13-year-old Tracey Ann Patient lived with her parents, her older sister, Debbie, and her younger sister, Denise, in Henderson, Auckland, New Zealand. The family had immigrated from England to start a new life; one that her father believed would be more beneficial to the family.
On the 29th of January, 1976, Tracey’s mother agreed to let her go to her friend’s house for the evening. Debbie was heading to a Doobie Brothers concert at Western Springs and her mother thought it was only fair that Tracey would be allowed to do something fun too. Both Debbie and Tracey walked up the road together. “When she said ‘bye’ – she was just walking up the road slightly behind me, and I never turned around, I just went ‘oh, ok bye, see you later’ and went off,” Debbie said. “And I just so, so regret not turning around.” This was the last time that Debbie ever saw her younger sister. Tracey left her friend’s home on Chilcott Road that night at around 9:30PM; she called her mother before she left to let her know she’d be home shorty. Tracey, however, never made it home.
As 10PM rolled around, Tracey’s parents became worried. Debbie and her father climbed into his car and rode around the streets looking for Tracey and calling her name but to no avail. When they returned home, they called police to report her missing. It wasn’t like Tracey to just disappear without letting her family know where she was going so understandably, they thought the worse. The following morning, Debbie and Denise were patiently waiting in the living room for some good news when their father came home with a solemn expression on his face. He had the grim task of telling his family the news that every family fears: Tracey was dead. “Someone killed her,” sobbed John to his family.1
Tracey’s body had been discovered that morning by a woman out walking her dog. Simone Graham was alerted to the body by her pet doberman. At first glance, Graham thought that that Tracey was just sleeping. “There was a young woman, she was very slightly down a bank … she was slightly curled – she could have been asleep in a very loose sort of position – her knees were up, her legs were up but not hugging up to her chest and her head was bent over and she was facing towards my left and I could see the side of her face and her hair,” she said.2 However, upon further inspection, it was evident that she was deceased. Tracey had been strangled to death with her own pantyhose which had been wound tight around her neck with a stick. Afterwards, her killer dumped her body in a bush in the lonely Waitakere Ranges.
A team of 30 police officers was assembled and set up temporary headquarters in a local Scout Hall. Here, they pieced together Tracey’s last movements and scoured the area for any evidence which could lead to her killer. After Tracey left her friend’s home that evening, her friend walked with her to the corner of Great North Road and Edmonton Road where the Henderson police station was situated. From there, her friend walked back home while Tracey carried on walking towards her own home. What happened next continues to be a mystery to this very day. What is known, however, is that somewhere during that short, lonely walk home, she met somebody who would kill her. “I’ve always believed she was picked up by someone she knew who wanted to take advantage of her and things got out of hand,” said Detective Bruce Scott, one of the first on the scene. “She was probably killed in that car, because there was no evidence at the scene she had been killed there. She was not raped and there was no evidence of indecent assault.”3
With very little evidence or leads to go on, the case gradually went cold. The following month, however, a fresh lead gave the Patient family hope when a telephone counselling helpline received an anonymous phone call from a young woman who claimed she witnessed Tracey climbing into a brown car which was driven by a man in a brown suit. Several months later, a road map with Tracey’s name written on it was found in a Ford Thames van which matched a description of a van in the area at the time Tracey vanished. The van’s owner was cleared but he had purchased the van after the murder and investigators were unsuccessful in identifying the previous owner.
It wouldn’t be until the following year that another lead in the case came to surface. When Tracey was discovered, it was noted that her beloved signet ring was missing from her finger. In November of 1978, police received an anonymous call from a man claiming that her ring could be found in a wastepaper basket at an Avondale shopping mall. When police officers rushed to the scene, they found Tracey’s ring exactly where the caller had said it would be found. The caller also provided the number “126040″ and said that this number was related to the case. Police were unable to trace the call or decipher the meaning of the number. It was initially believed that this could have been the breakthrough to crack the case and lead to a suspect but once again, it was just another dead lead.
