Jaden Lee Stroobant has been sentenced to life with preventive detention for the murder and sexual violation of his 69-year-old neighbour Cunxiu Tian. What drove him to brutally beat and harm the older, smaller woman? How did Stroobant try to cover his tracks? Today, the Herald can reveal the full story.

"I knew him when he was a little boy. He had dimples, he was a good-looking young boy. I was absolutely shocked when I heard it was him," said the woman, shaking her head in disbelief.

"It's terrible what's happened, what he's become. He was a happy little boy who grew up into a monster."

From happy child to murderous monster - how did Jaden Lee Stroobant's life take such a dark turn?

Here is his story.

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Jaden Lee Stroobant was born on April 2, 1996, in Auckland to Kristen Jean Stroobant, known as Krissie, who was 25 at the time.

His father was not listed on his birth certificate.

Sources close to the family say Stroobant grew up considering the father of his two younger sisters his dad.

He didn't learn the truth until after Krissie and the man separated, and it's understood he only met his biological father when he was 10.

None of Stroobant's immediate family would speak to the Herald about his upbringing and life.

His lawyer Emma Priest said: "They have asked me to advise that they do not want you contacting them."

Jaden Lee Stroobant changed his plea to guilty on the first day of his High Court trial at Auckland. Photo / NZ Herald
Jaden Lee Stroobant changed his plea to guilty on the first day of his High Court trial at Auckland. Photo / NZ Herald

At sentencing on Friday Justice Graham Lang gave a deep insight into a disjointed childhood full of neglect and instability.

Sources who asked not to be named said Stroobant's childhood and teenage years were troubled and punctuated with drugs, alcohol and violence.

Child Youth and Family were "well involved" with the family and intervened often, one source said.

Justice Lang said Stroobant was "disturbed from a young age" and his offending before the murder included assaulting and threatening family members - once he even went to where his mother was working and threw a rock through a window in anger.

Meth and dysfunction

Stroobant's main support, particularly in recent years, was his Aunt Renae, his mother's twin sister.

Both women were in court to support him at sentencing, sitting side by side in the public gallery and appearing to have a verbal altercation when the judge revealed details of their personal lives.

Those close to the family say Renae and Stroobant are extremely close - more so than the killer and his mother.

Renae has had her own legal issues over the years, including a conviction for using her West Auckland home as a methamphetamine lab.

In 2006, then aged 33, Renae was convicted of possessing precursor substances for the manufacture of methamphetamine, possession of utensils for manufacture and allowing her premises to be used to make the drug.

In the lead-up to her arrest she had been speaking to community groups about the dangers of the drug, claiming she'd given it up in 2003.

But when police searched her home in 2005, they found oil used as an agent in the manufacture of methamphetamine on the stove, and precursor substances on the rangehood.

When police arrived Renae was asleep on the couch, her 9-year-old son in the lounge with her.

Methamphetamine was also found distilling in a sleep-out at the property and swabs from surfaces in the home's kitchen tested positive for the drug, indicating it had recently been cooked there.

Renae was sentenced in the High Court at Auckland by Justice Graham Lang - who also sentenced her nephew to life in prison today.

Jaden Stroobant was known to be a happy-go-lucky young boy. Photo / Facebook
Jaden Stroobant was known to be a happy-go-lucky young boy. Photo / Facebook

Multiple sources used the same adjective when speaking about Stroobant's family life: dysfunctional.

The Ministry for Vulnerable Children - formerly known as CYF - refused to comment on Stroobant's history without his permission.

But one source said there were "a lot" of interventions by the agency.

"There wasn't major violence, abuse, but it's a dysfunctional family," another source said.

"Jaden had very little education, he went to lots of schools and was given lots of chances.

"He's never really worked, he had one job, doing menial stuff, but he was sacked from that."

The source said Stroobant claimed to have alcohol and drug problems - meth, like his beloved aunt.

And although Stroobant claims he was under the influence of meth and alcohol when he killed Tian, there is no supporting evidence.

In court, Justice Lang read from health assessors' reports, saying they gave "a vast amount of material" about Stroobant's life before the murder.

"Without doubt you had a disadvantaged and dysfunctional upbringing," he said.

Stroobant developed "significant issues" when his mother and stepfather broke up, and the court was told he "was the subject of physical and emotional abuse at their hands".

It was claimed Stroobant was also bullied by his siblings and there was a lot of drug and alcohol abuse "within the family unit".

