New Year's Eve marked the 50th anniversary of one of New Zealand's longest unsolved murders. A Herald investigation has uncovered further evidence in the chilling case. A special update episode of The 50 Year Secret is available here first for Herald Premium subscribers.
The man suspected of killing Welsh tourist Jennifer Beard 50 years ago tried to go to police but couldn't find the courage, a friend has revealed.
Reginald Wildbore also became tearful and withdrawn each year on the anniversary of Beard's disappearance, says Rosie Webb, who was about 18 when Wildbore dated her mother and moved into their family home.
Listen to the new special update episode of The 50 Year Secret podcast here, available first exclusively to Herald Premium subscribers.
Wildbore committed suicide in 2003, just days after telling his friend Ian Molloy that he had killed the 25-year-old schoolteacher.
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Beard was hitchhiking on the West Coast on New Year's Eve 1969 when she disappeared. Her body was found badly decomposed under the Haast River Bridge on January 19, 1970.
Nobody has ever been charged with her murder, but a recent Herald investigation has uncovered evidence of Wildbore's confession.
Now, former Otematata woman Webb has revealed fresh evidence pointing to Wildbore's guilt, saying he often became "depressed" around anniversaries of Beard's death.
Webb said Wildbore was in a relationship with her mother for two or three years in the early 70s in the small Canterbury town.
"Come Christmas and New Year he used to get into these moods, and sometimes he used to just bugger off for a couple of days or so and come back. It was always Christmas and New Year."
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Wildbore would never tell them where he went, and would consistently "go quiet" and become more tearful around that time.
"I remember one year when he came home from one of his disappearing acts, we were sitting on the sofa and he says 'oh I've got a lot to say, there's a lot that I could say', but he wouldn't say," Webb said.
"He'd look at me, look away, then look back, and he would say to me, 'I really need to go and speak to Mr Mitten'."
Webb and her family knew the significance of the name - Emmett Mitten was the lead detective in the Beard murder case - but she never directly asked Wildbore if it was about Beard.
"I said to him 'what do you need to say?' But once again he just looked at me and he didn't answer. He used to say 'I know something' but he'd never come out and say what."
She said Wildbore also told her he went down to the Dunedin police station a couple of times, but "couldn't find the courage to go and walk in".
She offered to go with him or take him down to the station, but he never took her up on the offer.
Webb and her mother, who has since died, used to speculate about whether it related to the Beard murder, and Webb said it was a common rumour around the town that Wildbore could have killed her.
Wildbore was always good to her and her family, and she never felt unsafe or uncomfortable with him, she said.
But she still "wouldn't be surprised" if he had committed the murder.
"I can't prove it but somewhere inside of me says that, you know, I reckon he done it [sic]."
Her brother, Brent Smith, was about 10 years old at the time Wildbore lived with them, and said he occasionally noticed Wildbore crying and acting strangely.
"I did notice him crying for no apparent reason two or three times during his time with us," said Smith, who liked Wildbore and was on friendly terms with him.
"I asked my mother several years later about it and she sort of informed me at one time while he was crying he told her he needed to speak to Detective Mitten about something."
Smith also knew about the rumours that Wildbore could have killed Beard.
"We've spoken about it over the years, I think most people in Otematata have ... It's something that sort of floated around the township."
He was not surprised when news of Wildbore's confession broke last month.
Ian Molloy told the Weekend Herald he had been friends with Wildbore for about 10 years when the secret came out.
"Quite often he'd come around in the morning," Molloy said.
"This morning he'd come around and he knocked on the door and I went out to the porch, and he just looked at me and then he just broke down crying his eyes out. And he said, 'I've done something really, really bad'. He said, 'I killed Jennifer Beard'."
Molloy said he was too "gobsmacked" to respond, instead staring at Wildbore in silence as the other man wept.
"He couldn't control himself for crying. He hung around for a little bit then he took control of himself and he just went away," he said.
"I never saw him again."
Molloy was scheduled to go north for work the following day. The next he heard of Wildbore was the news he'd committed suicide.
The day Wildbore died, he was supposed to go to the Oamaru police station, where he was to be arrested and charged with historical sex crimes against a child.
The Weekend Herald is still waiting for comment from police on the case.
One of New Zealand's largest manhunts
Beard's disappearance and death sparked a massive manhunt in the early days of 1970, with police interviewing between 50,000 and 60,000 people in relation to the investigation.
She was on a solo tramping and climbing trip in the South Island and was due to meet her fiance, Reg Williams, at Milford Sound on January 5.
Beard was last seen alive about lunchtime on December 31, 1969, catching a ride with a mystery man in a green 1954 Vauxhall.
By the time her body was found it was too decomposed to determine a cause of death, but police suspect she was strangled in a sexually motivated attack.
Head to nzherald.co.nz/50yearsecret to read more about the case.
Listen to the full series of The 50 Year Secret here
1. Gentle Giant
2. The Sleeping Woman
3. The Confession
4. The Wild West Coast
5. D-Day is Coming
6. Something in his Eyes
7. Leave it Alone
8. A Bad Feeling
10. I Need to Speak to Mitten