Live now
Start time
Playing for
End time
Listen live
Up next
Listen live on

'Tell us where to find Heidi': Police call on David Tamihere to come clean

Ric Stevens,
Publish Date
Thu, 11 Jul 2024, 12:39pm
David Tamihere. Photo / Jason Oxenham
David Tamihere. Photo / Jason Oxenham

'Tell us where to find Heidi': Police call on David Tamihere to come clean

Ric Stevens,
Publish Date
Thu, 11 Jul 2024, 12:39pm

Police have issued a challenge to David Tamihere, whose convictions for murdering two Swedish tourists 25 years ago have again been upheld.

“Tell us where to find Heidi.”

The Court of Appeal said on Friday it was satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that Tamihere murdered Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen in the Coromandel bush in 1989.

Tamihere, in response, still says he is innocent, despite the court saying the case against him is “very strong”.


Advertise with NZME.

Advertise with NZME.

Speaking to the Herald at his West Auckland home after the decision was made public, Tamihere expressed no anger and said the result was not a surprise.

But he vowed to keep fighting to prove his innocence and said he was open to taking the case to the Supreme Court.

”I’ll keep at it,” he said.

”It’s the principle of the thing really.”


Höglin’s body was found in a shallow grave in 1991, but not that of Paakkonen, who the appeal court said was abducted by Tamihere for sexual motives and later killed.

“David Tamihere is the one person who can help bring closure to Heidi’s family,” police Assistant Commissioner Investigations Paul Basham said after the court judgment was released.

“Our message to him now remains the same as it has been for more than two decades: You know where Heidi’s body rests and her family has suffered enough,” Basham said.

“Tell us where to find Heidi, and help give her family the closure they deserve.”

Tamihere has long maintained he was innocent, pursuing his case on appeal even after he was released on parole from his life prison sentence in 2010.

After being convicted in 1990, Tamihere took his case through the appeal court to the Privy Council, and lost, before being granted a rare royal prerogative of mercy to be allowed to take it back to the Court of Appeal.

That court’s decision released on Thursday found one point in Tamihere’s favour – it says there was a miscarriage of justice when the evidence of a prison informant, since discredited, was given at his original trial.

However, it said that new evidence in the case trumped that.

“For that reason, the miscarriage does not justify setting the convictions aside,” the judgment said.

“We accordingly decline to exercise the court’s jurisdiction ... to quash Mr Tamihere’s convictions.”

The latest Crown theory says Tamihere killed Höglin first, close to where his body was found in a shallow grave two years later.

It says Tamihere then drove Paakkonen in the engaged couple’s car to another location, and killed her too.

“Where and how she died cannot be known,” the court decision said.

“The Crown says the evidence points overwhelmingly to Mr Tamihere as the person responsible.”

However, Tamihere said that none of the Crown’s versions of events – at his original trial, the first appeal, and that which informed the latest decision – was correct.

“The Crown has come up with three stories now,” he said.

But Basham said the latest result was “hugely validating” for all the police staff who had worked on the investigation over the years.

The “thorough investigation” was instrumental in them being able to present the full facts to the appeal court.

He said police were still determined to find answers for Höglin and Paakkonen’s families.

“Our investigators remain particularly troubled that we have never been able to find Heidi.”

Tamihere denied meeting couple

Tamihere has previously admitted stealing the couple’s car, but denied ever meeting them.

Two events since the 1990 trial led to the referral back to the Court of Appeal.

The first was the discovery of Höglin’s remains in bush near the Wentworth Valley west of Whangamata in 1991.

This was a considerable distance from where two trampers said they encountered Tamihere with a young, blonde, European-looking woman near Crosbie’s Clearing north of Thames on April 8, 1989.

The Swedes had last been seen in Thames the day before.

The second event was the discrediting of evidence from a prison informant, Robert Conchie Harris, who told the trial that Tamihere had disclosed to him nearly being “sprung” by two people in the bush – an account which tended to corroborate the trampers’ account.

Harris was convicted of perjury in connection with that evidence in 2019.

Taken together, these developments raised doubts about the accuracy of the trampers’ identification of Tamihere.

But the court this week said it had considered new evidence that the jury had not heard.

It said it was satisfied that the trampers’ account of meeting Tamihere was correct, and the woman with him must have been Paakkonen.

The court was satisfied that Tamihere used a key he took from the couple to get into their car.

