Corazon Miller is a NZ Herald reporter

Elderly Lothario William Harding concocts fake quake story while on the run

William Harding , wanted by police for defrauding several elderly women. Photo / NZ Police
William Harding , wanted by police for defrauding several elderly women. Photo / NZ Police

An elderly man who allegedly left a string of older women broken-hearted and out-of-pocket sought refuge from a Wellington couple who believed his house was damaged in the Kaikoura quake.

Police have been unable to find William Edward Harding, 77, for six months, since he skipped bail and missed his August 9 appearance in the Whanganui District Court, despite publicity in the media.

The Whanganui man is facing two charges of deception and one charge of causing loss by deception - relating to three elderly Whanganui women he had befriended.

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In the latest twist, a couple in their 60s reported to police that Harding had holed up with them in their Wellington home just before Christmas, under an alias, claiming his house had been damaged in the November 7.8 quake.

Whanganui police sergeant Nick Brunger said the couple began to find his behaviour unpleasant and asked him to leave.

"It was just sort of inappropriate talk; they didn't really like his general outlook on life and just made them feel uncomfortable."

Brunger said it wasn't till some time after Harding had moved on that the couple came across some publicity and realised who their guest was.

There have been a few other sightings reported by businesses who'd seen Harding. An alleged victim's relative had also come down from Whanganui and seen him while handing out pamphlets, only for him to make a getaway through the back-door of a local store.

The police sergeant said it was frustrating the elderly gentleman had managed to dodge them yet again.

This is the second time he has managed to evade police - the last public appeal for sightings of Harding was in May last year. He turned himself into a Hawke's Bay police station a week later.

He was wanted in relation to activities that had led a number of concerned relatives to lay formal complaints in March, launching a police investigation.

The daughter of a 73-year-old woman left broken-hearted after the "lovely man" she'd planned to marry left her without a word of warning, said the family had been left "devastated".

She said Harding had been nothing but warm and charming and was considered a part of the family - until the day he left on a "trip to the dairy" never to return.

The grand-daughter of another woman, in her 80s with dementia, claimed her nana had given Harding about $30,000.

"We can't prove that it wasn't a gift because, at the time, she was of sound mind."

Anyone with information as to Harding's whereabouts should contact Sergeant Nick Brunger on 06 349 0600 ext 65014.

The timeline

March: Several formal complaints laid against Harding
April: Harding believed to have left Whanganui
May 14: Police launch public appeal for sightings of Harding
May 20: Harding turns himself into police in the Hawke's Bay
May 24: Doesn't make his court appearance citing health concerns
June 28: Harding enters not guilty pleas at the Whanganui District Court and is remanded on bail
Late July: early August: Leaves his bail address in Liverpool St, Whanganui
August 9: Fails to reappear in the Whanganui District Court. A visit to his home reveals he was no longer at the bail address
Late August: Banking activities indicate Harding could be in Wellington
September 6: Police launch another public appeal for sightings of Harding
September 8: Alert for Harding put on Police Ten 7
December: Stays with a Wellington couple claiming he'd lost his house in the November 7.8 quake

- NZ Herald

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