Detectives are trying to piece together the secret life of a police officer who was stabbed to death in his home last weekend.

Denis Phillips, 59, was knifed several times in his Papakura property and a 16-year-old male has been charged with his murder.

While Phillips' family and former Army mates spoke of a "caring compassionate" guy, members of Auckland's gay scene claim he used to offer them drugs for sexual favours.

A drag queen called Miss Ribena, whose real name is Kevin Dunseath, said he had known Phillips, a temporary constable, for nearly 20 years.

Dunseath described him as a "street merchant" who used to cruise for sex in Auckland's red light district around Karangahape Rd.

"He was dodgy and sleazy. He was a predator. He tried hitting on me when I was in my early 20s.

"When he tried picking me up, he offered to give me money and drugs."

Dunseath said he was shocked to learn that Phillips was a police officer.

Former Celebrity Treasure Island winner John "Horse" McLeod, who served with Phillips in the Army, said he was a great guy.

"He liked the beer and a good time just like any other soldier."

McLeod said he was surprised when he heard a 16-year-old had been charged with the murder.

He said: "I thought surely Denis could have handled a 16-year-old but maybe he had his back turned or something."

Phillips was raised by the Salvation Army after his father died and he became estranged from his mother, his cousin Phil Gibson said.

Gibson said Phillips related well to people of all ages.

He said the family were "totally shocked".

"He was a caring, compassionate guy. I have not heard one bad word about him."

The teenager charged with murder has been in trouble with the law before. He previously faced two charges of assault with a blunt instrument and one charge of injuring with intent not involving a weapon.

The day after Phillips' death, Counties Manukau district commander Superintendent Mike Bush said there was "no evidence ... whatsoever" of a sexual motive to the attack.

But a detective involved in the case confirmed they had interviewed people who knew of Phillips' sexual orientation.

The detective, who asked not to be named, said: "It is an ongoing investigation and we have a lot of people to talk to.

"I can say we have talked to Miss Ribena but what you have told me about what he has said [about being offered drugs for sex] is completely new to me."