After three armed robberies in Dunedin last year, police inquiries led them to an Oamaru home. They found everything they needed to pin the crimes on the woman who lived there — plus plans for future heists, including the robbery of an internationally acclaimed restaurant. Rob Kidd reports.

Shelley Lee Williams' life was methodically planned on scraps of paper.

One note in the 41-year-old's Oamaru home reminded her to trim the shrubs on Sunday and return her mother's hedge trimmer. Another, similarly mundane, listed lemons atop a shopping list.

There were some, though, which hinted at the transgender woman's darker intentions.
"Run to Dunedin & or Chch," it said.

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"Hit fish n chip shops. Small shops holding cash day & night times."

After three armed robberies in Dunedin in as many weeks, the police breakthrough came when a clear image of the offender was isolated in CCTV footage.

An officer recognised the imposing figure, bundled into a bulky jacket, gloves and balaclava, with a bag slung over her shoulder.

On June 29 last year they raided Williams' Oamaru home and found not only items associated with the hat-trick of heists but evidence the woman planned to commit many more.

"It was an incredibly unique situation, for us to walk into the address to complete a search warrant, to find those notes in neat little piles," the officer in charge of the case, Senior Constable Tracey Bransgrove said.

Some contained enigmatic references to "gloves, keys, tools" and there were several mentions of "Chch".

But the criminal intent in others was unmistakable.

"Rob = shops and jewel store. Heavy gold chains & bangles, diamonds etc," she wrote.

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"Go in & don't speak. Just hand a note & point gun."

Williams planned to "do Fleur's Place over" — the renowned Moeraki seafood restaurant.

Owner Fleur Sullivan was stunned when informed by the Otago Daily Times she was on the robber's hit list.
"What a shame. I want to cry. How sad," she said.

"I'm really happy it didn't happen but I think I could've talked her out of it."

Less fortunate was Ashburton antiques dealer Jim Heath, who also appeared on one of the inadvertent mini-manifestos.

Williams turned up at his home on the night of June 12.

He opened the door and was confronted by a face obscured with camouflage paint, and a right hand holding a gun.

Williams calmly demanded entry.

Shelley Lee Williams. Photo / Supplied
Shelley Lee Williams. Photo / Supplied

The 79-year-old was not in compliant mood.

"As I was thinking it, I was doing it," Mr Heath said.

He took her down in a "rugby-style charge" and the pair rolled down the front steps.

Mr Heath said he was surprised by his instinctive reaction but attributed it partly to his former sporting pursuits.

"I was a pretty good tackler," he said — although he admitted that was 50 years ago.

Williams regathered herself and pointed the imitation pistol at Mr Heath's wife Ida before running off.

Six days earlier, she had completed a more successful hold-up at McAuliffe Jewellers in South Dunedin.

"If you muck me around I will shoot you in the leg," Williams warned, before leaving with $550.

On June 23, the aggravated robberies ramped up.

First, Williams targeted Sue Todd Antiques, then brazenly followed it with a stick-up at the Elgin Food Market, in Mornington, an hour later.

Sue Todd told the ODT she had been concentrating on her computer when Williams strolled in asking to see her gold and silver.

When the masked intruder's tone changed, she said she knew the situation was serious.

Mrs Todd, though, was unafraid.

"I really didn't feel like I was going to get killed. He was very softly spoken and very well spoken."

She even formulated plans of her own to strike the offender where it hurt.

"He was a big guy. I'm five foot five and I'm thinking 'how can I knee him in the balls or something?"' she said.

While Mrs Todd handed over nine pieces, valued at $5520, she said she ensured they were her least favourite items.

As the police search for the armed robber heated up, so did their requests for information from the public.

Because of the balaclava, victims' descriptions of the offender were vague.

Officers were sure, though, that they were looking for a man.

Yet they were not.

Shelley Williams aka Shelley Montana — who has been listed in court documents as "entertainer" and "hairdresser" — was born Kerrin William Gutsell.

Courts have been grappling with her transgender status since 2010, when Judge Paul Kellar sentenced her at the Oamaru District Court for a range of violence and driving offences.

Though he jailed her for seven months, he noted she had been in voluntary segregation at a men's prison and was "very mindful" incarceration would be harsher for her than others.

Williams regularly appeared in court since then: for smashing windows with a cricket bat in Corstorphine, spitting in the face of a police officer in George St, shoplifting a bottle of whiskey in Oamaru.

Often violent, always impulsive.

So what drove her to commit the serious premeditated crimes?

Williams put it down to a hefty credit-card debt.

The reality appeared to be more complex.

Members of the woman's family were reluctant to go into detail about her problems but said there was much more to her story.

Some of the blanks were filled at Williams' sentencing at the Auckland District Court in March.

The ODT was only recently provided with court documents which revealed the defendant's "very troubled background".

Judge Lisa Tremewan detailed Williams' long-standing addiction demons and a psychological trauma grounded in her turbulent childhood.

"From a young age Ms Williams displayed female behaviours and dress that resulted in her being subjected to harassment and ridicule both regretfully within her family in some quarters and as well the wider community," the judge said.

"There was a view taken that physical punishment might be resorted to as correcting what was seen by some as an abnormality."

The court heard Williams had been diagnosed with histrionic personality disorder, gender dysphonia and obsessive compulsive disorder.

It was the latter which perhaps sealed her fate during the police search of her home.

Snr Const Bransgrove said the scene was far different from that of a typical search-warrant execution.

"The clothing she wore [to commit the robberies] was laid out beautifully in the bathroom ... everything was just laid out," she said.

The coat was turned inside out to dry, gloves and balaclava carefully draped over the bathtub and an overnight bag beneath them at the ready.

On the floor of another room lay a plastic pistol next to Williams' nail polish.Judge Tremewan noted the defendant's "concerning history" but there was nothing like her most recent crimes.

Williams wrote a letter to the court shedding further light on her circumstances.

She said she wanted to deal with her problems in a better way in future and was receiving support to do so.

Finally now she would face those challenges as a woman, legally.

The court received a copy of Williams' birth certificate which had been amended to declare her as female.

She was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, which will be served at a women's prison.

JUNE JAUNTS

• June 5, 2017: Antiques worth $1942 are stolen from an Ashburton man's garage

• June 6: Holds up McAuliffe Jewellers and gets away with $550 cash

• June 12: Goes to home of Ashburton antiques dealer, pulls out fake firearm, victim wrestles her to the ground, leaves empty-handed

• June 23, 3.30pm: Swipes gold and silver items worth $5520 from Sue Todd Antiques

• June 23, 4.30pm: Brandishes a fake pistol at the owner of Elgin Food Market and makes off with $900 cash and 20 packets of cigarettes

• June 29: Police execute search warrant at Shelley Williams' home and find items used in the robberies, various stolen goods and notes planning future heists