School was no sanctuary either.

His mother moved him from house to house, primarily because she kept failing to pay rent and got kicked out, so he changed schools frequently and never settled.

At one stage he attended a specialist boarding school and seemed to do well, but that was short-lived.

"You did well at the school because in that environment you had very strict boundaries," said Justice Lang.

But he went home to Krissie who, by her own admission, "did not follow through" and soon Stroobant was back in trouble.

By 13 his formal education was over.

He was expelled from a number of schools - mainly due to his "defiant violent and aggressive attitude".

He punched teachers, threw one through a window.

Then, no school would take him at all.

He turned to a life of crime and eked out a living by burgling and stealing.

About the same time Stroobant began using drugs - cannabis, Ecstasy, methamphetamine - and drinking.

He appeared regularly in the Youth Court, Justice Lang said, and was sent to prison four times after being convicted in the higher-level district court once he'd turned 17.

As the sordid and sad details of his life were read in court Stroobant - who until then had fidgeted, tsked and tutted, chewed and muttered - sat with a hand over his face, clearly embarrassed by his pathetic life story.

To add insult to injury, Justice Lang spoke about his relationships with women.

"You've had a number of partners but no long-term or stable relationships," he said.

"You told one [health assessor] you have three children, you told another you have four children.

"You have no long-term ties with these partners or children."

The Herald has confirmed that Stroobant has one child, a little girl whose name is inked crudely across the back of his one hand.

There is no evidence of any others.

Jaden Stroobant has been jailed for murdering and sexually violating his neighbour. Photo / Facebook
Jaden Stroobant has been jailed for murdering and sexually violating his neighbour. Photo / Facebook

Prime suspect

Stroobant's criminal record speaks for itself.

Justice Lang revealed that at 19, when Stroobant was arrested for Tian's murder and remanded in custody, the young man already had a lengthy criminal history.

He'd been sent to prison four times, the longest lag being 12 months, and spent further time in custody when bail was denied.

In fact, he spent most of the time between his 17th birthday - when he was old enough to graduate from the Youth Court to the District Court incarcerated: seven convictions for burglary, numerous driving offences, sentences for possession of instruments used to burgle, breaches of conditions.

Even behind bars he carried on offending: he has a conviction to his name for assaulting a prison guard.

So when Tian was killed and police realised Stroobant lived over her back fence, they made a beeline for him.

He had been released from prison just 38 days before he murdered Tian and had a list of other convictions dating back further.

In mid-2015 Stroobant was jailed on a raft of charges for burglary.

He was released on December 8, 2015, and spent time living at a boarding house in Te Atatu but shortly before the murder, moved into a property that bordered Tian's family home on Kotuku St.

It's one of the flats that share a driveway and a large back section with a block of houses next door. The woman in the front house said she remembers Stroobant and his mother moving in, and saw him around a bit but never spoke to him.

Other neighbours across the cracked concrete slab driveway said they never met Stroobant and weren't interested in him. The mere mention of his name caused people in nearby homes to grimace and shake their heads.

Mum's the word

Krissie Stroobant was home when the police were called to Tian's house.

Tian's daughter Christina arrived home to find the 69-year-old lying on the floor near the kitchen.

She was battered, bloody and unresponsive.

A terrified Christina called 111.

A St John Ambulance crew arrived and as they tried to tend to Tian they thought they heard a noise upstairs.

The crew retreated from the house, as per their safety policy, to wait for the police to arrive.

Police converged and officers poured into the house, going single file up the stairs and clearing every room.

Armed police also scoured the yard for any sign of an offender; activity that didn't go unnoticed by Krissie Stroobant over the fence.

The day after Tian's murder she told the Herald that she was at home sewing butterfly decorations onto a tutu belonging to her granddaughter - her son's daughter - when she spotted the boys in blue.

"I was sitting here at the kitchen table and looked up and saw a policeman with a gun pointing at the house. There was three of them lined up along the fence," she said.

As police cleared Tian's home and after paramedics declared the woman dead, another team of officers from the volume crime team, which tackles high-number crimes such as burglary, were called in to help.

Their job was to door-knock the neighbourhood, starting with immediate neighbours.

They knocked on Krissie Stroobant's door.

She told them Jaden wasn't home - information that put him on the suspect list.

As the hunt for Stroobant began, Krissie was taken to the Henderson police station and questioned for about five hours.

