Book sparks police probe year after 27yo's death

Carolyne Meng-Yee, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 9 Aug 2020, 11:25AM
Chanelle Haffenden's book is called 'The Girl with One Thousand Scars'. Photo / Supplied
Chanelle Haffenden's book is called 'The Girl with One Thousand Scars'. Photo / Supplied

Book sparks police probe year after 27yo's death

Carolyne Meng-Yee, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Sun, 9 Aug 2020, 11:25AM

Chanelle Haffenden died without justice.

She was just 27 when she died in a suspected suicide, but those 27 years were a tumult of highs and lows. There was abuse when she was a child and adults who wouldn't listen to her cries for help. There was time spent as a stripper and time living on the streets. There were drug overdoses as a child and there were spells in psychiatric wards.

There was also love - for her family, her friends and for the man she believed would save her. There was hope for a picture-perfect future. There was her time as a poster girl for unemployment, which won her a groundswell of support and several job offers. One of those came through, giving her security and a sense of self-worth.

But, as is so often the case, the strongest force amid that tumult was the most malignant; the abuse.

Two men.

One entered Chanelle's life as a father figure but allegedly duped her mum and abused her.

Another was a babysitter who took advantage of the trust placed in him to attack Chanelle when she was only 9.

Much of what happened to Chanelle over the rest of her short life can be traced to those two men, her family believes. It can probably be traced all the way to Saturday, June 22 last year when her body was found, alone, and with "Don't Be Afraid To Ask For Help" tattooed on her arm.

Now, it's emerged she spent much of her last year alive writing a book. She wanted to document what had happened to her and urge anyone in a similar position to get help.

The book has not yet been published, but in a twist, police are now investigating allegations Chanelle made in telling her life story. Chanelle's mother, Karlene Chambers, handed the book to detectives in the thin hope that the young woman may finally get justice from beyond the grave.

THE GIRL with One Thousand Scars is a harrowing account of child molestation, suicide attempts, living in the streets, life as a stripper, and falling in love with a married man.

Chambers says she is "broken" after reading her daughter's confronting life story.

"It took Chanelle's suspected suicide for the truth to come out and that breaks my heart," she told the Herald on Sunday. "It's very hard to live with this. I wanted to take my own life after reading this but I have two other daughters to think about."

Affectionately known as Nellie and Angel, Chanelle Haffenden was the middle sister of three girls.

Affectionately known as Nellie and Angel, Chanelle Haffenden was the middle sister of three girls.

She was pretty, smart, and troubled. When her father left their mother for the next-door neighbour, Chanelle was only a toddler, but it had a profound effect.

Chambers then met a church brother.

"At first he was kind and helpful but very secretive," Chambers says. "But he was a deceptive creep."

Chambers and her three daughters, Melinda, Chanelle and Cherish, were petrified of the man.

She claims he constantly undermined her and was aggressive and violent.

In the book, Chanelle opened up about the abuse she was allegedly suffering.

"As a young child, I was dragged along to the temple every Sunday by [the man who] enjoyed beating my mother at times in front of us children and fondling my body."

Affectionately known as Nellie and Angel, Chanelle Haffenden was the middle sister of three girls.

Chanelle wrote that the abuse was "sporadic" depending on his moods.

Chambers only learned of the abuse a month before her daughter died.

"The worst thing is knowing... the minute my back was turned he was trying to have sex with my daughter."

Chanelle didn't go to the police but confronted the man by phone in December 2018.

After Chanelle's death, Chambers read her manuscript and contacted the man's wife to inform her he was a paedophile.

"I told her not to let him be near kids alone. She believed me and said, 'I am sorry.'"

The woman separated from the man and assured Chambers he was "being watched" by other church leaders.

The woman told the Herald on Sunday she was not surprised about the allegations.

"I've always been suspicious of his unhealthy obsession and being extra friendly with children. He likes to touch their hands and stroke their hair, he likes girls with long hair.

"I remembered how my nieces felt uncomfortable around him, he was always taking photos of them. It is gut-wrenching, it is sickening."

Chanelle also wrote that she and two friends were molested by a male babysitter who plied them with alcohol. Then just 9 years old, she wrote that she told her friends' mother, a mental health worker, but she didn't believe her.

