A cabaret stalwart has paid tribute to a lifelong friend found dead on a central Hamilton street.
Trevor "Carmen" Rupe, a national transgender icon, spoke of her shock about the death of Donald Alfred Stewart, of Lower Hutt.
The 74-year-old was found with head injuries near public toilets early on Sunday morning.
Carmen, who became a fixture of Sydney's drag-queen scene, had remained friends with Mr Stewart since they attended Taumarunui Primary School together in the 1940s.
Carmen, 74, who left the small King Country town in the early 1950s, aged 15, said that although Mr Stewart was religious and conservative, he was a good friend of hers.
She said Mr Stewart, who became a builder, would often visit her when in Sydney "for a coffee and a chat" after his marriage broke up several years ago.
"We'd talk about a lot of things. I'd often get calls at Christmas time or cards from him, too. He was a real gentleman."
Mr Stewart's shocked neighbours said he had lived alone since the mid-1990s.
Jennifer O'Donoghue said Mr Stewart was practical, and could often be seen working under the hood of his Peugeot car. She said he rarely had visitors, but was always polite when she spoke with him.
"It's just a terrible shock. There is no way he would ever, ever start a fight because he was so peaceful and kept himself to himself."
Martin O'Hagan, another neighbour, said it was not unusual for Mr Stewart to disappear on road trips, sometimes for weeks at a time, visiting old school friends.
The last time he saw him was "at least two weeks ago".
Mr Stewart was last seen alive at a Gull service station on Norton Rd in Hamilton at 8.50pm on Saturday.
A street sweeper found his body the following day at 6am near public toilets in the central business district, where he had been lying for at least two hours, killed by a blow to the head.
Detective Inspector Lance Burdett of Hamilton CIB said the inquiry team of 30 were working to establish how Mr Stewart came to be in Hamilton over the weekend.
They are also seeking as much information as possible on where his car was leading up to his death and on Sunday and Monday.
The vehicle was first seen in a ditch on Monday morning, then recovered from an Auckland car yard later that day.