Blessie case: Murder-accused appearing in court

By Vaimoana Tapaleao, Anna Leask

A 27-year-old man is due to appear in court over the murder of Blessie Gotingco. Photo / NZ Herald
A 27-year-old man is due to appear in court over the murder of Blessie Gotingco. Photo / NZ Herald

The man accused of killing Auckland woman Blessie Gotingco has appeared in court this morning.

He stood in the dock of North Shore District Court, facing away from the public gallery and towards a wall, with his arms folded across his body. He was wearing a blue boiler suit.

Media packed in to the courtroom where the man is appearing, charged with murder, before Judge Philippa Sinclair.

He was arrested just after the 56-year-old mother-of-three's body was found in an area of bush at the Birkenhead-Glenfield cemetery on Eskdale Rd.

For legal reasons the Herald cannot yet name the man or publish details of his past.

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As the matter was before the courts, police could not comment on the man or how he and Mrs Gotingco's paths crossed.

But it is understood that soon after she went missing, the man was identified as a possible suspect.

The accused was living just 1.4km from Mrs Gotingco's Salisbury Rd home and 800m from the bus stop where she is thought to have got on off on her way home from work on Saturday.

Read more of the Herald's coverage of this story this morning:
Family gather to share grief

Mrs Gotingco was last seen leaving Tower Insurance where she worked in customer interaction, at about 7pm on Saturday. She took Birkenhead Transport's 973 bus from Lower Albert St to Birkdale Rd and it is thought she was walking the short stretch home when she encountered the accused.

The search for Mrs Gotingco moved to the cemetery on Monday night. It is unclear who found her body but police stormed his Monte Cassino Pl apartment less than 12 hours later.

Steve Meadows lives in the apartment above the accused. He was asleep when police arrived yesterday.

"I was woken up at 5.41am. There was just this hell of a bang." he said.

"Then there was a lot of shouting - and then nothing. I thought 'God, what's that' and I jumped out of bed and grabbed a torch. I looked out over the balcony and I could see eight police cars and about 15 cops.

"They eventually led him out. He was completely wrapped up in a white suit with a hood pulled tight over his head. You could only see part of his face. They put him in an unmarked car and he sat there for a while - and then they drove off."

Other police officers stayed at the house and Mr Meadows watched them work from above. He tried to "squeeze them for information" and one officer told him "it will all become clear in the next 24 hours".

By 8am, the street was swarming with police - officers, cars, forensics and detectives.
"They were going through all the rubbish bags and bins outside (the house) and some of the neighbours' rubbish too," one resident said.

"Nothing ever happens here. It's a really quiet street. I didn't hear anything, like screams or arguing, so I had no idea what was going on."

Neighbours had not noticed anything untoward at the accused's apartment over the weekend. One said he had not been seen for a few days.

As the search went on, police removed several household items from the property and put up black plastic sheeting to shield the garage from the public.

Later in the morning police had a silver BMW belonging to the accused towed out of the street. It has been reported that the car had a smashed windscreen and a repair man was called to the house to fix it on Monday. Police confirmed the car would be examined by forensic experts.

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One resident of Monte Cassino Pl said police appeared to have found a machete-like weapon in a reserve near the street. Police were also seen examining an alleyway into the reserve. Police would not be drawn on whether a weapon was involved, or Mrs Gotingco's cause of death.

They said once a post-mortem examination was completed today, the Coroner would direct when Mrs Gotingco's body would be returned to her family for burial.

Detective Senior Sergeant Stan Brown said the investigation was ongoing and there was still a lot of work to be done by the inquiry team, including taking statements from the "vast number" of people who had come forward with information.

However the priority for police was the welfare of Mrs Gotingco's family, including her husband who arrived back in New Zealand from a trip to the couple's native Philippines yesterday and their three adult children.

"Our thoughts are with Blessie's family at this very difficult time and their ongoing care and welfare is paramount," said Mr Brown.

Monte Cassino Pl residents were shocked by the arrest.

"People in houses on this street have lived here longer and so most of us know each other," said Jeremy, who did not want his surname published.

"But the apartments - people come and go. They don't stay very long and they keep to themselves."

A Filipino neighbour said they had been particularly distressed about the incident involving Blessie Gotingco - who was originally from the Philippines.

"My wife is a little bit scared now because she sometimes catches the bus. I went and picked up my kids from school today as well. I just want to make sure they're okay," he said.

He understood that a machete had been found by police in a nearby reserve, just opposite the house. Police would not comment on whether a weapon was used or sought.

"This is a safe area and our neighbours are really good people. It's shocking this man was living not far from us," the man said.

A woman who lives in the same building as the man charged said he was quiet and polite.

"He waved and nodded hello sometimes. He was very polite. We didn't know him though."
She believed the man had lived alone.

- NZ Herald

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