Naming victim first step in finding killer

KIRSTY JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 03/06/2012
Port waikato
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
Police examine the site where a skeleton was found at Port Waikato.

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About 10 years ago, a young woman was murdered and buried at an isolated beach. The discovery of her skeleton means the painstaking work of catching a killer can begin.

In the days after a human skull was sniffed out by a dog at Port Waikato, police took dozens of calls from families hoping for something most people would never wish for.

"Have you considered it might be my loved one?" they asked. "My daughter? My wife?"

The most tragic part, Detective Inspector Mark Gutry says, is having to tell them "no".

"It's a very sad situation for people who don't know where their family member is," he said. "I've had to say to some people, `I'm sorry, I don't think they will be one."'

The skeleton, found by a dog-walker in the sand at the end of a vacant property on May 23, is yet to be linked to a missing person. Until it is, police cannot hope to find who put her there.

The day she was uncovered only her skull was visible, its yellowed bone and white teeth exposed high on a new sand dune where recent waves had scraped away the layers of her grave.

A pathologist and an ESR team spent hours extracting her bones, taking extreme care to preserve any evidence.

A specialist search group then sifted through 30 tonnes of surrounding sand.

Gutry says little was found, other than remnants of the clothes the woman was wearing when she was buried.

"But they're very degraded. Some are just threads."

It was at the post-mortem police were able to learn more about the victim.

She was young, between 15 and 25, and likely European.

The findings helped Gutry and his team cut their list of 104 missing people to 30.

"At first we took a wide view, to make sure we didn't miss anyone out," he said. "It was very conservative."

Each person on the list now, fits the profile in some way. Some of the names are likely well-known – Iraena Asher, Jayne Furlong, Judy Yorke, Sara Neithe – but Gutry will not speculate. But he's confident the name is on his list.

"What's going to do it will be the forensics, plus dental records. If it doesn't match, then we can approach families and look at getting family members to supply DNA."

Gutry says while the investigation may seem painstaking, it has to be. "Hopefully at the end of this process we will be able to tell one family that their daughter has been found. So we want to make sure we're right.

"Identification is a big part of the investigation. The first step is to find out who she is. Then it's about how she came to be there."

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