New eyes on homicide cold case

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014
Kirsty Bentley
Supplied
TEENAGER: Kirsty Bentley was just 15 when she died in 1998.

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The investigator who led the "Black Widow" Helen Milner inquiry has taken over one of the South Island's longest-running and high-profile cold cases.

Detective Inspector Greg Murton has been handed the unsolved Kirsty Bentley homicide file, previously held by Detective Inspector Greg Williams.

Kirsty, 15, disappeared on December 31, 1998, while walking her dog on the Ashburton riverbank.

Her dog, Abby, was found the following day, tied to a tree. Kirsty's underwear was nearby, but police are convinced she was attacked elsewhere. There was no DNA found at the scene.

Her body was found two weeks later near the Rakaia Gorge, about 50 kilometres from Ashburton.

She had suffered a massive blow to the back of the head, possibly from a long weapon.

Among the suspects police considered were Kirsty's older brother, John, and her father, Sid. Both deny any involvement in her disappearance.

Murton is the third inspector to lead the case. He took over the file because Williams works at Police National Headquarters in Wellington.

Murton said the Bentley murder could be deemed a cold case, but "these files are never closed, or filed".

Murton had not worked on the Bentley homicide, but a handover had taken place and he was "very familiar" with the case.

Fresh inquiries would be carried out only as new information came in, he said.

"If there is a breakthrough, then I'll be following up on it."

Sid Bentley, 63, who still lives in Ashburton, said it was his dying wish to see his daughter's killers caught.

Due to oesophagus cancer and other health problems, he was unsure how long he had left.

"It borderlines on bitterness, really, that they've got away with it. But at the same time, after all this time, I don't think they've [police] got a show in catching him. Unless something strange happens.

"They've got nothing to chase, I don't think. They've got no leads. To be honest, I don't hold out a lot of hope."

Retired British policeman and child-murder expert Chuck Burton believed Kirsty's death was the result of a youthful-type assault, while the state of the body suggested a strong link between the offender and Kirsty.

She was carried down a bank, rather than thrown, and her body placed in the foetal position, with her clothes arranged neatly, respectfully covering her.

Murton said Sid Bentley, who was unclear about what he did on the afternoon his daughter disappeared, "hasn't been eliminated from the inquiry - like a lot of people".

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Sid Bentley said he and John were estranged and had not spoken in 12 years. He and Kirsty's mother, Jill Peachey, are divorced. She has remarried and lives in Invercargill.

"She [Kirsty] really was the apple of my eye. I would take any chance that came along to find out the truth," Sid Bentley said.

Murton launched the homicide inquiry which led to Milner's arrest for murdering her husband, Philip Nisbet.

He decided to review the file after a coroner found no evidence that Nisbet intended to commit suicide.

Milner has appealed against her guilty conviction, which will be heard in Wellington in July.

 

OFFICERS IN CHARGE

1998-1999: Detective Senior Sergeant Lance Corcoran, who ran the initial missing person phase of the inquiry.

1999: Detective Inspector John Winter, who ran the criminal investigation in the following months.

1999-2014: Detective Inspector Greg Williams. Police had the case reviewed by top international criminal profiler, retired British police inspector Chuck Burton.

2014-: Detective Inspector Greg Murton. 

- The Press

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