A Family Emerged From the Bush. Then the Mystery Began

Dan Kois delves into the disappearance of the Phillips family
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 14, 2024 9:30 AM CDT
A Family Disappeared in the Bush—the 2nd Time, for Good
   (Getty Images / STILLFX)

A father and his three children vanished in New Zealand in September 2021. But it was only after they turned up 17 days later that "the real mystery started," writes Dan Kois in a lengthy piece for Slate. Tom Phillips had custody of his three young kids, then ages 5, 6, and 8. When his car was found abandoned on a remote beach on the North Island's West Coast, people feared the worst. Extensive search efforts yielded nothing. And when Phillips and his kids eventually showed up on his parents' farm, no in-depth explanation was given. Phillips, an experienced bushman, had simply taken his kids into the deep bush without telling anyone, camping about 10 miles from where his car had been left.

Many defended him as a good dad. But then his Jan. 12, 2022, court date for wasting police resources arrived. He didn't show. Phillips and his kids had disappeared—again. "The cops are not pouring any resources into looking for him and those children. I think they are of the view that he's not going to hurt them and he'll eventually come out," one reporter said. Police wouldn't remain disinterested for long. On May 16, 2023, two people clad in motorcycle helmets robbed an ANZ bank branch. Witnesses described them as a man and a smaller figure who was likely a girl. Four months later, police charged Phillips with the crime. At this point, Kois writes, most people assume he and the kids are hiding on or near his family farm, and "few anticipate any ending to this story that feels happy at all." (Read the full story, which details other twists.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.