James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

People living near forest feared Taiaroa's killer was still in district

Police would not say what the items were.  Photo / File
Police would not say what the items were. Photo / File

Residents of the isolated Pureora Forest Park believe the person who killed Hamilton roadworker George Taiaroa may have camped out in the bush near their homes, and one concerned man has kept a loaded shotgun under his bed.

Police have found items of interest to their inquiry into Mr Taiaroa's death that they believe were discarded in the 78,000ha forest park about 40km southeast of Te Kuiti on March 19, the day he was shot dead while directing traffic at Atiamuri.

The discovery was made in bush on privately owned land late last week about a 40-minute drive from where Mr Taiaroa was murdered.

Police would not say what the items were. They have been sent for forensic analysis.

3 News last night reported that items including bedding and a generator were reported stolen from a Pureora campsite on March 19.

It is understood the police's main suspect is a Whangamomona man whose property was searched about five weeks ago.

The Herald spoke with residents in the Pureora area, including a dairy farmer who said there was a possibility that Mr Taiaroa's killer had camped in the bush near his home after the shooting.

The man, who asked not to be named, said he saw a number of police in the area not long after the murder.

Like other residents he had spoken to in the area, he was concerned because their homes were isolated and far from help.

"I was that worried that I put 10 [rounds] in my shotgun and had it sitting under my bed," he said.

"There's no mucking around out here, I can tell you. We were pretty worried for a while."

After the shooting, there were a number of sightings of a blue Jeep Cherokee driving fast and erratically through the Pureora Forest.

Police believe the killer was likely to have passed through or even stopped in Benneydale and inquiry head Detective Inspector Tim Anderson yesterday appealed to people there to think back to the day of the murder and consider any sightings or details that might be useful.

Road worker case

- NZ Herald

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