Phillip John Smith's criminal history is long and it is violent. He has terrified and tormented, abused and killed.

And now he is on the loose in South America. His victims here are in police protection as authorities scramble to find him - and to find out how it all went wrong.

Smith was born Phillip John Traynor in Wellington in 1974 to parents John and Patricia Traynor. The couple separated when their son was 3 and his mother moved him to Carterton. She remarried, and changed her son's name to Smith.

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Mr Traynor had little to do with his son through his childhood and adolescence. But, through the then-Social Welfare system, he was kept up to date with Smith's early offending and police involvement.

Smith reached out to his father when he was about 18 and the pair reconnected.

"The last time I saw him personally was when he came up to Auckland about three months before he committed the murder," Mr Traynor said. "After he was convicted he wrote to me. I never replied.

"I've taken a stance that I don't want anything more to do with him."

After her son was found guilty of the murder and child sex offending, Mrs Smith spoke in his defence. He was "just like any other boy", she said in July 1996. He had his problems, but he had "a heart of gold".

Smith's offending began in Carterton in the late 1980s. A couple and their young children moved into Smith's street and he befriended their son. Smith and the boy played computer games, rode motorbikes and did karate.

Watch: Smith's escape: Police and Corrections under fire

Killer Phillip Smith fled the country on a passport under the name of Phillip Traynor. Now, Corrections and Internal Affairs have been working with police on finding out how a convicted murderer and child abuser could leave the country undetected.

The boy's parents came to regard Smith as a "big brother" to their children. In September 1995 they were "shattered" when their son revealed he had been molested by Smith over a three-year period. He was just 10 when Smith's reign of terror began.

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The boy was indecently assaulted, sexually violated and sodomised under threat of his family being killed if he told anyone.

The day the teenager broke his silence, his parents went straight to police. They then packed up and moved to Wellington in the middle of the night to get away from Smith, who was charged soon after.

Smith, then 22 and a student, was charged and initially refused bail. Police feared he would try to contact the victim, after finding in Smith's bedroom a list of schools in the Wellington suburb they had fled to.

FROM THE ARCHIVE:When Smith was caught running mail order business from jail

He was granted bail after he appealed to the High Court, despite having 20 previous convictions including attempting to pervert the course of justice by intimidating witnesses in a previous case by threatening to firebomb them.

Two weeks later Smith was behind bars again, charged with extortion. He had been blackmailing a West Auckland man who later committed suicide. Near his body police found a letter from Smith, demanding $25,000 or he would publicly disclose allegations of sexual offending involving the man.

But after appearing in court on that charge, Smith escaped police custody. He was recaptured - and eventually bailed again.

A condition of his bail was that he not contact the 13-year-old or even attempt to trace the family.

The warning fell on deaf ears.

On December 11, 1995 Smith was driven from Carterton to the family's new home. He crept into their back yard, where he lay in wait for three hours armed with a hunting knife and a rifle he had hidden near the home a week earlier.

He got into the house and the 13-year-old woke to find him standing over his bed. His screams woke his parents, and his father ran to the room. Smith stabbed him repeatedly.

The 13-year-old escaped and ran to the closest police station for help. Smith then took the boy's mother and brother from the house at gunpoint, refusing to let the woman tend to her dying husband. He was arrested soon after for murder.

At his trial in the High Court at Wellington, a jury heard that police found a "blueprint for murder" in Smith's bedroom.

Dubbed "Operation Smith", police described it as a "Rambo-style plan" to kill his former neighbours.

His conviction for the murder and prolonged sexual abuse did not stop him tormenting the family. Smith called their home phone four times from prison, making threats.

A police search of his cell turned up a "hit list" of names from the 13-year-old's family.

Timeline

1974

- Born Phillip John Traynor

Circa 1986 - Met victim's family in Carterton.

1992-95 - Sexually abused his neighbour's son.

1995 - Murdered the father of the boy he was abusing while on bail for extortion, and escaping police custody while on bail for earlier offending.

April 15, 1996 - Sentenced to life, with a minimum non-parole period of 13 years, for murder, sexual offences against his victim's son, aggravated burglary of the family's home and kidnapping of the victim's wife and son.

April 14, 2009 - First time Smith is eligible for parole. Parole Board addresses multiple frauds committed in prison between 2006 and 2010. Investigation begins in to a business he was running behind bars and other fraudulent activity.

February 4, 2011 - Appears before Board again. The Board raises concerns about the "violent callous and manipulative aspects of his offending".

May 3, 2011 - Appears before the Parole Board, which orders a Parole postponement of two years.

April 8, 2013 - Parole postponement lifted and parole declined. Smith begins having 12 hour temporary releases.

March 31, 2014 - Smith is denied parole again. The Parole Board identified his risk of reoffending as high, and that if it were to occur it would likely be in the form of fraud. Board recommends further temporary releases.

Thursday, November 6 - Smith is collected from prison by an approved "sponsor", a family member. That same day he leaves the country using a passport in the name Phillip John Traynor and flies to Chile.

- additional reporting John Weekes, NZME.