgrown area, where the body was found.
A series of other tests were also carried out, including luminol testing for blood on the gate leading to the track.
Detectives refused to reveal details about the body, or offer any theories on how she might have died.
The body was discovered early by two men walking near Camp Gully Bridge, which crosses a stream running into the Rakaia. One report said the pair were in the area to tend a cannabis crop, but the seriousness of their find meant they were quickly in touch with the police.
Another report suggested the discovery was made by two fishermen.
The body was found under a row of pine trees at the end of a farm paddock, next to a cliff that drops down to the river.
The owner of the property leases it to a man who is on holiday.
The search area, which is covered in scrub, forest and broom, is popular with campers, fishermen and jet-boaters. But the rough terrain is heavy going for the big team.
Extra staff will be brought in to canvass residents in the Rakaia Gorge area but police also want to speak to anyone who has been in the area over the past couple of weeks.
Detectives may be especially interested in talking to campers at the Rakaia Gorge caravan park, just a couple of kilometres from where the body was found.
A supervisor at the park has already made contact with the police team after noticing a "nervous" girl in the company of a young man at the park on New Year's Eve.
The supervisor was concerned by the behaviour of the pair at the time, and rang police early in the New Year with the number plate of the vehicle they were in.
Police apparently checked out the vehicle.
Pictured: Kirsty Bentley.
By Tony Wall and NZPA