Nearly 14 years after a Korean man went missing in Whangārei his remains have been discovered, bringing closure for the family, police and volunteers who searched for days.

Korean man Sun Il Keum had only been in Whangārei for two days visiting his son when he wandered off on November 19, 2004.

Keum was 74 years old, spoke little English, suffered from Alzheimer's and was unfamiliar with Whangārei.

He left his son's house for a walk on Otaika Rd and was last seen heading towards the shopping centre about 9am. He failed to return home and his son raised the alarm with police about 5pm the same day.


His disappearance sparked a massive search across the city of Whangārei but he was never found.

Last Monday about 10.15am, Northpower workers clearing thick scrub at a site in Morningside, off Sun Valley Drive, noticed some items of clothing. On closer inspection, they discovered skeletal remains.

The remains of a man who had been missing for fourteen years has been found after scrub was recently cleared from land for a sub division. Photo/ John Stone
The remains of a man who had been missing for fourteen years has been found after scrub was recently cleared from land for a sub division. Photo/ John Stone

A week later a coroner holding the file cleared police to release the name after being satisfied the remains were that of Keum.

Heading the original search was Senior Sergeant Cliff Metcalfe, who had just been appointed the officer in charge of the police specialist Search and Rescue squad.

He still holds the position with the squad and has always wondered what happened to the missing Korean man.

Metcalfe went to the Morningside site last week and as soon as he saw the clothing he knew they had found Keum.

He was last seen wearing a blue jacket, long brown pants, white sports shoes and a light coloured floppy hat.

Metcalfe said the remains were taken to Whangārei Hospital where police carried out victim identification procedures. The scene was blessed by a kaumatua.


"Along with the clothing and other items we found including a wallet with a Korean coin we were able to identify him as Mr Keum," he said.

"The family who are now living in Christchurch have been contacted and have been able to confirm the items found belonged to him."

It has meant closure for the family and those who searched for him.

"It's closure for the family and closure for those who searched for him because now he has been found."

Metcalfe said the area Keum's remains were found had been searched initially and had also been subject to Police Search and Rescue training days using the cold case scenario specifically.

He said over the years he had always remembered the case and wondered where the missing man had gone.

"It one of the biggest and most extensive searches we have ever done in Northland. It was an unresolved case that I never forgot about."

However, very dense scrub in the area was difficult to work through and it was only after clearing for a new subdivision had been done that the area had become easily accessible and exposed the clothing and remains.

Immediately after Keum was reported missing, up to 40 police SAR staff an volunteers conducted an intensive three-day search of Otaika, Raumanga and Morningside areas.

The following week 22 people undertook a further day-long search of the Morningside and South End Ave area on foot, while police also flew in the Northland Rescue helicopter, all to no avail.

In an inquest in 2006 coroner Max Atkins ruled Keum had died of natural causes or exposure and was probably in an industrial wasteland in an area bordered by Morningside Rd and Rewarewa Rd.