Police are hunting for a killer after admitting for the first time last night they believe missing escort Carmen Thomas is dead.

Detectives running Operation Keppel told the Herald on Sunday there were several reasons they believed they were looking for Carmen’s body, the main one being blood found in her car, which was discovered in Hamilton on July 13.

“We have come to this conclusion for several reasons. There have not been any corroborated sightings of Carmen since June 27. There is forensic evidence in her car, ie blood, that supports our belief that she’s been killed,” spokeswoman Noreen Hegarty said.

The Herald on Sunday has also learned a wheelie bin has been missing from Carmen’s Remuera home since her disappearance. “I don’t know how you found that out, but it is missing,” Detective Inspector Mark Benefield said. “We are working through those inquiries.”

There is now a big focus on the movements of Carmen’s car, with police revealing they believe it was driven to Dyer St in Hamilton late on July 7 or in the early hours of July 8. They are appealing for sightings of the dark Nissan Pulsar three-door, registration ATS209, on July 7.

Benefield wouldn’t say how many people police had interviewed in their inquiry, “but it’s building”.

The 32-year-old has a five-year-old son, Jack, who is staying with his father, Brad Callaghan. One of Carmen’s co-workers has revealed she wore a special bangle that had sepia-tone photos of Jack inside the beads.

The news that Carmen is probably dead has shocked her family. Told in England last night, her aunty Carolyn Lavagna said: “This is horrendous. I am in shock. This is terrible.”

She said the family had found the waiting “heartbreaking”. Carmen’s mother Teresa Scott was in New Zealand a week ago but has since gone back to South Africa.

“It’s been so hard for all the family. She is just devastated, she really is. She said she is numb with it all.”

The family did not know Carmen had been a prostitute.

“It came as a surprise. I am not shocked and I wouldn’t disown her or anything like that. Carmen is a survivor – she has survived the best way she could for her and her Jack. She has done whatever it has taken to have a life for her and Jack and I really cannot condemn her.”

In a Facebook post just yesterday, Teresa said: “I am waiting for you to come home. Someone must know something – just let us know one way or another. Is Carmen alive or isn’t she?”