One of the top detectives from the Marlborough Sounds double murder case 21 years ago has revealed how police are likely to go about the cold-case investigation into the disappearance of 9-year-old Peter Boland.
Retired detective John Rae was second in command of the Operation Tam investigation into the disappearance of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope on New Year’s Day 1998. It resulted in the conviction of Scott Watson for their murder, although the bodies have never been found.
“You would basically go right back to the start,” said the former detective-sergeant, who retired in 2014.
that 62 years after Auckland boy Peter Boland disappeared from a farm that he was visiting in the Ōpōtiki area the police are investigating after receiving new information.
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Rae laid out for the Herald how the police would most likely go about that difficult task.
“You would speak to the people that were there if you can, review the site of wherever he went missing and review anything that would come into searching, any scene examinations, opinions produced, any witnesses that might have seen the boy last, or may have first noticed him missing, anything suspicious that’s come to light since then.
“There may have been phone calls to the police giving a hint or a story, or some other information.
“It would be a case of tracking all that down, which I don’t think would be very easily done, given that those records would all be hard copy; there would be no electronic records or anything back then, and it would depend how serious the case was back then.”
“You would have to look at the reason given for the boy’s disappearance – whether he had any problems of his own that may have contributed to him disappearing naturally or any hint that there was someone else involved in his disappearance.
“If at the time it was considered that it could well have been a murder I would have expected it to have been treated pretty seriously.
“There were certainly very capable detectives around and I can think of one that was in Rotorua in that era and there’s no reason to think why that person in particular would have not been doing the best job he could possibly do.”
“I don’t know the facts of the case, but certainly you would have to accumulate as many facts as you could that were taken at the time.”
As well as the boy, the background of his family and the people at the farm with him would have to be looked into.
“Any similar crimes committed in that area at the time – you would be reviewing those if at all possible too.
“Obviously if you have got exhibits – clothing or whatever else you could get DNA off – there’s a lot of historic stuff you would have to go through.
The Weekend Herald reported that it is not clear why there is no historic police record of Peter’s disappearance. The officer leading the cold case inquiry, Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto, said an investigation was long overdue.
“We’ve informed Peter’s brother Gavin and through him the wider family, that it seems things weren’t done properly from a current police perspective in 1957 and that we’re going to try to put things right now.”
Peter, of Avondale in Auckland, was reported missing from a farm in Waioeka Gorge by four men who were on the property when he disappeared. He went missing on the morning of August 31, 1957 while looking for horses near the farmhouse.
He had been taken to the farm by Ken (Kenneth) Woods, a family friend. Other men at the farm at the time were Woods’ brother-in-law Arthur Brasting, and Peter Innes Smith and Les Smith. Les Smith died in 2015 – the other three men are still alive and aged in their 80s.
Lemoto said the police intended to speak to the three men.
Peter’s parents are long dead.
Around 150 people, including police, family, farm workers and bushmen, searched for Peter for four days.
No sign of him was found – no footwear, clothes or body.
Rae said interviews with the three men would have to be carefully considered and would depend on what other evidence could be gathered.
“And that’s where the critical area lies: if it’s deemed a crime has been committed or there’s a strong suspicion a crime has been committed then I would see [the police] putting resources into it to try and solve it.”
• Anyone with any information regarding Peter Boland’s disappearance should call Bay of Plenty Police on 07 213 0328 or anonymously contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.
Barely a ripple
When Avondale school-boy Peter William Boland was reported missing in 1957 there was barely a ripple of coverage in the New Zealand media.
What would be headline news today was barely mentioned when he went missing that August day.
There was coverage in local newspaper Gisborne Herald but recent searches of the New Zealand Herald clippings archives turned up nothing. The Gisborne Photo News also featured the story on a single page.
The monthly publication – known for its black and white photos, community announcements and ‘lively’ captions – carried a series of photos of the search for Boland.
Because of the print time, it was published a month after his disappearance.
The series of five photos showed the farmland area Boland was last seen and pointed out the shallow stream he might have crossed.
The circulation was around 8000 – which meant it went to almost every local household.
The black and white photos were taken by local man G Balloch, who also lead one of the search parties.
Under the headline “Search for lost boy” the article included details on Boland’s parents and the owners of the farm he was staying at when he went missing.
The article states: “efforts to locate the boy were eventually abandoned.”
Since then the cold case has been covered in various media including the psychic crime series Sensing Murder.