Anna Leask is senior police reporter for the New Zealand Herald.

48 hours of mayhem

A woman's body dumped in a car boot in Christchurch. Two terrified hitch-hikers seriously injured after a nightmare ride on the West Coast. Anna Leask reports on a weekend rampage

Michaela Brandl (left) was stabbed three times in the carotid artery on her neck.  Niki Honda was hurt jumping from the moving vehicle to escape the driver.
Michaela Brandl (left) was stabbed three times in the carotid artery on her neck. Niki Honda was hurt jumping from the moving vehicle to escape the driver.

Two weeks ago, tourists Michaela Brandl and Niki Honda arrived in Auckland, excited and ready for the trip of a lifetime around New Zealand.

At the same time, Christchurch woman Amy Farrall was doing what she did best in her role as a mental health support worker — helping people.

One of those people was a 38-year-old man with a troubled past, new to the city and needing a place to live.

Ms Farrall welcomed him into her home, unwittingly setting off a series of terrifying and tragic events that would forever connect her with two complete strangers sightseeing their way down the other side of the country.

German national Ms Brandl, 28, arrived in Auckland in mid-March and stayed with Sina Saffari, whom she befriended while backpacking in Malaysia.

Ms Brandl soon headed for the South Island with her travel companion Ms Honda, a 27-year-old Japanese-Dutch woman.

Last weekend, the lives of the three women collided in a way no one could ever have imagined.

On Saturday afternoon, Ms Farrall was reported missing by a friend. She spoke to that person early that morning but then could not be reached again.

The next day, her white Toyota Corolla was found in the carpark of her local New World supermarket. It was early afternoon when police found the 24-year-old's body in the boot.


It is alleged that Ms Farrall's 38-year-old lodger raped and killed her on Saturday morning after she spoke with the friend, and then abandoned her car at the Woolston supermarket about 10.20am.

Police believe the alleged killer then headed for the West Coast in a blue Nissan Terrano.

He travelled via the Lewis Pass to Greymouth, a 330km journey that takes about four hours. He then carried on 143km south along the coast until he reached the small town of Whataroa, where Ms Brandl and Ms Honda were hitchhiking.

He offered the women a ride and they accepted. They were found at 4pm, just 21km away, in a traumatised state with serious injuries.

They would later tell police that a terrified Ms Honda jumped from the moving vehicle to escape the driver, and was injured as he tried to run her over.

Ms Brandl also tried to escape but the doors had been locked and she used a small pocket knife to try to fight off her attacker.

She was stabbed three times in the carotid artery on the side of her neck and Ms Honda suffered serious pelvic injuries.

As police on the West Coast issued an appeal for sightings of the Terrano, road blocks were put in place on State Highway 6 and a helicopter and a plane were sent to try to locate the vehicle.

Police in Christchurch converged on the area after learning the same vehicle they were hunting was connected to the violent attack.

At 8.30pm, the hunt intensified dramatically. A police patrol spotted the Terrano just south of Fox Glacier, a further 23km from where the tourists were found.

They signalled for the driver to stop but instead of pulling over, he fled. He sped south for about 67km but when he came to a road block Paringa he turned around and headed back up the coast.

About 40km later, he hit another road block. This time, after trying to evade police for 90 minutes, he finally stopped.

But the drama was far from over.

Armed police converged on the Terrano but the alleged murderer refused to get out of the vehicle.

A negotiator tried to convince the 38-year-old to give himself up as armed offenders squad members from the West Coast, Dunedin and Christchurch - many flown in by helicopter - stood by, ready to take action if needed.

The standoff lasted for five hours, during which the man at the centre of the police hunt allegedly threw Molotov cocktails at officers, who fired sponge rounds in return.

The rounds, which have a range of about 30m, have a high-density aerodynamic sponge nose with a large surface area so they don't penetrate the body on impact.

They cause pain, bruising and abrasions, but the risk of serious or life-threatening injury is extremely low.

At 3am, police dogs were unleashed and the alleged offender was overpowered and taken into custody.

During his arrest, he was bitten a number of times by police dogs, and was taken to Grey Base Hospital - where Ms Brandl and Ms Honda were being treated.

The women were flown to Christchurch Hospital the next day, and their alleged attacker was taken there by ambulance on Tuesday.

He underwent surgery in the afternoon for the dog bites and after speaking to police that afternoon, he was charged with the sexual violation and murder of Ms Farrall, as well as aggravated robbery, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, failing to stop, and reckless driving. On Wednesday morning, a special district court hearing was held in a waiting room at the hospital. The alleged offender, still heavily bandaged and recovering from surgery, was wheeled in on a bed to which he was handcuffed by the right wrist.

He spoke politely to Judge Noel Walsh and thanked him at the end of the hearing. Judge Walsh granted the accused interim name suppression and remanded him in custody until his next appearance in the High Court on April 16.

The suppression order means the Weekend Herald cannot publish details of the accused's past or what led him to Christchurch.

Ms Brandl and Ms Honda remain in hospital and have not spoken publicly about their ordeal. But Ms Brandl spoke to Ms Saffari by telephone from her bed earlier in the week and he relayed the conversation to the Herald.

"She was just traumatised. It sounded like she was in tears. [But] she felt really lucky to be alive," she said.

The two women say they are still keen to continue their travels around New Zealand eventually, and to experience it the way all tourists should — as a "fantastic country with great people".

Amy's death 'devastating'

Amy Elizabeth Farrall was the daughter of Ann and Neil, sister of Richard and partner of Cory McKeown. She was born and raised in Canterbury and attended Lincoln High School before completing a Certificate in Mental Health Support Work at Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology.

In a statement, Ms Farrall's family said she was a "kind and caring girl, much loved by her many friends and close family. Amy loved her animals and was always helping people in need. As a family we are devastated that her caring nature appears to have been tragically taken advantage of."

They said they were "shattered" by her death and asked for privacy and "time to grieve and to process what has happened".

Mr McKeown described Ms Farrall as "my life, my rock, my soul mate".

- Additional reporting: Kurt Bayer of APNZ

- NZ Herald

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