The family of a man found dead in the Waikato River claim he was the victim of foul play and not suicide or accidental drowning.

The body of 34-year-old Stefan Angel Heavens - who is formally known as Stephen Marc Tobin - was found in near two-metre deep water in the Waikato River at Huntly on October 24, last year.

His mother, Anne-Marie McLean, told Hamilton Coroner Mike Robb on the first of the two-day inquest that she is searching for the truth about what happened to her son after he was last seen two weeks earlier on October 11.

"We believe he was assaulted and robbed of his personal belongings and tossed into the river like a piece of trash," she told the coroner.


Heavens was found in near two-metre deep water on the eastern side of the river behind several bakeries in the town.

Growing up, he had learned about tragedy at a young age, losing three close friends in his "formative years".

One of those whom he knew well, and regularly walked to school with growing up in Napier, was six-year-old murder victim Teresa Cormack.

Cormack's body was found half buried under a tree six days after she went missing on June 19, 1987. She was murdered by Jules Mikus

McLean said it was when the family moved to Tauranga, when he was a teenager, that her son's life began to change.

He got new friends and began to smoke cannabis. He spent his 21st in mental health care after taking magic mushrooms and talked about seeing tanks rolling past his window.

He had more recently become obsessed with Facebook and wanted to travel to London to meet friends he had discovered on there.

After all the years of dealing with mental health authorities, she was critical of Waikato District Health Board staff whom she claimed were not as open and honest as those she had dealt with in Tauranga.

Prior to moving to Hamilton, her son had always worn suits. But up until his death he wore leathers and developed a strong interest in the occult.

In the days leading up to his death, Heavens had been staying with her in Waihi. But he then took off.

"I told him that he was not doing well and that he needed to see mental health ... I did not know that while he was staying with me he had cancelled his psychiatrist's appointment, nor did I know that he had twice deferred [appointments] ... if I had been told I would have insisted on him complying."

McLean said her son idolised his three younger brothers and was a very caring, yet sensitive person.

"He trusted everyone and looked for acceptance in usually the wrong crowds ... I never dreamed that one day he would never be around."

McLean said the family are also upset that police did not listen to their requests to have Heaven's body forensically examined. She also claims police failed to thoroughly investigate his death.

"We are still grieving as a family and our collective hope is that this coronial inquest into the cause of his death will reveal the truth of how he was taken from us."

Detective Sergeant Dave Grace asked McLean about her statement to police in which she had said her son was "possibly suicidal".

"I didn't really. Slightly, but not really," she replied.

Heaven's friend Graham Morrison last saw him a couple of days before he died.

Morrison said Heavens was very angry and upset as he felt he had been kicked out of his mother's house, saying "f*** Waihi, f*** all of them".

Another friend, Joseph Ashford, also gave evidence. He said he wasn't aware of Heaven having any enemies or people who would want to harm him.

Hamilton man Darryn Atkinson said Heavens was one of his best mates whom he'd known for about five years.

The last time he saw him he was sitting on a park bench near Downtown Plaza, and was upset and didn't want to talk to him, which he said was highly unusual.

He now feels bad as he felt like he could have done more to help him.

The inquest is due to conclude tomorrow.

Where to get help

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.