It said Tamihere had cut some items found in the bush, including the couple’s tent and Paakkonen’s used underwear.

Motive was sexual assault

It also looked at the motive.

“We have considered the evidence about Mr Höglin’s remains and the possible motives for murder – a confrontation in the bush, robbery or sexual assault – which were suggested at a trial or before us,” the Appeal Court justices said.

“We find that the evidence points to a sequence of events in which the couple drove to Wentworth on April 7 or 8, and met their attacker there.

“Mr Höglin was killed and Ms Paakkonen was abducted and killed somewhere else,” the decision said.

“Having regard to the manner of Mr Höglin’s death and the evidence that she [Paakkonen] was not killed at the same time and place, the most likely motive for his death was a desire to abduct Ms Paakkonen for the purpose of sexual assault.”

Slain Swedish couple Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen. Paakkonen's body has never been found.
Slain Swedish couple Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen. Paakkonen's body has never been found.

The court said it also had admissions, reluctantly made by Tamihere when presented with evidence against him, about his movements and his dealings with the couple’s property.

“He also lied, adapting his account as he thought suited his interests whenever he was confronted with new information.”

Some of these lies were “probative of guilty knowledge” about what became of the couple.

“The evidence overall satisfies us beyond reasonable doubt that it was Mr Tamihere who murdered Mr Höglin and Ms Paakkonen.

“In our view, the case against him is very strong.

“It does not rest wholly on the trampers’ identification.

“Rather, it derives its strength from a number of sources, including his use of the couple’s key to gain access to their car and his treatment of his property.

“It also rests in part on his admissions when confronted with evidence that he could not explain away, and his proven lies.”

Couple disappeared in 1989

Höglin and Paakkonen went missing when they were hiking in dense Coromandel bush in April 1989.

At that time, Tamihere was on the run from police.

Three years earlier he had raped and threatened a 47-year-old woman in her home for more than six hours.

He pleaded guilty to that offence but had ignored his bail conditions and absconded to the bush, where he was living rough.

He also had a prior conviction for manslaughter after hitting 23-year-old stripper Mary Barcham on the head with a rifle in 1972, when he was 18.

On April 10, 1989, Tamihere came across the Swedish couple’s white Subaru, “loaded with gear” and parked near the start of a difficult walking track.

He stole the car - something he has always admitted.

Weeks later, after the Swedes’ disappearance had sparked the largest land-based search in New Zealand history, Tamihere was linked to the car.

He was charged with their murders three months later, by which point he had already been sentenced on the earlier rape conviction.

At his trial in November 1990, a jailhouse informant then known as “secret witness C” testified that Tamihere had admitted to the killings while in prison.

Witness C claimed Tamihere told him he had bashed Höglin with a piece of wood and dumped the couple’s bodies at sea.

Two other inmates also testified that Tamihere had made admissions.

Trampers see woman

The other key bit of evidence came from two trampers who claimed they saw Tamihere with a blonde woman who looked like Paakkonen.

But it was after Tamihere’s conviction, despite the Crown having no bodies nor a murder weapon, that the case was turned on its head.

Two years to the day after Tamihere was charged, Höglin’s body was found in a shallow grave by pig hunters near Whangamatā, more than 70km from where the Crown said the murders occurred.

It was not enough to convince the Court of Appeal at that time, or the Privy Council later, that Tamihere’s case should be reheard.

He spent 20 years behind bars.

The Crown’s 1990 case was further questioned when Witness C, unmasked as murderer Conchie Harris, was convicted of eight counts of perjury in 2017.

A jury found Harris had lied about Tamihere confessing to murder in prison, after jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor took a private prosecution.

Three years later, then Governor-General, Dame Patsy Reddy, on the advice of then Justice Minister Andrew Little, granted Tamihere the royal prerogative of mercy, referring his case back to the Court of Appeal.

That was the appeal avenue decided today.

David Tamihere at the Auckland High Court hearing for the Witness C perjury case in 2016.  Photo / Jason OxenhamDavid Tamihere at the Auckland High Court hearing for the Witness C perjury case in 2016. Photo / Jason Oxenham 

Ric Stevens spent many years working for the former New Zealand Press Association news agency, including as a political reporter at Parliament, before holding senior positions at various daily newspapers. He joined NZME’s Open Justice team in 2022 and is based in Hawke’s Bay. His writing in the crime and justice sphere is informed by four years of front-line experience as a probation officer. 

Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you