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Jessica Boyce unsolved homicide: Police announce $100k reward, focus on small group of people

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Police investigating the suspected homicide of missing woman Jessica Boyce are offering a reward of up to $100,000 as they close in on a small group of people they believe hold the key to her disappearance.

Boyce, then 27, was last seen in the Marlborough town of Renwick on March 19, 2019. She was seen driving her mother’s red Holden Rodeo ute which was discovered three days later parked at the Lake Chalice car park in the Richmond Range.

Police initially thought Boyce was a missing person but then upgraded the case to a homicide investigation in October 2020.

The Herald can now reveal police are offering a reward of up to $100,000 for material information or evidence that leads to the identity and conviction of any person or persons responsible for her disappearance.

The Commissioner of Police will determine the amount of the reward and will apportion it if there is more than one claimant.

Immunity against prosecution will also be considered for any accomplice not being a principal offender who gives such information or evidence.

The officer in charge of the investigation, dubbed Operation Largo, Detective Senior Sergeant Ciaran Sloan told the Herald in a sit-down interview that police were “pretty confident” they knew who was involved in her disappearance.

Jessica Boyce, 27, was last seen on March 19, 2019. Photo / Supplied
Jessica Boyce, 27, was last seen on March 19, 2019. Photo / Supplied

Early on in the investigation police became aware Boyce was a user and dealer of drugs which they believe is linked to her disappearance.

“I believe Jessica had a very good source for methamphetamine and pseudoephedrine. I think it was Jessica’s source that these parties were interested in… they wouldn’t know who her source was, but they would’ve wanted it.”

Sloan says there’s a group of people, as many as nine, who police believe hold crucial information and are “some way involved”.

“They know something. They individually might not know everything, but they all know a little bit of something.

“We’ve spoken to all of them. Some of them have been cooperative, some of them just bare-face lied.”

Police planned to revisit the group, most of whom lived in Marlborough at the time, again soon.

Sloan added police also believe one of the women’s father is also involved.

“Our belief is dad’s come in and cleaned up after.

“There are people within that extended family that weren’t involved but know who is involved within their own family. That family are known to us and bad things keep happening to them. Until this is sorted, and people are held to account I think bad things are going to keep happening until they restore their mana.”

Jessica Boyce's mother's red Holden Rodeo ute, last driven by Jess, was found abandoned near Lake Chalice, in Mt Richmond Forest, on March 22, 2019. Photo / Supplied
Jessica Boyce’s mother’s red Holden Rodeo ute, last driven by Jess, was found abandoned near Lake Chalice, in Mt Richmond Forest, on March 22, 2019. Photo / Supplied

Sloan said what happened to Boyce was either accidental, reckless or deliberate.

“Exactly what’s happened at that point in time we need to establish. That’s where the opportunity is there now for people to come forward, explain what they know, and decide whether they want to be a potential witness or potential defendant.”

He said given the number of persons of interest that police believe were involved before, during and after in Boyce’s disappearance they had kept an “open mind” that not all of them know the “whole scenario”.

“Some involved likely only know certain parts, what they did before she went missing, and not what happened afterwards.

“Some only know how they assisted with afterwards and not what happened beforehand. It is likely only two or three know the whole story.”

“People involved need to seriously consider the reward and immunity that is now on offer.”

Two years before Boyce’s disappearance she was injured in a crash that killed one of her friends. Following the crash she had an “unstable neck”, Sloan says.

At the time of her disappearance, she was living in Renwick.

“She was well-liked by her friends and associates. She was a free spirit, would walk everywhere bare feet sort of care-free attitude.”

On March 19, she was seen by her sister leaving home in her mother’s car. Later that day she visited some friends in Renwick with the last confirmed sighting mid-afternoon that day. When her mother returned home and noticed she wasn’t there and her car was missing she called the police and reported her missing.

Police believe a group of people, as many as nine, know what happened to Jessica Boyce. Image / Supplied
Police believe a group of people, as many as nine, know what happened to Jessica Boyce. Image / Supplied

“At that stage, there was no reason to suspect anything suspicious,” Sloan says.

On March 22, the car was found in the car park at Lake Chalice. Sloan says police believe the car was placed there for the police to find and “throw investigators off the track”.

“It just didn’t fit. It didn’t look like Jessica had driven up there and left the car and went for a walk. It just hasn’t panned out that that’s a viable scenario.”

Boyce, whose cellphone was only used for music, left no electronic footprint for police. The last contact on her phone was a month before her disappearance when she had a payment for a subscription.

It wasn’t until October 2019 that police announced they’d upgraded the case to a homicide investigation.

“We started to receive quite a bit of information from the local community around various scenarios about what might’ve happened to Jessica.

“It became obvious to us that there was a lot of misinformation out there but certainly with the search at the Lake Chalice area and the information coming in it now looked more sinister.”

In the years since police have gone through a “massive amount of information,” Sloan says.

“Each and every bit has been investigated and it’s pretty clear who’s involved and it’s pretty clear what was misinformation in trying to steer the investigation the wrong way.”

Police have searched around the east coast of Marlborough, Blenheim, Takaka, West Coast, and as far north as Whangarei.

“The leg work has been done and everything that’s been put in front of us has been investigated.”

Police recently searched a property in Canvastown in relation to the investigation. Sloan says he can’t comment on what led police there, other than to say police had “some specific information that we acted on”.

Investigators are also waiting for information to come from overseas in relation to some forensic electronic evidence.

With Boyce’s disappearance now reaching five years, Sloan says her family are “desperate” to have her returned home.

“Jessica was only 27. She had her whole life in front of her… she didn’t deserve for her life to end at 27.”

As time has gone on, Sloan says allegiances and alliances change. Now was the time for those with information to come forward.

“The people involved are the ones we want to hear from and we want facts.

“We’ve got more than enough anonymous information, we’re now down to the brass tax.”

Operation Largo is now down to a team of six working on the case inside the homicide base at the Blenheim police station “motivated to get the result”.

A photo of Boyce is on the wall inside the base, serving as a constant reminder to the team of the goal. To bring Boyce home to her family and hold those responsible to account.

“That’s the motivation. That would be a massive moment if we were able to achieve that and bring her home.

“You get one shot at laying a charge of this nature and you’ve got to be beyond reasonable doubt and at the moment we’re not there but we’re very close.”

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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