Red flags that give away killer within

By Julia Proverbs

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Tauranga man Tamati Mason last week pleaded guilty to murdering Bellevue mother Sandra Brown and attempting to murder her daughter Kate Brown, the object of his desire, in a frenzied knife attack. Julia Proverbs revisits another Tauranga murder motivated by jealousy and asks how can love go so horribly wrong?

As far as being boyfriend material, Jason Reihana ticked all the right boxes.

All the right boxes to commit murder.

Police have a risk assessment form that they use when they attend a family violence incident. The "red flags" help them to determine how much a person is at risk from their partner.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

Obsession. Tick.

Dependence. Tick.

Stalking behaviour. Tick.

Potential to kill or injure. Tick.

A history of violence. Tick.

Weapons. Tick.

But no such form is filled out when, on December 11, 2005, Reihana stalks his former girlfriend Teresa Gunn and her new boyfriend Andrew Grabner.

Because these forms are for the living.

And in a jealous rage, he took both their lives.

But this double killing is not the only one to have domestic overtones in the Western Bay.

A little over five years later, on February 20, 2011, Bellevue mother Sandra Brown was killed in a frenzied knife attack at her home.

Her 27-year-old daughter, Kate, was also injured.

Sandra Brown died at the scene following 20 separate stab wounds, three of which punctured vital organs including both lungs. Kate Brown had five stab wounds and spent several days in intensive care at Tauranga Hospital.

Kate Brown's former boyfriend, Tamati Mason, 42, of Bellevue, pleaded guilty to murdering Sandra Brown and the attempted murder of Kate Brown when he appeared in the High Court at Rotorua on Thursday last week.

Mason and Kate Brown met about eight years earlier and were together for five years. They were engaged to be married but separated more than three years ago.

During a chance meeting at a supermarket, six months before the murder and attempted murder, Mason became abusive.

During February 2011, Kate Brown, then aged 27, was living with her parents Sandra and Max Brown and her brother Dennis.

In the early hours of Sunday, February 20, 2011, Mason drove to the family home in Graham Place with the intention of damaging property belonging to the Brown family. He parked a distance away and walked up to a vehicle parked on the roadside. The vehicle was owned by Dennis Brown.

Mason smashed a window with his fist and, in doing so, cut his forearm. He became angry.

Mason walked back to his vehicle and drove home with his arm heavily bleeding. Once home, he tended to the injury in his bathroom.

Becoming more enraged, Mason went into the kitchen and got two large carving knives, and drove back to the Brown household.

He parked in the driveway, kicked in the locked front door, and walked upstairs towards the bedrooms. Sandra Brown walked out of her bedroom.

Mason stabbed her a number of times in the back and upper chest, once in the buttock and twice in the upper arm.

He also caused defensive wounds to both her hands and her right forearm.

Kate Brown heard her mother's screams and rushed to her bedroom. She saw her mother lying on the floor and Mason standing over her.

Kate Brown heard her mother say: "Stop Tamati".

On seeing Kate Brown, Mason moved towards her still carrying the knives. He stabbed her in the chest area and punched her in the face, causing her to fall on to a bed.

As she regained her feet, Mason stabbed her a second time in the chest and she fell on the bed again. Mason yelled at her that it was her fault.

"This is your fault. You're the one that broke up with me and you didn't even give me any reason why."

During the attack, Kate Brown also received superficial lacerations to her forehead and left wrist, and bruising to her right eye.

Mason left the bedroom and kicked in Dennis Brown's bedroom door. While still holding at least one of the knives, he told Mr Brown he had just killed Sandra Brown.

Kate Brown repeatedly and forcefully told Mason to leave.

Mason walked downstairs and called emergency services using a cordless phone. He placed the knives on the kitchen bench.

Mason became frustrated with a 111 call taker and threw a chair through a ranch slider.

Meanwhile, Dennis Brown put pressure on his mother's wounds, while his sister called an ambulance.

About 10 minutes later, Dennis Brown started CPR on his mother. Mason was found lying on the footpath, bleeding heavily from deep cuts to his right hand and forearm.

Sandra Brown could not be revived and died at the scene.

These two crimes have similarities and share a common theme. A jilted lover. A death. A crime of passion.

From the comfort of her cosy Ohauiti house, a framed portrait of her smiling sister on the table beside her, Teresa Gunn's older sister Miriama Kohu relives the nightmare.

At the Mansels Rd house that night, with her partner Wiki Ngarimu and their 18-month-old daughter Rangimarie, Miriama heard a loud crash, as if a car had driven into the front door, followed by screaming, and then silence.

Deafening silence, which she will never forget.

Reihana, Teresa's partner of seven years and father to two of her three children, from whom she had recently split, had kicked in the door to find her on the sofa with her new boyfriend Andrew.

In a frenzied knife attack, he killed them both.

"Wiki was staying for the weekend. He was supposed to be going home that day but I asked him if he could stay," recalls Miriama, who had been living with her sister for seven months, having moved in a couple of months after Teresa ended her relationship with Reihana.

"Before I went to bed I had gone to the toilet across the hall. I looked down into the kitchen and my sister had just finished taking a banana cake out of the oven and put it on to the bench. That's the last time I saw her alive."

Twenty minutes later, snuggled up in bed with her baby daughter, and Wiki on a mattress on the floor, Miriama heard a loud crash.

"I jumped up and turned the light on and said to Wiki - 'that's Jason'.

"I didn't hear much from Andrew, I just heard my sister screaming. That's when I knew. Then I just heard silence."

While on her mobile phone to the police, with Wiki standing against the door, Reihana prised the door open enough to force a knife-wielding arm into the room, stabbing Wiki in the neck and shoulders.

