The man who murdered a British backpacker in Mount Maunganui 30 years ago had nearly been released back into the community - until a "concerning" discovery set back his parole efforts.

On November 20, 1989, Monica Cantwell was walking on the northern summit track on Mauao. Charles John Coulam grabbed her, dragged her into the bushes and raped her. Cantwell was strangled to death and her semi-naked body was left in the bushes to be found three days later. Coulam was arrested shortly later and sentenced to life imprisonment for her murder.

Coulam, now aged 49, has faced several unsuccessful hearings after becoming eligible for parole in 1999. The board's 2016 decision noted Coulam as having an excessive compulsive disorder "with elements of sexual sadism and autism spectrum".

Last year, the New Zealand Parole Board said Coulam had been "well for many years", receiving medication and support. The board requested a forensic report to document Coulam's risk of reoffending ahead of his 2019 appearance. In this time, Coulam had begun a slow series of increasing overnight stays at a withheld address.


In the board's August 2019 decision, Sir Ron Young said Coulam was found accessing "increasingly explicit" pornography during the series of night releases.

Charles John Coulam after being sentenced to life for murder of Monica Cantwell on Mauao in 1989. Photo / File
Charles John Coulam after being sentenced to life for murder of Monica Cantwell on Mauao in 1989. Photo / File

Coulam was found to be using his phone to access the internet and there were "a number of views over two weeks".

As part of Coulam's conditions for such releases, he was expected to adhere to a safety plan which included a ban on viewing pornography. He had been caught on a review of electronic equipment at the address.

Sir Ron said it seemed that as a result of being caught, Coulam then tried removing the reference against viewing pornography from his safety plan. He did not tell anyone or consult with anyone in charge.

"Overall, we think this conduct is concerning, especially the latter aspect," Sir Ron said.

Coulam remained an "undue risk" and could not be released until at least another risk assessment and updated report were provided ahead of his next appearance with the board in May 2020.

Former Detective Carl Purcell, the officer who arrested Coulam all those years ago, said he was satisfied Coulam had not been released into the community.

Purcell interviewed Coulam and secured the confession that sealed his conviction.