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What happened in Rowen Aupouri's final days before his unexplained death?

Author
James Pocock,
Publish Date
Fri, 5 Jan 2024, 4:41pm
Rowen Aupouri's naked body was found washed up on Whirinaki Beach two days after he went missing from just outside Napier. Photo / Katrine Aupouri
Rowen Aupouri's naked body was found washed up on Whirinaki Beach two days after he went missing from just outside Napier. Photo / Katrine Aupouri

What happened in Rowen Aupouri's final days before his unexplained death?

Author
James Pocock,
Publish Date
Fri, 5 Jan 2024, 4:41pm

Five months on, Rowen Aupouri’s death remains one of three unexplained deaths in Hawke’s Bay in 2023. 

The 32-year-old shearer was moving back from Hawke’s Bay to live in his hometown of Gisborne when his trip was tragically cut short at Whirinaki Beach under mysterious circumstances. 

His mother says Rowen told people close to him he feared for his life on the day of his death. But she is still waiting for a coroner’s report to settle her unanswered questions. James Pocock reports. 

Rowen Aupouri told his mother Katrine Aupouri he missed his home in Gisborne and he was looking forward to working on himself after breaking up with his partner, days before he died. 

He filled up his car with $100 worth of petrol at the gas station near where his car was later found abandoned with its front door open along State Highway 2, engine still running with evidence the vehicle had slid along the barrier before stopping. 

Two days after he left Napier, Whirinaki Rd residents would spot his naked body washed ashore on the beach north of Napier on the morning of Sunday, July 23. 

Alongside superficial cuts, bruises and abrasions, a post-mortem showed multiple fractures in Rowan’s neck and spinal column on his left superior thyroid horn and some intervertebral disks. 

The official post-mortem cause of death is ‘drowning in a 32-year-old man with a spinal injury’. 

The post-mortem examiner was unable to determine at what point the “spinal injury” occurred. 

A police spokesman confirmed the case was now with the coroner. 

“As the coroner has yet to rule on Mr Aupouri’s death, we are unable to comment further,” a police statement said. 

Aupouri said she was still left questioning what happened. 

“I just can’t understand why my son was coming home and didn’t make it,” Aupouri said. 

“There was no reason for him to stop there and not continue home.” 

The days before Rowen’s death 

The last time Aupouri saw her son alive was the weekend before he died, while the last time she spoke with him was only the day before. 

“I saw him the weekend before he died and he was just missing home so much. He was homesick and he wanted to move home,” she said. 

He had his last day of work on Tuesday, and he and his girlfriend had split after having broken up and gotten together again several times in the previous couple of months. 

Aupouri said her son was “stable-minded” during their last conversation. 

“Rowen said when he split up with his girlfriend that he was going to be alright, he was going to come home and continue with the gym,” Aupouri said. 

“He had all these plans for his future.” 

He was staying with friends from Gisborne until Thursday, but from then onwards she doesn’t know for sure what happened. 

She said he had told a work colleague and her cousin on the Friday before he disappeared that he feared for his life after he was allegedly beaten up days earlier. 

“The last two people he saw that night, he said to them he was worried about his life.” 

Coastguard Hawke's Bay rescue craft the Celia Knowles and surf lifesavers during the search for Rowen Aupouri off Whirinaki beach in July. Photo / Ian CooperCoastguard Hawke's Bay rescue craft the Celia Knowles and surf lifesavers during the search for Rowen Aupouri off Whirinaki beach in July. Photo / Ian Cooper 

Rowen’s father Airoe Clarkson said police told whānau Rowen had been fired from his job, had crashed a car and later had an encounter with police after a separate incident on the week of his death. 

“If I went through everything Rowen went through in the last four days before he drowned or whatever happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if he possibly had taken his life,” Clarkson said. 

He said he was frustrated by people spreading rumours that Rowen was killed by gang members. 

“There are people who are saying [gang members] killed him and it doesn’t matter what I say they are adamant. It sort of pisses me off actually.” 

He said police told the whānau a passing motorist had seen Rowen moving around outside his vehicle by himself and returned about half an hour later to find him gone but the car still running. 

That Friday, July 21, was a dark and rainy night and Rowen’s boots were found stuck in the mud down the side of the bank off the side of the road where his car was found. 

Aupouri said she might never know what happened to her son, whether Rowen’s death was accidental or not, but she believed there could be clues in his phone records. 

A police statement said police reviewed one month’s worth of phone records in this investigation, which were included in the report presented to the coroner. 

Aupouri said she will accept the coroner’s findings no matter what when they are released. 

Who was Rowen Aupouri? 

Aupouri said her son was recognised as a hard worker by his shearing colleagues and he was getting ready to go to Australia with his uncle in September to shear merino sheep. 

“His uncle could see the hard work he put in. [His boss and colleagues] had nothing but admiration for what he could do in the shearing shed.” 

When asked if he had any enemies, she said he was gang-affiliated with the Crips in Gisborne but not in Hawke’s Bay. 

He was found with no alcohol in his system, but he did have traces of cannabis and meth in his system at the time of his death. 

She said she did not believe that meth or cannabis were factors in the cause of his death. 

She urged any members of the public who had information about Rowen’s death but may not have come forward yet to share what they know with the police or coroner. 

James Pocock joined Hawke’s Bay Today in 2021 and writes breaking news and features, with a focus on environment, local government and post-cyclone issues in the region. He has a keen interest in finding the bigger picture in research and making it more accessible to audiences. He lives in Napier. [email protected] 

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