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New Zealand relatives identify ‘Josie May’

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An unconfirmed report from New Zealand says a relative recognized a published photo of "Josie May," a homeless woman who was in the Queen’s Medical Center for almost a year.

The woman left for Alaska 20 years ago, and contact was lost as members of her generation died, reported Fairfax Media Publications online.


News reports set for publication today identify the woman as Ethel Helmbright, believed to be about 80, granddaughter of a chief who signed the British-Maori Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 and the customary holder of a large swath of land in the Bay of Plenty.

Until her large family saw her picture on, they thought she had died years ago in Alaska.

"One of our lost aunties, what an amazing story," said her nephew Peter Helmbright. "What a blessing. I was telling the young people in Auckland to jump on the plane and go and get her."

Niece Colleen Helmbright spent yesterday marshaling the family in Australia and New Zealand, getting the evidence to get Auntie Ethel home.

"We thought she had frozen in the ice in Alaska, and we were waiting for the big thaw. She was thawing out in Hawaii," said Colleen Helmbright.

Queen’s asked for help identifying the patient, who has dementia, after a state public guardian recently was appointed and she was placed in a foster home.

The medical center’s social workers reportedly were deluged with calls after news of Josie May’s plight was published Wednesday.

Michael Field, reporting on, said Josie May’s father was reported to be a decorated soldier in the 28th Maori Battalion.

Queen’s is referring all inquiries to Roger Petticord, the woman’s guardian in Honolulu. He could not be reached for comment yesterday, but said in a statement from the Office of the Public Guardian: "We are working to research and authenticate the claim (from New Zealand).

"In the meantime, we are still open to receiving information that may help us verify Josie May’s identity and locate her relatives," Petticord said.

In New Zealand a Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the New Zealand consul in Los Angeles is working with Honolulu authorities to establish Josie May’s identify and get her home as quickly as possible.

The woman told staff at Queen’s she came here about 10 years ago as a New Zealand tourist. Apparently she has been homeless since, living behind the Waikiki Community Center, which was looking out for her and found her ill last August, said Teri Kalama, Queen’s social worker assistant.


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