He's been touted as a super sleuth, a great leader and a "good bugger". But Detective Inspector Mark Loper's amazing career, that's seen him nail some of the country's biggest cases, has come to an early end after a shock diagnosis. He opens up to reporter Kelly Makiha.
Detective Inspector Mark Loper leans forward on his elbows and his pale blue eyes flicker with pride as he gives a faint smile.
"It's been one hell of a ride."
Loper walked out of the Rotorua police station this week for the final time after nearly four decades of policing.
He isn't a cop who loves the limelight. That's been tricky for him because he's been at the helm of many of the country's most serious and highly publicised investigations.
He's lost count of the inquiries he's led, but to name a few there was the neglect, torture and murder of Nia Glassie, the "runaway millionaires" case, the reinvestigation of the disappearance of Mona Blades, the double murder of Paul Lasslett and Nicholas Littlewood in Ōmanawa in Tauranga, and putting Menzies Hallett behind bars 32 years after he shot and killed Rodney Tahu in Turangi. The latter is believed to be New Zealand's oldest cold case conviction.
Loper's career started at the age of 23 and he worked his way up to be the Bay of Plenty criminal investigations manager - overseeing all major cases in Rotorua, Tauranga, Whakatāne and Taupō.
But a Parkinson's diagnosis has forced him to leave the job he loves.
"I'm going to miss the team of coppers I've worked with, definitely. Am I going to miss the child abuse, the homicides and the rapes? Not particularly."
He's had since August last year on light duties to get used to the idea and now can't wait to kick back and relax.
"It [Parkinson's] is starting to affect my cognitive ability so it was easier to bow out now and not have things deteriorate. It will get worse eventually, so it's just a matter of knocking it [his career] on the head now and enjoying a few years and see what's around the corner."
His health came under the spotlight when he had a turn at work.
"I went into one of the offices to speak to someone, sat down and then everything went haywire. I spent three days in hospital and got absolutely magnificent treatment by the doctors and nurses up there."
Turns out he had three possible strokes, or what is called TIAs (transient ischemic attack), and then came the Parkinson's diagnosis.
"There are symptoms and if you go on the internet you will see the 10 most common symptoms and I had about 10 of them, looking back. You don't know it at the time. From how you walk, how you slow things down, how your voice gets quieter."
Loper has had one of the sharpest minds - one that's outwitted the toughest of criminals and led teams to bring down some of the country's worst offenders. So how does this all make him feel?
"I've had some days when I've had a little pout about it to start with, but at the end of the day it's not going to do too much good."
He's a man who deals with the facts. Long before Parkinson's came along, he would talk slowly and with precision. There are long pauses. But he doesn't talk fluff and he means every word without putting a foot wrong.
Rarely there's emotion and he admits he hasn't cried at work.
"Maybe I should have. I think you become hardened. Although seeing dead kids tends to cement itself in your head at times. Like Nia ... I saw Nia.
"All the politicians and all the leaders were getting up and commenting this is going to be the last case of its sort. Unfortunately, it's not."
When you talk to Loper about his career it's clear the child abuse cases are the ones that have affected him most.
Another case he led was the horrific rape and bashing of a 5-year-old tourist who was staying in a holiday park in Turangi on Christmas Eve in 2011.
Raurangi Mark Marino was drunk when he came across the girl in an unlocked caravan. He choked her until she passed out and raped her, inflicting internal injuries and knocking out four of the little girl's teeth.
Loper said, because of forensic evidence, they were able to arrest the 16-year-old within a week, but the case brought national shame on New Zealand that something like that could happen to tourists.
One of Loper's greatest wins was seeing the conviction of Menzies Hallett, from Rotorua - 32 years after he pulled the trigger on Turangi petrol station attendant Rodney Tahu in August 1979.
Hallett fired at the man in a fit of rage calling him a "black b******" because Tahu had closed and would not serve him. He shot him in the shoulder then stood over him at close range and fired at his head.
He made a full confession to his wife but due to the law at the time, a wife couldn't give evidence against her husband.
A magistrate found there was insufficient evidence for Hallett to face trial for the murder, because all other admissible evidence was circumstantial.
But the law changed in 2006 and Loper and his team snuffed out fresh evidence around how the firearm was used.
"That was the great work of the police who dealt with it when initially investigating that offence ... We were able to connect him with the firearm and the discharged cartridges matched where he had shot at something else earlier, which was information they didn't have at the time. We also had the evidence of his ex-partner, which couldn't be given in court when the original offence occurred."
For Loper, it cemented his long-held views that you just never know what will happen with cold cases.
"That just shows you what can happen over time. We don't go away. And with me retiring, there's others in the wings."
One he wished he could have solved was the Moana Blades mystery. She went missing while hitchhiking from Hamilton to Napier at Queen's Birthday weekend in 1975.
New information trickled in over the years and Loper led a team to thoroughly go through the case to see if it could be progressed.
"I think we missed some opportunities when police first investigated the matter ... who knows, someone might walk into a police station and throw their hands in the air."
The Rotorua Daily Post has interviewed Loper many times over the years over this investigation, but still, he gives little away about his suspicions. We ask again: "Who do you think killed her?"
Again there's a long pause, but it has nothing to do with Parkinson's. It's just Loper being sure of his reply.
"I can't say," he said.
We ask if he can't because he doesn't know, or doesn't have the proof
"No, no proof. There's no clear suspect with Moana Blades."
Advancements in DNA research also saw him take another look at the Olive Walker case. Walker's bloodied and beaten body was found on the outskirts south of Rotorua on Friday, May 15, 1970. She was raped before she was murdered.
