Coroner’s jury investigating unusual New Zealand disappearance

Seven years after the disappearance of Iraena Asher from Piha, New Zealand, she has been declared dead and a three-day inquest has been set up to try and figure out what happened to her. Iraena, a 25-year-old college student and part-time model (she was certainly beautiful enough) “was last seen standing naked under a streetlight during a blustery storm. Her case created an uproar when it was revealed police sent a taxi to respond to her 111 call rather than police officers.”

Iraena had bipolar disorder and her boyfriend said she’d been acting weird, “like a zombie”, prior to her disappearance. She’d been on lithium, a mood stabilizer commonly used to treat bipolar disorder (I myself take Depakote) but hadn’t been taking it as directed: “She told [her boyfriend] she missed a couple of her lithium pills. To make up, she’d take extra.” And even she was taking it as she should, stress in her life could cause an episode anyway.

(Sad but so typical: with mental illness of any kind, even if you take your meds as directed you can still struggle and have episodes. It often takes months, years, even decades to get your medicine right. Sometimes they never get it right. In the four months after I finally started getting serious treatment for my depression, I followed all my doctor’s instructions but I had to be hospitalized three times and had some other serious episodes where I could have been hospitalized. In the three years that followed, my medication helped greatly but I still had episodes of extreme depression and suicidality, several times a month and lasting perhaps a few days or a week at a time, and just accepted it as something I would have to deal with forever. It wasn’t until over a year ago that I was finally diagnosed with mild bipolar disorder and started taking Depakote. And let me tell you, the difference is stupendous. Great Headache Crisis and all, I haven’t had a black day since then. But it took almost three years to get it right, and that was with good medical help and supervision and a very cooperative patient. But anyway…)

According to one witness, the night Iraena vanished she became giddy and irrational: changing out of her pajamas into a dressy skirt, “like something you would wear to a fashion show not the beach,” she began crying but refused to say what was wrong. Then she ran out into the thunderstorm and got soaked. They gave her some dry clothes, but she wouldn’t keep them on and instead wore a duvet (my WordWeb program says that’s Brit-speak for a quilt) or “occasionally dancing naked around the room.” The guy she was with said she was acting “seductive” but when Iraena called the emergency phone number, she said she was being pressured for sex and was scared. The cops thought it was not an emergency and she was just wanted a free ride home. As noted above, they sent a taxi instead of a police car. It didn’t matter: Iraena walked out of the house before the taxi arrived and vanished into space.

As with Shannan, the police believe Iraena probably died in an accident. Quoting from this article:

“At the time of her disappearance it is believed Iraena Asher was suffering from a manic bi-polar episode,” officer in charge Detective Senior Sergeant John Sutton told the inquest.

“She wandered into the surf at Piha beach and drowned. In my view this is the most probable explanation.”


[After she left the house] Asher was taken in by a Piha couple when they discovered her in distress on the road but later panicked and ran away. Police say given her state, they should have acted… She was last seen wandering naked toward the Piha surf.

About the “Piha couple,” they testified as well:

Asher was last seen naked, under a streetlight by Zachary Nixon and his girlfriend Simone Ross. They hid and watched her “address” the streetlight, Sutton told the court. She then appeared to kneel down, and kiss the ground, before turning towards the beach.

“They followed her. The last they saw her as she moved toward the beam of the last streetlight near the beach. They were astonished she seemed to disappear into the darkness,” Moore said.

They think she either walked into the ocean intentionally or, more likely, was dragged out into the water by a wave or something. Iraena was apparently a really good swimmer and surfer who knew how to deal with riptides, but these were quite dangerous conditions. There’s no evidence to support any other theories in her disappearance, and I agree that this seems to be the most plausible explanation. Most people who drown in the ocean wash up on shore, but some bodies are swept out to sea.

This case totally sounds just like Shannan Gilbert‘s disappearance and death. Shannan freaked out in the middle of the night for some reason and called 911, and they only sent one police officer who took his sweet time cause they thought the call was not an emergency. Shannan ran outside and vanished without a trace, only to turn up in a nearby swamp more than a year and a half later. The police think it was probably an accident (understandable), the family is saying murder (also understandable) and the media are still speculating about how she died and why and who’s to blame. Like Iraena, Shannan was bipolar and apparently having a breakdown at the time of her disappearance.

A very sad story.

14 thoughts on “Coroner’s jury investigating unusual New Zealand disappearance

  1. Justin July 17, 2012 / 9:26 am

    I’ve been to New Zealand. Absolutely beautiful country.

    I don’t think she is alive either. I guess she thought she could take her psychotropic meds like birth control pills. Miss one and take a couple more to make up for it. Not a good idea.

