Hardest part is not knowing

Police believe the remains of Timothy Pridding may be somewhere at Trotters Gorge. PHOTO: GREGOR...
Police believe the remains of Timothy Pridding may be somewhere at Trotters Gorge. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Imagine saying goodbye to your son, only to later realise it was the last time you would ever see him alive. That was the reality for a Dunedin couple, whose son has been missing for quarter of a century. Daisy Hudson reports.

For  years, George and Betty Pridding would be out for a drive, or running errands, when they would catch a glimpse of someone and pull their car to the side of the road.

It might have been a shock of blond hair. It might have been a familiar expression.

Whatever it was, it was enough to make them think they had spotted their son walking along the footpath.

Their hearts would leap, hope would blossom, and then, every time, be crushed just as quickly.

Because 25 years after they last saw him, Dunedin man Timothy Pridding remains missing.

"It’s been a long time, and a lot’s happened since," his father said.

Now 95 years old, Mr Pridding lives alone in his immaculate Mosgiel home.

George and the late Betty Pridding, pictured in 2003, share memories of better times with their...
George and the late Betty Pridding, pictured in 2003, share memories of better times with their family before son Timothy disappeared. PHOTO: OTAGO DAILY TIMES
His wife, Betty, died about five years ago. She never knew what happened to their only son.

Mr Pridding believed he would do the same.

"There’s no resolution to it," he said.

"Five years ago, I lost my wife, but I know where she is; I can go there.

"With Timothy of course, it’s just nothing."

Timothy (34) was declared dead by a coroner in early 2003, eight years after his 1994 disappearance.

His body has never been found.

In November 1994, the Priddings had a holiday home in Central Otago and were spending the weekend there.

Timothy told them he would head through to stay with them on the Saturday, but never arrived.

Timothy Pridding
Timothy Pridding
That was when his parents first knew something was wrong.

"When he didn’t come up, and we came back on the Monday, we got quite concerned because we hadn’t heard from him," Mr Pridding said.

"If he said he was going to do something, he would do it. That’s what made us very suspicious about his disappearance."

When they returned to their home at Fairfield, Mr Pridding decided it was time to go to the police.

When asked about the initial investigation, the softly-spoken Mr Pridding appeared uncharacteristically angry.

"I don’t want to talk about that.

"I wasn’t impressed."

When senior Dunedin detectives became involved, the investigation improved, he said.

But years passed without any answers.

Then came the coronial hearing into Timothy’s disappearance in 2003.

"It was bloody awful," Mr Pridding said bluntly.

"It was the most depressing thing that I’ve ever done."

He knew the coroner at the time, Jim Conradson, whom he found "very helpful".

But hearing the police evidence about his son was "uncomfortable".

It’s true that the evidence did not paint an entirely positive picture of their son.

Police believed Timothy was a small-time drug dealer, who was killed after racking up drug debts.

Mr Pridding knew nothing about his son being involved with drugs.

But, he admitted, his son was no angel.

"Timothy was a human being, he had his faults. We all have. I’ve got plenty.

"He smoked a bit, he was a smoker, but as for anything other than cigarette smoking, we never saw any sign of that."

The Timothy he remembered was a hard-working mechanic who was close to his mum, and who had a way with the ladies.

"He got on with everybody, he was particularly sociable with the girls. He was quite an attractive boy, blond hair, he was really quite popular.

"He used to call in every couple of weeks. He was quite close to both of us, but particularly to his mother."

While he believed his son was dead, the coronial ruling had not brought any closure.

He still said his son had disappeared, rather than saying he had been killed.

"They’ve said that the evidence indicates he’s somewhere, passed. But that doesn’t end it because I don’t know that.

"You’ve seen nothing physical to say that."

He still gets flashbacks about the days following Timothy’s disappearance.

"There’s a hole left there that was never filled in Betty’s case and won’t be in mine."

That was the hardest part about the whole thing — the not knowing.

It is clear the decades of uncertainty and dashed hopes have taken their toll.

Mr Pridding was open about the fact he believed the case would never be solved.

"It can’t be solved now.

"I lived through the war, I know how these things are."

There was perhaps a small glimmer of optimism in his voice when he said: "I do think that there are people who do know."

So what would he say to those people, after all these years?

"I’d just like to know where he is, that’s all."

daisy.hudson@odt.co.nz

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