I will say from the outset that a rapist called John Russell is strongly suspected as the killer of this 14 year old girl. It is a big case here or at least was. The years go by and her disappearance is a long time cooling.
We go to Napier on the east coast of North Island. A place that on 1st September 1983 had about 50,000 people calling it home. One of them was Kirsa Jensen. She liked riding her horse which was called Commodore.
At 3 pm she got her horse and went for a ride around the district. She started on Riverbend Road and went in an overall southerly route that seems to have ended near the bridge Awatoto Beach.
There were plenty of witnesses that saw a white ute. Some saw her with blood on her face and one asked her if she was ok. She said she was but had fallen from the horse. She also said someone had gone to get her folks. This was just before 4.30pm. The accounts say she was near an old gun emplacement on the beach south of Napier. A vintage picture shows this as a ‘pillbox’ type machine gun/ observation post rather than a large structure designed for a coastal battery.
When I looked I could see a bridge on route 51 near the mouth of Tutaekuri River. There also seems to be an area there which could have been a gun emplacement. I have marked it on the map below.
At 4.30pm a man believes he saw the white Ute driving over the bridge with a European looking man behind the wheel. Next to him was a girl who may have been Ms Jensen.
A problem comes when I looked at the account of the investigation by the officer who was in charge at the time. Ian Holyoake regularly attends a memorial that is set on the foreshore for Kirsa Jensen. He was 77 years old when the New Zealand Herald ran a story on the case.
The man who said he spoke to the girl when he saw blood on her face was this John Russell. Of the many sightings of this white Ute the officer says that as time went on he doubted it even existed. The mention of it might well have led to information being lost. He referred to it as that ‘stupid bloody white truck’.
Was this another case of the wrong vehicle derailing the hunt for a child killer? Did it have the same devastating effect on the enquiry that looking for the wrong car did in the case of Roy Tutill’s murder in the UK?
Russell had at first said he had seen a man holding the girl at arms length as he drove by. Only later did he change his story. He said he was that guy and it seems he was also the guy who gave the story that the child had blood on her face and her folks would come and help. We have to be so careful when we put this sort of story together. I read elsewhere that these accounts came from several witnesses. They came from John Russell, according to the senior detective. Let us not forget that by this time Russell already had a conviction for rape.
The complication was he had a good alibi and a search of his place only turned up one possible bit of evidence. Rope in his possession matched rope used to tether Ms Jensen’s horse. It wasn’t enough to bring him in and the former officer says he still has an open mind as to if the culprit was Russell or not.
In 1985 Russell confessed to the crime on a radio show. Later he retracted it. After a spell in a psychiatric hospital he killed himself in 1992. If he had abducted and killed Ms Jensen he took it to his grave.
It wasn’t the only confession. Another man said he had killed Ms Jensen in 1999, but there was no substance to this and he was not charged.
This is still an open case. Below is the NZ police website link if you have any information.
The place where Ms Jensen was last seen is a really flat piece of land near a main road. It says at the time it had an old gun emplacement sited there. That seems to have been removed as the view from the road to the memorial is unobstructed for the most part. As you drive south along Route 51, just before the river mouth, and looked seaward you could have seen the victim and her horse.
That day was a Thursday. The big international news was that a Korean airliner was shot down by a Soviet missile as it flew over the Sea of Japan. By 5pm Ms Jensen’s poor mother had noticed she was over due and at 5.45pm she was reported as missing.
‘The Locomotion’ ( Ritz) had been in and out of the charts at the time and UB 40 was at number one with ‘Food For Thought’ within a week of Ms Jensen standing there with her horse.