The disappearance of Jim Donnelly: 'There are more questions than answers'by Paloma Migone
Jim Donnelly's behaviour grew increasingly erratic, and then he vanished. Now his wife Tracey wonders if police and his employer did enough to help find him.
The father-of-two, 43, worked at the Glenbrook Steel Mill, south of Auckland, for nearly 20 years.
His wife, Tracey, is still trying to find out what happened to him; she believes the answer lies in the mill where he was last seen alive.
“There has been no sighting of him apart from inside the mill. There has been no sighting of him leaving. There has been no sighting of him since he was seen on the gantry,” she says.
“It makes me incredibly sad and upset that this wonderful person who was my husband and the father of my children disappeared without a trace.”
The couple’s children, Liam and Siobhan, were aged seven and five, when Jim disappeared. They are now grown up.
On the day Jim went missing, Tracey called him at work about 8am and became increasingly worried when she didn’t hear back. Jim had missed a 9am meeting at work and was nowhere to be found, yet his car was still parked at the mill carpark. He was reported missing about 6pm.
Tracey believed he may have had an accident, but the theory shifted. Search and rescue teams thought he may have had a mental breakdown and was actively evading them.
Jim had been behaving strangely in the days before his disappearance. Tracey and Jim had planned to spend the night at an Auckland hotel on the Saturday, but out of nowhere he said he had a meeting to go to.
Saturday night meeting made no sense to Tracey, but no matter how hard she tried to find out more, Jim wouldn’t tell her where he was going. He hired a suit and headed off. It’s still not clear why he needed the suit.
Things between the pair didn’t get any better the next day, when again Jim said he had to divert a “crisis and a waste”. Tracey was confused.
Some of his co-workers described Jim’s behaviour as strange on the Monday too.
Five days after Jim was last seen at work, workers at the mill found his hard hat next to an acid tank in a restricted area of the mill - the area had already been searched.
The tank was drained and some of Jim’s things were found inside. The acid wasn’t strong enough to do significant damage. His house keys have never been found.
Who put Jim’s things there? That question remains unanswered. The hard hat wasn’t tested for fingerprints.
The search for Jim was eventually scaled back.
Police investigating his disappearance looked into four scenarios: an accident, a suicide, a staged disappearance and foul play.
David Glossop, the area commander of Counties Manukau west area, investigated Jim's case in 2008.
“Every other investigation into missing persons or into homicide, you can anchor yourself around some facts,” he says.
“In Jim Donnelly’s case, there are more questions than answers and there continues to be more questions than answers. Everything is possible in this life. Those four scenarios …. Each and every one of those is still an option.”
Tracey doesn’t think police did enough at the time to investigate Jim’s disappearance. Mill workers were only interviewed on a voluntary basis; police officers were escorted throughout the search.
She also feels the mill has been less than cooperative, including refusing access to a private investigator Tracey wanted to hire. She feels they failed to protect a staff member and have yet to be held accountable.
Mill-owner New Zealand Steel refused to be interviewed for the podcast, but in a statement took issue with Tracey’s frustrations, saying it cooperated fully with the police investigation including “full searches of our site” and support for those affected.
“NZ Steel has not received any further queries from authorities since the original investigation, but would of course be willing to help if that changed”
“To me, it’s completely illogical,” says Tracey. “I’ve always been brought up to think that there’s a logical explanation for everything and it all comes out in good time.
“I’d like some answers. I’d like to know why I’ve have to live through this, and my children have had to live without their dad.”
Do you have any information on Jim’s whereabouts?
Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111
Counties Manukau police: 09 261 1300
This article was originally published by RNZ.
The biggest cohort of baby boomers is reaching retirement age – and many are not planning a quiet dotage.Read more
Once a year, the Wild West saddles up and rides into Waimamaku for a day of highway robbery.Read more
No government on their own can fix the problems facing Māori in the Far North, warns Local Hero of the Year Ricky Houghton.Read more