Phil Taylor has followed the case of Susan Burdett's 1992 murder from the very first day. His work helped exonerate Teina Pora and put Malcolm Rewa on trial for a third time. Taylor reveals the history of one of NZ's worst killers.

How is it possible for so much ruin to begin with love?

It is strange to look at those words written on an official document when the horrific story that has at its hub a brutal murder is about unimaginable damage.

Damage that goes in every direction, that reaches through generations. Damage that destroys mental health, damage that saw a person wrongly jailed for more than two decades, damage that prompted suicide.

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It was impossible during the third trial of Malcolm Rewa for the murder of Susan Burdett, 39, in a maniacal attack in the bedroom of her South Auckland, home on March 23, 1992 not to think of such things.

Impossible, too, not to think of those two dozen women who survived his rage. On Friday afternoon with soft rain falling, a jury in the High Court in Auckland decided unanimously after just four hours that for Susan Burdett, Rewa's rage was murderous.

I know that the burden of being the sole remaining member of a family exposed to the public because of murder and an infamous miscarriage of justice has at times been almost too much for her brother, Jim Burdett, to bear. Jim didn't attend court.

Teina Pora, who was locked up for 22 years for her rape and murder before eventually being cleared and vindicated, wasn't there either. He's doing his best. A government apology and compensation doesn't wipe away what he has been through and it should surprise no one that he finds life challenging.

Teina Pora spent 22 years in jail for the murder of Susan Burdett, which he did not commit. He's now trying to adjust to life on the outside. Photo/ File
Teina Pora spent 22 years in jail for the murder of Susan Burdett, which he did not commit. He's now trying to adjust to life on the outside. Photo/ File

Absent too were the police officers who twice charged Pora with those crimes.

Rewa's own son committed suicide because, according to two family members, he couldn't live with what his father had done.

"He was 17," Rewa's stepmother, Ruby Lewis, told me of her step-grandson. She sounded tired, battered yet somehow also strong. She's seen some stuff in her 81 years.

"This drew that boy to do that," said Ruby, who pauses a while before adding "probably".

"It [the rapes, the murder of Ms Burdett] was all over the news pages and people can be cruel.

"He didn't want to be in this world any more."

Ruby Lewis, step mother of Malcolm Rewa. Photo / Michael Craig.
Ruby Lewis, step mother of Malcolm Rewa. Photo / Michael Craig.

Death and despair. And yet, there on documents that record births, deaths and marriages are words of love. Rewa's mother's name: Lovinia Aroha Toka.

In court this week Rewa presented himself as a Christian who had learned empathy, who used words such as "amorous" to describe what was found to be a fictional relationship with Susan Burdett. She was his "friend", he said. He claimed he was the sort of loving dad who would make a special trip to get Rocky Road icecream because it was his son's favourite. Together, he said, father and son would "gorge" themselves.

And, then, when challenged in cross examination, called a liar, an angry, controlling persona rose.

A boy called Bubby

Where does Malcolm Rewa's rage come from?

Rewa was the third of three boys born to Lovinia and Maurice Morgan Lewis on February 23, 1953 in Warkworth Cottage Hospital.

Maurice was 21 when he married Lovinia.

Ruby's memory is that Rewa was named Maurice Malcolm Lewis after his father. But, she said, the family called him "Bubby" and some still do.

His birth was registered by his adopted parents in 1960 when he was seven. Jack and Nadia Rewa, both since deceased, recorded his name as "Malcolm Rewa" and that became his legal name.

Malcolm Rewa during his trial at the High Court in Auckland last week.
Malcolm Rewa during his trial at the High Court in Auckland last week.

Many people knew him as "Hammer", a nod to his enforcer reputation with his gang, Highway 61.

His adoption came about due to calamity. Lovinia died when Rewa was 6 months old, the result of a car accident.

"She got a knock on the head and later she haemorrhaged in the night," said Ruby.

