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Fresh tips in suspected cold case murder of Auckland teen

A North & South story has sparked new information in a 30-year-old cold case. Donna Chisholm reports.

Police are following up several new tips in the suspected cold case murder of Auckland teen Joanne “Joe” Chatfield after publicity in North & South magazine and the offer of a $50,000 reward.

North & South revisited her disappearance in its December issue, in which police revealed startling new information about what had happened the night she went missing after a concert at Auckland University on November 19, 1988. They disclosed that another young woman at the same concert was abducted at knifepoint and raped hours before Chatfield vanished. They believe the incidents are linked.

Acting detective inspector Shaun Vickers of Counties Manukau CIB, who is overseeing the investigation with Detective Len Leleni, says police are working through the new information and the inquiries could take up some time, especially given the recent spate of shootings in South Auckland. Some informants had given names of possible suspects.

“There is some new information we didn’t have either at the time of the disappearance or at the second investigation (the file was reopened in 2005) that we are interested in and looking to develop,” says Vickers. He says police are determined to do everything possible to confirm Chatfield’s fate. “We have not given up hope and we have been able to solve similar cases in the past where new information has been brought to our attention decades later.”

Joe Chatfield (left) and her friends Jenny Stone and Lisa Heath shared a passion for animal rights. This photograph was taken in central Auckland on March 1988, eight months before Joe disappeared, as they collected signatures on Queen St for a petition opposing vivisection.

The reward, which was offered for six months, lapsed on May 4 without being claimed but Vickers says it can still be paid out if the information provided before that time leads to an arrest.

Leleni believes the man who abducted and raped the woman on the night of the concert is likely to be responsible for Chatfield’s disappearance. “If we find one, there is a good chance we will find the other. For something like that to happen on that night, at that time, what are the chances? And it’s the most obvious connection. We have to be careful not to say they are one and the same. But you could say with a reasonable degree of confidence that there could be a connection between them.”

The woman had been too traumatised by the attack at the time to go to police, but finally disclosed what had happened when the reinvestigation team were interviewing concert-goers.

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Friends and family of Chatfield, a 17-year-old who’d just left school and was into punk music and animal rights, told North & South the first inquiry into her disappearance had not been rigorous enough, because she was treated as a runaway. Joe’s mother Claire Chatfield says when police called “out of the blue” to say the inquiry was being reopened in the mid-2000s, they told her it had been “mishandled” and “they had found things that should have been done that weren’t. I felt judgement calls had been made because of how she dressed.”

At an inquest in 2008, Auckland Coroner Murray Jamieson concluded Chatfield had probably met with foul play and was dead. A $50,000 reward offered in 2007 failed to produce any new information.

Claire Chatfield says she is grateful to North & South for publishing the story which led to police offering the reward, and the new inquiries, even though the investigation rekindles the anguish of her daughter’s loss. “You can’t put your head in the sand and do nothing – you’ll never know if you don’t try. I sincerely hope this time we will get some results so that everyone hurting can have closure.”

In May, police announced a $100,000 reward in a second cold case – the stabbing murder of pregnant 21-year-old mother Angela Blackmoore in Christchurch in August 1995. It is the largest reward of its kind in New Zealand's history.

Do you know what happened to Joe Chatfield? Please call any police station – referencing Operation Chatfield; contact Crimestoppers on (0800) 555 111; or phone Detective Sergeant Len Leleni on (021) 191 0626.

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