Black Coast Vanishings: Sinister claims emerge in new TV series investigating Piha disappearances

Suicide, misadventure and drowning are the explanations police have given for the disappearance of six people from Piha over the past three decades – but some in the community feel something more sinister is to blame.

The isolated west Auckland town has long been plagued by rumour and gossip after a string of people vanished – never to be seen or heard from again. 

Now, a new true crime mystery series called Black Coast Vanishings has shed light on new allegations from several women in the area who all had horrifying near misses with a group of intimidating men. Men they believe could be responsible for at least some of the disappearances. They're not alone, former Mayor of Waitakere City Sir Bob Harvey is certain a serial killer is responsible for some of the disappearances.

The disappearances started with Quentin 'Q' Godwin in 1992, then Iraena Asher vanished in 2004, followed by Cherie Vousden in 2012 and Kim Bambus in 2017. Guoquan 'Laurence' Wu disappeared in 2019 and finally Eloi Rolland in 2020. 

Piha is an eccentric area that was built around surfing culture. The sport got its foothold in the town in the 1970s and still holds a special place in the community. But in the early 2000s people started using the isolated area to make and sell illicit drugs – such as meth.

In 2004 three meth cooks were operating on the same street. This meant people were flooding into the coastal town to buy drugs regularly and locals were living in fear. 

It was around this time a second person went missing and four more since – without a trace.  

'We were prey' 

But for all those who went missing, there are also sinister tales of near-misses. In Black Coast Vanishings, multiple women came forward with stories of being hunted through the bush, stalked and fearing for their lives at the hands of men in the area – men they believe may be responsible for the disappearances. 

One woman, known as Lisa, shared details of her encounter with a group of men in 2007. What was supposed to be a relaxing trip to Piha Beach ended with her running for her life through the bush.  

Lisa decided to visit Piha after hearing about the area from some friends.

"I went for a drive out and decided I would pull over on the side of the road where there was a little clearing and a track," she said. 

"I heard a car come up the road. It was like a hot-roddy, low-humming car. It stopped and I thought I heard whispers. I don't know if it was three or four men, but they started yelling out, 'Woo!' and 'It's on!'.

"I just ran into the trees. There were a couple of points where I hid and I could hear them yelling out, 'Just come back, I want to know what you taste like'." 

Lisa said she was chased through the bush for hours while the men yelled at and taunted her.  

"I had been running track for school but I was knackered. I kept thinking that so many people weren't going to see me again. 

"I heard a car that sounded like it must have been really close and there was a road. I almost got hit by an elderly couple. They stopped and I got in and I was just like, 'Drive, drive'."

She reported the encounter to police but during the interview, she said they kept asking her if she was on drugs because of how upset she was. 

"I couldn't talk properly. I couldn't focus on anything. I was crying lots and I was being sick. The police asked me so many times if I was on drugs, but it was trauma."

Several woman have come forward with terrifying close calls.
Several woman have come forward with terrifying close calls. Photo credit: Black Coast Vanishings

Every time someone goes missing Lisa worries it is the same men she escaped from. 

"I feel kind of responsible when people go missing in that circumstance because I came close and I survived and I didn't do anything. I didn't fight for the police to take me seriously; I didn't use my survival to ensure other people would be safe."

She's not the only woman who spoke out in the TV series. In 2009 Sarah and her friends decided to go to Piha Beach for a bonfire. 

"I had to go to the bathroom, so I crossed over the sand dunes and then started walking up the road under the streetlights.

"As I was approaching the toilet, I could hear this really loud car coming down the road towards me. [A man] jumped out of the car and started chasing me. He basically hunted me through the sand dunes. 

"I remember running through the sand dunes and falling over. It was dark and I couldn't see where I was going. He didn't say a word the whole time and I just ran for my life. I remember him being quite stocky around roughly 30 or 35. He had scruffy hair. The only reason I think he left was because another car was coming down the road.

"I just remember hiding and basically waiting for the noise of his car to go. I told my boyfriend at the time and he sort of laughed about it and didn't really believe what had happened. I was covered in my own urine from being so scared. It terrified the living shit out of me - it still does to this day." 