Maurice couldn't cope. There was no solo parent benefit back then. Rewa's older brothers (Manu and Steven) were whangaid to their grandparents. "Just Malcolm was adopted."

Nadia Rewa was Malcolm's paternal aunt and had no children. With the Rewas, his future looked good, recalled Ruby. Jack Rewa owned earthmoving machinery and ran a solid business. "The story was Malcolm would get the business."

Then, when Rewa was about 7 or 8, Jack and Nadia had their own son, Kevin.

"He [Malcolm] was well loved, even spoiled but when they got their own son his life changed. This is my opinion, but that's when he got angry."

She believes Rewa was a teenager when he left Jack and Nadia's home in View Rd in the West Auckland suburb of Glen Eden.

While Manu and Steven were regularly brought to see family in the Maungaturoto area south of Whangarei, Ruby and Maurice didn't see Malcolm at all when he was a child. Ruby: "Right from childhood we didn't see him. Not until he was a teenager."

Rewa before his arrest. He bred dogs, had wives and children, and went out raping at night. Photo / File
Rewa before his arrest. He bred dogs, had wives and children, and went out raping at night. Photo / File

Jack and Nadia Rewa also had a biological daughter whom, the Herald on Sunday was told, lives in Australia. While Malcolm Rewa became known as perhaps New Zealand's most vicious serial rapist, Kevin Rewa made news after he crashed his motorbike fleeing a bank robbery, and was later jailed for the crime.

The implication is that Rewa felt disowned, unwanted.

"It was devastating to learn what he was doing."

This week, I knocked on the door of another Rewa family who live in Glen Eden. They are no relation to Jack and Nadia or Malcolm and Kevin, but know the consequences of having the same name.

They have had trouble getting credit and when Barbara Rewa enrolled her sons at Kelston High years ago, the principal wanted to know whether they were brothers of Kevin.

Kevin was a hood, mother Nadia a hard woman, the Rewa family "not to be messed with", but they don't remember Malcolm.

Of Malcolm Rewa's full brothers, Manu lives in Auckland, and Steven is dead. Ruby said this step-son - Steven Casey Lewis - died a few years ago in a police cell after his arrest for being unlawfully on property.

He appeared to have died, she said, from a blunt force blow. A Coronial Services spokeswoman told the Herald the inquiry into his death is ongoing.

Rewa's father, Maurice, a truck driver and mechanic who was born in and is buried in Maungaturoto had another six children with Ruby.

Ruby is proud to say none has been in trouble with police. "They are no perfect angels, I'm the first to admit that. But my children, I just told them to be good citizens."

It was Maurice who provided the DNA sample that linked Malcolm Rewa to multiple rapes and a murder.

The police had compiled a long list of burglars and sex offenders and were seeking biological samples to compare with that from semen in Susan Burdett's body.

Ruby: "Maurice thought he was doing the right thing, to prove his son was innocent. It was devastating to learn what he was doing."

Serial rapist Malcolm Rewa being escorted to the Otahuhu police station by detectives after his arrest in May 1995. Photo / File
Serial rapist Malcolm Rewa being escorted to the Otahuhu police station by detectives after his arrest in May 1995. Photo / File

Rewa was convicted in 1998 of sex attacks on 25 women including Susan Burdett. Two juries that year couldn't decide on the murder charge. After all, Teina Pora was already in jail for that.

Ruby worries about the impact on family of news generated by this third trial. "It has to end. It can't be good for this whānau now, all this in the news again."

Of Pora, she said, "They should have found him not guilty years ago.

"Malcolm rings me. We don't talk about [his crimes], we talk about family things.

"I don't condone what he did, all the rapes and stuff."

Did she think he killed Susan Burdett? "I can't really say … He's a brother to my children."

A rapist, a husband, a father

After a stint in prison in his 20s Rewa - according to a police source - spoke of his anger firing up after reading a book about confiscations and occupations of Maori land by colonial forces.

