Twenty-two years ago serial killer Hayden Poulter bludgeoned to death a woman who worked as a prostitute on Auckland's Karangahape Rd. He then wrote a confession letter to the Herald claiming he would kill again. A week later, the former demolition worker killed a massage parlour worker, her boss, and attempted to kill another worker. Now, he's up for parole. Kelly Dennett opens the court file. ​

Of all the places to contemplate the vicious rape and murder of an innocent young woman, the foreboding black sands of Piha's foreshore certainly was an existential environment.

It was there, on the morning of October 19, 1996, that 35-year-old Hayden Poulter lay for hours, covered in wet, bloody clothes, thinking about what he'd done in the early hours of that morning.

En route to Piha in his Toyota Corolla he'd disposed of various evidence. After fruitlessly searching through a handbag for $60 cash, he stashed it in a bush off Anawhata Rd. Half of a Jack Daniels-emblazoned belt buckle was also chucked.

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Afterwards he washed himself in the public toilets before lying in the sand, contemplating. Eventually he went home and washed his blood-soaked clothes, including his leather jacket.

Natacha Hogan in a photograph supplied by family October 1996 Hogan was killed by New Zealand's first serial killer Hayden Poulter 19 October 1996. Photo / Supplied
Natacha Hogan in a photograph supplied by family October 1996 Hogan was killed by New Zealand's first serial killer Hayden Poulter 19 October 1996. Photo / Supplied

By this time, Sister Janet Swindle and her dog had come across Natacha Hogan's body at Pigeon Park, a cemetery on Karangahape Rd, in central Auckland, and the alarm was raised.

AN UPBRINGING

Hayden Tyrone Poulter was born in August 1961 to a British couple who migrated to New Zealand. His father was violent and eventually left the country, leaving Poulter to be raised by his mother and stepfather.

As a teenager, Poulter spent time in boys' homes and foster homes during which time he alleged he was abused. In 1978 he joined the Navy but was discharged. He turned to various jobs including shearing, fishing, farming, advertising and demolition.

Peppered in between was criminal offending - he racked up 67 convictions - but none for violence.

He had depression, suffered from epilepsy, and tried to commit suicide three times. A short-lived relationship produced a son, but by the early 1990s Poulter's self-described "gypsy life" was over after his partner left him.

He entered Odyssey House for addiction treatment and was close to graduation when he relapsed.

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By the time Poulter began stalking Karangahape Rd, "looking for a b**** to kill", as he told police, he was hooked on LSD and cannabis and in a relationship with a woman he met at Odyssey House, a sex worker.

That woman was jailed after her aggravated robbery of a dairy. Police shot her during that incident, and that was all it took, Poulter said, for something to be "triggered" in him.

"Something that was building up for years," he later remarked to Corrections.

THE KILLINGS

Security cameras captured the last moments of sex worker Natacha Hogan's life. The 21-year-old was wearing a black and white dress with a red blazer and black ankle boots when she encountered a reveller returning from a rugby match.

She had once lamented to a television reporter that her work was unsafe but, "that's the risk you take". Her friend Jane Furlong had disappeared from K Rd three years before.

A bank security still photograph of Natacha Hogan and a man on Karangahape Rd on October 19, 1996 at 4.40am.
A bank security still photograph of Natacha Hogan and a man on Karangahape Rd on October 19, 1996 at 4.40am.

Shortly before 5am Poulter, having trawled two bars for victims, met Hogan on the street. They negotiated $60 for sex and walked toward Pigeon Park.

Poulter's car was nearby but he preferred to have sex in the park, he told Hogan. As they walked, he removed a Jack Daniels belt buckle and put it in his pocket, preparing to carry out his plan.

The ensuing events are too graphic too print.

After Sister Swindle's discovery, police found a messy scene littered with evidence that painted a clear picture.

Hogan's slight frame had been bashed with two rocks, weighing a combined 44kg. Bodily fluids and a condom were found at the scene. Natacha's purse was missing. The $60 was in her jacket pocket.

THE LETTER

The letter was lengthy, with misspellings, a badly drawn star and crude references to Natacha's murder which he claimed was his fourth killing.

"To all you stupid f---, I'm writing to you f---- cause those pigs do not have a f---- clue," the letter read. "I don't even think they can read. I thought they would have caught me by now."

Hayden Poulter's letter to the Herald.
Hayden Poulter's letter to the Herald.

