Two hikers who found the ute of missing Marlborough woman Jessica Boyce abandoned in a forest park say they advised police to bring sniffer dogs.
But the first time police used dogs in the search for Boyce, 27, was when they took cadaver dogs to the site two weeks later. Cadaver dogs are used to sniff out bodies.
Shanelle Rutledge was hiking with her husband and child at Lake Chalice, in Mount Richmond Forest Park, 90 minutes west of Blenheim, on March 22, when they saw the red Holden ute.
Not sure if they should be “grieving or waiting”, Jess Boyce’s family cling to hope when things seem hopeless.
But it wasn’t until they returned from their hike, about three hours later, that they decided to take a closer look.
Inside, Rutledge found Boyce’s wallet and phone, with no sim card, and remembered the Facebook post she saw that morning saying Boyce had gone missing, with a picture of a red ute.
The car was unlocked and both the front windows were down. Rutledge rang Boyce’s mother Kay Johnstone, who rang police.
“Kay rang the police and we waited for them to call us. On the phone to us, the police were um-ing and ah-ing about sending a crew out,” Rutledge said.
Police were unsure whether to send sniffer dogs, she said.
“We said the bush there was thick, and we said they would need dogs. My husband is an experienced hunter and I know the bush fairly well,” she said.
“We assumed they would brings dogs up while the truck was there, but we’re not sure if they did.”
The first dogs used by police in the search for Boyce were cadaver dogs on April 4.
A police spokeswoman said police made the “usual forensic inquiries” in their search for Boyce, which included checking bank accounts, phones and making inquiries about relevant vehicles.
“A number of people, some of whom have known Jessica over the years, have been spoken to,” she said.
“The scene at Lake Chalice has been revisited by a specialist dog search team, and areas of interest have been searched.”
Boyce was last seen on March 19, driving away in her mother’s red Holden ute, and was reported missing on March 22.
Police and LandSAR searched the forest park and its huts but suspended their efforts on March 26 until more information came forward.
Boyce’s family later turned their attentions to Nelson and Motueka in case Boyce had travelled over there.
Rutledge had worked with Boyce at a Blenheim cafe two years ago.
“We were shouting to see if she was around. For us to be there and not hear anything when we shouted was a bit stumping. It makes you think what’s happened,” she said.
The couple stayed with the ute for another 90 minutes, until 9.30pm, Rutledge said. They received a call from police about 11pm.
“I personally went in [to the Blenheim Police Station] the week after to see if they wanted my fingerprints, as obviously our fingerprints were all over the car, but they weren’t interested,” she said.
“They aren’t treating it as suspicious.”
She wasn’t sure how that made her feel, as it had been “a long time” since Boyce went missing, she said.
Rutledge had been following Boyce’s case since she and her husband found the vehicle.
“I think the 300 square metre area that [search and rescue teams] searched was not good enough,” Rutledge said.
“I know they searched the rivers around it as well, but the 300sqm needed to be wider, especially in that terrain.”
She took some of Boyce’s family up to where she found the ute on March 24.
“Once the cops took the vehicle away, I was one of the only people who knew where it had been,” she said.
The website ‘Help Find Jess’ was set up by her family earlier this month so people could write in anonymously.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Blenheim police on 03 578 5279. Alternatively, anonymous tips can be passed on to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.