The source said Rewa had referred to the invasion in 1881 of Parihaka, a village near Mt Taranaki where there was a campaign of non-violent resistance to European occupation of confiscated land. The Maori villagers were expelled, buildings looted and the land seized and sold.

Rewa's mother's whanāu apparently came from the area.

It has been suggested this may have led to him targeting white women - his victims in all but two of 28 sex crimes he has been charged with were Pākehā.

However, the police source noted it appeared Rewa had committed his first violent sex crime before reading the book - the attempted rape in 1975 of a nurse committed when Rewa accompanied his pregnant first wife to hospital.

He left behind clothing and a complete palm print and was soon arrested. He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in jail. By the time of that crime he had been discharged from the army after 18 months and had convictions for burglaries and stealing women's underwear.

Murder victim Susan Burdett, pictured 1989. After five trials, Rewa was finally convicted for her murder. Photo / File
Murder victim Susan Burdett, pictured 1989. After five trials, Rewa was finally convicted for her murder. Photo / File

Ruby said Rewa had four children to his first wife, Tina, but doesn't want to talk about whether it was her he took to hospital in 1975.

There are three more children with Doris Ming. They had been together 18 years when he was arrested in 1996 at their home in Mayflower Close, Mangere. Soon after Ming married Rewa in prison.

For years Rewa would go out raping and return home to Doris and the kids.

This week, I spoke to Ming's family. "He's an arsehole, he buggered her life," said a family member, who asked not to be named. He had no doubt Rewa murdered Susan Burdett.

He said Doris married Rewa after he was charged in 1996 to avoid the trauma of testifying against him.

"When we saw him on the television today [last Tuesday] talking about being a Christian, we were spewing.

"Our family has been through so much shit. His [Rewa and Ming's] 17 year old son died. He wasn't a good father. He was a mongrel. He's just bad news.

"The suicide was not long after Rewa was sentenced for all those rapes."

Malcolm Rewa, 65, spent much of his time during his trial writing in a notebook. Photo / Michael Craig.
Malcolm Rewa, 65, spent much of his time during his trial writing in a notebook. Photo / Michael Craig.

He said they hardly saw Rewa's natural father, Maurice. "He didn't even come to his grandson's funeral."

Doris has divorced Rewa, the family member said, and is doing her best to raise her daughters. "It's not easy given who their father is."

He said this of Rewa's upbringing: "Even if it was a bad upbringing, that's no excuse."

He always acted alone

Dave "Chook" Henwood was among those who popped into the High Court in Auckland this week and sat in the public gallery of court room 7. Henwood, now retired, was the police's specialist criminal profiler whose work provided the powerful evidence that convicted Rewa in 1998 of rapes and attempted rapes of two dozen women.

Former Detective Sergeant Dave Henwood, who was always convinced Teina Pora was not guilty of Susan Burdett's murder. Photo / File
Former Detective Sergeant Dave Henwood, who was always convinced Teina Pora was not guilty of Susan Burdett's murder. Photo / File

He identified Rewa's criminal signature from a meticulous study of what the offender in all those cases did - his modus operandi. Many of the same behaviours could be deduced from the scene of Susan Burdett's murder. And of course the semen of a serial rapist was in her body.

Henwood was always convinced that Rewa - who several of his victims said had erectile dysfunction - acted alone.

And so when, in 2000, Pora was tried and convicted a second time on a prosecution story that he, Rewa and one or two other unknown assailants were present, the Crown did not require Chook's expert evidence.

In 2012, he risked his job by allowing me to publish his view in an article titled 'Innocent man in jail 20 years' .

Chook was present at the violent arrest of Rewa at Mayflower Close in 1996. Over coffee this week, he recalled it.

"The Armed Offenders boys went in the back door with a dog. Rewa was in the shower and he came charging out the front door with a towel half wrapped around him with the police dog hot on his tail.

"They got him on to the ground out the front with a gun up his nostril and the dog attached to his leg. He was virtually naked.

"We took him straight to the police station and put him in an interview room. There was a lot of blood from the bites and there was a fair bit of it on the floor.

