Police investigate gang link after death of kidnap victim

By Anna Leask, Gemma Hartley

The kidnapped Thai woman who escaped, bound and gagged, from the boot of a moving car on a South Auckland street has died.

Middlemore Hospital confirmed this morning the 50-year-old woman died from her injuries just after 11pm yesterday.

Police had identified the woman and are piecing together why she was in that boot, who put her there and what happened to her before she was found bleeding and unresponsive with critical injuries on Huia Rd, Papatoetoe, on Tuesday night.

The Herald understands detectives investigating the incident are looking into organised crime groups, including Asian gangs. The woman had links to the criminal underworld.

Police said they would release the name of the woman this afternoon, after a post-mortem is carried out this morning.

Detectives do not believe the incident is domestic related. "We are keeping an open mind as to the motivation behind her kidnapping however an obvious line of inquiry will involve links to organised crime," police said in a statement.

Thai community in shock

An Auckland Thai community leader says the community is "in shock" over the incident.

"We are all in shock, and we cannot believe that such things can happen in the Thai community here in Auckland," said Maneeka Campbell, president of Thai Culture New Zealand Society.

"We also feel very sad after hearing the news that she has died."

Ms Campbell said she did not know the woman but had heard that she was involved with a restaurant in Ponsonby.

Ms Campbell said prayers will be offered at the Suandham Temple in Manukau this Sunday.

"I do not think she is a member of our temple, but it is only right that we pray for her," she said.

Police seek information

The hunt for the car - a silver sedan - and its driver is ongoing and, yesterday, the woman's injuries were considered so severe there were fears she would not survive to tell police her story.

"We want to assure the public we are doing everything we can to locate the person or persons involved in this crime," Detective Inspector Dave Lynch said.

"However, we still need members of the public who saw anything they think may be relevant to contact us."

It appears the woman used a metal rod to jemmy open the boot and make her bid for freedom. With her hands and feet tied and strips of fabric and a man's tie wound tightly around her neck, she managed to escape.

Criminologist Greg Newbold said the woman would have known her life was in danger. Jumping from the moving car was her only hope of survival and her actions showed her desperation to live, he said.

The dolphin tattoo that was an early clue to the woman's identity.
The dolphin tattoo that was an early clue to the woman's identity.

"The fact that she fought to escape from the boot of a moving car tells me that she probably knew where she was going and what was going to happen to her," he said.

"Whoever did this must have been desperate because the chance of getting caught is very high."

Professor Newbold believed the woman ended up in the boot for one of three reasons: drugs, domestic abuse or a kidnapping/ransom abduction.

"At this point we simply don't know," he said.

In the darkened boot, the woman was probably being thrown around as the car twisted and turned through streets, hit pot holes and bumps in the road, stopped and started. Police are yet to ascertain how long she was in the car, what her injuries were when she was put in the boot or where she was being taken.

But Huia Rd residents described marks on her wrists where the rope that bound her had rubbed and broken her skin. It's likely she was not only terrified, but her ordeal before she escaped was also painful.

That terror would have triggered her "fight or flight" reflex, said Professor Julia Rucklidge, a University of Canterbury clinical psychologist.

Within minutes of the woman first facing the petrifying situation, her body would have released adrenaline, preparing her for survival.

"In a situation where your life is at stake, people react differently; some freeze and others do what is required to survive.

Police had a large area around Huia Road, East Tamaki blocked off last night. Photo / Dean Purcell
Police had a large area around Huia Road, East Tamaki blocked off last night. Photo / Dean Purcell

"Within a high-intensity situation she has managed to come up with enough resources to get herself out of the situation. In terrifying situations it is not uncommon to hear that people will do remarkable things with remarkable strength to get out of incredible situations.

"Your heart would race but everything is diverted to ensure your survival. It happens in such a short space of time that you may not even be aware until some time afterwards. Some people would be trembling, heart pounding - this happens because the adrenaline triggers a change; the brain has recognised it's in a difficult situation and is trying to adapt."

Can you help?

If you have information about this incident, contact the Counties Manukau crime squad on 0508 422 443. If you are in immediate danger, call 111. Police have translators working on this case.

- Additional reporting: Morgan Tait

- NZ Herald

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