December 31, 1998
About 3pm on a hot Ashburton afternoon, 15-year-old Kirsty Bentley walked her dog, Abby, down to the town’s river. It was New Year’s Eve, there were plans for a family dinner and her boyfriend was coming over to stay. When Kirsty’s mother, Jill, arrived home just after 5pm, Kirsty hadn’t returned and they soon contacted police and began searching for her. The following morning, Kirsty’s underwear was found on the riverbank, along with Abby who was tied up nearby. Seventeen days later, two men looking for a cannabis plantation stumbled across Kirsty’s body, near the Rakaia River, nearly 60km from Ashburton. It had been hidden in scrub but by then was so badly decomposed, little forensic evidence could be gathered. Police, however, believed Kirsty had not been killed at the Ashburton River where her clothes and dog were found, insisting this scene had been staged by the murderer. Almost immediately, suspicion fell on Kirsty’s father, Sid, and her brother, John. John had been the last person to see Kirsty, and Sid had trouble recalling his movements that day. A theory arose that John had killed his sister and, because he couldn’t drive, Sid had helped him dispose of the body. But there was little sense of motive, and no evidence at all, and both John and Sid completely denied any involvement.
Sid died in 2015, aged 64. A coroner’s hearing into Kirsty’s death a year later merely ruled she’d been killed by a massive blow to the back of her head, at an unknown location, on the day she went missing. Four detectives have led the investigation over the years. None have managed to crack the case, and since Sid Bentley’s death, little investigation has been carried out.