Kirsty Bentley cold case: Murdered teen's best friend haunted by final goodbye

The best friend of murdered Ashburton schoolgirl Kirsty Bentley, who was with her hours before she disappeared, remains haunted by her final wave goodbye.

Lee-Anne Murray, who hung out with Bentley on New Year's Eve 1998, is hopeful that the killer will finally be brought to justice, with police last week offering a $100,000 reward to help solve the 24-year cold case mystery.

Murray (née Jellyman), a married 40-year-old mother who lives in Christchurch, has spoken to the Herald about the impact her close friend's death has had on her life.

"Unfortunately, as a teenager, I feel I lost a lot of that innocence and naïvety that comes with being a 16-year-old," says Murray.

"I kept a lot of the trauma pushed to the back of my mind, until 10 years later when it really hit me and I needed some professional support."

Lee-Anne Murray (née Jellyman) and her best friend Kirsty Bentley getting dressed up to visit KFC...
Lee-Anne Murray (née Jellyman) and her best friend Kirsty Bentley getting dressed up to visit KFC. Photo: Supplied
On December 31, 1998, Bentley caught up with her best friend Murray for some shopping in their Mid Canterbury hometown of Ashburton.

They lounged in the library before going to the Warehouse and some other shops around town.

"She wanted to get her favourite body spray, which I can smell right now thinking about it," Murray says.

"We talked about school, boys, the rest of the holidays, her coming to the races with me and dad the next day – we were teenage girls so we talked about a lot of stuff! I don't have a clue what I ate, but I remember we had milkshakes.

"Her mood was very Kirsty, and those that knew her know exactly what I mean. Lots of laughing, giggles and smiles."

Kirsty Bentley's last known movements. Image: NZ Herald
Kirsty Bentley's last known movements. Image: NZ Herald
Around early afternoon, they parted ways, thinking they would see each other the following day.

Bentley, who arrived back at the family's South St home at about 2.30pm before taking her black labrador-cross Abby for a walk, was never seen again.

The next day, Abby was found tied to a tree near the Ashburton River, and the teen's underwear was nearby – a scene that Detective Inspector Greg Murton, who is now in charge of the cold-case file and working on a "stranger-type abduction" theory involving a loner killer who lived locally, believes was staged by the killer.

Her body was discovered two weeks later in the Rakaia River gorge, 40 kilometres away.

Murray often recalls Bentley's smile and final wave goodbye that fateful afternoon.

"That's stuck with me," she says.

"I think about Kirsty a lot, especially now that I am married and a mum. I think about how unfair it is that she missed out on all of it.

"I don't think there is anyone that was there at the time that doesn't think about it."

Kirsty Bentley with Abby. Photo: File
Kirsty Bentley with Abby. Photo: File
But Murray still cherishes the shared memories they had together, and the good times.

She recalls passing notes in maths class about the boys they liked; spending hours discussing their favourite band, Backstreet Boys; Bentley often biking out to her house on the outskirts of town; and one night, dressing up in their best clothes, putting on mascara and lip gloss, and going to KFC for tea.

"We thought we were the bee's knees," she says.

"There are photos of her and I from that night, and it makes my heart happy when I look at them."

Murray doesn't have a clue who killed her best friend.

But she's hopeful that one day they will be caught.

"It would bring some peace, and closure - not closure to forget about her, but that she can finally lay at rest, as we [would] know who took her from us."

-By Kurt Bayer







Local trusted journalism matters - now more than ever

As the Covid-19 pandemic brings the world into uncharted waters, Star Media journalists and photographers continue to report local stories that matter everyday - yours.

For more than 152 years our journalists have provided Cantabrians with local news that can be trusted. It’s more important now than ever to keep Cantabrians connected.

As our advertising has fallen during the pandemic, support from you our reader is crucial.

You can help us continue to provide local news you can trust simply by becoming a supporter.

Become a Supporter