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Jim Donnelly: Missing presumed Murdered (2004)

On the 21st of June 2004, Jim Donnelly (43) went missing from the Steel Mill he worked at in Auckland, New Zealand. He had last been seen that morning in the changing rooms after signing in. He would be reported missing at around 6 pm by his wife.

In the weeks leading up to his disappearance, his wife had noticed that something was wrong. He was withdrawn and would not tell her what was wrong. Tracey told the New Zealand Herald, "from what I can see now, he thought he was handling it and sorting it out. But I think that it was bigger than he imagined."

Then the weekend before Jim went missing, he told his wife that he had to go to a meeting and said he might be a little fragile when he came back. He had also hired a suit to wear. Tracey came back to him 10 minutes later and asked him whether he meant fragile mentally or physically. Jim replied physically. However, 2 hours later Jim returned unscathed.

The next day Jim still seemed preoccupied and according to Tracey would pace. He took their son to a driving range to hit golf balls and also went to the grandparent's house. According to their Son, they also went to Stephen's house but there was no one there.

When Jim and his son returned he told Tracey he had to 'go and avert a crisis.' It was the next day that he went missing.


21st June 2004 Timeline:

Jim woke up as usual for his shift. He told his wife he had gotten something for the children's birthdays (which were months away) and that it was in the wardrobe, but he'd sort it out later. He left for work.

Jim stopped off to buy petrol on his route to work and he also bought a muffin.

Jim arrived at work and signed in as usual. He went to his office and placed the muffin on his desk, then went to the dressing room to change into his work outfit. This was the last official sighting of Jim.

At 8:00 AM, Jim's wife Tracey called him but got no answer. She called his best friend Stephen Taylor, whom he had known since they were 5.

At 9:00 AM Jim missed a work meeting.

At some point during the day, Stephen went to the mill to search for Jim. There were no signs of him. However, Stephen would later go back and search again and saw Jim's car still in the car park, but parked in a different space than normal.

With friends and family finding no sign of him and unable to contact him the police were notified at 6 pm.


The Investigation

The police immediately carried out searches covering the mill, its grounds, and the surroundings - paddocks, beaches, waterways, and bush.

Five days after Jim went missing his hard hat was found beside an acid vat inside the mill.

After draining the acid bath, they found his work ID card, PalmPilot, safety glasses, credit card, cash, and a single key - his work key. The keyring with all his other keys was never found.

Mill Management maintains that Jim had left the worksite the day he disappeared, but his wife Tracey is not convinced. One thing that has always bothered her is an unidentified car that pulled into the mill car park the night Jim disappeared. It pulled up near where Jim's car was parked, far from his usual space. Police were already on the scene by that stage and when the driver spotted the patrol cars, they turned off their lights and drove away. That car has never been identified.


Unsubstantiated Rumours/ Reporting:

There has been a number of reported sightings or piece of information given which has not been corroborated by the police. This doesn't mean this information isn't true, however, it has not been substantiated.

  • Three days after Jim went missing a digger operator reported seeing someone fitting his description “running for his life” from searchers.

  • Apparently, Jim had been seen acting strangely the night prior to his disappearance at an office block in Central Auckland. He was presumed to be looking for Stephen who worked there. The building’s resident caretaker reportedly said Donnelly sneaked through a secure car park after an office worker. When questioned, he said he had come to see someone working in the building and to help his friend pay a debt.

  • According to some reporting, Jim had twice asked Tracey to come home early so he could explain to her why he wanted to join the Freemasons. Apparently the same day he made the 'fragile' comment, he and Tracey had been supposed to go out for a date night. However, Jim disappeared for an urgent meeting but came back for the date. This was the Saturday, two days before Jim went missing.



There are four official scenarios that the police have investigated: Foul play, accident, staged disappearance, and suicide.

In my opinion, I believe that Jim went missing due to foul play and was likely murdered. I believe that there is evidence to suggest that Jim had gotten involved either directly or indirectly with dangerous people. It's possible that he had been trying to help with friend Stephen to get out of debt or out of trouble. It's also possible that he saw/learned something at work he shouldn't have.

The fact that Jim bought his children's presents months in advance suggests to me that he at least considered that were was a possibility that he may not be coming back. Not, I believe, because he wanted to disappear but because he knew that it was a possibility.

The mill had been searched very quickly after Jim was reported missing and no sign of his items was left behind. However, days later they found the hard hat and other items in the acid vat. I believe those items were placed there after Jim had been murdered/killed. It's possible that someone believed that the acid would be strong enough to destroy the items placed in there, and perhaps they wanted to make it look like Jim had fallen in and died. Otherwise, why leave the hard hat outside the vat where it would be found, why not place it in too? However, as we know now the strength of the acid was not strong enough to destroy his items, let alone a human body.

Jim's worked computer was not turned on the morning he disappeared which suggests to me that he never got the chance to start work. He also never attended the handover meeting at 9:00 AM.

It's possible that Jim was either tricked or forced into leaving the Mill and getting into another vehicle. He may have then been killed (accidentally or purposely) and the car seen later was the killer(s) or accomplice(s) returning to remove Jim's car to make it look like he had never been at work, or he had left willingly.

Because the hard hat was left later, and the items were thrown into the vat, I believe that at least one person involved had to have been working at the mill in some capacity. However, I also believe that there were multiple people who at the very least were aware of what had happened to Jim.

I DO NOT believe that Stephen played any nefarious part in Jim's disappearance or murder. However, I do think that as Jim's best friend, and as someone Jim had clearly been looking for in the days before, he may have more information than he has given. Whether it be a debt he or Jim had owned, whether it be about a person or persons that Jim had somehow gotten involved with or something which Jim had seen or overheard. This is of course all alleged, but if Stephen were to know something I believe that he would only not come forward with more information if he was worried about the dangerous backlash.

I would be very interested to find out about anyone who had called in sick at the Mill that day, or who had gone offsite for a last-minute errand or job.



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