Murder of Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen

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Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen
Thames is located in New Zealand

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.[1] In December 1990, David Wayne Tamihere (born 1953) was convicted of murdering the pair, and sentenced to life imprisonment.[2][3][4] 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,[5] Tamihere was let out of jail on parole in November 2010.[6]

Disappearance and trial[edit]

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.[1]

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[7] and been convicted.[8] 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.[8][9] 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.[5]


In October 1991, ten months after the conviction, pig hunters discovered the body of Höglin near Whangamata;[2][9] Paakkonen's body has never been found.[7] 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).[8][9] 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".[2] He was also denied leave to appeal to the Privy Council in 1994.[3]

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.[10] 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,[10] 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.[3]

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.[11]

David Tamihere[edit]

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.[2] 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.[7] In 1992 he was found guilty of assaulting a 62-year-old woman in her home in 1985.[2] Tamihere is the brother of former MP John Tamihere.

On 3 November 2010, Tamihere was granted parole, to be released on 15 November.[12] 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.[13]

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.[14] 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,[15] police have charged him in relation to the incident.[16]

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.[17]

Cultural influence[edit]

The TV3 show Inside New Zealand: What's Your Verdict? re-examined the case with a television jury in 2007.[9]

Filmmaker Bryan Bruce made a documentary Murder, They Said in 1996 examining the case,[18] 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.[19]

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.[20]

2017 clothing discovery[edit]

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.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Garner, Theresa (9 April 1999). "Friendships born out of tragedy". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Swedes' killer up for parole but history is against him". The New Zealand Herald. 1 December 2000. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  3. ^ a b c "Human Rights Committee - Communication Nº 891/1999". Netherlands Institute of Human Rights. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  4. ^ "Tamihere denied parole for eighth time". The New Zealand Herald. 5 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  5. ^ a b "Tamihere denied parole for ninth time". The New Zealand Herald. 10 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  6. ^ Carolyne Meng-Yee (7 November 2010). "Tamihere home in eight days". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 11 September 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c Mussen, Deidre (5 April 2009). "Heidi's family cling to hope". Sunday Star Times. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 
  8. ^ a b c R v Tamihere (No 2) (1990) 7 CRNZ 594
  9. ^ a b c d Stokes, Jon (12 March 2007). "Brother believes convicted killer will be out by 2009". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  10. ^ a b "1996 Report on an investigation into the validity of the affidavit of witness C". Police Complaints Authority. 3 September 1996. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  11. ^ "Tamihere and Thomas – worrying links". 16 November 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  12. ^ NZ Herald staff, NZPA (3 November 2010). "David Tamihere to be released from prison". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2010-11-04. 
  13. ^ "Tamihere - David Wayne". 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011. 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. 
  14. ^ "Big audiences for Bain, Tamihere interviews". 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012. TV One's Sunday, featuring David Tamihere, was seen by 413,300 viewers. 
  15. ^ "Tamihere to remain free despite breach". 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012. 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. 
  16. ^ "Tamihere in court for parole breach". 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012. Convicted killer David Tamihere has pleaded not guilty to breaching his parole conditions by flying over a crime scene with a television crew. 
  17. ^ "Tamihere witness found guilty of perjury". Radio NZ – 1 September 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2017. 
  18. ^ "Film : F26819". The Film Archive. Retrieved 2009-11-11. 
  19. ^ "Shock new theory on Tamihere's Swedish murders". Sunday Star Times. 2 August 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  20. ^ Relative Guilt by Leanne Pooley 1999
  21. ^ "Swedish murders: Clothing found near murder site sparks renewed interest in case". 20 August 2017. Retrieved 19 August 2017.