Real Life

How can a loved one just vanish?

A devastating story about one family's quest for the truth, after their loved one disappeared without a trace.

When Northland woman Leeann Scott disappeared from her home more than a year ago, her family fell apart. How could the much-loved daughter, sister and aunty simply vanish just a few days before her birthday? What was in her head when she left for her morning walk that day, and why has her body never been found?

“It takes over your life,“ her sister Lillian Mann (56) explains through tears. “It took a long time to realise that Leeann’s gone and to accept that she’s probably dead. My siblings and I all have children, but you can’t let it take over your life because they have lives to live.“

Leeann is one of thousands of people reported missing every year. Her family had hoped, as often happens in missing persons cases, that she would return after a few days, but they are now resigned to the fact she is never coming home. All they want is for her body to be found.

The not knowing has destroyed her parents Irene (78) and Torrance (76), her brothers Manuel (54), Torrance Junior (48) and their extended family. They recently gathered to remember an outgoing woman who was never afraid to speak her mind, a bubbly flight attendant who had travelled the world, and a dearly-missed storyteller who was the life of the party.

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As the crowd released orange balloons, Leeann’s favourite colour, into the sky on the day she would have turned 50 years old, they asked for her to be remembered as more than just a missing person.

“For the past 12 months, we have had to deal with strangers who only knew Leeann as a report; as a file,“ Lillian explains. “You wouldn’t understand how vibrant, fun, passionate and loved she was. “

Leeann had been living with bipolar disorder since the age of 31, but her sister says she never let it define her.

“Leeann was a gift, given to us for such a short time, and she always cared more for others than herself. Our family will never be the same without her and we treasure the time we did have.“

Police categorised Leeann as a “voluntary disappearance“ in her Missing Person report and she was never considered the victim of a crime. There are no clues to suggest foul play, but the investigation is ongoing. Without a body or evidence, her family are left to make their own assumptions as to what happened to her. They believe she didn’t end her own life.

“We know when Leeann’s in that dark place suffering from depression and she wasn’t when she went missing,” Lillian tells.

But a person close to her, who doesn’t want to be named, believes she had been struggling for some time due to the medication she was on.

“Leeann had had enough, she was a sick lady,“ he tells. She’s at peace and that’s what she wanted.“

What was on Leeann’s mind when she disappeared on December 12, 2014, and how she spent her last moments remains a mystery. With only a few confirmed sightings of her, police combed large sections of land and sea searching for her.

A neighbour reported that Leeann looked distressed as she left her house at around 10.30am, but when asked if she was okay, she replied, “Yes.” Leeann was last seen 3km west of her home.

An extensive search got underway the day after she was reported missing at 4.30pm. Police appealed to the public for information, interviewed witnesses and briefly searched her home, where they found her wallet and cellphone. Still, there are no strong leads.

The family gave police information in regards to a conversation Irene had with Leeann before she went missing, but it wasn’t followed up until months later. Their complaint that police should have explored all options, including a criminal possibility, was recently upheld by the Independent Police Authority. As a result, the Northland District Police have implemented a better process of dealing with all Missing Person reports.

It’s only a small consolation for the family, who have now hired a private investigator. “We’ve gone as far as we can with the police. We can’t do any more,“ Lillian says sadly. “Somebody out there must know something. I think something happened that day.”

Without any closure, Irene can only go over the last conversation she had with her daughter about her birthday.

“I bought her a voucher for the hairdresser because I hoped it would make her feel better. When she saw the gift, she gave me a hug. She said, ‘I needed that, my hair is terrible,’” Irene recalls. “I was going to pick her up on Saturday morning for her hair appointment.”

For Leeann, that Saturday never arrived – now Irene just wants to know why.

Leeann Ailini Scott (48), was last seen at the Taipa shops on December 12, 2014. She’s described as Maori, 176cm (5’8”) tall, of solid build and was last seen wearing an orange fluorescent top, black pants and Nike running shoes. Police are asking anyone who saw her or knew of her whereabouts to contact Kaitaia police on (09) 408 6500.

Words: Anastasia Hedge

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