Death of missing man remains mystery

Christopher James Bates
Christopher James Bates
The circumstances surrounding the death of a man who disappeared in 2018 will probably never be known, a coroner says.

On February 11, 10 days after his 22nd birthday, Christopher James Bates left his family home in the Central Otago town and never returned.

Despite extensive searches by police, family and friends, his body has never been found.

In her report released today, coroner Heather McKenzie said she could not make definitive findings about the date, location or cause of Mr Bates’ death.

He had spent the summer living at home and working on orchards after graduating from the University of Otago with an accounting degree the previous December.

He had interviewed for accounting jobs in Dunedin, and his parents felt he was not concerned about finding employment.

Evidence from his friends suggested his main stressors in life were finding a job and missing his former girlfriend, whom he had separated from in 2015.

One described him as a "positive person, a real joker and light-hearted", but put pressure on himself, and was focused on being successful.

He had some anxiety, but seemed able to deal with it.

Ms McKenzie said the evening before Mr Bates disappeared, he began crying while socialising with friends.

He would not say why he was upset, telling them they would not understand.

After returning home the next morning, he spent a couple of hours in his room before telling his father he was going out to see a friend and go swimming in the river.

He was seen on CCTV buying cigarettes at a petrol station about 4pm that afternoon, and although no-one saw him, he apparently returned home because his wallet and the bank card he used to buy the cigarettes were later found in his room.

He was not reported missing until four days later because it was not unusual for him to go away without telling family.

There was no evidence of him contacting anyone, using his phone or using banking services after his disappearance on February 11.

The last signal from his phone was received on the morning of February 12.

Analysis of the computer in his bedroom showed he watched five videos relating to suicide some time between February 10 and 12.

A report from the University of Otago’s medical centre recorded him presenting with possible anxiety and depression in mid-July, about two months after separating from his girlfriend.

He had been upset about something on the evening of February 10, Ms McKenzie said.

"However, I cannot draw any safe inferences from these matters on the available evidence".

Police carried out extensive searches in and around Alexandra, including the Manuherikia and Clutha rivers, Lake Roxburgh and other water bodies, as well as forests and farmland in the area.