"If he was ever going to fall over and confess, that was the time."

But his attitude, said Chook, was "tell you nothing, take you nowhere".

That was in marked contrast to Joe Thompson - New Zealand's other worst-known serial rapist - who spent 18 hours confessing to Chook and his colleagues, even taking them to addresses of rapes that hadn't been reported, demonstrating why he'd gained the nickname "Bonus Thompson".

Karl Wright-St Clair, a detective sergeant at the time who was the inquiry team's officer in charge of suspects, led the questioning of Rewa.

Chook recalled he asked just two. "'Do you know Teina Pora?' Rewa said, 'Nah' ."

He also asked for a blood sample. "It's on the floor, help yourself," Rewa had responded.

We did what we could, Chook and I and others to help Tim McKinnel, the former cop, in his unflinching fight against authorities who were strongly resistant of the notion that a miscarriage of justice had occurred.

Tim McKinnel, former policeman and a private investigator involved in the Teina Pora case speaking outside the Auckland High Court last week.
Tim McKinnel, former policeman and a private investigator involved in the Teina Pora case speaking outside the Auckland High Court last week.

So it was strange to hear the Crown's arguments this time around. After all these years they were arguing Chook's truth, Tim's case, my story .

"It was surreal listening to the Crown argue what we, what Chook, have been saying," said Tim on Friday, "but gratifying for me and Jonathan and Ingrid [lawyers Krebs and Squire] and for the journos who followed the case through."

After so many years, truth and justice merge

Yesterday was Rewa's 66th birthday. He has aged, of course, has strange lumps on his arms but clearly still works out.

The hurt for Susan Burdett's friends doesn't abate. Winsome Ansty said from the witness box this week that she came to realise the awful death of her dear friend "Sue" had triggered post traumatic stress disorder.

She was subpoenaed by the defence which sought to use her vague, unsupported story about a Maori mystery man that she believes her friend told her she was secretly seeing, whose name she thought was Mike, even though she said in court she is sure Malcolm Rewa killed her Sue.

Jim Burdett, Susan's brother, did not attend court last week. Photo / File
Jim Burdett, Susan's brother, did not attend court last week. Photo / File

Winsome phoned me in 2012, prompted by an article I had written. I visited her at her home, spent time trying to verify this recollection of a mystery Maori man about which she was sure she had told police all about right after the murder.

There was no record of her having done so, no way to verify what she thought she had recalled but I don't doubt she was genuine in her belief.

Cross-examined about her memory this week, she conceded, "I don't know if it's reliable or not."

You would think Rewa would be pleased to hear Susan Burdett's close friend say that she had a secret Maori lover, seeing as his defence was just that.

But during Winsome's evidence Rewa slunk so low in the dock it was as though he had slipped clean away.

His disappearing act brought to mind one of his victims I used to know, although "S" as I will refer to her, would prefer to be called a survivor.

I recall in 1998 her fury that the judge had excused Rewa from being in court to hear S recount what he did to her.

Giving her evidence she referred to Rewa as "it", "this thing", "this animal" because she couldn't possibly call him a man. And she broke off telling how she thought she was about to die, so hard did Rewa push a pillow down upon her head, to tearfully demand "Why isn't he here to hear this?".

And I thought of the glitter - angel dust, S called it - that she sprinkled in the witness box and in the dock before court began that day.

New Zealand Herald journalist Phil Taylor and Teina Pora after Pora was finally released from jail in 2016. Photo / File
New Zealand Herald journalist Phil Taylor and Teina Pora after Pora was finally released from jail in 2016. Photo / File

There was strength in that dust for her and the others; the court was their place. Rewa had controlled them so thoroughly in their own homes but not here, not in a place of justice.

Straight after the guilty verdict, the brilliant, indefatigable Tim McKinnel said: "Truth and justice merge 27 years later."

I hope that fact in some way helps S and all the others who have been hurt along the way.