Finding Cindy Li: Inside the police operation and the breakthrough moment

The moment that police made a key discovery which led them to find a 70-year-old Auckland woman who had been missing for 11 days has been revealed in emails shown to the Herald.

Cindy Li was reported missing from her Tranmere Rd, Sandringham, home on November 9. She was found 11 days later inside a nearby house that she was familiar with and had access to.

She showed no signs of physical injuries when police found her but she was extremely dehydrated and taken to hospital in critical condition.

On the night Li was reported missing by her husband, police visited the address Li would be later found inside.

Officers returned to the property the following day, and again on November 15 and 18.

Each time, there was no answer to their door knocks and no sign that anyone was home.

Police had tried unsuccessfully during the search, called Operation Palant, to find the occupant.

Police searched Li’s own home a number of times and used her cellphone – which she did not have with her when she went missing – alongside other data to determine that she had not arranged to be picked up from her house, either by friends, associates or a passenger service like Uber, and most likely left on foot.

Based on her phone and email use, witness accounts and other enquiries, police also believed that Li was probably at home at 9.50am the day she was reported missing, and there were no confirmed sightings of her after this time.

The emails seen by the Herald said that general enquiries, including the area canvass and finding CCTV sources and witnesses, had been “thorough”.

Police ascertained that Li had gone for walk at some point in the hours before she disappeared.

On November 19, 10 days after Li was reported missing, police released CCTV footage to the public of Li’s last known sighting in an appeal for information and said they had “serious concerns” for her safety, given the length of time she had been missing.

That same day, a senior constable figured out that the occupant, an elderly man, of the nearby house that they were looking for had been in hospital in Auckland the entire time Li was missing. Police also learned that Li and the man were friends and had known each other for some time.

“To be unequivocal, police had no information at this time that Cindy Li had any ability to access [the man’s] flat,” the emails said.

“The leap was based on the long-term relationship between [the man] and Cindy Li and the possibility that she had either been granted access to the flat or knew how to achieve access.”

The next day, officers searched the man’s house for the first time and found Li inside just before midday.

Further enquiries by police after Li had been located confirmed that some in the community were aware that Li had visited the man’s house frequently and had a key or at least access to a key.

In the days after Li was found, police thanked the local Sandringham community for their concern and assistance in the case.

“We are relieved that Cindy has been located alive given the number of days she remained missing.”

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