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'It's horrible': Top detective vows to keep searching for Yanfei Bao

Author
Emily Ansell and Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Sun, 17 Dec 2023, 3:09pm
Yanfei Bao has been missing since July 19.
Yanfei Bao has been missing since July 19.

'It's horrible': Top detective vows to keep searching for Yanfei Bao

Author
Emily Ansell and Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Sun, 17 Dec 2023, 3:09pm

As Christchurch police head into Christmas, there is one particular case still hanging over them.

Yanfei Bao, a 44-year-old real estate agent, was reported missing after she failed to pick up her 9-year-old daughter from school on July 19.

A week later, her disappearance was upgraded to a homicide investigation. Her body has never been found.

Almost six months since her disappearance, Detective Inspector Nicola Reeves — who heads the investigation into her alleged murder, dubbed Operation Helo — has reflected on what it’s like to know Bao is still missing.

“It’s horrible,” Reeves said.

“We are going into a time of year when we gather our families and loved ones ... and it’s very clear, and very at the fore of my mind and that of the investigation team, that that won’t be happening this year for Yanfei and her family.”

Reeves said many in the team are mums or have mums, and it’s challenging for them to be heading into the new year without yet bringing her home.

Yanfei Bao's body has never been found. Photo / Supplied
Yanfei Bao's body has never been found. Photo / Supplied

Reeves said police were working alongside the family as the investigation continued, who she added were bearing up remarkably well through the awful situation.

“This would have to be someone’s worst nightmare.”

Reeves and the team were thinking of Bao’s daughter.

“She’s a lovely, bright young girl. She’s being very well supported by family, her school, Victim Support, and the police. I guess my message to her is that police are here to support her and we’re doing everything that we can to bring her mum home.”

The investigation team started with about 30 detectives, plus the dive squad and other specialists. In the months since her disappearance, many have returned to their original work.

Reeves said with the present core group of eight people, the police never stopped and would never stop searching until they found Yanfei.

“We’ll never be at the point where we stop searching.”

The detective said the investigation progressed when they had good information to work on, and led them to look in a certain area.

Detective Inspector Nicola Reeves is the officer in charge of Operation Helo. Photo / George Heard
Detective Inspector Nicola Reeves is the officer in charge of Operation Helo. Photo / George Heard

Therefore how active the investigation looks will depend on the information they get.

Reeves said they had been fortunate with the help they had had from the public, and were still receiving new lines of inquiry with 300 pieces of information received since the investigation began.

“Members of the public have been so incredibly helpful throughout this inquiry,” she said.

“It’s been absolutely phenomenal and it really helped shape the investigation.”

Reeves said a spade, tracksuit, and top believed to be associated with her alleged killer, Tingjun Cao, were still of interest and reminded the public to continue keeping an eye out for them.

The spade pictured is being sought by police in relation to the homicide case of Yanfei Bao. Photo / Supplied
The spade pictured is being sought by police in relation to the homicide case of Yanfei Bao. Photo / Supplied

The spade was brand new and police believed the items were discarded in the Christchurch area from about noon on July 19 to 5pm on July 22.

The disappearance of Yanfei Bao
Bao was last seen alive when she arrived at a house for sale in Trevor St, Hornby, set to show a potential buyer through it.

Police have appeared to focus their efforts on the Halswell River and Lake Ellesmere using Police Search and Rescue, LandSar volunteers, Coastguard, Surf Life Saving members, the Police Specialist Search Group, police dog teams, Garden City Helicopters and Amateur Radio Emergency Communications (Arec) hunting on the ground, water and in the sky.

Reeves confirmed the Tai Tapu, Greenpark area remained a “place of interest” as the inquiry unfolded.

The striped top is being sought by police in relation to the investigation.
The striped top is being sought by police in relation to the investigation.

Bao’s family issued a statement thanking family, friends, and the general public for the “outpouring of kind words and unwavering support following the disappearance of their beloved wife and mother”.

“The love and compassion displayed by fellow New Zealanders has been truly humbling, and the Bao family cannot express how grateful they are for all the generous donations made through Givealittle.”

The family also expressed their “sincere appreciation” to the police for their “invaluable support and relentless dedication” in the search for Bao.

“The family urges anyone with information that could assist the police in locating Yanfei to come forward as soon as possible.

Tingjun Cao is charged with the murder of Yanfei Bao on July 19. Photo / George Heard.
Tingjun Cao is charged with the murder of Yanfei Bao on July 19. Photo / George Heard.

“Their only desire is to have her returned to them, so they can find closure and begin the grieving process.”

The family also encouraged everyone to cherish their loved ones and express their feelings openly.

“Go home tonight and tell all those you hold dear that you love and cherish them,” Bao’s husband, Paul Gooch, said.

Police remain interested in any information relating to sightings of a silver Mitsubishi sedan with the registration DPH101, particularly on July 20, the day after Bao was reported missing.

Police are seeking the tracksuit pictured in relation to the murder case of Yanfei Bao. Photo / Supplied
Police are seeking the tracksuit pictured in relation to the murder case of Yanfei Bao. Photo / Supplied

Anyone who saw Bao’s silver Nissan Dualis after 12.30pm and before 10.45pm on the day she disappeared was urged to contact police, she said.

The car was seen on CCTV footage in Hornby’s Trevor St, where police forensic scene experts examined a house.

Anyone who had any information about the investigation was urged to call 111 immediately and quote event number P055385539.

The Halswell River has been a focus for police in their search for Yanfei Bao. Photo / George Heard
The Halswell River has been a focus for police in their search for Yanfei Bao. Photo / George Heard

Sam Sherwood is a Christchurch-based reporter who covers crime. He is a senior journalist who joined the Herald in 2022, and has worked as a journalist for 10 years.

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