Time is running out for Robyn Jensen.
The 72 year-old hasn’t seen her daughter, Kirsa, in more than 34 years.
Kirsa was 14 when she went missing while riding her horse, Commodore, along a Napier beach on the first day of spring in 1983. The terrible story gripped the country for weeks, months, years. Teenage girls weren’t meant to just disappear in broad daylight. Not here. Not like this. Yet while the mystery remains unsolved, Robyn’s questions just remain. What happened to Kirsa, the animal-loving teenage girl who would be 49 next month?
Despite the passage of time, Robyn’s determination to find her daughter hasn’t faded - it’s only become more urgent. Rather than time being a healer, it’s opening a new wound as the fear grows her own life could end before she’s able to put Kirsa to rest.
“She’s my daughter. She is just so very precious to me and the longer it goes, the harder it is because one day I may be dead and she may not be found.
“To be able to locate her and put her in a decent place, to rest forever, is vitally important to me.”
Robyn has spoken with RNZ as part of a new podcast, The Lost, which looks into some of the country’s missing persons cases.
“There is a whole new generation of people who don’t know or haven’t heard or know that there was a girl in Napier that something happened to,” she says.
Robyn describes her daughter Kirsa as a serious and dedicated child, who adored animals and dreamed of being a vet and a rider for the New Zealand equestrian team.
“When I think of her, I think curls and bubbles and laughter and responsibility,” she says. “Generous and kind and putting others first, but so dedicated to what she wanted to do. She would have done anything for an animal.”
Before her disappearance, the family was living in Napier, as Kirsa’s father, Dan, was the Anglican minister at St Augustine’s Church. Kirsa had been volunteering at a local vet clinic and training Commodore for the upcoming Hawke's Bay Royal A&P Show during the school holidays.
On September 1, 1983, she had planned to go riding with her friend. Rain had stopped her from getting Commodore some exercise, but the sun was out that day. Her friend cancelled but Kirsa was still keen to go to the beach. She got Commodore ready, and said good-bye to her mother about 2.45pm.
At 5pm, Robyn began to feel anxious.
At 5.45pm, she phoned the police.
Not long after, Robyn heard a horse had been found loose near a bridge in Awatoto, about seven kilometres from the vicarage. It was Commodore. Kirsa was missing.
The police initially thought Kirsa could have fallen off her horse. They found parts of a bridle and hoof-prints on the beach near a gun emplacement, next to the Tutaekuri River. But the investigation led them to believe someone was responsible for her disappearance.
An orchard worker, John Russell, was one of the first witnesses to contact the police, saying he had seen a girl with a bald, middle-aged man at the beach. He would later become the prime suspect in the case.
In 1985, he confessed to Kirsa’s murder, but later recanted telling the Holmes programme he had been mentally ill. No charges were ever laid.
Robyn believes her daughter was attacked and kidnapped near the gun emplacement.
As time gnaws at her, she hopes talking about Kirsa again will help find her daughter.
“There is always that likelihood that somebody might know something and in a certain situation they may actually share,” she says.
Robyn has kept Kirsa’s old riding jacket, which still has her old pins from the Whakatane and Hawke’s Bay hunt clubs on it. If Kirsa is ever found, she’ll be buried with it.
Someone once asked Robyn if there will ever be a time when she stops looking for her daughter.
“I said ‘how stupid can you be?’ A mother doesn’t forget her child. I could no more forget Kirsa than fly to the moon. She’s part of me and she’s very important.
“A mother doesn’t forget her baby,” she says.
“Until the day I die, I’ll keep hoping. I’ll never give up hope.”