Police: missing man was killed
The body of a Southland man who disappeared in mysterious circumstances five weeks ago was hidden in a remote forestry block where his killer hoped it would never be found.
Dale Tama Watene, the father of a 5-year-old boy, was last seen alive in Otautau, 40 kilometres northwest of Invercargill, on April 16, a day after his 40th birthday.
Police found his body in the Longwood forestry block, an area frequented by hunters and trampers, on Wednesday after a search at the weekend identified ‘‘areas of interest’’ requiring further scrutiny.
Yesterday they announced they had launched a homicide inquiry into Watene’s death.
It appears his killer or killers went to great lengths to cover their tracks. It’s clear they hoped his body would remain hidden.
Detective Senior Sergeant Stuart Harvey said an autopsy was carried out yesterday.
He appealed for anyone with information about Watene’s death to contact police.
Watene’s mother declined to comment yesterday.
On Thursday she told The Southland Times she was relieved her son’s body had been found.
‘‘At least we know where he is and we can bring him home.’’
On the day he disappeared, Watene had a seemingly normal conversation with his mother before sharing drinks with Sandi Graham, a woman he’d been seeing, at her home in Sorn St, Otautau.
He apparently left there to go and buy more alcohol, but never returned.
Watene’s truck, a blue 1995 Isuzu SUV, registration CGE 638, was found two days later at Holt Park, a short walk from Graham’s Sorn St home. The battery had been removed and diesel was pooling on the ground beneath.
The last call made using his cellphone was about 9.30pm on April 16, but the intended recipient, believed to be Graham, didn’t answer, and his bank card wasn’t used after he bought $200 worth of groceries from a supermarket in Otautau on his birthday.
The Southland Times understands Watene had one car battery that he switched between two vehicles.
The battery from his truck was found in a car at his home after his disappearance.
It’s believed detectives are exploring the possibility the Holt Park scene was staged to look like Watene’s car had broken down.
Police searched at least two properties before they found Watene’s body – the Sorn St address and the home of one of Graham’s associates, George Hyde.
The pair have not responded to requests for comment.
Since Watene’s disappearance, Graham has posted several news stories about the case to her Facebook page.
On May 1 she wrote: ‘‘We all hope he comes back safe and well. One very missed human.’’
Watene – described by police as being 183 centimetres tall and thin – grew up in Huntly, in the Waikato, where most of his family, including his mother, live.
He moved to Otautau after a stint in Perth about 15 years ago and secured a job on a dairy farm where his younger brother worked.
At the time of his disappearance, Watene was working for the same farmer driving trucks and operating heavy machinery.
He was known to dabble in drugs.
Some of Watene’s friends were immediately suspicious when he disappeared, as he was not known to have mental health issues.
Anyone with information about Watene’s death should contact Detective Sergeant Chris Lucy on 03 2110400 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.
‘‘At least we know where he is and we can bring him home.’’ Dale Watene’s mother
Dale Watene disappeared five weeks ago. Whoever killed him appears to have tried to cover their tracks.