Murder of Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen
Swedish tourists Sven Urban Höglin, 23, and his fiancée Heidi Birgitta Paakkonen, 21, disappeared while tramping on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand in 1989. Police, residents, and military personnel conducted the largest land-based search undertaken in New Zealand, attempting to find the couple. In December 1990, David Wayne Tamihere (born 1953) was convicted of murdering the pair, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Höglin's body was discovered in 1991, and Tamihere filed a series of unsuccessful appeals during the 1990s. Though police argued he should not have been freed until he disclosed the site of Paakkonen's body, Tamihere was let out of jail on parole in November 2010.
Disappearance and trial
On 8 April 1989, backpacking tourists Höglin and Paakkonen from Storfors, Sweden went into the bush near Thames. They vanished and were reported missing in May. The disappearance led to an intense police investigation under the name Operation Stockholm, and attracted substantial media interest. Police, local residents, search and rescue and military personnel carried out the largest land-based search undertaken in New Zealand, performing grid-searches centred on Crosbie's Clearing, 12 km from Thames.
David Tamihere was arrested on a warrant that had been issued in 1986 when he absconded while on bail for a rape that year, for which he had already pleaded guilty and been convicted. Tamihere admitted stealing the Subaru car belonging to the couple. He was tried for their murder starting in October 1990. At the trial three witnesses (fellow inmates of Tamihere's, granted name suppression by the court) gave evidence that Tamihere had confessed the murder to them. Two trampers also identified Tamihere as a man they saw with a woman believed to be Paakkonen in a remote clearing. The court heard from one of the inmates that Tamihere said he tied Höglin to a tree and sexually abused him before raping Paakkonen. In December 1990, the jury found Tamihere guilty of the murder and theft, and the judge sentenced him to life imprisonment with a 10-year non-parole period.
In October 1991, ten months after the conviction, pig hunters discovered the body of Höglin near Whangamata; Paakkonen's body has never been found. Höglin's body was recovered 73 km from where police alleged the murders took place. With the body was a watch which police claimed at his trial Tamihere had given to his son following the murders. Discovery of the body also contradicted the testimony of the fellow prison inmate who said Tamihere had confessed to cutting up the bodies and throwing them into the ocean (and that he had sexually abused the couple). Tamihere made an appeal against his convictions to the Court of Appeal of New Zealand, but the court rejected the appeal in May 1992 on the basis that the Crown had provided "convincing circumstantial proof". He was also denied leave to appeal to the Privy Council in 1994.
On 25 August 1995, one of the prosecution witnesses swore an affidavit attempting to recant evidence, and making allegations against the police of corruption and perverting the course of justice. The affidavit was released to Tamihere's counsel Murray Gibson and the media on 16 July 1996, and a Member of Parliament requested a ministerial inquiry into the case at Tamihere's behest. The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) conducted an inquiry, during which the witness withdrew the allegations of misconduct. After a thorough inquiry, the IPCA concluded that the police had not been guilty of any wrongdoing, and Minister of Justice Doug Graham rejected a call for further inquiry into the case. In 1997, Tamihere then made an application to the United Nations Human Rights Committee, but the committee found his claims were not substantiated, and ruled the communication as inadmissible.
In November 2009, Pat Booth, formerly a journalist of the Auckland Star, alleged that the Crown prosecutor and the police inquiry head in the Tamihere case were both leading figures in the earlier prosecution of Arthur Allan Thomas which had involved planting of evidence, perjury, and witholding of information and evidence from the defence.
Tamihere had a prior conviction for the manslaughter of an Auckland stripper, 23-year-old Mary Barcham, whom he killed in 1972 when he was 18 by hitting her on the head with a rifle. In April 1986 he broke into an Auckland house, where he sexually violated and threatened to kill a 47-year-old woman over six hours. He pleaded guilty, but fled while on bail and was still at large, living rough in the bush on Coromandel Peninsula, when the two tourists disappeared. After he was arrested in 1989 he was jailed for six and a half years for the 1986 offences. In 1992 he was found guilty of assaulting a 62-year-old woman in her home in 1985. Tamihere is the brother of former MP John Tamihere.
On 3 November 2010, Tamihere was granted parole, to be released on 15 November. At a parole board hearing on 11 November 2011 he was said to have spent several months in hospital due to on-going health issues but otherwise actively involved in marae activities and carving, being actively supported by his family. His parole conditions were relaxed.
Tamihere continues to maintain his innocence, claiming he was framed by police. A 2012 interview with TV One's Sunday current affairs program, in which he advanced this claim, was widely watched with 413,300 viewers. During filming the film crew flew him by helicopter over areas prohibited to him by his parole conditions and while the parole board chose not to revoke his parole, police have charged him in relation to the incident.
In 2017, jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor brought a private prosecution against one of the prison witnesses who had testified against Tamihere at his trial. In August 2017, Witness C, who has permanent name suppression, was found guilty on eight charges of perjury. Taylor was represented in court by lawyer Murray Gibson, who said the verdict called into question everything about Mr Tamihere's conviction.
Filmmaker Bryan Bruce made a documentary Murder, They Said in 1996 examining the case, and wrote the book Hard Cases, which puts forward the theory Tamihere did not act alone, on the basis that as there were no defensive cuts to the bones of his hands, Höglin may have been held from behind while being stabbed from the front.
In 1999 Leanne Pooley made a television documentary Relative Guilt about the impact on Tamihere's extended family of his arrest, trial and conviction. The documentary won Best Documentary at the 2000 Qantas Media Awards.
2017 clothing discovery
In May 2017, a bushman found a plastic bag containing three pairs of womens' leggings in rugged bush on the Whangamātā Peninsula about 15 km from where Urban Höglin's remains had been found. The bag and clothing were taken to police and an expert concluded that they were just over 10 years old and therefore not relevant to the 28 year old case. The items were controversially destroyed on 9 June 2017 before a second opinion or DNA testing could be sought.
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Unfortunately, the progress report shows that he has continued to be plagued with serious health issues. It is estimated he has spent about three months in hospital now. Today however Mr Tamihere was looking well. [Withheld] says that she has lived with these medical crises but he seems now to be improving. Certainly when out of hospital he has been active and actively involved in marae activities, carving and so forth.
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TV One's Sunday, featuring David Tamihere, was seen by 413,300 viewers.
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Convicted double-killer David Tamihere will not be recalled to prison despite breaching his parole conditions by flying over the crime scene with a television crew.
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Convicted killer David Tamihere has pleaded not guilty to breaching his parole conditions by flying over a crime scene with a television crew.
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