Kurt Bayer is a Herald reporter based in Christchurch

House cordoned off in Rakaia murder investigation

A house in St Martins has been cordoned off by police investigating the body found in Rakaia.
A house in St Martins has been cordoned off by police investigating the body found in Rakaia.

Police probing the suspicious death of a woman, whose body was found on a rural Canterbury road, have cordoned off a house in Christchurch.

A property at Kowhai Terrace in St Martins was cordoned off last night. It remains cordoned off today and police are coming and going.

Neighbours say a couple have lived there more than 15 years but haven't been seen for "a couple of days".

Jason Manuel, 47, who lives across the street says they are "good people, a normal family".

He came home about 7pm yesterday to police activity in the street.

"Police have staked it out all night. It's a bit odd."

A police spokesman today confirmed that the Kowhai Terrace address is linked to the Rakaia murder inquiry. He refused to say why the house is of interest to investigators.

A homicide probe has been launched and a post mortem was to be conducted today to work out exactly how the woman died. Police are "working to complete a formal identification" of the victim.

Officers have told locals where the woman was discovered - on Main Rakaia Rd, 500m from State Highway One, by a member of the public driving past at about 7.40pm on Sunday - that she had been "missing for a little while".

Police say the death could be connected to a series of suspicious fires in the Selwyn area yesterday, and are hunting the occupants of two people in a 4WD.

Police have thanked the local community for their patience while they investigate the scene where the woman's body was discovered. Photo / Kurt Bayer
Police have thanked the local community for their patience while they investigate the scene where the woman's body was discovered. Photo / Kurt Bayer

"Police staff have worked through the night as we work towards piecing together exactly what has happened," said Detective Inspector Darryl Sweeney this morning.

"Staff, including forensic experts, remain in the area today as they continue a detailed scene examination."

The woman's body has now been removed from the scene.

The road is still closed.

"Police are grateful of the Rakaia community's patience and assistance as police go about their investigation," Mr Sweeney added.

"We appreciate the closing of the Main Rakaia Road has caused some disruption, but would like to thank them for their understanding during this time."

The manager of the dairy farm where the woman's body was found was told by police the woman had been "missing for a little while".

The farmer, who only wanted to be known as Jori, knew about the fires in the area on Sunday night.

But it wasn't until he got up about midnight that he saw police outside his property.
"I went to have a look and they told me there was a body there, a lady who had been missing for a little while," he said.

"[The body] was right by the boundary fence, between the farm and the road.

"They said they were looking for two occupants of a 4WD who had been in the Rakaia river."

Local dairy farmer Michael Norton said thieves stole two 20 litre containers of petrol from his farm on Main Rakaia Rd on Saturday night.

He said they smashed the lock off shipping container and targeted the petrol, leaving behind tools, a water blaster and pump, of "more value than petrol".

Mr Norton noticed the break-in Sunday afternoon and reported it to police yesterday.
"I thought with all these fires and the body, and having petrol stolen like that, it seemed like a strange thing," he said.

"So I put two and two together, thinking there could be a link there. Obviously we don't know that for sure, but it made me a bit nervous."

Detectives have launched a homicide investigation into woman whose body was found on a rural Canterbury road. Photo / Kurt Bayer
Detectives have launched a homicide investigation into woman whose body was found on a rural Canterbury road. Photo / Kurt Bayer

A series of suspicious fires had been lit around 4pm in the Selwyn riverbed near State Highway One, just north of Dunsandel.

It sparked a large emergency response, including four fire engines, 10 water tankers and three helicopters.

The Fire Service was first called to a fire at Selwyn river at 4.44pm.

When they arrived, they found two fires, one on either side.

"Obviously the guys were running around the river, lighting them," said Rakaia Volunteer Fire Brigade station officer Tyrone Burrowes, who was sure they fires had been started deliberately.

Two crews fought the fires, with assistance from a helicopter.

Later, at 7.37pm they were called to another scrub fire on Main Rakaia Rd.

The nearest unit was Kirwee Volunteer Fire Brigade.

As they were on their way, the member of the public, a "passer-by", rang back to give them a "heads up" that there was a body there.

Mr Burrowes wouldn't say whether the woman's body had been burned or was on fire.
He confirmed that Kirwee Volunteer Fire Brigade was first on the scene.

"They extinguished the grass fire and protected the scene for police," he said.

At 8.30pm, there were reports of yet another suspicious fire, this time at Overdale, south of Rakaia township.

Mr Burrowes believed that all of the fires were suspicious.

Police have been asking for sightings of a 4WD vehicle that was seen in the Selwyn River in the vicinity of the fires when they were first lit.

Anybody with any information in regard to suspicious vehicles or people in the area are asked to contact Christchurch Central Police Station on 03 363 7400 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Locals are upset by the grisly find - the second such disturbing body discovery in the rural Selwyn district in the last three weeks.

The badly bashed body of Marcus Luke Tucker was found burned, dumped, and wrapped in some material on Drain Rd, Doyleston by Lake Ellesmere on Anzac Day.

Peter John Carroll, 51, of Bishopdale, Christchurch has been charged with his murder.

Three others have also been charged in connection with the case. All four are now before the courts.

- NZ Herald

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