A chilling scream during a fatal confrontation between a man and an alleged car thief in Te Atatū was captured by a neighbour's sleeptalk smartphone app.

The alleged thief - 36-year-old Jason Murray - died in hospital yesterday after a fight with the van owner early on Sunday morning. His accomplice, who may have witnessed what happened, drove away and has not been found, police said.

Neighbours have told police what they heard and saw - and the Herald has learnt one has provided an audio recording of the struggle. It was captured on a smartphone app that records the noises a user makes while they're asleep.

The recording has been handed to police.

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Police say the van's owner was acting in self-defence and is "distraught" at Murray's death. They have not said if he will be charged.

They believe Murray and another man were attempting to break into the van at a house on Te Atatū Rd in West Auckland when the owner surprised them, just before 4am.

While the other man drove away, Murray was involved in an "altercation" with the van owner, which ended with him losing consciousness.

A neighbour who woke to the sound of fighting later realised an app on his phone that records him sleeptalking had picked up the altercation.

In a section of the recording a man can be heard screaming, followed by a shout and a dog barking.

The neighbour told the Herald he was woken by the sound of glass breaking before a man started repeatedly screaming, sounding like he was "drunk". He then heard the van's owner checking on Murray, asking if he was okay, before the screaming stopped.

Murray was taken to Auckland City Hospital in a critical condition, with police initially saying he had a head injury, but later saying it was not clear why he passed out.

The van owner was also taken to Waitākere Hospital, but was discharged later that day.

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Murray died in hospital on Tuesday, police confirmed. A post-mortem examination took place on Wednesday, and his death has been referred to the Coroner.

A family member posted on social media to say while the family did not condone Murray's actions they were still mourning his death.

Murray was a Te Atatū Peninsula local with six "beautiful" children, she wrote.

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Police are still appealing for information after the incident in Te Atatu on Sunday. A person who drove away from the scene has not been apprehended. Photo / Dubby Henry
Police are still appealing for information after the incident in Te Atatu on Sunday. A person who drove away from the scene has not been apprehended. Photo / Dubby Henry

Online reaction to the news of Murray's death was brutal, with many commenters apparently pleased, saying it was "karma" and celebrating one less thief on the streets.

But the man's cousin hit back, calling on "keyboard warriors" to keep their opinions to themselves and remember a family is mourning their loved one.

"Although my cousin wasn't on the best path in his life and we as a family do not condone the actions that led him to this! No amount of material possessions was worth him loosing his life over!", she wrote on her Facebook page in a post that has since been deleted.

She asked all the "keyboard warriors" to remember her cousin was a father to "6 beautiful children who will now grow up without their dad".

He was also a brother, a nephew, an uncle, and "a son to a mother and father who love him dearly and now no longer have their son".

"We love you J R.I.P my cousin!"

Friends and family commenting on the post said he had died too young and they were praying for his whānau.

"Shocking to hear bro way too early and def didn't have to lose his life over it," one man wrote.

Forensic investigators examine a van on Te Atatu Rd after the owner reported catching two men trying to break in to the vehicle. One of the alleged thieves died Tuesday. Photo / Dubby Henry
Forensic investigators examine a van on Te Atatu Rd after the owner reported catching two men trying to break in to the vehicle. One of the alleged thieves died Tuesday. Photo / Dubby Henry

The woman earlier posted to a local social media page saying the family did not condone the actions that led to his death but would still love and miss him. She also felt for the family of the other man involved, saying neither family would be the same afterward.

She did not want to argue or "play the blame game" but asked people to remember the family was mourning a loved one.

The man's children were born and would be raised in Te Atatū Peninsula, just as their father was, said the now-deleted post.

People who weren't there and didn't know what happened should "just stop" and let investigators do their job, she wrote.

Van owner acted in self-defence - Police

On Wednesday afternoon Detective Senior Sergeant Kim Libby said inquiries were still continuing in the case.

"As we have previously stated, police believe Mr Murray and a second person were attempting to break into a van at a Te Atatu address before an altercation took place between himself and the owner of the van," she said in a statement.

"The second individual fled the scene and we are still trying to locate them. We urge them to come forward and speak with us.

"As a result of our inquiries up to this point, we believe that Mr Murray has died as a result of injuries sustained during this altercation.

"This is a tragic outcome and Mr Murray's family has been provided with support."

The van owner had been fully co-operative with police, she said, and officers had spoken with him and a number of witnesses.

"Inquiries to date lead police to believe that his actions were in self-defence," Libby said.

"He is understandably distraught and we are ensuring that he is provided with support and welfare at this time."

Police have not commented on whether the van owner would be charged in relation to the death, but said they believed he acted in self-defence.