Every time someone goes missing Sarah also worries it is because of the man she escaped from.

In early March of 2017, Desislava Stefanova was on her usual run around the Ahuahu/Mercer Bay Loop track. Desislava ran the route every Thursday without issue, but this time she spotted a man staring at her from the side of the path. 

"I kept walking and he walked past me and went ahead of me. Then I saw him coming back towards me. Maybe another couple of minutes and he was again catching up with me and walked past me again," she said.

"At this point, I was thinking, 'Okay he's going back and forth to check for people and see if there are people on the track'. 

"I was very alert and very aware that I was in danger. When he was reasonably close to me, I heard people's voices and also a dog barking. I think at this point he gave up."

At first, she brushed it off as a scary encounter, deciding not to report it to the police. Then a few weeks later Kim Bambus disappeared from the same spot – the spot Cherie Vousden also went missing from in 2012. 

"It just hit me that it could have been me and that was when I called the police. Nobody called back for any information. Nobody has contacted me ever since."

It's eerily similar to Tia's experience. Tia and her friend decided to go see the full moon at the Mercer Bay Loop Track one night. They arrived around 6:30pm and started walking towards the lookout – but within five minutes their walk turned into a nightmare. 

"We heard a car coming up the hill so fast, like foot to the pedal," Tia said in Black Coast Vanishings.

"We just knew to hide. We lay down in long grass and this car pulled into the car park, screeched its brakes on and three doors slammed. 

"One of them said, 'Where the f**k are they?' And they went looking for us. They had a stick and they were going through the bush. Prey basically, that's how I felt... We were prey. It was just so scary.  

"We lay there with our hands on our mouths looking at each other. We basically knew if they found us we were f***ed. We lay there maybe for half an hour and then they went back to the car. I just poked my head up and caught a glance... one of the guys had a mullet and a surfer's build." 

Tia said they must have seen them from a house along the road because no one was around. A while later she heard about Kim and Cherie.  

"That's when a shiver came over me, that could have been us."

The missing people

Teenager Quentin 'Q' Godwin was the first to vanish in 1992. Godwin left his west Auckland home for his after-school job in Titirangi.

Quentin was a well-liked 18-year-old who people described as lovely and gentle. But before he disappeared his mother Sarah Godwin said he had started to hang out with a new group of people who were known for being trouble. 

The last reported sighting of Quentin was him being picked up hitchhiking along Piha Road. He never made it to his after-school job and was never seen again. Over the years there have been numerous suggestions about what might have happened to Quentin.

Quentin Godwin went missing in 1992.
Quentin Godwin went missing in 1992. Photo credit: Supplied

Kerry Fox went to school with Quentin and in 2008 a man she knew told her he knew what happened to the teen. The man said a group of people were hanging out doing burnouts around Piha. He said Quentin walked out in front of a car and was hit. The group panicked and buried him in a shallow grave nearby, according to the man.  

Kerry made two anonymous tip-offs to the police but didn't hear anything, so she contacted Sarah and told her. Eventually, Kerry made a formal statement to the police.

While there has never been any evidence, Sarah believes the story is true. She remains hopeful someone will come forward with more information. 

Twelve years later in 2004, Iraena Asher, 25, went missing after running away from her boyfriend's house in Piha.

On the night she disappeared, Iraena, a trainee teacher and part-time model, called police asking to be picked up from her new boyfriend's house. She said she felt unsafe, her drink had been spiked and she was being pressured for sex. 

But instead of sending an officer, police called a taxi to pick her up. The taxi never arrived, instead turning up at the wrong address in Onehunga.

Iraena Asher disappeared in 2004.
Iraena Asher disappeared in 2004. Photo credit: Supplied.

When help never came, Iraena left on foot and was found walking back to the city by west Auckland couple Bobbie Carroll and Julia Woodhouse.  

They took Iraena home with them and suggested calling the police, but she told them not to because "they were very angry with her". Bobbie and Julie suggested she stay the night instead and offered to take her home in the morning.

