Police have found a cellphone belonging to missing real estate agent Yanfei Bao on a motorway several kilometres from where she was last seen, the detective leading the inquiry into her disappearance says.
Bao vanished on Wednesday while working in the Christchurch suburb of Wigram, where she was going door to door as part of her job.
At a press conference on Friday evening Detective Inspector Nicola Reeves said police are “growing increasingly concerned” for her and are treating her disappearance as unexplained.
Reeves said police had on Friday found one of Bao’s cellphones on the Southern Motorway near Blakes Rd.
Officers are now focusing part of their investigation on that area.
Reeves said: “We are now interested to hear from any members of the public who might have been travelling on the motorway on Wednesday and noticed anything out of the ordinary.”
Fears have grown for Bao, 44, after she failed to pick up her daughter from school on Wednesday.
By early Thursday morning, police were actively searching the area of Wigram where she was last seen.
Bao had her cellphone with her on the morning she went missing, Reeves said, and the fact she no longer has it is of great concern to police.
Reeves declined to answer whether any calls had since been made from the phone.
She said the investigation was in its early stages and officer were not at the point of saying if they have suspects or persons of interest, and that the case was being treated strictly as a “missing person investigation”.
“There is no suggestion or anything pointing us at this stage to suggest there is a threat to real estate agents or members of the community.”
Reeves said they have found other items while out searching, but they are not yet sure of their relevance.
Forty officers are working on the case, and officers are scouting the roads around where she was last seen, on Vickerys Rd.
“If you live in this area and have not spoken with police but have access to CCTV footage of the street area, police would like to hear from you.”
Reeves said Bao’s disappearance was perplexing and out of character, and her family were being supported by relatives, friends and police.
“It is pretty harrowing for the family, who are desperate to have her home.
“They are deeply concerned, and the longer she is missing the concern grows, and they would like nothing more than for her to come home safely.”
Vickerys Rd in Wigram was eerily quiet on Friday as officers methodically went door to door to try and find clues as to the woman’s whereabouts.
Some residents, despite the publicity about the case, said they had no idea Bao was missing.
One said an officer who visited his home asked him for his details and where he was on Wednesday. He said he was at work during the day so he no information to offer.
Police appear to be noting any security cameras on residential buildings as they move through the suburb.
Another resident said police had twice called at his home and asked who lived there and their whereabouts on Wednesday.
The man said he went for a walk about 10.30am, the time Bao went missing, and did not see her. If she had called at his home when he was not there, she had not left a card.
He was perplexed by the discovery of her car 1km away in Iroquois Place. Police earlier said the Nissan Dualis, registration PKT 556, was being forensically examined.
“I wouldn’t expect somebody to walk that far,” the resident said.
The mystery of the woman’s disappearance was “a bit scary”.
“It’s not something you expect in your neighbourhood,” he said.
In Iroquois Place, Stuff has spoken to various residents, none of whom recalled seeing her on Wednesday. She hadn’t left any calling cards either.
One man believed he’d seen her car parked in the street while he was walking his dog. He thought he could recall seeing a grey coat rolled up on the passenger seat.
“It’s just weird. It’s very, very suspicious. To think someone’s car turns up here and then all of a sudden someone’s missing.
Bao’s visibly distressed partner, Paul Gooch, did not want to comment at his Avonhead home where he was surrounded by friends, on Thursday afternoon.
He later posted a heartfelt plea on Facebook, saying he was “deeply concerned” for Bao’s safety and wellbeing.
“Our 9-year-old daughter and I are desperately seeking any information that could lead us to her whereabouts,” Gooch wrote.
“As a dedicated real estate consultant, she had planned to engage with the local community through door-to-door outreach to promote her services.
“We have not heard from her since, and this is completely out of character for Yanfei. Our daughter and I are incredibly worried, and we kindly ask for your assistance in this difficult time.”
On Thursday, more than 20 police detectives were piecing together her last known movements – an effort named Operation Helo.
More than 40 real estate agents across Christchurch also stopped work to join the search for Bao, who was a new member of the team, Harcourts Wigram branch manager Hamish McLeod said.
Reeves said Bao was last seen by a person she spoke with after knocking on their door in Vickerys Rd, near the intersection of Hayton Rd.
The alarm was raised when she failed to return home after work, Reeves said.
“[Bao’s disappearance] is unusual and at the moment the fact she’s missing is completely unexplained. We’re concerned because people rarely up and vanish.”
There was nothing, at present, to suggest foul play.
“She appears to have been in good mental and physical health. Her colleagues say she’s a diligent, hard-working woman, and this is really out of character. We’re keeping a very open mind as to what’s happened to her,” Reeves said.
Police asked anyone with information on Bao’s whereabouts to call 111 immediately and quote event number P055385539.