DUBAI // Relatives of Kerry Winter believe they may have made a breakthrough yesterday in the hunt for the missing South African when an unknown man answered her mobile phone. They believe the man could have information that may help them find Ms Winter, who disappeared in Dubai three weeks ago, and hope police can trace the phone. It had previously been switched off since the 35-year-old events co-ordinator vanished on Aug 20. The man who answered the phone spoke broken English but almost immediately hung up on the call from a member of Ms Winter's family who is in Dubai searching for her. "We have been trying both her phones since she disappeared and they have been off, until this morning. We're sending SMS messages to it constantly. I think it's one of the people that is holding Kerry," said David Giles, Ms Winter's nephew.
The family hopes detectives can trace the co-ordinates of the mobile phone and locate Ms Winter or the people who they believe could be holding her. "In this day and age, mobile phones can be very easily traced, so this is a bit of a breakthrough," added Mr Giles. Ms Winter was last seen being attacked with a baseball bat and forced into her car outside her home in Al Barsha on Aug 20. Ms Winter's neighbours have come forward and said they were threatened by the man - now identified as her ex-boyfriend, a 42-year-old British businessman - when they tried to help her. The witnesses said Ms Winter lay on the ground bleeding before being dragged into her silver Ford SUV.
Her former boyfriend left the country from Aug 22 to Aug 25 and returned to Britain. He has been held by police since being arrested at Dubai International Airport upon his return. Ms Winter's ex-boyfriend had filed a court case against her accusing her of theft, though when the case made it to court he dropped the charges. Before vanishing, Ms Winter told her family that her ex-boyfriend was stalking her. Police have said the former boyfriend has a history of problems, though they did not elaborate on their nature.
He has admitted assaulting Ms Winter but denied involvement in her disappearance, saying he dropped her off at Arabian Ranches. Police could not find any trace of Ms Winter at the spot. Police have said that on the night she was last seen, Ms Winter met a friend at Jumeirah, and from there she was followed home by her ex-boyfriend. Ms Winter's brother, Kurt Winter, had a chance to question the suspect just over a week ago. Mr Winter described the former boyfriend as "nonchalant" during their meeting. "His story just doesn't add up. There are times when it just changes," he said. "He's hiding something, but we don't know what or why."
After trying to organise an extensive independent search for the missing woman, friends and family members were warned by police that the effort might be counterproductive. Ms Winter's family has since tried to reach out to the Arab and Indian communities to raise awareness of her disappearance. They fear Ms Winter's story has not had significant coverage in the non-English press. Relatives of the missing woman were alarmed last week when the body of a woman was found near Arabian Ranches. "We had quite a scare, but the police have assured us it's definitely not Kerry," Mr Winter said at the time. The body was later confirmed as belonging to a Pakistani woman, though no other details were disclosed. Later that day, the family held a vigil for Ms Winter at St Mary's church. In the meantime, Ms Winter's former boyfriend is being held at the Bur Dubai police station and remains the only suspect in the case. A senior Criminal Investigation Department officer said yesterday that the man in custody "knows for certain" where Ms Winter can be found. "He is the only suspect in the case, which we are treating as very serious. He knows where she is, that's a certainty," the officer said. Ms Winter's 60-year-old mother, who is recovering from a triple heart bypass, is among relatives who are awaiting news of her whereabouts. Mr Winter said the family had been moved by the outpouring of support from the community. Mr Giles and Ms Winter's brother Kurt also met the South African ambassador to the UAE yesterday in a bid to raise awareness of her case. "The meeting went incredibly well," Mr Winter said. "It's gone from being a tiny missing person's case to having full international exposure with the top man at the embassy getting involved and the second-in-command of Dubai Police taking over the case. We're really pleased with the attention Kerry's disappearance is getting." A group of volunteers turned out in Dubai on Friday to search the Arabian Ranches area and appeal for information from the public. email@example.com