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April 27, 2003

Death finding held a month

From: Independent Community Newspaper, New Zealand - Apr 27, 2003

In one month a Manaia woman missing for almost eight years will be officially declared dead.

At an inquest Thames Coroner John Jenkison proposed to declare Alexia Joy Cullen dead - but it will not become official until May 31, in case anyone with new information on Alexia comes forward.

Alexia, who was deaf, had a speech impediment and a learning disability, disappeared from her home on June 16 1995. She was 26, and lived with her uncle and aunt, who were her caregivers. She was not reported missing for three weeks.

In a deposition read at the inquest, Alexia's great-aunt Charlotte Williams said her family had resigned themselves to the fact that Alexia must be dead.

Alexia had run away before, but Mrs Williams said she always stayed with relatives. Her bank account is untouched since she disappeared in 1995.

Police reactivated Alexia's case in 1998 with a team of 30 staff working on it, and at the time labelled it a homicide inquiry.

But at the inquest, Detective Del Read said there was no hard evidence of foul play in Alexia's disappearance.

Mr Read said three months before she disappeared she had run into the bush and not come out for three days, when she resurfaced hungry and covered in scratches and bruises.

After she disappeared again police searched the Manaia area extensively but found nothing to lead them to Alexia.

Nor was anything found in 1999, when the police commissioner authorised a reward of $20,000 for information leading to the conviction of the person or people responsible for Alexia's disappearance.

Mr Jenkison said the police evidence satisfied him Alexia was dead.

"Of course I cannot give a date or place of death, or the cause of death."

© Independent Newspapers Limited 2003.