    A few years ago, I wanted to submit missing persons from New Zealand to the Doe Network back when I had the book “Without Trace: On the Trail of New Zealand Missing Persons” by Scott Bainbridge, but was told that they were not doing MP from New Zealand.


    Off subject: According to the Doe Network, they made a mistake about identifying Ronald Stanford Bram and he is still missing. He is back on NamUs at

    • Meaghan July 17, 2012 / 4:18 pm

      The Ronald Bram thing is, ah, complicated. I sent you an email about it.

      The instructions that come along with all the medications I get these days, both psychotropic drugs and antibiotics or whatever, say “If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If by then it’s close to the time to take your second dose, just skip it. Do not double up doses if you missed one the last time.”

    • Meaghan July 17, 2012 / 4:19 pm

      Oh, and I had a copy of the NZ MPs book then gave it to the library. Then the author sent me a free copy of the sequel, which I still have I think. Unless I gave that one to the library too.

      • Justin July 17, 2012 / 8:55 pm

        I know. I’m the one who sent it to you. Don’t regret doing it though. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Vanessa July 17, 2012 / 6:30 pm

      I’ve got both Scott Bainbridge’s NZ missing persons books. Thanks for mentioning that Doe are accepting NZ cases now – I’ll see if I can submit some. Some of those cases are absolutely fascinating and strange.

      • Justin July 17, 2012 / 9:07 pm

        Good. I look forward to seeing them.

        Doe is also starting to accept cases without photographs. There was a missing American woman in the first book named Roselyn Tilbury who vanished from a trail in NZ back in 1972 that I really wanted to find a photograph of so I could submit to Doe. I tried contacting the FBI because they can also investigate missing Americans overseas to see if they were investigating her case, but I don’t think they were.

      • Meaghan July 18, 2012 / 12:08 am

        I don’t see the point of doing an MP case without a photograph or at least a drawing or something. Plus, if I started accepting MP cases without photos that would, like, triple my workload immediately.

      • Justin July 18, 2012 / 2:04 am

        Yeah, I was a bit surprised when Doe started doing profiling missing persons sans photographs and personally thought that was not one of their better ideas. But they have decided to do this and now a LOT of NamUs profiles that have no photos are starting to show up on their site.

      • dave senf June 7, 2016 / 7:31 pm

        I may have new evidence. Need help piecing this together.

  2. Peter Henderson July 17, 2012 / 3:36 pm

    Interesting Meaghan,

    As I was reading your post Shannan Gilbert’s case flashed into my mind.

    I think investigators are correct in both cases, which does not excuse their failure to respond in a timely, proper fashion.

    I became friends on Shannan’s Facebook page long before she was found. I know her mom and sister don’t want to accept the fact that her death was a accident.

    The question I put forward back then was why? Why did a woman who worked as a out-call escort for some time, suddenly freak out?

    As a working girl she was trained to be seductive, but also trained to be in control. One possible reason could be she was given something that caused her manic behavior, by her driver or by her John. If that had been established, others may have been arrested.

    Regardless the facts strongly suggest Shannan ran into the bogs, stripped off some of her clothing as they got wet and extremely heavy, then completely exhausted collapsed and died. Maybe that night, surely in the days that followed.

    Back then I posted that Shannan was a angel; whose purpose in life, while not connected, was to expose a serial killer.

    I know that the families of those victims, identified and still unidentified, will always hold Shannan in their hearts.

    • Meaghan July 17, 2012 / 4:23 pm

      If Shannan had bipolar disorder, with that, you don’t really need a reason to freak out. It just happens. It’s happened to me many a time — I’m walking along minding my own business and suddenly, just like that, I get the urge to die. The happiest day of my life, when something wonderful happened to me that I could never have anticipated — later that day, I slipped into a depressive phase for only an hour or so and was screaming and crying and wanted to drive my car off a bridge. Then just as quickly — like flicking a switch — the feeling was gone, leaving me wonder what had happened and why. These episodes, regarding myself, feel completely disconnected from everything else. Like they’re happening to someone else.

      • Lori July 18, 2012 / 2:59 am

        Without proper help bipolar controls you….until then you can’t control what your mind causes you to do. Shannan sounded very much like she was not doing well at all and quite possibly had an episode.

    • Meaghan July 17, 2012 / 4:43 pm

      Margaret Kilcoyne, at is also a quite similar case. Though she hadn’t been diagnosed yet, it looks like an obvious case of bipolar disorder to me, and she just walked into the ocean and got swallowed up. A great loss to the medical world, since she was apparently a very good cardiologist working on a cure for hypertension.

  3. Lori July 18, 2012 / 2:55 am

    Well what a lovely screw up…..geez. the police can be so bad at figuring out things…its obvious to me she needed help….she had very obvious symptoms. People who act like this all the time are brought in to where I work…so some departments are getting it finally.

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