NZ academic tortured for her PIN number, court told

A New Zealand academic murdered at Oxford, in England, was stabbed 49 times as she was tortured to death in January for her bank account PIN , a court has been told.

Barbara Johnston, 55, was living alone in the Oxford flat, where she went to live in August last year after spending 23 years at Auckland University.

Prosecutor Richard Latham QC told Oxford Crown Court yesterday that Michael Humphries -- a glazier who had replaced her windows weeks earlier -- stabbed and strangled his victim to obtain her PIN before using it to withdraw £400 ($1166) from her account.

A leading researcher on cot death, Dr Johnston was found fully clothed in her bedroom with a jumper tied around her neck and other clothing fastened on her wrist, and had been stabbed 49 times, the Oxford Mail reported.

Mr Latham said Humphries had been part of a four-man team who replaced the windows at her two bedroom flat as part of a refurbishment of her apartment block in North Oxford.

But the court was told Humphries, 43, had been laid off by the glazing contractor in early January and was left unable to afford the weekly ST85 ($248) rental charge on his van -- three weeks before Dr Johnston was murdered.

She had last logged on to her home computer on January 24, moments before Humphries' Peugeot 206 van was picked up by two traffic cameras entering Oxford from the direction of Faringdon, West Oxfordshire, where he lived.

Less than an hour later, the van was filmed pulling into a petrol station near Dr Johnston's flat.

Her bank card was used twice at a cashpoint on the forecourt in an attempt to withdraw £300 ($875) -- but the transactions were refused because the amount was over Dr Johnston's daily withdrawal limit. A third attempt to withdraw £200 was successful.

Dr Johnston's parents raised the alarm the evening after she is believed to have been killed. Police discovered her body after breaking in to the first-floor apartment. Her front door had apparently been locked by her killer when he left, and there was no sign of sexual assault.

Humphries, who denies murder, had been living in the United States since 2000 and returned to Britain only last November.

The case continues.

- NZPA

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