"He just missed his artery. Our daughter woke up and started screaming seeing her dad all covered in blood. Then my phone went flat and I had to use Wiki's phone to call again. At that time it felt like hours before they were going to come."

Wiki drifted in and out of consciousness as they waited for help, too fearful to leave the room.

"I had no idea what had happened with my sister and Andrew. Was she living or if she had got away?"

When she was finally escorted out of the house by a policeman, she started calling Teresa's name.

But it was too late.

"I had to ring my mother. That was the hardest part. She knew it was bad news by the tone and croakiness of my voice."

Miriama stayed at the house for a week after the murders to sort out her sister's possessions.

"It had been blessed after it happened but it still had that feeling of death, that cold feeling," she says, wrapping her arms around herself.

"I couldn't sleep. Every noise you heard, you jumped. And even though we moved it still came with us."

But there is not a hint of cold on this warm autumnal day. Miriama is sitting on a black leather sofa, the sun streaming through an open window behind her, through which can be seen The Mount and the sparkling waters of the Waimapu Estuary.

Across the empty paddocks in front of her house, cars hum along State Highway 29. People getting on with their everyday lives.

As she tries to get on with hers.

But the past will always lurk in the shadows.

"You can't forget it but you can move on from it. It will always be with us, it will never go away," she says, smoothing her long dark hair first with one hand, and then the other.

"As time goes on you learn to deal with it. My heart goes out to the Brown family dealing with the loss of their mother and grandmother."

Miriama says Reihana was "unpredictable and had a fiery temper".

About three years into their relationship he became jealous and violent, trying to isolate Teresa from her family and friends.

"If it meant keeping the peace and not going off his rocket at family members, she would do it to keep the peace," says Miriama.

"She never talked about abuse. I heard through other family members and friends he hit her behind closed doors. Their little children telling family members dad was hitting mum. My mother told my sister many times to leave the relationship.

"Jason hated my parents, especially my mother because she was always in there when they had arguments. She never backed down to him. He made threats to my parents before and after the killings."

About two months before he killed her - around the time Teresa met Andrew - Reihana's threats intensified.

"The texts got worse ... a lot of swear words. He said he would hurt her. Things like: Watch your back."

Whereas Andrew was a guy who "wouldn't hurt anyone", says Miriama.

"He was a different kind. He treated her like a lady should be treated. They went out a lot. He took her out to dinner a lot, the pub, socialising with friends. He made her feel wanted as a lady. It was good to see her happy. I had not seen her that happy in years."

Miriama says she wishes there was a way of knowing what kind of relationship you were going to enter.

"But you don't. Jason wasn't a gang member. He had a nine-to-five job. You can't put a finger on who's who."

There are signs, say the experts, but not everyone who exhibits these signs will be a murderer.

Associate Professor Dr Doug Boer, of Waikato University, who worked as a forensic psychologist in his native Canada for 15 years and who supervises psychologists with the New Zealand Department of Corrections, says it is rare for someone to kill their partner without there being some history of abuse.

"It's the whole abuse cycle, then he feels sorry, makes amends, then there is a honeymoon period, then a slow descent to being abusive and controlling and if she breaks out of it, it takes the bottom out of his world," he says. "It makes him unable to cope rationally. His only means to re-establish control is to escalate things - if I can't have her, no-one else can - so he gets extreme.

"Once you get emotional dysregulation it increases the likelihood of acting violently or impulsively. He may have never used a weapon before in his abuse but now all the bets are off. The whole situation has reached a whole new height of frustration and anger. So he acts more irrationally and impulsively. It's when folks are most dangerous. No longer does his tried-and-true strategy to cope work so he starts to try something new to establish control over his partner."

Doug says it has more to do with environment - past and present - than a person's "wiring".

"Exposure to violent models is a huge part of learning to be violent, like parents who are alcoholics have children who are alcoholics. If you watch violence you become violent."

Peer pressure also plays a big part.

Access to weapons, a drinking culture and substance abuse are also often contributors.

"People with more antisocial problems are not very empathetic. They see their partner as someone who looks after them and when they no longer look after them and no longer want to have sex with them, it's a problem."

Detective Sergeant Jason Perry, police family violence co-ordinator for the Western Bay of Plenty, says when police are called to an incident of family violence they complete a comprehensive report to assess the level of risk.

"It may be a low-risk situation but at other times there are a lot of factors associated with the incident that cause us some real concern," he says.

"A separation is a really risky time for people. The more recent, the more risky."

Obsession, dependence, stalking, strangling, a history of violence, threats to commit suicide, weapons, animal abuse and drug and alcohol abuse are all "red flags".

"The best predictor of the future is the past for us," says Jason.

Possessive behaviour can range from knowing all your passwords and pin numbers to isolating you from family and friends.

"If family or friends have any suspicions or worries about the relationship they need to do something about it. Talk to people and get some advice," he says.

Les Simmonds, clinical leader of Relationships Aotearoa Bay of Plenty and Gisbourne, says a healthy relationship is one marked with respect, love, warmth, equal power and the ability to solve problems and deal with conflict.

An unhealthy relationship lacks these qualities and is dominated by anger and conflict where people are "out to get each other".

"There is a sense that: I'm going to get you back. You've done this to me. How dare you," says Les.

"In their angry way they justify the steps they think they ought to take. There is a whole lot of distorted thinking that comes into play. Like: If I can't have you no-one else can."

But it goes beyond relationship issues, he says.

"There is the character, the personality of these people, what has shaped them ... you have only got to look through all the case studies of murderers. Not many were brought up in a family where there was respect and warmth. There is always a background."

If people have concerns about their relationship they should seek professional help, says Les.

"Going to a professional can help clarify the situation."

Miriama's advice is impassioned and direct. "Don't take threats easily. A threat is a threat. Take it seriously. It's best to be on your guard."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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