Mystery of missing boy and stepfather
Conflicting reports on whether they are in submerged car or overseas
Curio Bay – peaceful, picturesque, wild. It is also hiding secrets. A little over one month ago, Mike Zhao-Beckenridge, 11, was not waiting for his mother when she went to pick him up from James Hargest College.
It is believed he left his school at lunchtime with his step-father John Beckenridge, 64.
Mike was not supposed to be in the company of Beckenridge. Police would later say in statements that any contact the pair had would be in breach of a parenting order.
A Family Court judge had decided Mike should no longer live with his step-father, who had "alienated" him, but instead should live with his mother in Invercargill.
Despite this, police believe Mike went with Beckenridge willingly.
Police issued border alerts "a short time" after the missing persons’ report was filed on March 13, with images of the pair given to border security staff, and the names police were aware of – Beckenridge also went by the names John Lundh, Knut Goran Roland Lundh, and John Bradford.
Days after the pair’s disappearance, on March 16, a farmer noticed the pair in a Mike ZhaoBeckenridge, 11. remote bush area near Slope Point and notified police. This remains the only and only confirmed sighting of the pair.
This prompted a plea from Detective Sergeant Mark McCloy to Beckenridge: "John can give me a call . . . and talk to with me personally about his situation." But a call never came. Police carried out a search operation in the Tokanui and Haldane until on Sunday, March 22, car parts and a backpack were found washed up on a beach in Curio Bay.
During the next several days, dozens of search and rescue volunteers scoured kilometres of coastline, finding more car parts.
An area was identified where police believed a car could have been driven over a cliff, a buoy put in place to mark the area where an oil slick was seen.
After multiple thwarted attempts by the police national dive squad to enter the water, on March 26, an underwater camera was used to confirm a car wreck rested on the ocean floor beneath an 88m cliff.
Police confirmed the parts and wreck are Beckenridge’s car, and the backpack found washed up on the beach was Mike’s.
Unable to retrieve the car found by an underwater camera, police can’t confirm whether there are bodies in the vehicle.
Not only are they battling tough weather and tidal conditions, but they have been unable to identify the best method to get the car out.
A police spokesman said the area in question was difficult to access and the way the car was lodged posed problems.
And this is where it appears the search has stalled.
Yet, so many questions remain. Where are they? Despite police telling Campbell Live they were treating the pair’s disappearance as a murdersuicide, they have also said it is possible they have left the country.
McCloy said evidence pointed to the pair being in the car when it drove over the cliff. Police had measured the distance between where the car stopped and the cliff’s edge, which indicated the car was airborne and travelling at speed when it went over. However, police said on Wednesday they were not ruling out that Beckenridge could have left the country using passports that were not known to the New Zealand authorities.
A source close to the family spoke out on behalf of Mike’s mother last week.
"The family has a great faith . . . there is hope and at this stage, and as a mother, she must cling to that.
"You can’t get any closer to the bone. Where is the boy?"
The family had been to Curio Bay multiple times since the car had been found in the water, and had searched the Catlins area extensively beforehand, the source said.
The family wanted to encourage the public to continue to be vigilant and to report any possible sightings.
According to Beckenridge’s closest friend, Mike was desperate to return to live with him. Swedish airline pilot Roger Henricson has Beckenridge’s friend for 40 years.
"The boy kept ringing him up . . . [asking for Beckenridge] ‘to come and pick me up’."
Beckenridge was upset after he lost custody of Mike, he said.
A boat with police divers aboard in a bay near Curio Bay during the initial search.
Search and Rescue volunteers Rodney McCraw, of Owaka, left, and team leader Lianne Latta, of the Catlins, during the initial search phase.