Kelly Dennett discovers a close-knit community close-lipped about the deaths of two of their own.

In the Bay of Plenty township of Mamaku most homes have a growling guard dog and heavyset gates.

The main thoroughfare is so quiet that strange cars attract locals' peering eyes.

The stillness of the town and Mamaku's aversion to newcomers makes the sudden and mysterious slayings of relatives James and Raymond Fleet all the more curious.


Twenty-six days after the pair up and left their homes without shoes, wallets or phones, and 16 days after their bodies were found in dense forest on the outskirts of the town, the answers to the riddle of how two men came to be taken and killed are few.

James, a roofer, is said to have answered a knock at the door of his grandparent's home and left suddenly, without personal belongings, at 6.30pm on Monday, August 7.

Just doors down, at the home he shared with his partner and children, James' uncle Raymond Fleet, a truck driver, also disappeared.

News that two of their own were missing sparked a huge search by locals who scoured bush, farmland and Mamaku forest.

On August 18 police announced they had found two bodies in a lonely section of forest that while away from prying eyes, is also remarkably close to the two front doors the men departed.

At the spot where the men were found at the end of Cecil Rd, a remote gravel path coated in mud, a police car remained stationed this week.

Houses along that stretch are few, and the area is mostly occupied by dairy farmers, and people grazing horses.

A local worker said residents were perplexed and annoyed at the interest in the case, and out of respect for the Fleet family - who are well known in the village - residents would not discuss the mystery.

"Most people who live here are after peace and quiet," one local worker said.

But despite the furore surrounding the deaths, Mamaku remains quiet. Almost serene. Many houses are dilapidated, some residents live out of converted house buses, and roads on the outskirts are still unpaved.

There is not much here. A town hall, a mechanic, a takeaway shop, a primary school, and a dairy. The land is pretty but when fog sets in the village feels abandoned, and unwelcoming.

When police came knocking on business doors looking for security footage after the deaths, they were told there were no cameras surveiling the streets. The locals are trustworthy; crime in the area unusual.

The local chippie belongs to James Fleet's grandparents, and this week the couple announced to the townspeople they were closing temporarily.

"Sincere apologies to our loyal customers," Georgina and Graham Fleet wrote on the shop window.

A local man, who didn't want to be named, said the Fleets were a respected family and the town had rallied around them. A Give a Little page had raised more than $7000.

"It's a big family and they're good people," he said.

"It's horrible."

Residents were "concerned" about the deaths, but confident an arrest would be made.

"This is a good town to live in. Most rural towns are good places to live and it's just like any other," he said.

"I think people are (going to be) concerned until they get an answer. I think we're welcoming the presence of the police and what they're doing to solve it."

Still, rumours persist in the absence of suspects or information, with the most persistent being that the men were killed due to an outstanding drug debt.

"Too many rumours," the local man said. "None of them make sense because they're all criss crossed madness."

Police haven't confirmed possible motives behind the deaths, only to say they haven't ruled out links to drugs and gangs.

Police are also staying mum on what the post mortems revealed, including how the men died and what injuries they had.

This week Detective Senior Sergeant Mark Van Kempen declined interview requests and would only say that inquiries were continuing.

He would not answer questions about whether any potential suspects or witnesses had been identified, whether police believed more than one individual to be responsible, and how police were led to the bodies.

"The investigation team is continuing to follow up on a number of enquiries in relation to the deaths," he said.

"Scene examinations at the site where the bodies were discovered are continuing. Police are in regular contact with the family."

The Fleet family have declined to comment on the investigation since the men's bodies were found, but were vocal in their initial efforts to find the uncle and nephew.

On social media James Fleet's mother Bronwyn Fleet called her son "a gentle-natured boy" and others remarked that he had been at pains to turn his life around.

Fleet no longer wants to publicly discuss her son.

"The people who knew (James and Raymond)... know who we are as a family," she said this week. "The interest from the public should be satisfied by the information the police have released."

Raymond Fleet's partner Machiko Suzuki has posted a sign outside her home discouraging media requests, and has returned to work.

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick also declined to comment on the case, her media adviser telling the Weekend Herald she hadn't been briefed on the case and that it would be inappropriate for her to comment on it.

Police are interested in hearing from anyone who saw the Fleets between August 4 and 9.

Information can be provided to police on 07 349 9400.

Unanswered questions

How did the men die?
How were their bodies found in the forest?
Have any suspects been identified?
Have any potential witnesses been identified?
Have police obtained any CCTV footage?