They told her she could sleep on their couch and tucked her in for the night. Before they could get into bed, they heard running outside. 

"I looked out and I saw Iraena was on the road with the dressing gown around her then she disappeared," Julia said. 

Bobbie jumped in the car to search for Iraena while Julia's son called the police. Then they spotted something that made their blood run cold.  

"I'm driving up the road to find her and get my dressing gown back and just like that everything changed," Bobbie said. 

"Just up from the RSA my dressing gown was on the road and I nearly vomited. Where was she? It meant that she was out there in the nude at 1:30am. Our heads were just spinning... that was the beginning of the nightmare for me." They never saw her again.

Bobbie Carroll and Julia Woodhouse found Iraena wandering the streets of Piha on the night she disappeared.
Bobbie Carroll and Julia Woodhouse found Iraena wandering the streets of Piha on the night she disappeared. Photo credit: Black Coast Vanishings

Shortly afterwards police arrived with a canine unit to search for Iraena. The last people who reported seeing her said she was naked under a streetlight on Seaview Road. 

They said she raised her arms and kissed the ground before vanishing completely. The male witness was good friends with her new boyfriend and had met Iraena before.

Police said Iraena was likely confused and disorientated and walked into the surf at Piha and drowned. After her death, several locals received anonymous letters claiming they knew where she was buried but nothing ever came of it. 

Iraena's disappearance led to significant changes in the way the New Zealand police handle emergency calls. Her family was very critical of the police response.

After Iraena's disappearance, the town was on high alert but slowly, things got back to normal until someone else went missing. Two days before Christmas in 2012, Cherie Vousden disappeared from the Ahuahu/Mercer Bay Loop Track. 

Cherie's car was found in the car park with her windows down and personal items still inside. A search and rescue operation was launched and the Eagle helicopter was called in.

During the search, it was revealed a group of people had seen Cherie running down the track barefoot. The last sighting of her was her walking down the track with a bottle of wine – something her family said wasn't unusual. 

After her disappearance, good conditions meant emergency services could thoroughly search the surrounding landscape, including caves along the coast – but she was never found.

Her family and friends knew she would never deliberately miss Christmas with her then-nine-year-old daughter.  

Cherie Vousden disappeared in 2012.
Cherie Vousden disappeared in 2012. Photo credit: Supplied.

Her former partner Phil Wesley-Brown felt the search was called off too soon and took things into his own hands, searching the entire area in the days afterwards.

While police never found the wine bottle, Wesley-Brown did find a fresh-looking broken wine bottle down the rock face. The bottle had dark hair inside and was given to the police. There is nothing in police files to indicate whether this was checked or what information it provided.

A coroner's report concluded Cherie likely fell from the cliffs.

Five years later another woman, Kim Bambus vanished from the exact same track in extremely similar circumstances. 

The 21-year-old left her Ponsonby flat on the morning she disappeared telling her flatmates she was going for a run.

Her car was found in the car park with her keys and personal items inside. The police investigation lasted seven days with police scouring the area for any sign of her. 

Her body was never found.  

Kim Bambus went missing in 2017.
Kim Bambus went missing in 2017. Photo credit: Supplied.

Just two years later in 2019, another person vanished. Guoquan Wu, also known as Laurence, came to New Zealand to study for a Bachelor of Science and was close to finishing his degree. The night before he went missing, he was out with his friends at karaoke. He was reportedly sad about his relationship breaking down. 

In the morning, he headed out to Piha. He called his ex-partner and told her he was in a place they had been before. She was worried about him and called his friends to check up on him. Later that night they registered him with police as a missing person.

Laurence was last seen disoriented walking towards the beach through the campground. He asked a staff member how to get to the beach but they thought he seemed off and asked him if he needed anything. He said "no" and headed towards the beach. 

His car was found on Marine Parade with his keys inside. The family poured resources into finding him including a $200,000 reward and a helicopter to search the coastline.

The official finding was he drowned either accidentally or on purpose, but the family didn't accept that finding. 

