Police reopen 62-year-old missing child case

Gavin Boland holds a picture of his missing brother, Peter. Photo: NZ Herald
Gavin Boland holds a picture of his missing brother, Peter. Photo: NZ Herald
Nine-year-old Peter Boland was on holiday when he vanished without trace. Now, 62 years later, police are finally investigating one of NZ's most baffling cold cases. Noreen Hegarty reports.

Police are investigating the mysterious disappearance and likely death of a 9-year-old boy - more than 60 years after he went missing.

Peter Boland disappeared in August 1957 at a farm near Ōpōtiki in the eastern Bay of Plenty and no trace of him has ever been found.

It is one of New Zealand's oldest cold cases and police are investigating now because they received new information late last year.

The story of Peter's disappearance featured on the TV psychic show Sensing Murder in 2017.

Peter was staying at Oponae with family friends. Photo / Supplied
Peter was staying at Oponae with family friends. Photo / Supplied
The boy, from Avondale in Auckland, was on holiday at a farm in the Waioeka Gorge and was reported missing by four men who were on the property when he disappeared. The men - three of whom are still alive and are now aged in their 80s - say Peter went missing on the morning of August 31, 1957, while looking for horses near the farmhouse.

The four men are Ken (Kenneth) Woods, his brother-in-law Arthur Brasting and Peter Innes Smith. Les Smith, a friend of Arthur's, died in 2015.

"We intend to speak to the three surviving men who were at the farm at the time and who we understand are the only known witnesses to Peter's disappearance," officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Sergeant Rob Lemoto, said.

Police say they are determined to find out what happened to Peter, and have told his family they want to "put right" the apparent failure to investigate properly in 1957.

"The fact no trace of a healthy, intelligent, 9-year-old boy who had been taken to the farm with family friend Ken Woods was ever found, should have been cause for greater concern at the time," Lemoto said.

"No footwear, no clothes, apparently no footprints and definitely no body. That's very unusual, particularly given the stories the men reportedly told of the time Peter went missing - looking for horses in the morning, just a kilometre or so from the farm house."

Peter's family has been fighting to uncover the truth about his disappearance for years and his brother Gavin, 72, said it was beyond his "wildest dreams" that police were now investigating.

"This latest news . . . would make my mother cry if she was still alive," he told the Weekend Herald.

Their parents, Neville and Nell, died in 1971 and 2001 respectively, without ever knowing what happened to their young son.

"I know my mother felt that something untoward happened to Peter and those thoughts are the same as mine."

All these years later, Gavin Boland still hopes for justice.

"I would like to find out what happened and, if it was an abduction or murder, I would like to see the person punished."

It is not clear why there is no historic police record of the boy's disappearance, and Lemoto concedes the investigation is 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.

"It is complicated by the passage of time and passing of potential witnesses but we are determined to find out exactly what happened to Peter in 1957.

"At the very least, I would dearly love to be able to locate Peter's remains so that, finally, he could rest in peace with his parents at the Waikumete Cemetery in Auckland."

One of the men who was at the farm at the time, Arthur Brasting, told the Weekend Herald he had spoken to police several times and had "given them lots of information", including an aerial map of the farm as it was in 1957.

He said he would like to know what had happened to Peter.

When asked where he thought the boy was, he said: "Gone. We had hundreds of people there searching all over the farm and we dived every hole in the river but found no sight nor sign of him.

"If anyone deliberately or accidentally did him in they did a bloody good job of hiding him."

Brasting said his theory about the boy's disappearance had changed over the years.

The Waioeka Gorge near where Peter went missing. Photo: NZ Herald
The Waioeka Gorge near where Peter went missing. Photo: NZ Herald

However: "I'm not interested in theories, only proof and that can only come from one or two people.

"I said what I had to say [to police] and pointed them in the direction of who was there at the time."

Brasting said he had spent time talking to those connected to the case in the aftermath of the Sensing Murder episode, even travelling to Australia to visit Peter Innes-Smith, and meeting Peter's brother Gavin. He said he did so because he had been unhappy about some aspects of what happened on the show.

The tragedy has had a big impact on the families, and Brasting and Woods no longer speak to each other.

Woods' wife and Brasting's sister Noeleen said her husband had nothing further to add to what he had already told police.

Innes-Smith told the Weekend Herald he was aware of the police investigation, and was awaiting more information. He said he would be "very interested to know what happened to the boy".

Lemoto is urging anyone with information to contact police.

"We'd love to hear from anyone who has information that might assist the investigation into 9-year-old Peter William Boland's disappearance and likely death at or in the vicinity of Oponae in August 1957."

Media reports at the time say Police from Gisborne, Ōpōtiki, Kawerau, Whakatāne and Matawai, along with up to 150 farm workers, family members, bushmen, volunteers and returned servicemen searched for the boy for four days, but no sign of him was ever found.

Gavin Boland said his brother's disappearance had troubled him all his life.

"I've had this underlying feeling that people I get close to might disappear and never come back."

• 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.

• Noreen Hegarty is a former police communications manager and was the researcher who worked on the Sensing Murder episodes about Peter Boland.

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