Armed police and forensic police at Glenvil Lane, Te Atatu, after Cunxiu Tian was found dead. Photo / Nick Reed
Armed police and forensic police at Glenvil Lane, Te Atatu, after Cunxiu Tian was found dead. Photo / Nick Reed

Operation Nepal, closing in on a killer

Detective Senior Sergeant Roger Small headed the investigation into Tian's death, dubbed Operation Nepal.

His second-in-charge was Detective Sergeant Kelly Farrant.

"Jaden was nominated as a suspect by the first car on the scene," Small told the Herald in an exclusive interview.

"If you look historically, a lot of murders start out as burglaries and we knew Jaden, who had previous convictions for burglary, lived over the back fence.

"The team went around and approached his mum and information she provided caused police to try and locate Jaden that night."

In the next few days as police knocked on doors, residents in the surrounding streets reported seeing a suspicious person wearing a distinctive green and white jacket in the area - and even on Tian's driveway on the day of the murder.

Police believed this person was Stroobant.

Less than 24 hours later Stroobant was taken to the Henderson station for his first of two interviews with police.

Small and Farrant said in the first interview, captured on DVD over about 150 minutes and presented to the court for the trial that never went ahead, Stroobant gave a detailed account of his day that placed him well away from Tian's home.

"He was helpful, he gave us a long story about what he'd done and where he'd been that day," Farrant recalled.

"He was very confident in himself.

"The information was really helpful for us and we were able to prove or negate a lot of it."

By the second interview, forensic results from the scene and Tian's autopsy were in, and police told Stroobant they had enough evidence to charge him with murder and sexual violation.

That interview lasted 15 minutes, and ended with him being arrested and charged.

In all his dealings with police Stroobant denied having anything to do with his neighbour's brutal and violating death.

"During that second interview the forensic evidence was put to him, that's when he got upset," Farrant said.

"We had strong forensic evidence linking him to the scene in numerous and various places.

"Pretty much every form of forensic evidence you could think of - we had it."

Detective Senior Sergeant Roger Small talks to the media about the investigation. Photo / Michael Craig
Detective Senior Sergeant Roger Small talks to the media about the investigation. Photo / Michael Craig

The summary of facts the Crown presented to the High Court outlines Tian's horrific ordeal and last moments.

That document was released to the public via the media the same day and is graphic in content.

The Herald has chosen not to report all of the details out of respect for Tian and her family.

The summary outlines how Tian was home on January 15 last year, and headed out to do her usual gardening after her daughter and son-in-law left for work in the city.

Every day Tian would pull on her gumboots and go out to the yard and pick up loose leaves, collecting them in a plastic bucket.

When she was done, she'd empty the bucket, rinse off her tools and go back inside.

At some point during her morning routine Stroobant confronted Tian, grabbed her and dragged her inside.

He's a tall, muscular man and Farrant said he would have easily overpowered the petite pensioner.

"She was so little, she didn't speak much English - she would have been absolutely petrified," Farrant said.

"She was home alone and then he's come in and overpowered her and attacked her."

Stroobant admitted that he subjected Tian to a violent physical and sexual assault.

As she lay on the floor of her home, a place that should have been safe, Stroobant stomped on her face and head.

"This caused the fatal head injuries that eventually killed her," the summary stated.

As the woman lay alive but unconscious and dying from her injuries, Stroobant sexually assaulted her, twice.

"Police don't believe it was a case of him being a burglar, her disturbing him and him assaulting her," Farrant said.

Small added: "Police don't believe burglary was the main motivation. This was sexually motivated."

Cunxiu Tian, 69, was murdered in her Te Atatu home by Jaden Stroobant. Photo / Supplied
Cunxiu Tian, 69, was murdered in her Te Atatu home by Jaden Stroobant. Photo / Supplied

Justice Lang declined an application from the Herald to access Stroobant's court file, which contains witness statements and more detailed information about him and the offending.

But the summary paints a grim-enough picture of what happened that day.

A post-mortem examination revealed that Tian suffered extensive bruising to the head and face as well as numerous cuts and abrasions.

She had blood clots on her brain, which was "significantly" swollen, and a fractured right eye socket.

Tian also had bruise marks on her neck that were consistent with Stroobant "restraining her from behind".

She had multiple broken bones including one in her neck and ribs and other extensive injuries.

The 69-year-old had no defensive wounds, a signal that she was "deeply unconscious" or dying at the time of the attack.

