Moko tragedy: How did Tania Shailer go from loving mother to sadistic killer?

By Laurilee McMichael

When Tania Shailer arrived at her new Housing New Zealand home in Taupo, with four children and a few basics, her new neighbour was sympathetic.

"When she moved in I felt sorry for her - a single mum, no car with four children all the way out here. She had just the basics and I thought she was new to this town. She spoke in soft tones and I thought she was a really nice girl. I know how hard it is to be a single mum with four children because I've been there for a little while, and I offered her 'if you ever need any help, just ask'."

There was nothing to indicate that two years later, Shailer and her partner David Haerewa would be at the centre of one of New Zealand's worst child abuse cases following the death of Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri, 3, in August 2015 from a prolonged and horrific period of beatings and abuse.

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Shailer and her four children aged one to seven, had moved to the Marshall Ave house from a safe house in Tauranga after David Haerewa was sent to jail. The younger three children were hers and Haerewa's and the eldest was Haerewa's child. Shailer's sunny home was a quiet one - unusual with four young children - but nothing seemed untoward.

The neighbour, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says the Tania Shailer she saw was a good and a loving mother who sang and danced with her children. The curtains were always open and Shailer could often be seen cuddling with the children on the couch or drawing and colouring in at a table. There was no internet, no Sky TV, no Freeview even, but they would watch movies together on TV.

Moko was tortured and abused. Photo / Supplied
Moko was tortured and abused. Photo / Supplied

She walked them to school and kindergarten every morning and back home, was a parent helper at the school and for at least some of the time in between was occupied with her NCEA studies at REAP, an adult education programme in Taupo's town centre.

She was studying English, maths, history and home economics, wanted to complete her NCEA qualifications and study for a degree. She wanted to work in social services. She was thankful she was able to study with her baby so close.

Moko Rangitoheriri's mother Nicola Daly Paki delivers an emotional victim impact statement in court yesterday. Photo / Ben Fraser
Moko Rangitoheriri's mother Nicola Daly Paki delivers an emotional victim impact statement in court yesterday. Photo / Ben Fraser

To the woman next door, Shailer was a neighbour rather than a friend, but a good one. There was no loud music or parties, no rowdy screaming kids. Sometimes she would ask for a ride into town - Shailer had no car - or an onion, some bread and butter, or a cup of milk. They 'got on the piss' a couple of times together, and if the neighbour's partner had caught a pig she would give Shailer some of the wild pork, but mostly they lived separate lives.

A year after Shailer moved in, Haerewa arrived. She didn't want her family to know they were back together because they hated Haerewa.

The neighbour said Haerewa would sometimes walk the children to school, and he had to report in regularly, presumably to the Probation Service, but apart from that, he sat in the house all day.

Masterton's March for Moko.
Masterton's March for Moko.

After Moko and his sister arrived, Shailer began asking her neighbour for help more frequently. It's how the neighbour first learned Shailer had Moko and his 7-year-old sister in her care.

From what she saw, the children were happy and well-cared for. There was no shouting or yelling and the family seemed peaceful.

When the neighbour heard Shailer had been arrested after Moko's death, she couldn't believe it.

There was nothing - no crying, no shouting, no loud noises or distressed or bruised children - nothing out of the ordinary which might have tipped them off.

But she says she feels a deep sense of guilt and grief that an innocent child was being beaten to death only metres away from her own home.

"It breaks my heart to know that they were torturing him to death right next door. It breaks my heart to know that he was dying slowly right there. I have the guilt because we heard nothing. I just thought they were everyday normal average people - you never expect to be living next door to something like that. Ever."

- Taupo & Turangi Weekender

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