Home' Greymouth Star : January 17th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
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Hugh McAllister was living in Fifth Street
at the time of his disappearance.
McAllister was allegedly spotted driving
across the William Stewart Bridge on the
Taramakau River and again near his claim
(above), in 2012 — two years after he
McAllister’s ute, where searchers found it.
Mining relics line the road to the old town of
Greenstone. The area is riddled with long-
abandoned mine shafts.
n January 21,
was spotted for
what may have
been the last time. He was, says one
mate, wet from his gold claim in the
Greenstone River, but it appears he
never went home to change.
He left his wallets — money still
inside — and phone at home. His
ute was later found near his claim,
parked up against some gorse. A vial
of gold nuggets was inside.
Police say it was not uncommon for
miners to have some gold on show.
But others say the 70-year-old was
bankrupt and fled overseas. In fact, a
police financial investigation found
McAllister was solvent, though court
proceedings had been filed to have
him declared bankrupt.
Greymouth miner Ian Whyte was
working McAllister’s claim for him
on a tribute basis.
“I thought the other day when a
man was found out there ...” he tails
off. But the body police retrieved
from an informal rubbish dump in a
deep crevasse near Dillmanstown in
early January was not McAllister’s.
Mr Whyte describes McAllister
as an older guy who wandered
around gold claims. He claims he
even watched others from afar, with
“ He was a loveable frickin’ rogue.
He just had a way of ripping people
off, including me.”
He claims McAllister owed
hundreds of thousands, but the police
“ I don’t know how he sur vived in
his wheelings and dealings.”
The hobby miner had a bad case of
gold fever. “ He had all the gear but
got others to do it for him. And it
was not his gear at all, it was other
people’s,” Mr Whyte said.
“ He begged, borrowed and stole. He
was going to jail, he was supposed to
appear in court the following Friday.”
Mr Whyte knows this because
someone came to his door with a
summons, trying to get it to him give
evidence. Police now say that could
have been a civil case summons.
“ I believe he did a disappearing act.
My son saw him ... later (in a rental
car). And someone else saw him, at a
camper van in Kumara.”
Police, respectfully, say they do not
think those sightings are credible,
though they think the witnesses
genuinely believed they had seen
Hugh McAllister was born in
Taumarunui in August 1939 and
moved with the family to Hawke’s
Bay. He spent time in Australia
before returning to New Zealand,
retired and headed to the West Coast.
He arranged rental accommodation
at 98 Fifth Street in the old
goldmining town of Kumara.
He was separated with three
He used to have the odd meal and
yarn with Greymouth man Graham
Jacobs, who still speaks warmly of
But Mr Jacobs does not agree with
the initial police description of him as
a hobby miner.
“He was an entrepreneur. People
were working his claims on a tribute
Full of charisma, he came down
from the North Island as a successful
contractor, having rebuilt the Napier
“Then he decided to have a go at
gold. He sat in this chair, five days
before he vanished, and said ‘I owe all
of New Zealand.’”
It seemed a mountain of debt was
on top of him. So what happened to
“I think he got knocked off. He
used to drop names, people he was
trying to do deals with, they were
quite sharp. And he was trying to do
million dollar deals with no money
himself,” Mr Jacobs said.
“ He got too big, too fast.”
He does not think he would have
waded into the river and got washed
away because he was too safety
The Greymouth Star spoke to
a number of others who knew
McAllister. To some he was a slightly
standoff-ish acquaintance, but many
spoke of him with warmth. Others
in the gold industry noted the sheer
number of people he knew.
Many had their own theory of what
happened to him. A fair few talked
about the amount of money he was
reputed to owe around the place.
One said they had heard he swapped
gold for jewellery (easier to get out of
the country), one of a second-hand
account of a sighting in Indonesia.
Others ignore the whispers and
innuendo and point out that no one
really knows. And, of course, the man
is not here to defend himself.
“ He was a good bastard,” says Craig
Hopper. They became acquainted
over scrap metal and gold.
Mr Hooper also takes exception to
the description of a ‘hobby miner’.
“ He was a full-scale goldminer. It
was a million dollar operation.”
He said what happened was all
speculation. But beside all that, he
was a good mate.
“ We’ve all got our suspicions. It’s all
hearsay, no one knows. I still wonder
where the hell he got to.”
Most inter viewed were cautious.
It is, after all, an ongoing police
investigation. But the pauses, the
silences, are interesting.
Sergeant Sean Judd led the police
search and rescue effort.
“ We had multiple teams from
Hokitika, Reefton, Greymouth and
Westport,” Mr Judd said. “ It was
Does he think McAllister was still
alive out there somewhere?
“No,” he says quickly, then clarifies.
“The search area was covered very
Sherp Tucker was involved in a
large number of searches on the West
Coast over many years, and he recalls
the McAllister operation as “an
“There were definitely some
interesting features,” Mr Tucker said,
Indeed. Jackie Adams was the
detective sergeant involved in the
investigation early on. He has since
given up the CIB and works for the
West Coast Regional Council.
So, is McAllister dead, or overseas?
“ I could never make up my mind.
He owed a lot of money,” Mr Adams
muses. He said whoever parked his
ute up against the gorse would have
struggled to open the driver’s side
“Other things didn’t add up.”
He goes on, thinking aloud: “I
personally don’t think he’s dead. My
personal feeling, he left the country.”
As it is an ongoing case and the
police file remains out of the public
domain, it is hard to judge the truth
of the matter.
Detective constable Paul Heathcote,
of Nelson CIB, has that file and he
dismissed rumours — and there are
many — that the ute was missed in
the first search.
The search started at McAllister ’s
gold claim, then moved up and down
the river. Searchers found the vehicle
further upstream, where it could not
be seen from the roadside.
It was a one-lane track, and there
was no ideal place to park, Mr
“ It was not hard up against the
side (and) there was enough room to
He described McAllister as a
commercial miner, noting that he had
a proper limited liability company.
He confirmed there were civil
proceedings against him, but a police
financial investigation found he was
solvent when he vanished.
There have been three or four
reported sightings, each carefully
investigated, but police could not find
anything to substantiate the claims. If
McAllister was still walking around
Greymouth, more than a few people
would have seen him, Mr Heathcote
And if he had absconded, “I believe
we would have heard from him, or
someone would know something by
He said rumours there was a
warrant for McAllister’s arrest were
“c ategorically wrong”.
His evidence to the coroner paints a
picture of a man who loved his three
children and who was unlikely to
just sever all ties. But the file remains
open, and it is an active investigation.
A $25,000 reward for information
to help police find him remains in
Anyone with information
about Hugh McAllister can contact
detective constable Paul Heathcote
at the Nelson police, or detective
senior sergeant Dan Keno at the
Hugh McAllister was a loved dad, goldminer, businessman, contractor, wheeler-dealer. Originally from Hawke’s Bay, he
retired to the West Coast to work a gold claim near Kumara. Five years ago he vanished into thin air. Did he fall down
a long-forgotten mine shaft? Flee overseas? Or did he meet a more sinister fate? After talking to those close to him,
LAURA MILLS attempts to piece together the mystery.
PICTURE: Google Earth
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