PAULA OLIVER meets a couple who believed convicted killer Mark Lundy's claims of innocence. Today, they marvel at their blindness.
In the dark nights after the brutal murders of Christine and Amber Lundy, a Palmerston North family of five slept huddled together, afraid the killer might strike again.
They didn't realise that the man they were afraid of was one of their best friends, a man they had known for more than 20 years.
Such was the deception of convicted murderer Mark Lundy that he confused his closest friends. Now in prison, he still enjoys the support of many.
His wide circle of friends has been split into two groups - those who believe he killed his family, and those who think he didn't.
Speaking to the Herald yesterday after Lundy's conviction, his friends Willie and Helen Nes said the past 18 months had been "hell".
The pair provided immense support for Lundy in the six months after the murders, offering him a place at their dinner table whenever he needed it.
But they now say they came to realise that he was a man with two sides.
Yesterday they vividly recalled August 30, 2000.
Willie heard that something had happened in suburban Karamea Cres, so he called Christine Lundy to see what it was.
"I knew that if anyone would know what was going on, it was her," he says with a smile. "But nobody answered."
By 2pm, Willie knew Christine and Amber were dead.
He told Helen, who had known Christine since high school, and she collapsed in her hallway.
What followed was something the couple say was like a plot from a novel.
Right from the start they heard the rumours. People were saying that their friend "Chuck" was guilty.
The Nes family's three children, all under 10, took their sleeping bags to their parents' room at bedtime for several nights because they were uneasy about a killer being on the loose.
The Nes home became a hub of activity around the time of the funeral. Lundy was always welcome and he frequently accepted offers of hospitality, enjoying many bottles of rum with Willie.
On one of those nights, Willie asked his mate if he had killed his wife and daughter. Lundy said he had not.
Helen Nes took over the book-keeping of Lundy's business and tried to get him motivated to get back to visiting his clients.
"I sort of hoped I was helping him get on with his life," she says. "He did go to Wellington once, very excited that things were looking up, and he spoke to someone he wanted to hire as a rep for his business."
But while they tried to help get Lundy's life in order, something was gnawing away at them.
"There was always that doubt, but we stuck by him. As friends, that's all we could do," Helen says.
Just over a year ago Lundy went with a group of friends to the annual relay run around Lake Taupo.
He was not athletic, so he sat in a car the whole way and drank until he was "paralytic".
His group was followed closely the whole way by a police team, Willie says.
Steve Nagy, who was Lundy's flatmate for six months after the killings, told the Herald that Lundy made a fool of himself that weekend.
"He got absolutely rotten drunk," he says.
Nagy also remembers the first indicators of Lundy's deception.
"He'd be in the office doing work, but when someone came around he'd be back in bed feeling sorry for himself again."
Six months after the murders, Helen Nes went to Lundy's flat to work on his accounts. She walked in to see police turning the house upside down.
"It was like a scene from Ghostbusters, they were all in white overalls," she says. "I knew something was going to happen that day."
Lundy was arrested later that day. He had a hangover after a night on the rum with Willie.
Police left the floor of his flat awash with paper, upturned Lundy's bed and broke a toilet-roll holder when they tried to get into the ceiling.
"I was confused. I had an empty feeling," Willie Nes says when he recalls Lundy's arrest. "I was gutted."
Steve Nagy says: "It all came back to me that I had been living with this guy for six months, and he has done it."
Lundy lost a lot of friends immediately after his arrest. Some people flatly refused to see him, but Willie and Helen Nes went to Manawatu Prison once to visit him.
They were locked into a cubicle and Lundy spoke to them on a telephone.
That was the last time they had contact with him. "We decided it wasn't for us," Helen says.
They found out more about the case at a depositions hearing last year.
It was then they realised they had encouraged Lundy into going back to work only to discover he had seen a prostitute while on a business trip six weeks after the killings.
"There were so many lies. There were two sides to him," Helen says. "When our vision was all clouded, people from outside could see what we couldn't."
Many of Lundy's friends still strongly support him.
The split of opinion has put a strain on some relationships, but the Neses say they always try to keep their opinions to themselves and don't want to destroy any friendships.
Their phone ran hot after the jury delivered a guilty verdict on Wednesday night, and it hasn't stopped since.
Helen says that while she feels relief, it has been difficult to see pictures of Christine and Amber in newspapers.
"When I see them I know that's what it's all about. That cuts deep," she says, tears springing to her eyes.
It has also been difficult to tell their children that a jury found Lundy was responsible.
The couple say that if they had the chance to talk to Lundy again, they would have a lot of questions.
Steve Nagy says he, too, has questions.
"Knowing the guy, you'd just say, 'No'. There's still stuff that doesn't stack up. But there's 12 jurors who say that's the way it is."
Willie Nes says he has no regrets about offering Lundy so much support after the killings.
"You'd do it again for your friends. You would. You don't know what's going on."
Mark Lundy was sentenced to life with a minimum non-parole of 13 years. The Crown has 14 days to prepare its submission for a longer non-parole period.
Last night, Lundy's sister Caryl Jones issued a statement to TV One supporting her brother.
"I believe him," she said. "I support him 100 per cent. I will always be here for him. I love him. I have had some wonderful support from so many people and I wish to thank them."
Yesterday, Palmerston North constable Jonathan Oram, the officer in charge of Christine Lundy's body at the crime scene, said he could not say much about the case until submissions on final sentencing were complete.
But the general feeling at the Church St central station was upbeat after the guilty verdict.
"Everyone is smiling from ear to ear around here."