A week ago a human skull and bones were unearthed during foundation work on a Mount Eden property. The Herald's investigation into the history of the Marlborough St house has uncovered connections between past owner David Hart and alleged Israeli diamond thieves, his petty brushes with the law, and an unexplained source of income. Hart disappeared without trace more than a decade ago. The boarding house he ran for elderly alcoholics down on their luck continued under a new "weird character" named Gabriel D'Angelo, who spent time in a maximum security prison in the early '80s.
Even before he disappeared without trace more than a decade ago, everything about David Hart's life was odd.
There was the rundown Mount Eden boarding house frequented by ex-crims and elderly alcoholics that he ran as cheap rooms for rent paid for with cash.
A rotating scruff of five or six men constantly filtered through the weatherboard double story house, rarely settling for long.
Neighbours who lived alongside him for decades had no idea what Hart did for a living or how he had come into possession of the property.
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At the front of the property Hart worked in a little aluminium shed, making leather belts with an assortment of machines.
If he got your attention, he wouldn't let go.
"You'd sort of avoid him in the street. He was one of those guys who thought he knew everything about everything," neighbour Murray Goldings said.
What they did gradually notice, though, was that they hadn't seen him around in a while. That was in the early 2000s when Hart was in his 70s.
Rumours swirled around the leafy, but traditionally working-class street.
One line went that Hart had gone to Australia to live with relatives. Another rumour held that he'd been admitted to a nursing home with dementia - or more cynically a psych ward of some description.
And yet, despite the absence of his huge beer belly loitering on the Marlborough St footpath, the boarding house continued to operate under the oversight of a new "extremely weird character" as one neighbour put it.
There was a strange constancy of ramshackle residents in the increasingly gentrified neighbourhood. Then-prime minister Helen Clark's place was just a block away.
The tranquillity was broken last Friday, when a human skull and bones were found crammed in a concrete pipe in the Marlborough St backyard.
The find: human remains in concrete
The discovery was also inadvertently a product of Hart's eccentricity.
The makeshift foundations and basement Hart had built himself decades ago had to be completely re-strengthened by a new owner who purchased the property in 2016 because they weren't up to the building code.
Within hours of the discovery, police forensics staff arrived at the property on the afternoon of January 31.
A source told the Herald the bones were thought to be that of an adult, and placed within a concrete structure - but not "set" in concrete.
The home's new owner would not comment on the state or contents of the home when he bought it on December 13, 2017.
A number of Marlborough St neighbours suggested Hart had taken a reverse mortgage on the home. When his funds ran out, the bank, and Auckland Council, moved in to recover rate arrears and mortgage payments.
A private investigator was allegedly hired to find Hart, who at that point had not been seen for years. Eventually, the house went on the market.
This week, police have continued to analyse the remains, and canvass the neighbours and past residents. They have brandished a photo of a man with a goatee who is not believed to be Hart. Police officially describe the death, or the burial, as "suspicious".
The old Marlborough boarding house set
The Herald has been in contact with one resident of the Marlborough St boarding house, who said he has spoken to police. He was reluctant to reveal details of the residence where he lived for three years in the early 2000s.
"To be honest with you this has freaked the s*** out of me," the former resident said.
"I lived there, there were a number of people who lived there. I basically lived there because it was cheap and close to town. It was basically a place for me to put my head down. I got pissed most of the time I was there.
"I did drink in the house. I knew Dave [Hart], he was an interesting character, he had nicknames for everyone and that was about it.
"He [Hart] was different. I haven't lived there for about 14 years so I don't know. Dave was Dave. He was a bit of a grumpy old prick at times, but you just got used to it and that's life."
Asked if there was any illegal activity in the house or dangerous individuals, the resident was extremely cautious.
"Potentially there were one or two dangerous people but you don't know, because you never actually knew people eh," the resident said.
"It wasn't the flashest. When I lived there it was somewhere for me to keep my head down. I moved out because I just wanted to go, that's why."