The etching was sent to the New Zealand Herald's Auckland newsroom six days after Natacha's death. NBK was presumably a reference to Natural Born Killers, a 1994 Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone flick about two mass murderers who were victims of traumatic childhoods.

Former reporter Roger Wakefield remembered it.

It was opened by a colleague at 8.45am on a Friday and was passed onto him, the dayshift police reporter that day.

An exhibit schedule later provided to the court shows Wakefield handed the letter and envelope to Detective Constable McGiffen at 11.30am on the day it was received.

"It was kind of freaky actually," Wakefield recalled this week.

"It seemed like it had a feel of being genuine. I rang the guy in charge of the case and he sent someone straight away to pick it up because it said stuff the killer would know."

Although Poulter boasted of other murders and described himself as a serial killer in the letter, Wakefield was dubious.

"I don't think the police were able to link him to any other killings, and in my opinion Poulter was attempting to boost his reputation. I'd describe him as a sad megalomaniac who went berserk for a week, rather than a serial killer."

MORE DEATHS

The following day, October 26, 1996, Hayden Poulter watched a game of rugby at a Fort St bar, downed some beers, and made his way to a massage parlour doors away.

Earlier in the day he'd bought a large army-style knife with a 16cm blade. It was hidden on him as he entered Cleopatra's massage parlour.

An article from the Herald in March 1997 about Hayen Poulter.
An article from the Herald in March 1997 about Hayen Poulter.

Cleopatra's was managed by Herbert Richard Norris, who was living there with his new wife. Norris was middle-aged and had several children to former partners.

A receptionist was working when Poulter came in at 4.20pm, paying $50 for an hour in a room with his pick of two Thai women, Angkana Chaisamret and Ladda (Linda) Nimphet. Ladda was chosen.

At some point, Ladda left the room to make him coffee and while she was away, Poulter secreted the knife under the bed.

Upon her return Angkana and Herbert heard screams, and the door of the room swung open. Hayden Poulter stood, naked, clutching a bloodied knife.

By the time he left the parlour, exiting through a second storey window at the back of the building, Ladda, Angkana and Herbert had suffered multiple stab wounds.

Poulter, bleeding from a leg wound suffered in his attack, fled. Hours later, at 11.13pm, he walked into the Auckland central police station and laid a knife on the public counter.

THE CONFESSION

Long before he went to the station and asked to speak to a constable about "important matters", Poulter had a history of needing to confess to his sins, his mother said.

In his youth he would escape from an institution, commit an offence then contact the authorities, she told Corrections.

Poulter's confession, however, was unusual. While fully describing the events of the past week, Poulter said he didn't remember the week between the killings but also attributed his offences to a second personality he called 'Hell' which he said drove him to murder.

Hayden Poulter handed himself in at Auckland Central police station after killing Herbert Norris and Ladda Nimphet.
Hayden Poulter handed himself in at Auckland Central police station after killing Herbert Norris and Ladda Nimphet.

He later elaborated to the probation report writer that he thought the massage parlour workers were gang members, out to get him.

That report writer described him as polite, quietly spoken and mostly lucid.

"Although people won't believe me, I do have remorse," Poulter was recorded as saying.

"I am sorry for what I did, I will be punished for the rest of my life, but I can't change the past. All I can do is change me."

WHAT MAKES A SERIAL KILLER?

In 1998 author Steve Egger wrote in his novel examining serial killers, The Killers Among Us, that attempting to categorise serial murderers was fraught.

"Behaviours found in serial killers that have been identified and studied do not necessarily fall within neat and tidy theories—or groups of theories, for that matter," he wrote.

So why categorise killers at all? According to a wealth of research on the subject serial killers are a relatively new phenomenon and the FBI began distinguishing and classifying murders decades ago to learn more about the personalities of those committing them, mainly as a profiling tool.

According to an early table prepared by investigators a serial killer was defined as having killed at least three people, in three separate events, at three different locations. The distinguishing feature was a cool-off period in between.

It's not the only classification system in use but by that definition, Hayden Poulter isn't a serial killer.

But University of Auckland associate criminology professor James Oleson, who has been studying serial homicides since before Poulter's crime spree, says the definition of serial killing isn't just a "by the numbers" game, nor are serial killers confined by motive of sexual gratification or power which we typically see in films.

