In January 2016 Jaden Lee Stroobant murdered his neighbour Cunxiu Tian. As she lay dying in her own home the 19-year-old killer sexually violated her repeatedly. He initially denied the crime, spinning a web of lies to cover his murderous tracks. Piece by piece police picked apart his alibis until there were none left. Today the Weekend Herald can reveal exactly how police got their man.

The body of Cunxiu Tian lies at the foot of the stairs in her family home.

Battered, bloody, defiled.

She's been struck with such force that her black plastic headband and glasses have flown off her head, landing on the carpet nearby as her attacker continues to punch and stomp her to death.

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When police arrive, summoned after Tian's daughter and son-in-law return home from work to find her lifeless body lying in the heart of their home, the person who subjected the petite Chinese woman to this brutal attack is long gone.

There are no obvious answers.

Parts of the house are in disarray, drawers emptied of their contents, suggesting Tian disturbed an intruder and was killed as a result.

For a few moments after police arrive the crime has the look of a whodunnit.

But when an officer ventures into the backyard and speaks to a nosy neighbour, the picture becomes patently clear.

"What's my son done now?" she asks the officer.

"Who's your son?" he responds.

"Jaden Lee Stroobant."

Cunxiu Tian was 69 when she was killed in her own home by Jaden Stroobant. Photograph supplied
Cunxiu Tian was 69 when she was killed in her own home by Jaden Stroobant. Photograph supplied

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The officer knows this name.

He's on a team that investigates burglaries and Stroobant is a young local he's had the pleasure of helping lock up in the past.

"I know him, where is he?" the officer says to the woman who identifies herself as Kirsten Stroobant.

"I haven't seen him," she claims.

When this conversation and Stroobant's criminal history is relayed to Detective Senior
Sergeant Roger Small, the head of the investigation into Tian's death, he makes a call.

"Let's try and find Jaden Stroobant."

A known burglar who was released from prison just 38 days before Tian was murdered, Stroobant quickly became a suspect.

In mid-2015 he was jailed on a raft of charges including burglary.

He was released on December 8, 2015 and moved into a boarding house in Te Atatu where his mother was also living.

But shortly before the murder, the pair moved into a flat at 11 Kotuku St, over the back fence from Tian's house.

After Stroobant pleaded guilty to murder and sexual violation in the High Court at Auckland in 2017 it was revealed that forensic evidence placed him at the scene of the crime.

His semen was found in Tian's underwear, a fingerprint on a bottle of dishwashing liquid next to her body.

Close beside her lay a cloth which police suspect was used to clean the scene - and her body.

But now the Weekend Herald can reveal the full evidence against Stroobant, how police gathered it and what it proved.

Detective Sergeant Kelly Farrant, who worked closely with Small on the investigation, was unable to detail the evidence until after Stroobant's appeal period had ended, and then only after an Official Information Request.

FINDING JADEN STROOBANT

Shortly after Kristen Stroobant effectively fingered her son as a suspect, police started hunting the 19-year-old.

They visited relatives, friends, associates - but could not find him.

They tracked his cellphone and found he'd been in the Candia Rd area.

Stroobant lived there for a time when he was younger, so police went to his old house.

The tenants had no idea who Stroobant was, and had no connection to him.

Police obtained a list of recent calls Stroobant had made and found he'd been in contact with a woman named Lisa Borrett.

She lived next door to Stroobant's old home and when police visited her property they found the teenager inside.

Jaden Lee Stroobant appears in the High Court at Auckland. New Zealand Herald photograph
Jaden Lee Stroobant appears in the High Court at Auckland. New Zealand Herald photograph

In fact, as they walked up the driveway, they could see Stroobant peering out the window at them.

It would later be revealed through court documents that Borrett, a married woman with children, had been having a sexual relationship with Stroobant for some time.

Stroobant agreed to go to the Henderson police station and speak to detectives about the
Tian case.

As he walked out of Borrett's house, he picked up a green and white jacket.

He probably had no idea at the time, but that was a major strike against him in the evidentiary stakes.

At the station he was asked where he was the day before, what he did, and who he was with.

The interview ran for 150 minutes, with Stroobant giving a detailed account of his day that placed him well away from Tian's home.

He was confident as he explained he'd spent the Thursday night at his girlfriend's place and Burger King on Lincoln Rd, Henderson.

On Friday morning he went to a Kiwibank ATM in Orakei and withdrew several hundred dollars before going with his mother to South Auckland to get quotes for a car windscreen.

So, he was nowhere near Te Atatu when Tian was killed - suspected to be sometime between 10am and 11am.

Stroobant volunteered a DNA sample and police seized his clothing, including a pair of trainers and the green and white jacket.

Farrant said Stroobant gave a credible account.

"He was co-operative and easy going," she said.

"He happily provided police his clothing and DNA. He underwent a medical exam."

Stroobant was released without being arrested and police set about confirming his alibis.

Over the next four days surveillance teams monitored Stroobant's movements and detectives worked hard to confirm or negate what he had said in his interview.

Farrant said Stroobant's "girlfriend" was never found and it's likely she didn't exist.

CCTV footage at the Kiwibank and Burger King proved he had not been there that day - and the fact there were no withdrawals from his account, let alone any money in it, was another lie he was caught on.

Police spoke to countless windscreen retailers and suppliers in South Auckland: none said they had seen Stroobant.

The police were closing in on him, but still needed hard evidence.

At the same time an extensive scene examination began at Tian's home.

Through power consumption records it was established that Tian was killed at or around 10am.

Graphs of the property's power usage on the day show a flat line from just after 10am, yet on other days when Tian was home - and sticking firmly to her daily routine - the pattern was consistent.