"Who knows if Dave was doing anything illegal. Basically everything was cash with your pay. I suppose ripping off the IRD is probably illegal," the man said.
But when pressed on one particular past resident by the name of Gabriel D'Angelo, who took over management of the boarding house after Hart disappeared, the past resident opened up slightly.
"I lived there for two and a half, three years. I don't know if someone harmed him [David]. If someone has harmed him I suspect I know who it is but then if it's happened, it's happened," he said.
"Because when I lived there it was basically, upstairs, downstairs, people moving in, moving out, that's what was happening.
"At the end of the day none of us know what happened, it's bloody scary."
Gabriel D'Angelo - also known as George Nathan Gabriel Ormsby - died at the Marlborough St property on September 26, 2016.
A death notice described his "sudden death" and that he was "a treasured friend of Tim Birch and Emere McDonald".
McDonald later posted a tribute on Facebook to Ormsby, who was known as a singer, painter and poet.
"Gabriel was a very compassionate person who cared for the marginalised in our very materialistic society," McDonald wrote.
"Indeed, he rescued Tim like an angel when Tim most needed it."
Yet other accounts of D'Angelo presented to the Herald are vastly contrasting - particularly from the past resident.
"He was always OK to me but he was always a bit weird. Let's say that, he was weird. Extremely weird," the resident said.
"The thing about it was I picked up mail that used to be 'D'Angelo'. And I'll tell you another story, he was a bit … there was something not right but I don't want to say any more. I don't want to compromise a police investigation."
"He used to wear sunglasses and gumboots the whole time.
"Some of the stuff he said you just shook your head. Like, okay Gabriel, good night, bye. I saw him in the pub years after I left and I asked him how Dave was.
"He said 'oh yeah Dave I haven't heard from him'. That was it."
Through speaking to neighbours on Marlborough St, it was also learned that D'Angelo had a correspondence of sorts with the musician Don McGlashan.
McGlashan confirmed to the Herald this week he first met D'Angelo in the mid-80s when he was assisting prisoners at the Paremoremo maximum security prison in Auckland, though a music rehabilitation programme.
McGlashan said a principle of the programme was they did not ask the prisoners what crime they were in for.
"Mid-80s, after I'd come back from New York, I had a job working at Paremoremo working with prisoners, and he [D'Angelo] was one of my group," McGlashan said.
"Then after he got out we were in contact a few times and he came to my house in Eden Terrace where I was living. This would probably be the early 2000s.
"He came round to my house and I was helping him with a few of his new songs. Help him finish things. But I don't remember the last contact I had with him actually.
"But he was a good musician and a good songwriter, and he was interested in using songwriting to write about his predicament and his life. Not just trying to write a hit."
McGlashan said D'Angelo played guitar and sang, and demonstrated genuine musical talent.
"He was an intelligent man. He seemed like a thoughtful guy and someone who would benefit from an approach where he could address some of the problems of his life through music," McGlashan said.
"Like some people you know, it's only going to be a really small help. Their problems are too big for music to be a big help in the first instance.
"But he seemed like the kind of guy that had things gone better for him in his life, he might have actually been a fulltime professional musician and had an audience. I thought he was a really good musician and songwriter."
D'Angelo's sudden death was attended by police and signed off by Coroner Debra Bell, who said an inquest was not required.
Her report under the name of Ormsby reveals the beneficiary's death was the result of a sudden cardiac event caused by atrial fibrillation, a condition which causes an irregular and often rapid heart rate, and can lead to stroke and heart failure.
David Hart's unusual property acquisitions
In searching for records of David Hart, the Herald uncovered a second property he owned on the West Coast.
In November 2018, the Grey District Council sought Hart in relation to a property in Blackball near Greymouth.
The vacant and dilapidated section at 24 Stafford St is worth $23,000.
A notice in the local paper stated that unless Hart claimed the land and paid all outstanding rates within a month, the council would apply for a court order declaring it to be abandoned and to authorise the sale or lease.