Police search drains and neighbouring properties in Glenvil Lane, Te Atatu, after Cunxiu Tian was found dead in her home. Photo / Nick Reed
Police search drains and neighbouring properties in Glenvil Lane, Te Atatu, after Cunxiu Tian was found dead in her home. Photo / Nick Reed

The cover-up

After he'd murdered, then brutalised Tian, Stroobant tried to cover up his crime.

It is understood he redressed his victim so at first glance it did not appear that there was a sexual element.

He used detergent and a pink towel to wipe Tian, leaving the evidence near her body: the bottle of liquid bore his fingerprints.

He also made his way through the house, rifling through drawers and tipping the contents out across rooms.

Stroobant stole a number of items as he went including Chinese currency - about 1729 Yuan which he managed to exchange for $370 - a gold watch and Tian's iPad.

The iPad was found near the 1.8m wooden back fence that separates Tian's garden from the property where Stroobant was living.

It lay on the ground, under a tree, sitting up tent-like, as if that's where it landed when it was dropped.

Stroobant has refused to say a word about his getaway but because of where the iPad was found and how it was sitting, police believe he scarpered over the back fence, dropping the item as he fled.

It's thought all of this happened just before Stroobant sent a text that would eventually be used as evidence against him.

Cunxiu Tian's home, photographed from the Kotuku St property where her killer Jaden Stroobant lived. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Cunxiu Tian's home, photographed from the Kotuku St property where her killer Jaden Stroobant lived. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Caught: Stroobant's lover convicted

At 11.43am he messaged a woman named Lisa Borrett, asking her to call him.

Borrett, 44, was a married woman with two teenage children. She was also sleeping with Stroobant, whom she met when he was 14.

Court documents reveal that Borrett called her young lover back at 12.05pm and he told her he'd committed a crime, that he needed help to work out what Chinese currency was worth in New Zealand dollars.

She called him back at 12.21pm, after searching the internet for an answer, and gave Stroobant the information that he wanted.

She then agreed to pick him up in Henderson and met him at Railside Ave at 2.30pm.

Borrett took Stroobant to her home and he stayed until just before 6.30pm, but he called three hours later asking to be picked up in Henderson again.

Here's where Borrett got herself in real trouble.

She drove back to Railside Ave and Stroobant climbed into the boot of her car - he didn't want to be seen by police.

Again, she took him to her home.

The next morning there was a knock on Borrett's door.

It was the police, hunting Stroobant who was now their prime suspect for Tian's murder.

An officer asked Borrett if Stroobant was there.

She said no.

Minutes later police searched the house and found the murderer inside.

Borrett would later be charged with assisting Stroobant and helping him avoid arrest.

Supported by her husband and children she pleaded guilty and was convicted and sentenced to 200 hours' community work in the Waitakere District Court.

"You have no previous convictions whatsoever. It is very disappointing that you are here today," said Judge Nevin Dawson.

"When people commit crimes, they should not be assisted by anyone else. You got yourself involved and you are here as a result."

Judge Dawson said although Borrett knew Stroobant had committed a crime, she did not know the full details of the murder and sexual violation.

That, combined with her "low" level of assistance, which caused minimal delay to police in finding Stroobant, and her willingness to help police prosecute him resulted in her light sentence.

"You are a person previously of good character who has made a very poor decision," said Judge Dawson.

Glenvil Lane - a year on

Police and forensic officers head into the grisly Glenvil Lane scene. Photo / Nick Reed
Police and forensic officers head into the grisly Glenvil Lane scene. Photo / Nick Reed

With Tian's death, life on Glenvil Lane changed forever.

No one there will ever forget about the murder on their street, but they will also not let Stroobant destroy their peace and their happy family homes.

Tian's family still own the property where she was murdered but have moved out.

A young man lives there now, a neighbour said, and "he's nice".

"No one else moved, we're all still here," he said.

"We're more conscientious about people around the cul-de-sac now, everyone's a bit more wary but no, we won't let that move us."

A couple of months after Tian died the residents had a gathering.

"We all rolled our barbecues out onto the street and had a meal, just to reclaim our street," said one man.

"The murder was quite a shock, it was a bit scary and it was very sad.

"Nowadays, the hedges here are shorter, people have alarms and if anyone hears them we go out for a look - we notice cars that come in that we don't recognise.

"Everyone still calls this place home."

Tonight, 496 days since Tian was murdered, Jaden Lee Stroobant will start a prison sentence that could stretch for the rest of his life.