Laurence Wu vanished in 2019.
Laurence Wu vanished in 2019. Photo credit: Supplied.

French language student Eloi Rolland was the most recent person to vanish in Piha. The teenager was last seen walking along the road leading into the town, but he never made it, and no one has heard from him since.

Detective Inspector Callum McNeill said for the first four days after Eloi's disappearance they had very little to go on. His wallet, ID, bank cards and laptop were all still at his house, but his passport wasn't, which McNeill said was unusual because there was nothing to suggest he had packed a bag or planned a trip. 

The teen was enjoying studying in New Zealand, according to his friends. But before he disappeared, he was feeling homesick.

The day he went missing, Eloi took a train from Britomart Station in the city to Fruitvale in west Auckland. From there he was captured on a petrol station's CCTV camera walking towards Piha. Multiple people saw him walking along Piha Road near Frog Rock. Local artist Ted Scott said Eloi stood out to him because it was quite unusual to see people walking on that road. 

"It's a 100km/h stretch so I was going pretty fast. I left a wide birth so I wouldn't scare him because he had his head lowered and there was something about him that didn't sort of look right," Scott revealed in Black Coast Vanishing.

"He wasn't really on the Piha Road, he was in another world. I just sensed that there was something wrong and I can't explain it." 

Police were able to track his movements along Piha Road by accessing his Google Maps data but at some point, his phone died, and the trail went cold.

Eloi Rolland went missing in 2020.
Eloi Rolland went missing in 2020. Photo credit: Supplied.

Twelve days after he went missing the New Zealand borders closed because of the pandemic leaving his parents in France unable to travel to look for him. 

One of the theories about what happened to Eloi is he was hit by a car and then possibly moved by a driver who panicked. But four years later there are still no answers for his family or friends.

Another theory is abduction or violence possibly connected to debt. In the lead-up to his disappearance, he was behaving erratically. 

His friends said he started to become distant and had fallen in love with a girl who already had a partner and wasn't interested in him.

Things went downhill when he started working in a hotel and became friends with a new group of people. 

He started borrowing money from people and, according to police, had "very little money". In the weeks before he went missing he told a friend he owed someone a lot of money and it was a "matter of life and death".

He also called his parents begging to come home before March 8. Police were unable to find any reason that date was so important to him.  

Police also considered the possibility Eloi wanted to disappear given he had sought advice from an immigration specialist earlier in the year.

But McNeill said it's very hard to assume a new identity and live undetected in New Zealand. 

One of his childhood friends Julian Zabiolle said he believed Eloi wanted to build a new life from scratch. Another puzzling element is that Zabiolle sent Eloi a message that WhatsApp said he received a month after his disappearance.

His parents also revealed two months after his disappearance there were two PayPal transactions in Australia. Unfortunately, the platform refused to give the police any information about the transactions. Police have spent over 2300 hours searching for Eloi. There have been over 3000 reported sightings, and each one has been investigated. Eloi's case remains open. 

Accidents, suicides or something more sinister? 

While police and officials have given several reasons for the disappearances over the years, former Mayor of Waitakere City Sir Bob Harvey has his own explanation.

Sir Bob is adamant some of the disappearances are the work of a serial killer who has been terrorizing the community.

Sir Bob Harvey believes a serial killer is responsible.
Sir Bob Harvey believes a serial killer is responsible. Photo credit: Newshub

When Eloi went missing it cemented his view that the disappearances were much more sinister than they were being portrayed.

"Someone can't just vanish. We are entering the edge of darkness with these disappearances. What the hell has happened to these people?" Sir Bob said in the series. 

"I think everyone that lives out here has heard of women who have had encounters on this track (Mercer Bay Loop). Women who have been frightened."

"If you look at all these [missing] people, none of them look like a footballer or an All Black. They all look handsome and beautiful. The men look soft, gentle, kind. The women look beautiful. 

"It's my sincere belief that they all met foul play by the same individual. So, if I have to believe that a serial killer is at work? I do. I do."

Black Coast Vanishings is available to stream for free on ThreeNow.