The notice stated Hart's whereabouts were "unknown".
Property records show 24 Stafford St is still owned by Hart.
But when the Herald published the details of the Blackball address earlier this week, a peculiar tip came into the newsroom.
An Auckland jeweller said he remembered it well as the property had been put up for security in about 2011 for a couple who obtained $70,000 of diamonds from him - and skipped the country.
He told the Herald the couple lived in Mt Eden. He was from Israel and she was a Kiwi and they'd married in Canada and returned to Auckland to settle.
She was pregnant and he was a diamond cutter by trade and was keen to start his own business here.
The jeweller acted as a guarantor for $70,000 worth of diamonds for the man whose plan was to cut and resell them, return the investment and keep any profit which he'd use to buy the next lot.
However, soon after the diamonds - 12 stones of various size, colour and carat - were handed over, the couple scarpered.
The jeweller told the Herald he'd never heard of Hart or the boarding house, and he thought the couple lived above a shop at the city end of Mt Eden Rd.
"They said the woman's family owned the property at Blackball … it's not an address you forget," he said this week.
"It could be a complete coincidence."
The police investigation as it stands
Police confirmed this week Hart was never reported as a missing person.
A source said it was thought he had no family, and there were certainly no red flags raised by any of his tenants after he disappeared.
Officially, police won't speculate on the identity of the body found at the property, saying the identification process is in its primary stages and could be lengthy.
But the source said Hart was the strongest lead at this stage.
Acting Detective Inspector Glenn Baldwin refused to answer specific questions put to police by the Weekend Herald.
In a statement on Tuesday, Baldwin said the post-mortem had been completed. He confirmed police had removed a large piece of concrete from the Marlborough St property for forensic testing.
"This is meticulous and challenging work for the pathologist and their findings are not expected to be available to police for some time," the statement said.
"There are considerable challenges for police who remain open minded around their identity."
Baldwin said it was "possible that the deceased died some years ago" and given the circumstances, formal identification would require forensic evidence.
"The obtaining of a DNA profile from the deceased may take a week or two, but identification can only occur if police and ESR have a comparative DNA sample that the deceased's DNA can be compared to," he explained.
"Therefore it could likely be several weeks before the identity of the deceased is known."
By Thursday, police were finished at the property and handed it back to the current owner, who has not returned emails or calls.
On Thursday, a man at the house said the owner was unlikely to speak about the discovery.
"I don't think he wishes to discuss it with you," the man said
"He's been overwhelmed … he prefers not to comment."
Current Marlborough St neighbour's memory of Hart
Murray Goldings, 45, has lived on Marlborough St his entire life and remembers Hart as a regular fixture of the street.
"My older brother told me he used to work in his garage because he used to make leather belts, and my brother still has the belt to this day. I think he had a lathe in there to make things. He was sort of a tinkerer," Goldings said.
"He was sort of a bit of a loner. He was there for many years by himself. There was only him and then all the boarders came later on.
"Dad used to say 'Oh, I got caught by Dave in the street'. He used to like to talk. Kind of guy who thought he knew everything.
"He used to like his beer, he had a gut like [gesturing with hands]."
"The only other guy I remember who lived there was a guy in a leather jacket, who didn't talk.
The point at which Hart was no longer in his garage is vague for Goldings; his presence has been quietly erased from the Marlborough St community.
"It would have been I guess early 2000s, the last I saw him [David]. And I got asked [by police] did you see anyone shifting out of the property," Goldings said.
"I said nah, I didn't see anyone shifting out. And even with the borders coming I didn't see anyone shifting stuff in."
"Our guess was that he'd gone missing and he had money in the bank and they had taken money out until the money dried up and they couldn't find him.
"There were rumours he went to Australia and there was another rumour he had dementia and had gone to a home somewhere. I reckon it would be over 10 years ago.
"He disappeared, and no one knew why."