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 in Paeroa at the Hauraki Herald 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.
The trail quickly went cold.
Over the years there were television appeals via Police Ten-7 and even psychic crime show Sensing Murder had a go at solving the mystery.
On each anniversary of her disappearance, media would catch up with Sara's mum, Eileen Marbeck, a lovely Englishwoman who 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 to go shopping. The mysterious disappearance weighed heavily on her and you could see how much it had affected her.
The last person to have seen Sara alive was her former boyfriend, 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, of Waihi CIB, 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.
- Warwick Rasmussen is a former Waikato Times and Hauraki Herald reporter who is deputy editor of the Manawatu Standard
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