Iraena Asher likely drowned, police tell coroner
The behaviour of missing Auckland woman Iraena Asher grew increasingly bizarre and erratic in the days before she disappeared, which likely culminated in her death by drowning, police have today told a coroner's inquest.
The start of the inquest into the trainee teacher's death comes almost eight years after she disappeared from Piha, on Auckland's west coast, in the early hours of October 11, 2004. Today would have been her 33rd birthday.
The 25-year-old part-time model was last seen standing naked under a streetlight during a blustery storm.
Police counsel Simon Moore told Coroner Peter Ryan that Asher, a "striking" woman and the second of four girls born to parents Mike and Betty, was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder in her mid-teens.
Though Asher kept the condition under control with Lithium tablets, it could be exacerbated by stress, causing a "relapse" of unpredictable and bizarre behaviour, Moore said.
In the week before her disappearance Asher had gone through a nasty break-up with her boyfriend Julian Dyson, which included him writing expletives on their bedroom wall and burning her clothes and photographs.
Asher had also begun a new relationship, with her flatmate's brother which had caused friction between her and Dyson.
Asher had gone with her boyfriend to a friend's house at Piha on the morning of October 10, and spent the day drinking and smoking a small amount of cannabis.
Officer in charge of the original investigation, Detective Senior Sergeant John Sutton, told the court how during that day Asher began to act strangely, including dancing around the house with no clothes on, and once running away to the beach where she was found by a passer-by and brought back to the house.
Later, around 9pm, she ran away again, calling police who refused to send a car for her, instead calling a taxi.
She was picked up by passers by, Julia Woodhouse and her son Henry, and taken to their home. They gave Asher a shower and some food, then put her to bed. But at 1am she fled the house into a storm.
Asher was last seen naked, under a streetlight by Zachary Nixon and his girlfriend Simone Ross. They hid and watched her "address" the streetlight, Sutton told the court. She then appeared to kneel down, and kiss the ground, before turning towards the beach.
"They followed her. The last they saw her as she moved toward the beam of the last streetlight near the beach. They were astonished she seemed to disappear into the darkness," Moore said.
A "massive" search found no sign of Asher. Police suspected she may have been "self-medicating", but could not establish that fully, Sutton said.
However, he believed her erratic behaviour was the sign of a full manic episode.
Sutton said the most likely scenario was that Asher had walked into the sea and drowned. Two other possibilities - that she had gone into the bush, or met with foul play - could not be substantiated, he said.
The inquest continues with the evidence of her boyfriend and friends this afternoon.