New Zealand's worst serial rapist will remain behind bars after accepting he is at high risk of reoffending.

It's a decision that comes as no surprise to the senior police officer who arrested him and a relief to one victim who says while she has forgiven him - he should never get out.

"It's one thing to forgive him, it's another to trust," said a woman who can only be identified as Shirlee. "Would I have him out? Hell no, he needs to stay there."

Joseph Thompson, aka the South Auckland Rapist, was sentenced in 1995 to 30 years' preventive detention for 129 crimes, including 50 rapes and sexual violations against 47 women and young girls. The real number of victims is believed to be closer to 70.


He was given a 25-year non-parole period for the offending which spanned 12 years and involved girls as young as 10 - some of whom were violently beaten during the rapes.

It was the harshest penalty dished out to anyone since the death penalty was abolished and only a handful of longer ones have been imposed since.

"It is difficult to think of any person who has brought more pain and misery to so many people in recent New Zealand history," Justice Fisher said at the time.

Shirlee was one of those women. The then 27-year-old was at home with her infant daughter and two young boys when she was attacked in 1989.

One of Thompson's victims says she has forgiven him but he should stay behind bars. Photo / Dean Purcell
One of Thompson's victims says she has forgiven him but he should stay behind bars. Photo / Dean Purcell

She was about to get the boys out of the bath when she heard a branch outside a window snap. Soon after she turned around to find Thompson standing there with her son's raincoat over his face and a kitchen knife in his hand.

He forced her into a bedroom, swearing and threatening to harm the children if she didn't comply.

"I knew in that moment I was going to comply."

He raped her twice that night.


Shirlee chose to move forward with her life saying she was not responsible for what happened and would not live in fear or shame of what happened.

"I was so grateful my children were okay, I didn't care about what happened to my body."

Thompson was caught six years later and when his abusive upbringing was revealed Shirlee decided to forgive him.

"I'm not saying what I thought he did was right but I looked at his upbringing and saw what happened."

Twenty-five years on and Thompson, who is now 61, has appeared before the Parole Board for the first time.

In a decision released this week, the board noted Thompson was motivated to undertake any rehabilitative programmes suggested and was currently waitlisted for the Child Sex Offender Treatment Programme.


However, a psychological report wasn't completed because of lockdown - something they felt was vital given Thompson's background - so parole was declined.

"He also accepted that he was at high risk of re-offending."

"We will see him again, therefore, by the end of February 2021. In the meantime, he is an undue risk and cannot be released."

Dave Henwood was one of two officers who arrested Joseph Thompson in 1995. Photo / NZ Herald
Dave Henwood was one of two officers who arrested Joseph Thompson in 1995. Photo / NZ Herald

Dave Henwood, one of the lead officers in the hunt for Thompson, said he didn't believe parole was a reality for Thompson.

"I don't think he'll ever, ever get out and I'd be very surprised if he got out in the near future."

The now-retired officer, who was part of an 18-hour interview with Thompson after his arrest, said the serial rapist lacked any real awareness of the pain he had caused.


"He had no concept of the absolute bloody field of misery he's left behind."

He says Thompson was always happy to have a line in the sand where his life was under control, something lacking in his childhood. He believes he is happy in prison where those boundaries are clear.

"You wonder about the justice of it all, all these people whose lives he's destroyed and ruined and he's stuck in a cell where he's quite comfortable ... those bars created a comfort zone for him."

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