The prime suspect in the "Stop-Go" slaying of George Taiaroa has left his rural hideaway.
The Herald on Sunday can reveal that Quinton Winders' 200ha hillside property near the township of Whangamomona, about 65km northeast of Stratford, has been bought by a local farmer. His former neighbours don't know where Winders has moved to.
The Taranaki property - just off State Highway 43, referred to by locals as the "Forgotten World Highway" - has been the centre of several police searches since Taiaroa's shooting in South Waikato on March 19 last year.
Taiaroa, a loving grandfather, was gunned down while manning a "Stop-Go" sign at a single-lane bridge near Atiamuri.
But 19 months on, despite numerous appeals for information and the decision by police bosses to release Winders' details to a hunting newsletter as the chief suspect, the case remains unsolved.
After one search of Winders' property, officers confiscated a vast collection of firearms. They remain in police custody, as does Winders' Jeep Cherokee.
Winders recently sold his property to Michael Drought, a dairy farmer from Opunake. The land has a government valuation of $400,000.
"I brought it as a hunting block because there is a lot of native bush and there are wild pigs and deer on the land," Drought told the Herald on Sunday.
Winders had previously told him that police had "kept pestering him all the time and they [even] tipped over his long drop". A neighbour said he hadn't seen Winders in a while but noticed stock was gradually being moved off the land over the past three months. He described Winders as "intelligent and a loner".
He said police deserved criticism for naming Winders as a suspect in a North Taranaki Deerstalkers' Association newsletter.
"It certainly changed his status around here and how people perceived him. The police have no evidence otherwise they would have charged him. It's a bit unfair," he added.
"The good thing now the property is sold is he has gone so no one can hassle him any more, can they?"
Although he was a polarising figure in the rural community, local woman Emily Bradford saw another side to Winders. "I have never seen him lose his temper or get angry. He was socially awkward and because he kept to himself people thought he was an oddball so he got a bad rap for that.
"To be honest, I think he is moving to get away from the gossip and innuendo. I think he probably wants a fresh start."
Police investigation boss Detective Inspector Tim Anderson said the hunt for Taiaroa's killing remained "very much active and ongoing".
"On a day-to-day basis the work is being undertaken by the Taupo CIB and they draw on additional resources as and when required.
"We have previously indicated that we had one prime suspect and that remains the case. We have not and will not be drawn into comment on individuals."
Anderson confirmed police still had Winders' Jeep Cherokee and that they remained in contact with Taiaroa's family, but said police wouldn't be "drawn" on other details of its investigation.
Winders could not be reached for comment.
Taiaroa's widow, Helen, declined to comment.