Weekend Rewind: Famous NZ murder cases

By Nicky Harrop

The recent attention around the 20th anniversary of JonBenét Ramsey’s death, as well as the screening of a new Scott Watson documentary, prompts NZ On Screen’s Nicky Harrop to revisit some high profile murder cases.
Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet star in Heavely Creatures.
Melanie Lynskey and Kate Winslet star in Heavely Creatures.

While it's not a chapter in our history we tend to dwell on, New Zealand has seen its fair share of notable homicide cases - the events of which have led to many documentaries and dramatisations. The following shine a spotlight on some of them.

Murder on the Blade? makes a compelling case in the defence of Scott Watson - convicted for the 1999 murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. The award-winning documentary argues that Watson couldn't have killed the pair, claiming the prosecution fumbled vital details of the murderer's yacht and description, then advanced a new theory without the evidence to back it. Director Keith Hunter went on to write 2007 book Trial by Trickery, further critiquing what he calls "New Zealand's most blatantly dishonest prosecution".

Watch an excerpt from Murder on the Blade?

In 1994, Teina Pora was found guilty of the rape and murder of Susan Burdett. He spent 22 years behind bars despite physical evidence implicating someone else, and concerns over the reliability of his confession. Māori Television documentary, The Confessions of Prisoner T, examines the case against Pora, and private investigator Tim McKinnel's belief in his innocence. This excerpt includes footage from Pora's original police interview and a visit where he fails to identify Burdett's house. In 2015 the Privy Council quashed Pora's conviction, and in June this year he was awarded compensation and received a government apology.

Watch an excerpt from The Confessions of Prisoner T here:

When Swedish tourists Sven Höglin, and Heidi Paakkonen went missing in 1989 while tramping on the Coromandel Peninsula, the investigation into their disappearance attracted intense interest. Months later David Wayne Tamihere was arrested and charged with their murders. The subsequent guilty verdict cast Tamihere's family into a nightmare - abused, ridiculed and scorned relentlessly by an outraged public, and media. Award-winning documentary Relative Guilt tells their story, highlighting the impact of crime on both victims' and perpetrators' loved ones. Tamihere continues to maintain his innocence, claiming he was framed by police.

Watch Relative Guilt here:

Arguably our most internationally recognised murderers, Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme were aged just 16 and 15 when they killed Parker's mother, brutally bludgeoning her to death in Christchurch's Victoria Park. The case held a long-term fascination for screenwriter Fran Walsh, ultimately forming the basis of Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures, and earning the couple their first Oscar nominations.

See the trailer for Heavenly Creatures here:

Alleged baby farmer Minnie Dean was charged with murdering two infants in her care, following the gruesome discovery of their bodies in her Winton garden in 1895. At trial Dean was represented by Dunedin barrister Alf Hanlon, in his first - and most famous - defence case. Hanlon's manslaughter defence was inspired, but ultimately undermined, and Dean became the only woman to be hanged in New Zealand. Emmy-nominated local drama Hanlon - In Defence of Minnie Dean contributed to a subsequent re-evaluation of the case.

Watch Hanlon - In Defence of Minnie Dean here:

Hanlon - In Defence of Minnie Dean

In March 1920, Ponsonby Post Office postmaster Augustus Braithwaite was murdered in his home, his keys stolen, and the Post Office ransacked. Three months later, 25-year old Dennis Gunn was hanged for the crime, the first conviction in New Zealand based on fingerprint identification. While the judge called the print an "unforgeable signature", Gunn proclaimed his innocence to the end, stating "if only my brother-in-law will speak up I will be saved". This episode of local series Epitaph examines the case, opening with the inscription on Gunn's Waikumete Cemetery gravestone - "sadly wronged".

Watch Epitaph - An Unforgeable Signature here:

You can see more Controversial Kiwi Crime Stories here, in NZ On Screen's Spotlight.

- NZ Herald

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