10 Nov 2017

Judith Yorke - The case that won't let go

From The Lost, 2:48 pm on 10 November 2017

Alan Collin led the initial investigation into the disappearance of Judith Yorke, the latest subject of RNZ's The Lost podcast. A quarter of a century later, the promise he made her family still haunts him.

Alan Collin, former Detective Senior Sergeant and lead investigator on the Judith Yorke case.

Alan Collin, former Detective Senior Sergeant and lead investigator on the Judith Yorke case. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

I was sitting at Jane and Willie Yorke’s lounge in Te Puke talking to them about their daughter, Judy. She had not been seen since attending a party in Matapihi some two weeks earlier.

It was about 6.30pm on Thursday, November 5, 1992.

At the time, little did I realise that Judy - and her family - would become an integral part of my life and have remained so for 25 years.

Judy was the mother of two young children, Joseph and Shannel, and had just missed her daughter’s fourth birthday on 28 October. This was completely out of character as Judy had been looking forward to arranging and celebrating the birthday.  

While talking with Jane and Willie, although I did not express it, I knew that Judy was dead. How did I know?

I had been a police officer for 23 years at the time, and held the rank of Detective Senior Sergeant. I was the officer in charge of the Tauranga Criminal Investigation Branch.

Call it what you like - gut instinct is my preference - but I knew that Judy was dead and because her body had not been found, the likelihood of her being a homicide victim was the most obvious conclusion.

During my career in the police, I learnt it was inappropriate to make promises I couldn’t keep. But I did promise Jane and Willie I would do my very best to bring Judy back to them.

Judith Yorke, before her disappearance from Matapihi in 1992

Judith Yorke, before her disappearance from Matapihi in 1992 Photo: Supplied

Twenty-five years have passed. Judy is still missing. And I’ve never forgotten that promise, even after retiring from the police in December 2003.

As I sit and write this I ask myself, have I fulfilled my promise? Have I tried my very best?

That question is ultimately for others to answer, but as my own harshest critic I honestly don’t know.

What I do know is that Judy Yorke’s body has never been found and no person or persons have been held accountable for her death. In this respect I personally feel I have failed. I have failed Judy; I have failed Jane and Willie; and I have failed Tira, Judy’s sister. I have failed Judy’s children Joseph and Shannel. I have failed the New Zealand public and members of the New Zealand police.

During the course of the many weeks that followed during our investigation into Judy’s disappearance, a number of facts were established.  

On the evening of 22 October, Judy and five others drove her car to a party in an implement shed at an orchard in Matapihi. About 30 others were present.  Yet at some stage during this party, in the early hours of Thursday 22 October Judy went missing.  

Map location in Matapihi where Judith was last seen at a party.

Map location in Matapihi where Judith was last seen at a party. Photo: Google maps

Her car keys were found under the car mat by one of the party-goers, who had arrived with her. Six people from the party, including the five who had arrived with her, left the party in her car.

Judy at the time had a black handbag that has never been recovered. Two days later her shoes were found in the driveway to the orchard. Just how or when they got there is unknown.

As with any criminal investigation, a key to solving a crime or answering a question depends on the reliability of witnesses and their credibility. The desire of these witnesses to help matters. The disappearance of Judy Yorke and answering what happened to her - and more importantly being able to bring her home - rests with these party-goers and any others who may have subsequently become involved. Some of the witnesses weren’t too forthcoming at the time.

I hope that with the passage of time some witnesses may decide to be more willing to help.  Some witnesses who may have been involved in disposing of Judy’s body may now have a need to ease their conscience. Knowledge of what has happened to Judy and the impact it has had on her family must be something very difficult to live with. I’d hope that hearing Shannel talk about what it meant to grow up without a mother, may prick someone’s conscience or spark some ember of compassion.

29 year-old Shannel Yorke, Judith Yorke's daughter, Te Puke 2017

29 year-old Shannel Yorke, Judith Yorke's daughter, Te Puke 2017 Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

I make no plea to the offender because to me you are irrelevant and I have nothing but contempt for you. You don’t have a conscience and certainly do not have the balls to accept responsibility for your actions and help take Judy home.  

However, I would ask any others to find it within you to take that step and help bring Judy home to her family.  Go to the Police in confidence and if you are not willing to do this then I will meet any of you at any time or place. I would guarantee your anonymity.

A reporter once said I had two Judy’s in my life. That’s too true. I have been married to my wife Judy for 36 years and we have two adult children. Although not constant, my wife has had the other Judy in our life for 25 years and she’s accepted this. She understands my intense desire to bring the body of Judy Yorke home to be buried.  

I want to bring Judy Yorke home. Time for me to do this is running out.

Over the years, I became close to Jane Yorke and the family. On or about the anniversary of Judy’s disappearance, I would ring and talk with Jane and sometimes Willie. I wanted Jane and the family to know that I had not forgotten their daughter, sister and mother.  

The Yorke family are very shy and private people. They are very good people and they are a strong family. Just over two years ago, Jane died after a battle with cancer. I miss her and have to now live with the knowledge that she died without being able to bury her daughter. I hope that there is an after-life because if there is I know that at least Jane is now reunited with Judy.

Many days I reflect on the investigation and my promise to do my best. Self doubt makes me think that maybe I didn’t do my best. Perhaps another investigator would have been successful.  

Did I miss some significant factor or line of enquiry? Failure in a major investigation is the sole responsibility of the officer in charge. This failure is something I live with and may be something I take to my grave. If I have not found Judy then, this is something that will be part of my dying thoughts alongside those of my own family.

I want to bring Judy home and I want to be there to put Judy beside her mum Jane. I picture it in my mind and I picture sitting with Jane and her saying to me in her quiet gentle manner “thank you Alan”.