Twenty years ago today the country woke to the news of the brutal killing of Reporoa woman Beverly Bouma. It was the first time the words "home invasion" were used to describe everyone's worst nightmare. Journalist Kelly Makiha looks back on the crime that made history.

"I need help. I think Bev is dead."

It is the middle of the night.

Sylvia and Benjamin Lee are woken by their neighbour, Henk Bouma, climbing through their bedroom window.


The desperate Henk has just run barefoot for more than a kilometre in a desperate dash across paddocks to get help for his wife, Beverly.

The home of Sylvia and Benjamin Lee, where Henk Bouma ran for help after his wife was murdered at a neighbouring house. Photo / Stephen Parker
The home of Sylvia and Benjamin Lee, where Henk Bouma ran for help after his wife was murdered at a neighbouring house. Photo / Stephen Parker

The pair have been through an unimaginable ordeal that will shock the nation.

It began just a few hours earlier. The 45-year-old mother of four is shot dead after four masked and armed men burst into their secluded farmhouse on a hill on Plateau Rd, 20km south of Rotorua.

Thankfully, the Boumas' three children aren't home.

The offenders ransack the house, demand money cards and pin numbers and two of the men drive to Taupo in Henk's gold Ford Laser car where they withdraw $2800 at different money machines.

Back at the house, Henk, who is badly beaten, is bound and gagged and guarded in a room by one gunman while another masked man drags Beverly into a bedroom.

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He shoots her dead when she refuses to perform a sexual act on him.

When the two offenders return from Taupo to the Bouma house, they discuss putting Henk into the boot of the Laser and pushing it into the Waikato River.

But his life is spared. They leave with some of the Boumas' possessions in the gold car.

Henk frees himself and runs to the Lees for help.

Five days later, Beverly's killers are caught in the neighbouring village of Kaingaroa - David "Blue" Poumako, Dillon Hitaua and brothers Mark and Luke Reihana.

The public outrage of the home invasion overnight on November 30, 1998, sparked a successful campaign for tougher penalties for those who kill someone in the victim's own home.

Tragedy and twists surrounding the case continued in the years to come.

In 2001 Poumako died in prison, in 2002 Henk died from liver cancer and in 2011 Hitaua was stabbed to death by his long-term partner as she fought him off during an argument.

Sylvia Lee hasn't spoken publicly about the night Beverly was killed since the days immediately following the tragedy.

As she sits in her kitchen of their remote Reporoa farmhouse, over the road and down a bit from where the Boumas lived, she remembers calling police for Henk while he and her husband went back to the house, just in case Beverly could be saved.

The fear was intense. She wasn't quite sure what had gone on, but remembers Henk being in a state of shock saying "I think they have gone, I think they've gone".

She spent what felt like hours on the phone to police at the kitchen table holding a baseball bat while her four children under the age of 11 slept.

Thinking about it now, she can't believe it was two decades ago. But so much has changed in that time.

Benjamin, her beloved husband of 37 years, died suddenly from a heart attack in July last year.

She's remained on the farm where her boys, Hamish and Sam, run their dairy unit - which since 2015 has included the 100ha Bouma property.

A lot of people have lived in the Bouma family home since 1998, including farm workers while the farm was run by the Bouma's family trust. Today the Lees' contract milkers live there.

"I was in there last Queen's Birthday weekend repainting it and it is the most beautiful spot. The view over the valley is stunning."

Sylvia says the ripples of what happened that night are still being felt.

"I know that two older men (Poumako and Hitaua) have died but there are still two boys, well adults now, who have to live with what they have done.

"It's tragic even if you lose your parents to natural causes and old age. I know what it feels like to lose Ben at 63 but if someone had a hand in taking him, it's just so much worse."

Born in Scotland, she loved New Zealand for its safety. Until that night.

"We didn't even have a working lock on our door ... I'd never thought anyone would ever come into the house while we were there."

For the five days the killers were on the loose, Sylvia remembers the community fear. But that was contained once the four were arrested and they could put names and faces to the killers.

"For a long time it was difficult just driving past the house, but looking back now it is good to remember Henk and Beverly as the people they were."

The Lees would often go to their house to play tennis on their court or play board games.

Sylvia and other mothers and their children in the area would also meet there for Tuesday morning ladies' tennis sessions.

She said the Boumas were enthusiastic about sport, socialising, tennis and their children.

"She thought the world of [them]."

