Richard Hinkley vanished on Christmas Day 2015. He hasn’t been heard from since. Now police are making a fresh appeal for information about his disappearance. SAM SHERWOOD reports.
Walking into Richard Hinkley’s two-bedroom flat on the fringe of Christchurch’s city centre, police found few clues to account for his disappearance.
The 49-year-old, who had been missing for seven weeks, had left a pair of sandals neatly in the middle of his living room, with a pair of jandals beside the sliding door.
His kitchen was clean and tidy and above his clock was a collection of more than a dozen cans of Sapporo, the oldest beer brand in Japan. His fascination with Japanese culture extended to the living room with Japanese writings all over his wallpaper, as well as lanterns, posters of Japanese pop culture, and a large map of Japan.
Hinkley, who was known to relatives as Mr Bean due to his mannerisms, had hung all of his clothes neatly in his wardrobe.
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“It was just clean and tidy. It was like someone just got up and disappeared,” Detective Sean Greenall says.
One thing that would later strike Greenall as odd was how Hinkley had left his bed unmade. The blankets were pulled back on one side only and did not match the cleanliness of the rest of the flat.
The last known person to speak to Hinkley was his uncle, who called him on Christmas morning 2015.
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It was about 7.30am and Hinkley was a bit terse. The two men spoke for about 10 minutes, and his uncle said he would catch up with him later in the morning when he was more awake.
Power usage from his Madras St flat showed him moving around the house until 9am. The power usage then goes to standby devices, and it appears he’s left home.
It was not until February 10 the following year that his neighbour, Dion Lawrence, reported him missing to Housing New Zealand.
“His other neighbours hadn’t seen him around, and I supposed I hadn’t seen him as well, so I thought maybe I should call someone about it,” Lawrence said in an earlier interview with Stuff.
Six years on, Hinkley’s disappearance remains a mystery, with police making a fresh appeal for information to find him as part of their investigation, dubbed Operation Madras.
Christchurch man Richard Hinkley has been missing for two years. Police believe he may have been murdered. Relative Jill Martin makes a plea for answers and closure. (Video first published January 2018)
‘There was a lot to Richard’
Hinkley, an only child, lived with his parents until they separated when he was 17. His father, who suffered from post-polio syndrome, eventually moved to Australia.
Hinkley, who was a bit of a recluse, was 195 centimetres tall, of solid build, had a shaved head and often wore a beanie or hat.
He had previously done some work in Australia and had worked as a taxi driver and in construction.
While he was a private person, he also enjoyed the company of others and had established some friendships.
It’s understood his friends would visit his flat, smoke cannabis, and play music. He would also make them smoothies.
Unfortunately, most of the relationships would break down, in part due to some physical altercations with associates.
“He did have a bit of a temper, but he was also trying to reach out to people to form those relationships,” Greenall says.
Hinkley was paranoid, and at one point had furniture blocking his garage door, telling a relative it was there in case someone wanted to come in; it would give him a bit more time.
Jill Martin describes her nephew as a “unique individual”.
“There was a lot to Richard. He was a deep thinker, but he also had a great sense of humour. You could have a lot of fun with him, you could joke around and just thoroughly enjoy his company and I could do with a whole lot more of it.”
Martin says Hinkley “immersed himself” in Japanese culture, and had learned to speak Japanese. At one stage he rented a big house and filled it with students who helped him with his Japanese while he helped them with their English.
Hinkley’s life took a turn in 2011 when his mother died from a health condition she had suffered for many years. That, combined with the earthquakes, sent him into depression, Martin believes.
“This was a man who loved to learn, and he had hopes and dreams, but the year of 2011 was difficult… He had no siblings to share that grief with, and his father was living in Australia battling his ailments, so it was a very hard time for Richard and his grief would’ve been immense.”
Despite the countless aftershocks, Hinkley turned down an opportunity to move to the North Island to live with his maternal relatives because of his “deep loyalty to the city”, Martin says.
“He loved Christchurch, and he just wanted to be there.”
While Martin was aware Hinkley had been going through a tough time, it wasn’t something he tended to share over the phone.
“He kept it light. He was talking to his elderly aunty, so he told me all the positive things. We had a laugh about things. He didn’t really get into any theories or anything too much.”