The consumption graph for Stroobant's home also flatlined just after 10am.

Police believe that just after 10am, when Stroobant was sure Tian was home alone, he dragged a stool to his back fence, climbed over and into her property and waited for his chance to strike.

About that time another neighbour of Tian's was outside and heard a dragging noise, a thud and saw the fence shudder - as though someone had jumped it.

All roads were leading to Stroobant.

FINGERPRINTS, FOOTWEAR AND FORENSICS

The forensic examination was meticulous, those tasked with finding the clues highly motivated to find the killer after bearing witness to the violence and denigration Tian had suffered in a place she was supposed to be safe.

They worked around the clock, inching through the house and finding a raft of evidence that would connect Stroobant to the scene.

A clear, partial hand print on the banister of the stairs near Tian's body; a fingerprint on a Samsung phone box on a dresser in the living room; another on a bottle of dishwashing liquid next to her body.

"With the fingerprints, we could say he had been there - but what was his role in the murder?" Farrant said.

They were close - but they needed more.

A shoe print was lifted from the kitchen: it didn't match any of the soles of the family's footwear.

But it did match a shoe that police had access to - one seized from Stroobant after his first interview.

The size was right, the style was right, the wear pattern was bang-on.

And it had blood on it - a minute amount on the sole and side of the shoe.

On Wednesday January 20 at 5pm the team at ESR - who had been working tirelessly to process the results - confirmed the blood on Stroobant's shoe was Tian's.

"It was an incredible relief, that we finally had confirmation of Stroobant's involvement," said Farrant.

"The team at ESR were as affected by her death as police were.

"Everyone was motivated to identify the murderer as quickly as possible.

"Her death touched everyone that was on the investigation."

At 8pm that night police returned to Stroobants home address on Kotuku St and arrested him.

"As soon as that blood was confirmed, we felt there was enough evidence and a reasonable belief that he had committed the murder," Farrant said.

Again, Stroobant volunteered to give an interview. Again, he was confident.

Until police put to him that they had forensic evidence linking him to the crime.

Then he became angry.

He demanded the interview stop, swore at the detective questioning him and moved across the table between them to turn off the recording equipment himself.

Stroobant was then charged with murdering and sexually violating Tian.

"Several days later we confirmed that it was Stroobant's semen in Madam Tian's underpants," Farrant said.

THE JACKET

Stroobant continued to deny the crime, but CCTV footage would add to the weight of evidence against him.

He was caught on camera outside Waitakere District Court at 1.15pm on the day of the murder, wearing his green and white jacket.

From there, police tracked him through the nearby West City Mall where he bought himself a drink and changed Chinese currency stolen from the Tian house at Flight Centre.

In the footage an object can be seen in Stroobant's right shorts pocket - something large, flat and rectangular.

Police believe this was an iPad stolen from Tian's house on the day of the murder.

It has never been found, but Farrant is confident Stroobant was carrying it with him in the mall.

He's seen leaving the mall and getting into the front passenger side of Borrett's car, which drives off.

The CCTV footage shows Stroobant wearing the jacket and a white T-shirt with a black diamond shape on the front.

Both items had been seized by police; the T-shirt tested positive for traces of Tian's blood.

The jacket would be another huge strike against Stroobant.

Shortly before he was filmed wearing it outside the court building, one of Tian's neighbours spotted a man standing at the top of her driveway.

He stood there for a while, peering down towards the house, then walked off.

She said he was wearing a green and white jacket.

"The thought is that he went back to Madam Tian's house to see if she had been found, if the police were there yet," Farrant said.

"That from there he made his way into Henderson and was seen outside the court."

Despite Stroobant's denials, his web of lies and poorly fabricated alibis, his game was up.

The police had caught their killer.

BURGLARY GONE WRONG - YEAH RIGHT

Stroobant pleaded not guilty to the charges and was set to stand trial in the High Court at Auckland in February last year.

However, on the day the trial was supposed to start, he admitted all of the offending.

But the excuses kept coming.

At sentencing his lawyer, Emma Priest, tried to convince the court Tian was killed during a burglary gone wrong, that Stroobant had never intended to kill her.

Stroobant admitted the sexual offences but refused to address them in full, which resulted him being given a sentence of preventive detention on top of his life sentence for murder.

Farrant said police did not for a minute believe the story about the burglary - and they had evidence to back them up.

She said Tian did not interrupt Stroobant inside her home at all - instead, he entered the property and lay in wait for her, dragging her into the house when he got the chance and bashing her before violently sexually assaulting her with an unknown object as she lay dying.

Luminol testing carried out at the scene showed Stroobant traipsed blood through the house before the "burglary" happened.

So, Tian was either significantly injured or dead before he turned to stealing.

Orthographic imaging carried out by forensic experts showed the bloody footprints were under - not among or on top of - the items pulled from drawers and tipped to the floor as Stroobant went from room to room stealing items of jewellery, cash and electronics.

"This was really, really important for us in terms of motive," said Farrant.

She and her team firmly believe Stroobant had been watching Tian, waiting for his chance to attack her.

In early January, about the time Stroobant and his mother moved in next door, Tian's daughter and son-in-law had been in China.

Farrant and Small both believe that's when Stroobant noticed the slight woman, and decided to target her - either violently, sexually or both.

"Maybe he thought she was living alone, that it would be easy," Farrant said.

There are many unanswered questions for police in their case against Stroobant - the forensic evidence was strong, but there are other factors they cannot resolve.

How and when did Stroobant get into Tian's home?

What did he do with her iPad, watch and bracelet?

And most importantly - why did he kill and then maim an innocent woman?

"I don't know if he will ever tell us," Farrant said.