OPINION: She was a mum of three who went out one night and never came back.
Now, almost a decade after she was last seen, Sara Niethe's killer, former boyfriend Mark Pakenham, has pleaded guilty to her manslaughter after originally being charged with her murder.
Sara lived in the tiny Hauraki Plains town of Kerepehi, only a few minutes from where I was stationed as a reporter at a community paper back in 2003.
The police effort at the time was huge. Kilometres of rural roadsides were searched, swampy rivers were scoured, all for any tiny clue of what might have happened. Apart from some CCTV footage of her in a Ngatea service station, nothing came up.
There were television appeals via Police Ten-7 and even psychic crime show Sensing Murder had a go at solving the crime.
But the trail quickly got cold. On each anniversary of her disappearance, media would catch up with Sara's mum, Eileen Marbeck, a lovely English woman who now had to raise her grandchildren and somehow try to explain to them what had happened.
I would often see her outside my office, bringing the children to town for lunch or for shopping. The mysterious disappearance weighed heavily on her mind and you could see how much it had affected her. It was a sad sight to see.
The last person to have seen Sara alive was Mark Pakenham. Police had to wait almost eight years after the disappearance before they could press any charges against him.
Credit must be given to two senior police officers, Detective Sergeant Glenn Dunbier, and now-Bay of Plenty Superintendent Glenn Tinsley, who never gave up on the case. Solving this crime must also give victims left behind in other "cold cases" some hope.
After so long it is almost hard to comprehend someone has been caught and held to justice.
The next step is for Pakenham to let police know where Sara's body is. He owes it to Eileen and her grandchildren. It's the very least he could do now for putting so many people through a decade of pain.
Sports stories have leapt off the back page on to the front page recently, all for a variety of incredible, bizarre and tragic reasons. Among them are Lance Armstrong's confession, the almost unbelievable case of American footballer Manti Te'o and his fake girlfriend, the Aussie drugs in sport scandal and now Oscar Pistorius, the pin-up boy of the Paralympics being charged with the murder of his partner in South Africa. It really has been an unprecedented series of events in world sport. It makes our cricket captaincy issues seem very tame by comparison.
- Manawatu Standard
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