Over the forthcoming weeks, months and years, investigators continued to follow what few leads trickled in but the investigation was put on the back burner; there were other crimes that needed the investigators’ full attention. Nevertheless, police sporadically urged people to come forward with any information they may have that could lead to Tracey’s killer.
At one point in the investigation, police considered that Tracey may have fallen victim to an unidentified serial killer who targeted teenage girls in the 1970s. Mona Blades and Olive Walker, both 18, were also murdered in that decade. While there were similarities in the three cases, there was no evidence which could conclusively link them to one another. In 2010, a woman identified only as “Rose” came forward to claim that her neighbour’s 21-year-old son killed Tracey after he was released from prison. Rose, who was just 11-years-old at the time of Tracey’s murder, claimed that following Tracey’s murder, the neighbour’s car was cleaned, repainted and then sold. Rose also claimed that she saw the signet ring belonging to Tracey in her neighbour’s house and that she also heard a confession from the mother.4 Nevertheless, investigators said that Rose’s testimony was not credible.
In 2016, it was announced by Detective Sergeant Murray Free that police had resumed working on the cold case full time. Shortly afterwards, police publicly announced that they had new leads and that over 150 people called the Operation Tracey 0800 number with tips. A high percentage of those calls came from people suggesting what the number 126040 could relate to.
Another call came from a man named Gary Ross who called to relay what he had seen on the evening of the 29th of January, 1976. He said that he was on at 295 Great North Road – around 300m up the hill from where Tracey left her friend – when he spotted a man leading a young girl along by the elbow. “There was hardly anyone else in Henderson at the time, it was almost deserted and he was escorting her by the elbow, and she wasn’t struggling but he was hassling her along the road,” he said.5 Ross could recollect the evening with great detail, even remembering that it was a Thursday. He described the man as “middle-aged to elderly” adding that he was “wearing a hat.” Ross said that when he heard about Tracey’s disappearance on the radio the following day, he called police to tell them what he had seen that night. He said the person on the phone took down his details and said they’d be in contact but nobody rang back. He said that over the ensuing years, he tried to pass on the information several more times but the police never seemed interested in what he had to say.
Following Tracey’s murder, her family moved back to Britain. Her parents became the founding members of a support group named Parents of Murdered Children. Her sister, Debbie, told the Weekend Herald that the family never recovered but held out hope that one day, justice would be served. “Nothing will bring Tracey back or make our grief easier to bear. But nobody should get away with murder, especially the murder of a child,” she said.6 Over four decades have passed; more than 850 persons of interest have been profiled but as of yet, the killer of Tracey Ann Patient has evaded justice.
- Sunday Star Times, 3 July, 2016 – “News”
- Weekend Herald, 30 January, 2016 – “Regret has Haunted Woman who Discovered Tracey Ann Patient”
- The Daily Post, 29 January, 2016 – “40-year-old Case not Forgotten”
- New Zealand Herald, 1 February, 2010 – “Man Questioned on 34-year-old Unsolved Tracey Patient Murder”
- Sunday News, 3 July, 2016 – “Cold Case – Witness: Cops Ignored Me”
- The New Zealand Herald, 28 January, 2012 – “36 Years Later, Hunt for Strangler Goes On”
Thank you for writing this. This case was local to me growing up and it never gets much coverage. To this day I still think of Tracey. She was only a little bit older than me and I was so scared. I hope one day her family can have closure.
Thanks, Lucinda. I’m really sure why this case isn’t as well known as similar cases. There’s very little information online; no Wikipedia, even.
Thanks Lucinda and Emily. There used to be lots of info online but I suppose as years go by and other cases hit the headlines, Tracey’s case has receded into the background. The last time there was any coverage was when I did the interview in January 2016, the 40th anniversary of Tracey’s murder. I was devastated to hear yesterday that Grace Millane’s body has been found. I had been hoping and praying that she would be found alive and well. The fact that she was found in the Waitakeres, so close to where Tracey was found, has brought back… Read more »
My condolences to you and your family. When I saw the news about Grave Millane, I immediately thought back to this case too…
It didn’t seem as though they re-investigated the case for that long in 2016 before halting the investigation once again. It’s a shame because it really seemed as though there were a good few leads to start with.
