A police investigation into one of New Zealand's oldest cold cases has ended in frustration for the family of a little boy who mysteriously disappeared more than 60 years ago.
Peter Boland was just 9 years old when he disappeared in August 1957 at a farm near Ōpōtiki in the eastern Bay of Plenty. No trace of him has ever been found.
A missing person inquiry was launched in late 2018 when new information came to light, with a senior detective telling the Boland family he was determined to "put right" the apparent failure to properly investigate Peter's disappearance at the time.
The boy, from Avondale in Auckland, was on holiday at a farm in the Waioeka Gorge and was reported missing by four men who were on the property when he disappeared.
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The men - three of whom are still alive and are now aged in their 80s - say Peter went missing on the morning of August 31, 1957, while looking for horses near the farmhouse.
The men are Ken Woods, his brother-in-law Arthur Brasting and Peter Innes Smith. Les Smith, a friend of Brasting's, died in 2015.
While extra police staff were drafted in to search the farm and surrounding bush, along with 150 volunteers, it appears Peter's disappearance was not treated as suspicious and investigated to the same standard as today.
No police records or file seem to have been kept.
"The fact no trace of a healthy, intelligent, 9-year-old boy who had been taken to the farm with family friend Ken Woods was ever found, should have been cause for greater concern at the time," Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto said last year, when the Weekend Herald first reported the new inquiry.
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"No footwear, no clothes, apparently no footprints and definitely no body. That's very unusual, particularly given the stories the men reportedly told of the time Peter went missing - looking for horses in the morning, just a kilometre or so from the farm house."
The experienced Bay of Plenty detective hoped at the "very least" to find Peter's remains so he could be buried with his parents at Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland.
However this week, Lemoto confirmed to the Weekend Herald his investigation file has now been handed to the Coroner's Office for a formal ruling.
While the file is still technically open, as the Coroner could direct the police to make further checks, Lemoto said he was unable to comment until the coronial process was over.
Peter Boland's brother Gavin, now 73, was grateful for Lemoto's efforts but, given the passage of time, was realistic about the likelihood of finding out what happened in 1957.
The office of Coroner Gordon Matenga - recently appointed as a district court judge - wrote to Gavin Boland this month to explain the Coroner would review the witness statements and other evidence gathered by police.
At that point, the Coroner would either make a formal ruling based on the police file alone, or order a full inquest hearing where witnesses can be called to give evidence and answer questions.
Gavin Boland is certain his brother disappeared in sinister circumstances, rather than simply getting lost in the bush, and hopes Coroner Matenga, or his successor, holds a full hearing.
"It's been shut away for 60-odd years ... if questions can be asked of everyone, in an open forum, people can say what they really think happened," he said.
"I think there are people who know what happened. It would be nice to bring it all out into the light, perhaps bring some closure."
After years of fighting to uncover the truth about Peter's disappearance, Gavin Boland said the police investigation last year was beyond his "wildest dreams".
Their parents Neville and Nell died in 1971 and 2001 respectively, without ever knowing what happened to their young son.
"I know my mother felt that something untoward happened to Peter and those thoughts are the same as mine."
• Anyone with information regarding Peter Boland's disappearance should call Bay of Plenty police on (07) 213 0328 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.