Dogs alert walkers to owner's body in Waikato River
Beth Christina Winfield was playing with her beloved dogs at a popular reserve spot on the way to her Hamilton parents' home when she mysteriously ended up dead in the Waikato River.
It was a place she frequented to let her much-loved dogs Bindi and Toby have a run around.
Both animals were found agitated and panting on the river bank next to where the 23-year-old Hamilton woman's body was found on Wednesday afternoon.
Residents had seen the animals running back and forth with leads flying behind, sparking concerns something was amiss at the reserve at Ann Street, not far from Hamilton's CBD.
Around 4pm, her body was discovered in the water next to an overhanging tree.
Winfield's own black Subaru was found parked nearby on the grass reserve.
Police are treating the death as "unexplained" and cordoned off the grass areas as they pieced together what unfolded at the popular walking and cycling track under grey skies on Wednesday afternoon.
Winfield was believed to have been throwing a ball and playing with her dogs.
Loud music was reported to have been coming from the vehicle throughout the afternoon, Waikato police said in a statement.
They are now appealing for any sightings of the black Subaru station wagon in the Beerescourt area and reserve on Wednesday.
Beth Winfield's mother, Carole Winfield, and sister Lily Hoebers were at the reserve on Thursday, trying to make sense of her death.
"We're just trying to figure things out. We have no idea what's happened.
"This was either an accident or something has happened to her."
Beth Winfield, whose family are originally from England, grew up in Hamilton and attended St Columba's Primary School and Sacred Heart Girls' College.
Family said Beth loved her dogs and would never leave them unattended. She frequented the Ann Street park to play with the pair.
Having dogs of their own and unable to take on any more, family members are now trying to figure out what to do with Bindi and Toby, who were retrieved by animal control officers and taken to the pound.
They would be willing to give them up to a new home, Hoebers said.
An Ann Street resident noticed the dogs about 4.30pm.
"There were dogs - one brown, one black - running around on leashes before the police arrived.
"It seemed strange that they were running around with their leads and we couldn't see anyone, just some walkers coming.
"They obviously knew. They were up and down the bank all the time, yapping, then someone took control of them."
Police arrived shortly after the body was found by a passer-by. They set up large cordons on the river walkway about 5pm.
"There were lots of police - it was all cordoned off," the resident said.
"There were a lot of walkers going by, too, so they were diverted."
The woman said the cordons were reduced after officers, with the help of a police boat, retrieved the body from the river.
Police later went door to door to check if residents were okay, she said.
Detectives from Hamilton police's CIB unit conducted a scene examination at the river on Thursday and a post-mortem is being conducted in Auckland, which family hoped would shed light on Beth Winfield's death.
Anyone with information can contact Detective Sergeant Terri Wilson of the Hamilton CIB on (07) 858 6200 or anonymously via Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.