"I think we have gone as far as we can go with Olive. What we were able to do is take some of these old files, review them, send some DNA stuff away which they didn't have in the 70s and use that as a stepping stone to glean some more information to maybe help us solve them."
He's happy that, for now, he's done as much as he can on those historic cases.
"I would hate to think how many homicides we have dealt with. With the staff numbers we have had, we have done a really good job. When I say we, it's all a team and that's the great thing about the CIB. They are a kind of pack group who will hunt down those types of offenders."
One of his most satisfying cases that captured the world's attention was when a banking error saw $10 million accidentally put into an account belonging to Rotorua man Leo Gao.
Gao and his partner, Kara Hurring, then hatched a plan to skip the country and live a rich life. They were dubbed in world media as the "runaway millionaires".
They splashed out on glitzy hotels and casinos, which was where Loper and his team caught up with Gao and brought him back to New Zealand.
It was a story that went on to become a movie because of the twist that these were everyday people who became "most wanted" criminals.
No, he agrees, they weren't evil people: "They were opportunists. But you don't take $10 million."
Loper admits it's a tough time for police right now, especially in Rotorua. He worries for younger cops on the frontline.
"I think now frontline staff are having to face more firearms and more active gang members and that's been brought about by more methamphetamine use and sale.
"Bringing back the 501s from Australia has certainly had some influence but there's not a shift that goes by daily where our frontline staff [in Rotorua] aren't coming across firearms so I do fear for the younger staff who are on the frontline because they are more likely to be put in a situation when they have to act or they might be on the receiving end."
The housing crisis has also saddened him.
"When you drive down Fenton St and see people drinking out of 40ml bottles of whiskey at 11 o'clock in the morning, it is certainly degrading Rotorua."
So what's going wrong? Loper points to unemployment, family dysfunction and the "effectiveness of some government departments" - but he won't make any parting shots, preferring to leave it there.
When it comes to policing, Loper is a firm believer in teamwork. He's always quick to shrug off any personal glory, repeatedly saying he's nothing without his team.
"The person at the top of the food chain doesn't know it all so we expect everyone to be part of the team and to contribute. No idea is a silly idea. There's so many moving parts it's imperative you keep that information coming through."
Will he miss that rush of solving a mystery?
"I thought I would, but they are coming in all the time but now. I feel I'm more than ready to retire."
He's also confident he's leaving the Bay of Plenty in some really talented hands - specifically mentioning Detective Inspector Lew Warner, who has taken over his role as Bay of Plenty criminal investigations manager and Rotorua CIB leader Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Van Kempen.
"It's just time to stand aside and let the younger ones take it on."
Mark Loper - a good man
When Narelle and Mark Loper were holidaying in Egypt, a roughly dressed man struggling to carry carpet on his head walked towards them in a crowded shopping area.
Mark Loper stood to one side to make it easier for him to pass. No one else noticed the man, including Narelle.
"A shopkeeper came out and patted Mark on the shoulder and said 'you are a good man'."
Narelle Loper remembers that simple story because, to her, it sums up the man she married 39 years ago.
"He's is such a good man. How he has handled the job he has had and at the same time put 150 per cent into the family he loves so much is a testament to the man he is."
She gets emotional when she thinks about his police career and his early retirement.
"He is just leaving a bit earlier to focus on living longer."
Over the years no matter how bad his day was, he would always take the time to support her.
"Even with what he's going through now, he's still extending that support to me. He's been a wonderful husband in some testing times."
She said, like all police wives, there was always worry and there times when he had to work and couldn't make important family occasions.
"But he has provided the best life for me and the kids. He is just an amazing human being."
His son, Shaun Loper, who is the bass player in Kiwi band Strangely Arousing, described his father as selfless, who had done so much for him, his brother Scott and sister Nicole.
"I spent my whole life trying to be cool, found out my dad was a low-key superhero and he didn't even tell me. It wasn't until his workmates told me all the stuff he'd done."
Loper's colleagues hold him in the highest of regard.
Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Van Kempen said Loper was the type of leader police staff followed.
"He's always been passionate about the job, the community and he doesn't like injustice."
Van Kempen said Loper had led investigations into some of the worst crimes the country had seen with a tenacity that focused on getting answers and ensuring people were held to account.
"As well as the significant contribution Mark's made to our wider community, he's played a massive role in terms of how we function as an investigations group. We've always punched above our weight and in my view, that's largely due to the influence and leadership of Mark. He's a hard worker and staff have followed that lead because of the respect they have for him."
He's also played a mentoring role and has helped grow great investigators, he said.
Detective Inspector Lew Warner said he had worked with Loper on many serious investigations and described him as a "very professional, competent and dedicated investigator with very high values".
"He is tenacious and hates the bad guy getting away with anything."
He said there would be few detectives who had overseen as many homicides in New Zealand and he had a strong sense of justice and was victim-focused.
He said he would miss his wisdom, humour, focus and friendship.
"His family is very important to him and he is very proud of his wife and three children. He is respected by everyone ... He is one of life's really good buggers."
• Parkinson's is a progressive neurodegenerative condition caused by insufficient quantities of dopamine - a chemical in the brain.
• It can't be cured, but it can be treated.
• It is a progressive condition, often taking many years to develop.
• It is relatively common; 1 in 500 people have it. It becomes more common in older age groups, and it is believed 1 per cent of people above the age of 60 have Parkinson's. The average age at diagnosis is 59.
• The cause is mostly unknown.
• The three main symptoms of Parkinson's are tremor, stiffness and slowness of movement. Other symptoms include pain, problems with sleep and depression, anxiety or apathy.