Henk loved his farm and Beverly loved her garden.

"She was always smiling ... she was a lot of fun ... and they were lovely parents."

The killers

The fate of two of the four killers responsible for Beverly Bouma's death has been well documented, but what happened to the two teen brothers freed from prison in 2005?

Luke and Mark Reihana were aged just 17 and 16 respectively when they got mixed up with two older men, David "Blue" Poumako, 25, and Dillon Hitaua, 22, smoking drugs and drinking alcohol on the day they hatched a plan to rob someone.

Brothers charged over the Beverly Bouma killing Luke Reihana (left) and Mark Reihana leave the Rotorua courthouse. Photo / File
Brothers charged over the Beverly Bouma killing Luke Reihana (left) and Mark Reihana leave the Rotorua courthouse. Photo / File

It emerged in their trial that murder was never the intention of the others and the Boumas' property was picked at random in a drunk and drugged state.

Poumako, who took Beverly aside into a room and shot her, died in prison in 2001 after serving just three years of a life sentence for murder with a minimum non-parole period of 13 years.

David "Blue" Poumako pleaded guilty to the murder of Beverley Bouma and died in prison in 2001. Photo / File

He was just 27 when he died. He had been at the prison's gym and was playing chess with a fellow inmate when he had a heart attack.

Dillon Hitaua was jailed for 10 years for manslaughter and was freed in 2005 but he met a grisly end in 2009 after his long-time girlfriend stabbed him during an argument.

Hitaua had shared a home in Matahi Valley with his partner of 15 years, Leigh Ann Tamati.

Dillon Hitaua photographed with police not long after his arrest. He was stabbed to death by his girlfriend in 2009. Photo / File
Dillon Hitaua photographed with police not long after his arrest. He was stabbed to death by his girlfriend in 2009. Photo / File

She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to two years' jail after stabbing him in the leg and causing him to bleed to death, despite her attempts to get him help.

She gave evidence against Hitaua when he stood trial for Beverly Bouma's murder, telling the jury Hitaua had confessed to her he had been involved in the robbery and killing.

The Reihana brothers were each jailed for eight years, serving six years, and were released from prison in February 2005.

The Rotorua Daily Post attempted to find Mark and Luke Reihana last week.

A relative said their parents, Pandra and Mark Reihana, who used to live in Reporoa, had moved to Australia last year.

Other relatives in Kaingaroa said Mark was often "around" but no one really knew where he lived.

The Rotorua Daily Post eventually found the home of Luke Reihana in a country area south of Reporoa and confirmed he worked locally.

A woman at the house said they had heard the Rotorua Daily Post was looking for Luke and Mark. She said she didn't know where Mark was but Luke didn't want to comment out of respect to the Bouma family.

The police operation

Retired Detective Inspector Graham Bell is a tough old cop.

He's been around the block, seen a lot of crimes and since his retirement has been the face of police on television programme Police Ten 7.

But 20 years after what he describes as the "disgusting" murder of Beverly Bouma, he says it's still hard to fathom why she was killed.

"It's hard, even now for me, let alone the general public, to come to grips with how someone can do that.

"Here we had four young thugs after a day of drinking, smoking dope, aimlessly wasting their time driving around in Blue Poumako's beaten up Hilux truck. They decide they are going to rob someone.

"They parked out on the road, crept or staggered up the driveway and carried out that disgusting crime."

Retired Inspector Graham Bell says it's still hard to fathom 20 years later why someone murdered Beverly Bouma. Photo / Alan Gibson
Retired Inspector Graham Bell says it's still hard to fathom 20 years later why someone murdered Beverly Bouma. Photo / Alan Gibson

He believes the case played a role in Henk Bouma's death from cancer three years later.

"People I know who have died of cancer have often been worrying about things, it must be an aggravating factor, that's just home-spun philosphy, but you've got to think it has an impact on people."

Sitting at his Whitianga home, where he has now retired, Bell rattles off the details of Operation Bouma like it was yesterday.

For him, it was the most high-profile murder investigation he led during his police career spanning 33 years - and there were a few, including the murder of policeman Murray Stretch in Mangakino.

Finding the killers was a combination of factors for Bell and his 60-strong team of police from around the district.

But in the end, old-fashioned police work, media intervention, help from the public and key information passed to police sources signed the fate of the four men arrested five days later.

