By Tony Wall
Police have told the family of Auckland murder victim Claire Hills that they know who killed her but do not have enough evidence for an arrest.
Firefighters found her charred body in her burning car on Mangere Mountain a year ago today.
The case was particularly disturbing because police believe Claire Hills, a 30-year-old McDonald's restaurant manager, was held for several hours before being burned alive.
They suspect she was abducted from her vehicle as she drove to the McDonald's airport restaurant from her home in Herne Bay about 3 am.
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Lois Green, Claire's mother, who lives south of Sydney, said she thought of her daughter every day. She had taken hope from a frank letter from the officer in charge of the inquiry, Detective Senior Sergeant Dayle Candy of Otahuhu.
"I know it sounds a bit weird but it is some consolation that they know who has done it and can keep their eye on them ... [they're] just waiting for a slip-up or some more evidence to come in.
In the letter, Detective Senior Sergeant Candy said a team of experienced detectives had reviewed every facet of the investigation to establish its competency.
"In all of the inquiries completed to date by the homicide team and the review team, I am confident that the inquiry has unravelled our offender,
"Unfortunately, evidentially we are a long way removed from being able to a) become focused solely on that offender or b) constructively calling the offender to account for their actions.
"The restrictions unfortunately faced by staff on this inquiry rate amongst the highest on any homicide experienced in New Zealand.
She told the New Zealand Herald yesterday that the letter was meant for the family as a message of hope.
"After a year's investigation we have a good understanding or suspicion of what has occurred ... but we are clearly not in a position to lay a charge, otherwise we would, she said.
"The family are victims ... I think it's important for them to understand that we haven't given up hope, that we're optimistic and that I feel the crime is able to be solved.
Detective Senior Sergeant Candy said she believed the killer was a stranger to Claire Hills, that he had some link to the Mangere area and that others may have been involved in the initial abduction.
She believed it was an opportunistic crime and her biggest fear was that the killer or killers would strike again.
One of Claire Hills' close friends, Leanne Mitcheson, said she suspected Claire had been abducted either as she arrived at the airport or possibly after being flagged down by the offender pretending to be a stranded motorist.