Blowing out the candles on her 10th birthday cake, Danielle Cameron had only one wish – for her missing mother Sara Niethe to come home.
Now, more than eight years since Sara went missing on the Hauraki Plains three days before Danielle’s 10th birthday, progress has finally been made in the case.
Sara’s ex-boyfriend Mark Pakenham (49) was arrested and charged with her murder last month, but her body is still yet to be found.
The mystery featured on TV’s Sensing ourder in 2008 and this is the first time an arrest has been made following psychic investigations on the show. Police are unable to comment on whether the programme sparked fresh leads because the matter is currently before the courts.
However, after the episode screened three years ago, Waihi detective sergeant Glenn Tinsley said there were no new leads.
The arrest has given Sara’s mother Eileen oarbeck (68), Danielle and Sara’s other children, Dion (21) and Simone (16), some relief but what they really want is Sara’s body back.
“That’s what we’re hanging out for. I won’t feel I’ve done the right thing until I’ve got her and we’ve buried her.
“In a way, the arrest has made it worse, because it’s brought it all up again,” Eileen adds.
Danielle has hazy memories of her mother before she went missing and needs to look at photographs to recall the past.
Eileen says her 31-year-old daughter was a free spirit.
“She was a born-again hippy and happy-go-lucky,” she says. “She’d applied to do a course to become a teacher’s aide. Sara was good with the school and the kids.
For a long time, the family wanted to think the best. “You think all sorts of things like, ‘She could have lost her memory. She could be wandering around somewhere,'” Eileen says.
Now 18, Danielle shows little emotion when discussing her mother’s disappearance, but she does remember her birthday days later was not a happy one.
Eileen recalls starting to cry at the L&P Café in Paeroa when Danielle made her birthday wish for her mother to return.
The family went ahead with Danielle’s party because it was a special 10th birthday – the invitations had been sent and a cake had been arranged.
It was also the day Eileen had to come to terms with the fact something sinister must have happened to her daughter.
“She would never have missed Danielle’s birthday,” Eileen says firmly.
Danielle says at 10 years old, the enormity of her mother’s disappearance didn’t sink in.
“We were so little, it didn’t really hit us. I remember coming home from school and she still wasn’t home.”
Since Sara, Danielle and her siblings already lived with Eileen, Danielle says her mother’s absence was easier to cope with because there was no upheaval with having to move.
“Life went on as normal – just without oum. I never really didn’t have a mum because Nana’s my mum.
She’s been there our whole lives,” says Danielle, smiling at her grandmother.
Eileen was the first one to hold Danielle when she was born by Caesarean and they still live together in the sleepy Waikato town of Kerepehi.
Danielle is considering studying to become a teacher next year, so Eileen may move to Auckland to be closer to
For years after Sara’s disappearance, the family was contacted by psychics who wanted to help.
“oany turned up at the time. Psychics rang us and sent us maps in the mail,” she says.
Eileen agreed to take part in Sensing ourder because she believed it would help someone come forward. But she was disappointed in the show.
“I thought if they could feature her case on the show, they’d find her. But I was disillusioned because they said they were talking to her, and if they spoke to Sara, she would have said who did it.
“If they knew, they should be able to tell you something – not just hinting at where she was,” Eileen adds.
Danielle says she believed in the supernatural – just like her missing mother – until after the show aired. “They didn’t give us anything,” she says.
Eileen and Danielle say police stepped up their inquiries at the beginning of this year. Police reviewed the case and re-interviewed many of those involved, which revealed more information.
Police informed Sara’s family they were about to swoop the day before Mark was charged with murder. But his arrest has done nothing to ease the pain of losing a daughter.
“You always feel that you go before your kids – your kids don’t go before you,” Eileen says. “Sara was quite happy and she had three chirpy little kiddies. There was no reason for her to leave. It was a waste of a life. She was only 31 and only just starting.”