Court hears man's final text message before disappearing with stepson

John Beckenridge (left) disappeared with his stepson Mike Zhao-Beckenridge (right) in March 2015.

Eight years after the mysterious disappearance of an Invercargill schoolboy and his stepfather, a Coronial hearing is being held in Christchurch to investigate what happened.

John Beckenridge, 64, went missing with 11-year-old Mike Zhao-Beckenridge in March 2015 after he picked his stepson up from his Invercargill school, breaching a recently imposed Family Court order.

Counsel assisting Lisa Preston KC told the Coroner’s court proceedings were not an inquest.

"A coronial inquiry was formally opened after the Police referred the case to the Chief Coroner in February 2016.

"However police investigations continued at that time and indeed police continue to investigate any information coming to hand.

"The purpose of the hearing beginning today is to address the question whether you have jurisdiction to open inquiries.

”The main issue is whether it is likely that Mike Beckenridge and John Beckenridge are dead.”

The pair were seen in various places in the Catlins in Beckenridge’s car, before it went off a 90-metre-high cliff near Curio Bay a week after the abduction.

“That afternoon, 20 March 2015, several farewell text messages were sent to friends and associates in very short succession from John Beckenridge's phone," Preston said.

She proceeded to read the messages out loud, including a final message from Michael Beckenridge to his mother, which read.

“Do you know why this has happened? Well first you do not care what I say. You only listen to Peter cow shit. 2, second you lie and you should have agreed about the contract that was going 50 50 and I was not gunna see Peter in that contract. 3. You have caused this with Peter and you know it deep down. PS you do not deserve to be my mum or to be called Fiona and you certainly do not deserve my love. From Mike."

The very last message sent from the phone was from John Beckenridge to Lu.

“To Feng Juan Lu. Thanks my love for being my wife, being my partner and my best friend. And all the other things that you promised me in our life. You are very good at lying and deceiving! And on top of it – you have destroyed our family, my life and Mikes. Happy for what you done? We had an agreement that you approved – but that fucking peter Cowshit changed your mind. He controls you my dear – I did not. Happy? Me and Mike are leaving now on the Midnight Express 3 min for departure. Bye my love and thanks for everything. JB & MB”

The court was told cellphone polling data showed the pair were still in the Catlins when all the messages were sent. At the time, Police were actively patrolling in the area looking for the pair.

Preston said, "Two days later on March 22 2015, debris, which included Mike's school bag containing some of his clothing and shoes and various car parts began to wash ashore at Porpoise Bay."

The bodies of the pair have never been found, sparking rumours their deaths were staged and that the pair fled New Zealand. Mike’s mother and her partner Peter Russell both still believe the disappearance was staged and the pair are still alive and in hiding.

The Coronial hearing is expected to run for two weeks.


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