Police need more evidence in Claire Hills murder case

By SCOTT INGLIS

Auckland woman Claire Hills was murdered three years ago today - and her family remain bitter and frustrated that no one has been charged.

Her brother, Spencer Green, says an arrest in the gruesome case would give his family some closure.

"It's unbelievably frustrating. It's pretty sad that nothing's come of it. Someone's done it, no one's been brought to account," he told the Herald from Australia.

Claire Hills, a 30-year-old from Herne Bay, was abducted as she drove to work at the Auckland Airport McDonald's, where she was due to begin a 3.30 am shift, on April 28, 1998.

A police reconstruction found her Mazda Familia's central locking system was faulty and she did not lock the doors.

As she pulled up to traffic lights on the Mangere motorway, a man who had been lurking at the intersection approached the car, opened a door and got in. Police later found several lone female motorists who said they, too, had been approached by a man at South Auckland intersections.

The killer, most likely armed, overpowered Claire Hills and forced her to drive around South Auckland.

He took personal items and almost certainly raped her.

About 5.45 am, on the top of Mangere Mountain, he poured petrol over her body and the car and set it alight. Claire Hills was unconscious but still breathing.

She died of smoke inhalation.

Police have said they had a prime suspect for the killing - a man arrested about six weeks afterwards for a series of sex attacks in the Mangere Bridge area - but not enough evidence to charge him.

Last May, after a review by a detective superintendent and three detective inspectors, police launched a renewed hunt for Claire Hills' killer but made little gain.

Mr Green, an accountant in Wollongong, near Sydney, says the fresh inquiry raised the family's hopes.

"We were holding out a bit of hope there. Every time it gets back in the press, we get a bit more hopeful."

Mr Green will mark today by watching a 90-minute video of his sister, made by their mother during a trip to New Zealand four or five months before the murder.

He believes the anniversary is a good time for anyone who can lead police to an arrest to come forward.

No detectives are now actively working on the inquiry, but police still hope someone will come forward.

Counties Manukau police crimes manager Detective Inspector Steve Rutherford says: "It's an horrific killing ... Not a month goes by where we don't think about it."

Last year police thought they had a strong lead.

"We actually did get to a phase, as a result of the publicity last time, where we brought a number of staff together quietly ... At one stage it was looking quite interesting - and then it all keeled over."

Despite having a prime suspect, Mr Rutherford says the case remains wide open and police have not ruled out paying anyone who helps solve it.

"I firmly believe that someone, somewhere, could help us, whether they are motivated by money - by way of a reward - or out of decency," he says.

"You've got a grieving family there."

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