Jeremy Powell will be sentenced tomorrow for his role in the brutal murder of young Christchurch mum Angela Blackmoore 25 years ago. Herald senior journalist Kurt Bayer spoke to the parents of a "kind, caring" son who they still can't believe is guilty of one of New Zealand's most infamous cold-case murders.
Dennis Powell reckoned he knew his only son pretty well.
Both are good with their hands. Clever, creative, big-hearted.
Even when Jeremy – the youngest of four children, and the only son – moved back home after a stint in Sydney, his father didn't notice anything amiss. Jeremy seemed normal.
"He wasn't acting weird or different," the 70-year-old sawyer Dennis says.
He never knew he had blood on his hands.
"I don't know how he managed," Dennis says, "Maybe he forgot about it … as much as he ever could."
An idyllic upbringing
The Powells moved to the country from Christchurch in 1973. Jeremy Crinis James Powell was born in Darfield but the family soon ventured across the Waimakariri Gorge to Oxford where they would stay.
Their kids enjoyed an idyllic upbringing. A country cottage on the outskirts of town, with an orchard, plenty of room to run around.
Jeremy went to the local primary school before attending Oxford Area School. He wasn't into team sports but enjoyed things like archery, and like his sawyer father, was good with his hands. His parents recall the creative son and a mate filming a movie with Action Man figures, blowing up a bridge and using dry-ice for special effects.
He left school for a job in Christchurch and went flatting. He had a few different jobs, working as a boilermaker and with a wrought-iron company.
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But he always stayed in touch, showing up at weekends, birthdays, family holidays, special events.
His parents knew most of his friends. They knew he enjoyed medieval role playing and that he'd done a security guard course and started bouncing at a city nightclub.
While they don't know for sure, they suspect it was then that he fell in with a bad crowd.
But they still didn't see any signs that Powell was getting himself into trouble.
A brutal murder
Angela Maree Blackmoore, 21, was home alone on the blustery, warm Thursday evening of August 17, 1995.
She was 10 weeks' pregnant and her 2-year-old son Dillon asleep in his bedroom.
Her partner Laurie Anderson, a librarian assistant at University of Canterbury across town, had been called in to cover a shift that night.
He didn't like leaving Angela alone.
Powell, aged then just 20 - arrived at the Vancouver Crescent house, in the eastern suburb of Wainoni just after 9pm.
He had a bat and a large Bowie knife hidden in his trench coat.
Although Blackmoore was wary at the evening doorknock, and known to be highly security-conscious, she knew Powell and let him inside.
They walked into the kitchen when Powell pounced.
He admitted beating her over the head numerous times with the bat and stabbing her in a frenzied attack.
Blackmoore suffered 39 wounds to the head and neck.
When Anderson came home from work at about 11.20pm, he found her mutilated body.
For years, Blackmoore's murder remained unsolved, making it one of the most infamous cold cases in modern New Zealand history.
Six weeks after the brutal murder, Powell had his 21st birthday. For the landmark event, he chose to throw a medieval-themed party.
Powell and Rebecca Wright, now Rebecca Wright-Meldrum, had a daughter together but they'd split up before she was born in 1997. They've hardly kept in touch since.
Around 2001, Powell moved to Sydney to work in an engineering shop but it didn't work out, and a few years later moved back to the family home before going back into Christchurch.
His parents still couldn't see anything was bothering their son.
And for the next decade or so, he's kept his head down.
He worked at a city heating firm where he was well respected and kept in touch with his family.
But last year, the police finally started making progress on the case.
In May, they launched a new appeal for information offering a record $100,000 reward.
The calls started coming in.
And five months later, officers were ready to make a move.
On October 25 last year, detectives charged the 45-year-old Powell with murder.
He would claim he was to be paid $10,000 for killing her.
Police also allege that his then girlfriend, Rebecca Wright-Meldrum, 48, was also part of the killing.
She has also been charged with murder but denies having anything to do with it. She has pleaded not guilty and will stand trial next year.
And just last month, a third person was charged with Blackmoore's murder. The 47-year-old man, who has interim name suppression, is back in court next month.
It's understood he will also fight the charges.
'Your son Jeremy has been arrested for murder'
When the arrest finally came, the Powell family had to be told.
At 8.30am on October 25 last year, a police officer phoned Jeremy Powell's retired parents Dennis and Judith Powell, both aged 70, in Oxford, North Canterbury.
"Your son Jeremy has been arrested for murder," the person on the line said.
They thought it was a hoax. How could their good-natured boy, with three older sisters, who always treated women with respect and never been in any trouble, be accused of being a cold-blooded killer?
The Powells phoned their local police officer to see if it was true.
But the caller had said that their son would be appearing at Christchurch District Court charged with murder at 10am – just over an hour away. It would take 45 minutes to drive there – they didn't have much time, so Dennis got on the road. On the way, another senior cop phoned him, confirming it was no practical joke.
He made it just in time. But his son Jeremy only appeared on a television screen from his jail cell.
He confessed later that day. And he's not been out since.
'We still can't believe it'
Dennis and Judith Powell haven't spoken to their son behind bars since before the Coronavirus alert level 4 lockdown.
But they think he "seems to be coping okay".
"He doesn't talk about it really," Dennis says.
"We've only been told that he's admitted his part."
When Powell pleaded guilty in February, Anderson said he was "ecstatic".
"It's fantastic news that he's now grown a conscience and realised what he's done and he's standing up for what he's done," Anderson said.
When Powell's parents were told he'd "admitted his part", his mother thought maybe he'd driven a getaway vehicle or done some other peripheral role.
So when they heard he'd bashed and stabbed Blackmoore they were stunned.
"We still can't believe it all," Dennis says.
"You mull it over in your head and, you know, you think, 'What if?' And I sort of think, maybe in a fit of anger he'd hit somebody with a baseball bat? But I can't even really see that."
His mother sure can't. Even though he's admitted the killing, and will be sentenced at the High Court in Christchurch tomorrow morning, for her it all still seems so surreal.
"We all love him still. You can't stop that," Dennis continues.
"But the stabbing? That's just not him at all. It seems to have been a frenzy … I just don't think it was him who did that. Knowing him, that's just not the sort of thing he would do."