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Manhunt: Police seek intruder who fled barefoot after elderly woman's death

Author
Peter de Graaf,
Publish Date
Fri, 2 Jun 2023, 12:48pm
A police officer stands guard at the Taraire St home where a homicide investigation is underway. Photo / Peter de Graaf
A police officer stands guard at the Taraire St home where a homicide investigation is underway. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Manhunt: Police seek intruder who fled barefoot after elderly woman's death

Author
Peter de Graaf,
Publish Date
Fri, 2 Jun 2023, 12:48pm

Police are seeking a man who fled barefoot - leaving his shoes behind - after breaking into a Kaikohe property where an elderly woman died on Thursday night.

A homicide investigation has been launched and police are working to establish what happened and find the intruder.

Police said they could not yet identify the woman but NZME understands she was Kaikohe’s Linda Woods, a 71-year-old dialysis patient.

She was seriously injured in the ensuing struggle between the occupants and the intruder and died at the scene despite the efforts of emergency services.

A neighbour of the Kaikohe home says she heard a scream and a loud crash before police arrived just before midnight.

Emergency services were called to the Taraire St property around 11.30pm after reports of an intruder entering the house.

Police said this afternoon that a scene examination was under way.

“A number of items of interest left behind at the address were recovered and those items are now undergoing forensic testing to assist with our enquiries.

“The offender has fled the scene on foot, leaving behind a pair of shoes and another item of clothing.

“The offender was last seen running away barefoot. This may stick in the minds of anyone who was around Kaikohe at this time last night, and we are very keen to hear from you.”

Police said they could not yet confirm the dead woman’s name.

“However what we can say is that this woman was a treasured member of the family, and she was attempting to intervene to assist her family members who were also inside the property at the time.”

Detective Inspector Rhys Johnston, Northland CIB, says Police are ensuring there is support in place for those other occupants.

“This is an absolutely devastating incident for this family, who are not only coming to terms with the sense of violation of someone entering their home but are now also grieving a vulnerable member of their whānau.

“Our team’s priority is to locate the person responsible, and the community can be reassured we are treating this incident extremely seriously.”

Detective Inspector Johnston says Police would also still like to hear from anyone who may have been in the area before or around the time of the incident who may have seen something suspicious.

“It is understood the male has entered the property sometime between 11-11.20pm.

“If you can assist our investigation, please contact Police through our 105 phone service quoting the file number 230602/1746 or Crime Stoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”

The incident occurred at a tidy house with a well-kept garden, one of four down a shared right-of-way backing onto paddocks on the northern edge of town.

A close neighbour, who did not want to be named, said she’d been woken by her baby some time before midnight when she heard a scream and a loud noise as if something had crashed to the ground. She then heard someone call for help.

“I thought about going out there but I’ve just had my baby. My tane’s away but he would’ve gone over.”

Police arrived in numbers a short time later.

The house was occupied by an older woman known to the neighbourhood as “Nan” and two women in their 20s, possibly her mokopuna.

During the previous two nights her dog had been “going off” as if an intruder was about but she had brought him inside that evening because of the weather.

Knowing someone had harmed her neighbour and got away made her “pretty angry”, she said.

One of the women at the house had health issues so nurses paid regular visits. Another neighbour told the Advocate she was on dialysis.

Detectives and a scene-of-crime officer arrive at the Taraire St home where a homicide investigation is underway. Photo / Peter de GraafDetectives and a scene-of-crime officer arrive at the Taraire St home where a homicide investigation is underway. Photo / Peter de Graaf

A man who lives down the same right-of-way, but also didn’t want to be named, saw three police cars, a fire engine and an ambulance when he went outside around midnight.

Police wouldn’t say what was happening but when he turned on the radio in the morning he learned someone had been injured and died.

“It’s usually pretty quiet here. It’s the most action I’ve seen down here for a while.”

All Friday morning a steady stream of cars could be seen driving past the property as locals checked to see if the victim was anyone they knew.

Kaikohe community leader Jay Hepi lives “just up the road” from the Taraire St home where a homicide investigation is underway. Photo / Peter de GraafKaikohe community leader Jay Hepi lives “just up the road” from the Taraire St home where a homicide investigation is underway. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Community leader Jay Hepi said he lived just up the road and knew the family involved.

“It’s a shock for the neighbours to wake up to, and especially for the wider family.”

Hepi said burglaries, car thefts and violent crime had been happening for a long time because police in the area were understaffed.

“There’s only so much they can do. I believe it is time for the community, iwi and hapū to step up to the plate. We can’t just leave it to the police and expect them to resolve it on their own.”

Some people believed they could do whatever they wanted, however they wanted, Hepi said.

“It’s got to the stage where there’s a free-for-all in this town. There are no consequences. We have to stand up and say this isn’t going to happen any more.”

Police officers talk to a neighbour on Taraire St. Photo / Peter de GraafPolice officers talk to a neighbour on Taraire St. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Far North Kahika (Mayor) Moko Tepania, who lives just a few blocks away on Kaikohe’s main street, said the community was reeling from the “terrible” news.

“It is a little bit scary, to be honest. I live in Kaikohe myself, it is my home. We have a very close-knit community, obviously, residents will be reeling as I am from this incident,” he said.

“I want to share my condolences to the whānau and I want to send my aroha to everyone.”

People in Kaikohe did not usually lock their doors, Tepania said, so the incident would come as a “word of caution” about being secure in their homes.

“It is incredibly tragic what has happened. We need to take extra care.”

He also urged anyone who felt affected to seek support.

Kaikohe Business Association vice-chair Linda Bracken said the death had “shocked the whole community”.

While the exact circumstances were not yet known, she said there had been an increase in the number of people on the streets at night who were on drugs or alcohol.

“The mental health of people could be better in this area. The association is looking at a Safer Kaikohe Together project in a bid to push people off the streets,” she said.

Bringing in more Māori wardens could be one way of keeping the streets safer, she said.

Former NZ First MP Shane Jones, who has family ties to Kaikohe, described the woman’s death as a whānau tragedy that would spark community outrage.

“I grieve with the whānau for the loss of life, irrespective of the circumstances.”

A week earlier he had hosted a public meeting in Kaikohe where the themes were law and order and personal safety.

“It’s deeply disturbing that this savage event has taken place. It casts a dark, sad cloud over all of Northland but I feel extremely angry and feel the pain personally.”

Jones said people at the meeting shared their fear, loss of confidence in the robustness of police, and a sense that “simple standards of community morals had been smashed”.

One example was the women’s gym burnt down by an intoxicated man on May 24.

Jones said he knew the whānau and Taraire St community personally.

He blamed the offender’s “feral cockroach behaviour” on gangs and social decay.

The investigation is being led by Detective Inspector Rhys Johnston of the Northland CIB.

He said police were working to establish exactly what had occurred and had spoken to witnesses to identify and locate the person who left the scene before police arrived.

Police were seen throughout Friday door-knocking along Taraire St.

It’s expected the property will be blessed by local kaumātua once police have completed their examination.

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