Thank you Emily. They had a team of about 11 officers working on the case full time for about a year (Nov 2015- Oct 2016). Prior to that they had officers working on it on and off on a part time basis over severall years. There were loads of leads and we are convinced that all of them were investigated. There are literally hundreds of files on the case. Someone knows who murdered a Tracey and, although obviously it will not bring her back, I am hopeful that one day someone will come forward.
so so sad. rip
All those leads and the New Zealand police remain useless. Henderson police are the worst.
i agree sebastian. outrageous . dispicable me aka gru the laaadddddd XD
so true freya
I find the killer incredibly cocky to have kidnapped her so near a police station. I agree it must have been someone she knew because she seemed to be running home and wouldn’t have stopped. Did she know that 21 year old ex-prisoner?
No, we didn’t know him.
After watching Sensing murder. It’s a shock that there has been NO arrest in this case! 1 of the Psychics gave his name, both stated he moved north & worked with large machinery…. Is now separated from his wife & 2 Son’s. Where are the Police??? Tracey deserves to RIP! And her family deserves Answers & Justice!
Psychics lol. Just ask a sly fox, maybe the answer is here somewhere.
You DO know.
Maybe the killer is/was a police officer, which is why he has evaded captured. Quite possibly he was a young man at the time and is commenting on this story. 😐
Big Ollie. How did they get away with it being so close to a police station he or she must have been a very clever person , What do you think
Without any further details, take a look at the concentration camp prisoner number 126040
It had to be a concentration camp number as opposed to a prisoner of war camp as the POWS did not get numbers tattooed on their arms.They has dog tags they wore around their neck with the camp number and their prisoner number The numbers were lower than the one mentioned. The concentration camps had prisoners from Europe.Hence someone mentioned the person who called may have had an accent.The POW camps were made up of England, Australia,New Zealand, Italy,and Russia, including Russian children who were forced to march from camp to camp The Russias were hated by the Germans and… Read more »
That would be a jew
I was watching a tv program about psychics involved with this case who new nothing they went to edzactly the spot she was found they said there was a ring Tracy took off and left in the car one of them also give a name on the same program police confirmed that name was a man living in the area at the time but has moved up north when at the area she was murdered the luscious lwpt saying the guy as gone up north he try to take some one else that night and lost her and stumbled up… Read more »
I thought the Psychics gave the police the killers name? It was blocked out on the tv show.
Yep, I feel still so so suspicious aswel. There are so many obvious signs. Feels like a group chat /road trip /meet up needs to happen to figure out how best get name out there and expose so the police will have no choice but to own it and apologise. I bet Jacinda would want this Justice too
I think it was someone that lived close to henderson some one that maybe even new of her from school they may have been about two or three years older than her had a licence driving around that night somehow got her to get into there car .
I wonder if the police at the time of finding Tracey got any sort of DNA from her clothes or the stocking that was used .
I’ve wondered that too….Surely they swabbed her mouth aswell as other areas as part of the investigation… On the sensing murder show they said she bit him… If they were to re test they may find the killers DNA
It’s a birthday date
😂😂😂😂 nope. You’ll never guess it. 66 years old and I’m probably the only 1 2 know the answer. I was 20 at the time. I left NZ in 2004. Kia ora!
Hey sly fox just want to ask you why this seems funny to you? You say you know but won’t give this family peace why? You seem to enjoy the game, even after all this time… or are you just bored
Her father did it.
What proof do you have, if any? Or is it just a uneducated guess?
Queer Charles is alive His Mother didn’t do it
I have always wondered if my father had something to do with her death cause I looked a lot like her and any chance he got he would beat me and we lived in ranui/Swanson not far from where she was left