The themes and definitions of serial killings are socially constructed and very arbitrary, he says. For example, we don't consider an assassin a serial killer. Billy the Kid, an American gunfighter who killed up to eight men, has been enshrined in popular culture not as a serial killer but as a misunderstood gunslinger.

The less dressed-up definition is simply killing multiple people at multiple locations.

"But that's less exciting and intriguing," Oleson says.

Police search the cemetery on the corner of Karangahape Rd and Symonds St where Natacha Hogan's body was found on October 21, 1996.
Police search the cemetery on the corner of Karangahape Rd and Symonds St where Natacha Hogan's body was found on October 21, 1996.

"Monsters usually have telltale characteristics to know they're a vampire or a werewolf or a witch. But with a serial killer, or the psychopath or the killer next door, that's not possible.

"Part of the reason we like (the topic of) serial killers, and it's true for monsters, when we see them in the media reports, it always is to get close to them, to something that's really dangerous, but in a safe and controlled way."

It's unclear whether anyone officially stamped Hayden Poulter as a serial killer- other than himself.

A former Auckland Regional Forensic Services worker is quoted in historic Herald reports saying Poulter bore all the hallmarks of a serial killer including his pre-planning, his targeting of a specific "type" of victim - sex workers - his ethnicity, history of being a victim of abuse and his sanity.

A detective told the Herald in the same article that New Zealand had never before had a serial killer, "if that is what he is".

But that was incorrect. Between 1941 and 1950 Leo Hanna killed four people in three different locations. He was convicted of one murder but confessed to the others.

Child killer Minnie Dean could also qualify. Oleson suspects there are many more we are unaware of without the power of media.


AFTERWARD

In 1997, after being declared sane, Poulter pleaded guilty to murder, rape, attempted murder and possessing an offensive weapon in public. Days later he was jailed for life with a 15-year non parole period.

Many victim impact statements were tendered to the court - seven from Herbert's family and 10 from Natacha's. Ladda's family couldn't be reached, according to Justice Paterson's sentencing notes, and Angkana didn't proffer one.

"It is unlikely, I suspect, that I will ever be so moved as I have been by the statements in this case," Justice Paterson said.

"I am conscious of the emotional and psychological harm the family and friends of the victims have suffered. You took three lives but it is no exaggeration to say that you have devastated if not destroyed the lives of many others."

Hayden Poulter is now 56 and this month will be considered for parole for the eighth time since he became eligible in 2011. Previous hearings were told he had begun a "reintegrative journey" including guided releases into the community, which passed without incident.

Last year Poulter told the board he wasn't ready for parole, and instead asked for reintegration support, including transferring to an outer self-care unit where inmates live independently.

Oleson said it was very rare for murderers to go on to kill again after their release.

THE END

At his sentencing Poulter wrote one more note, this one starkly different to the Herald letter. Instead, the words read like a victim impact statement. Various words were crossed out and replaced with others. The word "nightmares" was substituted for "bad dreams".

The Symonds St Cemetery where Natacha Hogan was murdered by Hayden Poulter. Photo / Doug Sherring
The Symonds St Cemetery where Natacha Hogan was murdered by Hayden Poulter. Photo / Doug Sherring

"It's been almost a year and I'm still struggling to come to terms with it all," Poulter wrote.

"I am constantly plagued and tormented with bad dreams. For me, it is a punishment on its own and something I have to live with for the rest of my life.

"The remorse I have within me is genuine and deep, especially for Natacha as her life was a lot like mine, filled with abuse and violence. I do not care if no one believes what I'm saying, but I need to say how sorry I am. I am sorry Natacha. I am sorry Ladda. I am I sorry Herbert. I am so very sorry."

TIMELINE OF EVENTS
October 19, 1996: Natacha Hogan meets Hayden Poulter in the early hours of the morning on Karangahape Rd and he takes her to Pigeon Park, where he rapes and kills her

October 25, 1996: The New Zealand Herald receives a letter signed NBK, admitting Natacha's murder and threatening more

October 26, 1996: At 4.20pm Hayden Poulter goes to Cleopatra's and murders Ladda Nimphet and Herbert Norris and tries to kill Angkana Chaisamret. Later that night he makes a full confession to police

September 1, 1997: Poulter pleads guilty to all six charges against him and is remanded to the Mason Clinic for sentencing, a few days later

Additional reporting: Cherie Howie