The missing money
The death of Hinkley’s mother in 2011 coincided with the start of his financial issues. He used a newly acquired credit card to pay for the funeral and by the following year, started using it to make cash withdrawals.
By December 2014, the credit card debt was about $12,000. A year later it was $29,000, with cash withdrawals peaking about May and June with more than $5000 withdrawn over that period.
Eventually, he maxed out his credit card when it reached $30,000. His spending was largely on alcohol, cannabis, and other items. He regularly used food places such as 0800 Hungry and no cash was found at his home.
“There’s a big question around what he was using that cash on and where did it go,” Greenall says.
It appears Hinkley, who was on a benefit, lived from pay to pay and had little money in his bank account at the time of his disappearance. He had no major assets, such as a car, and lived a meagre lifestyle.
The last known sighting of Hinkley was on December 18 when a man from a budgeting service visited him at his home.
A week earlier the Insolvency and Trustee service granted him a No Asset Procedure, an alternative to bankruptcy when someone is up to $47,000 in debt.
On December 12 he went to the Kiwibank in Edgeware, a short walk from his home, checked his balance and put a pin on his card. He later went to the dentist to make plans to get his teeth fixed.
Martin puts the debt down to his spiralling mental health.
“I can see how he would’ve got into debt, which is not Richard … he was always really good with his money, a great saver, but he got into debt at that point.
“When I last spoke to him, he had addressed that and could see his way forward.”
‘It’s like he vanished’
Nearly six years on, three possibilities exist: Hinkley is either alive elsewhere, has taken his own life or has been murdered.
“There’s a number of scenarios, you could pretty much run wild with it. You could say he’s gone out and had an argument with someone, he could’ve gone out somewhere and had a medical event, he could’ve been murdered,” Greenall says.
“He could’ve just planned his own demise with all the problems he was having with the cash disappearing and going through insolvency. He could’ve established a new life with a new identity.”
Greenall says in the last six years nothing concrete has come through to help with locating Hinkley.
“With missing person inquiries people normally turn up after a short time. It’s unusual for someone to be missing for so long.”
Detective Inspector Michael Ford says the case continues to be treated as a missing person investigation, but is getting the same scrutiny as would a homicide inquiry.
“It’s like he vanished,” he says.
‘I don’t know a thing’
Police won’t say how many people have been treated as persons of interest to their inquiry over the last six years. However, Lawrence, who lived in a flat in front of Hinkley, earlier told Stuff he had been accused of murdering him.
Lawrence said that in late 2017 police knocked on his door and wanted to talk to him about Hinkley’s disappearance.
While his home was searched, officers took Lawrence to the Christchurch Central Police Station where they interviewed him and accused him of murdering his former neighbour.
“I said I don’t know a thing. I’m not involved.”
Police searched his flat for two days, dug up his garden, and took items for forensic testing.
“I’ve got no idea what happened, he could’ve left the country for all I know,” Lawrence earlier said.
“[Police] think I had some big falling out with him, but I didn’t really. Other people certainly did, I don’t know why they aren’t investigating them.”
He said Hinkley was “a friendly guy, a bit different”, but they got on.
‘I deal in facts’
For Martin, the last six years have been “extremely difficult”. In 2019, she lost both of her older brothers, including Hinkley’s father, Bill, who died in June 2019.
“He died with that anxiety of not knowing what happened to his son, it was very hard.”
One thing that has helped Martin is that while she considers foul play to be a possibility, she has tried to only focus on what she knows, rather than running her mind with thoughts on what could have happened.
“I try not to do too much presuming or conjecture, just because it’s very painful to do so. I’ve had a lot I’ve had to deal with … I really want to know what happened to Richard, but that’s how I’ve kept going – by not thinking too much about scenarios.
“I deal in facts… That’s a whole lot of energy I haven’t got.”
While it would be easy for many to lose hope so many years on with seemingly no trace to go on, Martin remains surprisingly resolute.
“I’ve got a lot of faith in human nature and I believe that people want to be able to have a clear conscience, people would like to be able to sleep well at night. I know myself if I was hanging onto a piece of information I wouldn’t be able to do those things,” she says.
“I feel very positive that whoever knows something is going to speak, they’re going to tell what they know and this could make a very big difference to all of us, including the police who have worked very hard on this for a long time.”
Anyone with information regarding Hinkley’s disappearance is asked to call 105 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.