Melinda Evans and Karlene Chambers - sister and mother of Chanelle Haffenden. Photo / Michael Craig

Melinda Evans and Karlene Chambers - sister and mother of Chanelle Haffenden. Photo / Michael Craig

When the Herald on Sunday approached the two friends they corroborated Chanelle's story. The eldest of the two said they were abused "on more than one occasion".

The Herald on Sunday can reveal that in 2009 the man was convicted of an indecent act with a girl 12–16. Three years later he was charged with indecent assault of a boy under 12. He was acquitted of that charge.

In another chapter Chanelle wrote, "They found photo albums in his place, filled with photos of girls with names and notes. One of these photos was me aged 9, wearing a red top, leaning against a truck.

"His stepdaughter had gone through the albums, sending photos to the girls she could identify. She had been a victim of his too. There were three girls alongside me, all of us lined up. Sickeningly, all four of us girls in that photo were victims of his."

The man died in 2015. It is understood he left a note apologising to his victims. The Herald on Sunday is not naming the man to protect the identity of his victims.

The woman who Chanelle turned to for help told the Herald on Sunday she was haunted by how she reacted.

"I feel terrible now. I didn't believe Chanelle because she was 'a troubled girl' and had many issues."

CHANELLE ATTENDED Drury Primary School, south of Auckland. She was intelligent but manifested antisocial and violent behaviour.

"Chanelle felt alienated and lost the plot," Chambers said. "She used scissors to slash art off the wall and cut library books into shreds. She also grabbed a 6-year-old boy by his collar and threatened to hurt him with scissors.

"One time, police had to come and handcuff her to a chair."

She was bullied and known as "psycho girl".

At 10 years old she tried to overdose on pills and started to self-harm. Some attempts needed emergency treatment followed by long stays in various psychiatric units.

"We had to check her bed every night for knives," Chambers says. "We would take turns staying up to check she wasn't cutting herself. She suffered from dissociative identity disorder where you have multiple personalities, anxiety and depression."

A difficult childhood spilled into her teenage years. She worked for a time at McDonald's but started stripping to make more money.

In the pursuit of a fresh start in 2014, she made national headlines trying to find a job. Using her last $2, she bought a piece of cardboard and wrote "Please give me a job" on it.

The stunt went viral on social media and within three hours she had seven job offers.
Chanelle accepted a job in customer services at Nice Blocks. She loved the job, it made her feel valued.

But it was not enough. For extra cash, Chanelle set up a private escort website where men could hire her for the night. Her mother knew and reluctantly supported her.

"It's not something I approved of, but I am her mother."

Chanelle then met the married man she thought would help turn her life around. By 2017, she was telling family and friends she was in love and that they planned to buy a house together in the country. She also told them the man was paying the rent on her Auckland flat.

The man helped Chanelle write her book.

The man declined to comment to the Herald on Sunday.

CHANELLE BELIEVED she and the man would buy a home and start a family, says friend Rika.

Rika, who the Herald on Sunday agreed not to identify, says Chanelle saved her life on more than one occasion. The friends met at the White House strip club and had each other's backs.

"We were both suicidal at different times; she was someone I could relate to," Rika says. "She had a childlike innocence but she wasn't naive - she had street smarts. I called her Barbie doll, she was feminine and cute.

"You don't come from a perfect upbringing to end up in a brothel. You face a lot of abuse, but she was genuine and sweet, people were drawn to her.

"All she wanted was a nice home and a baby - she was heartbroken," Rika says.

CHAMBERS HOPES the book, which is now in the hands of police, can still be published to help other people.

Whether it can give Chanelle the justice she couldn't find in life is another matter. One of her alleged abusers is now dead.

Detective Ross Collett confirmed to the Herald on Sunday police would interview men mentioned in the book.

He said that if police can gain a confession, they could charge the man without corroboration from Chanelle.

"But the chances of a sex offender admitting what he did to a little girl are slim," Collett said.

Chambers hopes Chanelle's legacy will be justice for victims of sexual abuse and mental health sufferers.

"It won't bring my daughter back but I don't want any other family to go through what we have," Chamber says. "Always listen and believe your children."

Where to get help

  • If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
  • If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone call the confidential crisis helpline Safe to Talk on: 0800 044 334 or text 4334.
  • Alternatively contact your local police station.
  • If you have been abused, remember it's not your fault.