Early in the operation, they found security camera footage of Dillon Hitaua driving the Boumas' gold Laser and wearing Henk Bouma's hat entering a service station in Taupo on the night of the killing.

There was division in the operation team between those who wanted to put the photograph out to the media immediately, and Bell who wanted to catch all the offenders off guard, instead of finding just one and risking the others "throwing him forward" to take the rap.

In the end Bell's hand was forced after a similar home invasion happened in Ohakune three days after Beverly Bouma's murder.

The thought of serial offenders operating in the North Island was the unthinkable and in hindsight - because it wasn't linked - created an unwanted distraction for staff.

Public pressure mounted and the manhunt intensified, meaning Bell had to release the security photograph to media. Within hours information flooded in.

Bell says there were key staff whose knowledge and contacts were vital. They included Reporoa's Community Constable at the time John Ballard, who provided information that Poumako was seen at Butcher's Pool in Reporoa in the days leading up to the murder drunk and stoned with the Reihana brothers.

Bell says Detective Sergeant Chris McLeod also had an informant who said Hitaua had
been trying to source a firearm in the Kaingaroa Village and since the crime had asked someone to shave his hair off and was talking about getting a full facial tattoo to change his appearance.

As Bell and his team worked to find the killers, their investigation was captured on camera by a television documentary crew, who happened to be in Rotorua filming for the reality-TV show Police when Beverly Bouma was killed.

Throughout 1998, the crew's production company, Communicado, now called Screentime, had been trying to persuade police to let them film the inner workings of a homicide inquiry.

The timing was perfect and they were allowed to tag along. It resulted in the documentary Operation Bouma going to air in 2000.

Bell says he isn't surprised the case is still remembered and talked about today as it struck at the heart of people's right to feel safe in their homes.

"The main reason it hit such a nerve, here were two innocent, normal, family people in their own home, in their own beds, in the middle of the night, attacked for no reason other than a bit of drunken greed.

"It just shocked and horrified the whole country and I'm not surprised. It's a good indicator of how criminals can act without any thought but for themselves, not a moment's consideration given to any consequences for them or their victims, just acting on a drunken impulse."

Home invasion legislation

The chilling nature of masked and armed men entering Beverly Bouma's home and killing her in cold blood shocked New Zealand in 1998.

But it was more than that. Action followed her death and the murder came to symbolise the term "home invasion" in New Zealand.

Locally the campaign was led by the vocal Reporoa church leader Reverend John Turton, with support from Beverly's husband Henk.

Reverend John Turton led the campaign that successfully helped get harsher penalties for home invaders. He died in December last year. Photo / File
Reverend John Turton led the campaign that successfully helped get harsher penalties for home invaders. He died in December last year. Photo / File

They gained political support with National's Justice Minister at the time, Tony Ryall, who drafted legislation.

The Crimes (Home Invasion) Amendment Act 1999 swiftly became law in July that year and meant those convicted of a crime inside someone's home could be sentenced to between three and five years more in prison.

There was much controversy over the legislation as it was allowed to be used in sentencing the key offender in the Bouma case, David "Blue" Poumako, as the law was passed before his sentencing date in November 1999, despite the actual crime being committed the year earlier.

In the High Court at Auckland, Justice Salmon found he had to sentence Poumako under the new law, even though the murder occurred seven months before the law was passed.

The judge expressed concern at the time the law appeared inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act.

Poumako's lawyer, Harry Edward from Rotorua, appealed the sentence, but lost.

Edward said the appeal was brought to try to get the Court of Appeal to interpret the legislation.

The legislation was promoted by Tony Ryall and Patricia Schauer (Act) and in Edward's opinion ''it was an appalling piece of law''.

''The Court of Appeal could not do so but the case became an important teaching case in law schools. It was used in the Teina Pora case."

Labour's justice spokesman at the time, Phil Goff, had said the legislation had serious anomalies as it meant offences on the door step of homes, such as the high profile murder of Christopher Crean, wouldn't have been covered under the new legislation.

The home invasion legislation was short-lived, after Labour brought in the Sentencing Act 2002 and instead made home invasions an aggravating factor for judges to consider.

In 2002, Reverend Turton described the new Sentencing Act as an "insult".

"Now we have got a Clayton's law which has got no punch. It's a tragedy really," he told the Rotorua Daily Post at the time.

Reverend Turton died in Levin at the age of 70 on December 31 last year following an illness.

Ryall declined to comment, saying he was away from politics now.