Wellington Police have identified human remains recovered earlier this year as those of a man who went missing in March 1986.
John Holmes Smith, who was 76 years-old at the time, had left his home in Kenya Street, Ngaio on the 20th March 1986 for a short walk but did not return home. He was fit and healthy, although known to be prone to some mental confusion.
A significant search operation was conducted at the time, involving over 70 staff and volunteers, however Mr Smith was never found. The case was referred to the Coroner in August 1986, with a finding that Mr Smith died on or about 20 March 1986.
On the 15th of February this year, Wellington police were alerted by a member of the public after human remains were found in a bush covered gully near Captain Edward Daniel Drive in Ngaio. The remains were recovered and sent for forensic testing. DNA results received last week have confirmed the identity as that of Mr Smith.
The cause of Mr Smith’s death remains unknown, although there are no obvious signs of trauma or foul play.
Wellington City Area Commander Chris Bensemann says Police are happy to finally be able to bring some closure to Mr Smith’s family.
“The search operation at the time of Mr Smith’s disappearance was significant, involving a concerted effort by police and volunteers, aerial searches and foot patrols of the Ngaio and Wilton Bush areas.
“His family have endured nearly 30 years of uncertainty since his disappearance, but the DNA results received last week mean they are finally able to get some closure.”
Issued by Amy Stewart-Badger, PNHQ on 021 192 2906
Statement from Stafford Smith (John’s son) on behalf of the Smith family:
“Finding Dad’s remains bring closure for our family. Dad loved walking and regularly walked in bush around the Ngaio area. While Dad was physically healthy, he did suffer from some mental confusion and we feared he had fallen or lost his way in the bush.
Dad was a highly intelligent engineer and a well respected member of the community. He was a much-loved husband, father and grandfather and it’s sad he died alone. We are pleased we can now lay him to rest. There will be a private cremation and we will have a family service for him later.
The family would like to thank the police for their support at the time he went missing and now, since he was found in February.”