William Dwane Bell

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William Dwane Bell
Born 1978 (age 39–40)
Auckland, New Zealand
Criminal penalty Life imprisonment with minimum 30 years
Criminal status Imprisoned
Conviction(s) Murder and others

William Dwane Bell (born 1978) is a New Zealander who was convicted of three murders at the Panmure RSA in 2001 and is serving a 30-year non-parole life sentence at Paremoremo Prison – the longest non-parole sentence ever passed in New Zealand.[1] He has more than 100 other criminal convictions,[2] including theft, fraud, unlawful taking of motor vehicles, burglary, entering with intent, demands with intent to steal, aggravated robbery, presenting a firearm, impersonating police, assault, trespass, traffic and drug offences.[3]

Early life[edit]

Bell grew up in Māngere where his father was a gang member with a tough reputation who spent time in prison. His father beat him when he was young. His parents separated when he was seven and said William could not accept why his father had left. Around this time they noticed their son's behaviour starting to change – he was getting involved in petty crime.

From the age of 9 until he was 17, Bell was in and out of the Weymouth Residential Centre, with the state believing his parents were not fit to bring him up. His father said his son would tell him he was going to be like him, but he "wanted to be better than the gang that I was in, he wanted to be in another bigger gang, bigger than me."[3]

Murders at the RSA[edit]

In February 1997, aged 19, Bell was turned down for a job at a service station in Mangere[3] because he smoked cannabis.[4] He returned to the station late at night and severely attacked an attendant from behind with a stolen police baton and stole the cash register drawer.[4] Bell was sentenced to five years nine months in prison for aggravated robbery, the judge saying the robbery was almost incidental to the attack, which could have resulted in the attendant's death.[4] He served most of the sentence in Paremoremo Prison,[3] and was released in July 2001 after serving three and a half years. Based on the law at the time, Bell was automatically released after serving two-thirds of his sentence. The Parole Board had no say in the release, other than to set release conditions. The Board imposed five conditions, including seeing a psychologist, alcohol and drug counselling, and to work in a job approved by his probation officer.[5]

Bell was assigned to the Mangere probation office which was supposed to monitor his compliance, but not one of the five conditions was met.[5] He found work experience at the RSA in Panmure but never told his probation officer. He lasted only two weeks before he was told to leave. Two months later, on 8 December 2001, he came back, bludgeoned and shot three people to death - the club president, a club member and an employee. He seriously injured a fourth - Susan Couch who was also an employee at the club.[6] Ms Couch received brain damage and other permanent injuries in the incident and subsequently tried to sue the Corrections Department for $2 million in damages.[7] Bell's co-offender, Darnell Kere Tupe, went with him to the club but remained outside while Bell committed the murders inside.[8]

According to witnesses who testified at his trial, Bell was up all night drinking and smoking cannabis before the murders which occurred at about 8.00am the following morning.[9] He admitted he was using methamphetamine and apparently told his family he ‘blacked out’ while inside the RSA.

Bell was jailed for life, with a minimum non-parole period of 33 years initially. The non-parole period was reduced to 30 years on appeal. He was also sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for attempted murder and a concurrent 12 years for aggravated robbery.[10] Tupe was sentenced to 12 years for manslaughter and concurrent terms for aggravated robbery.[11]

Internal inquiry by Corrections[edit]

The Corrections Department conducted an internal inquiry to examine the management of Bell's release by the Probation Service. The Department did not blame Bell for breaching his release conditions; it blamed understaffing, low morale and poor management within the Mangere Probation Service. It also blamed the police for failing to act when he committed a minor offence a month before the murders.[12] The management of his release conditions was so poor that the Department acknowledged 11 separate mistakes which they referred to as ‘areas of poor management’.[13]


On 10 December 2007, Bell was admitted to Auckland Hospital where he was treated for a puncture wound penetrating through his left eyelid resulting in internal bleeding on his head, a fractured eye socket and numerous contusions to his scalp and face. Fellow murderer Dean Joseph Shepherd has admitted assaulting Bell.[14]

Compensation claim[edit]

Eleven years after the attacks, Corrections announced it would be offering Susan Couch $300,000 in punitive damages. Couch's lawyer Brian Henry said the payment represented only $10,000 a year for 30 years. Indicating that the next battle would be with ACC, he said: "We still need to get proper compensation. In terms of negligence actions, proper compensation is $10 million."[15] Her compensation was welcomed by victims' rights groups such as the Sensible Sentencing Trust.[16]


  1. ^ "Record sentence for RSA murders". Television New Zealand. February 13, 2003. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  2. ^ Newbold, Greg (27 July 2015). "Violent crime - Murder and manslaughter". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Killer's parents talk about their son". Te Karere. TVNZ. 15 December 2002. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c Gower, Patrick (12 December 2002). "Savage vengeance at the RSA". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  5. ^ a b "Triple murderer's parole management unsatisfactory". The New Zealand Herald. NZPA. 13 February 2003. Retrieved 21 May 2016. 
  6. ^ "Crown describe RSA crime scene". Television New Zealand. October 29, 2002. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  7. ^ Survivor of RSA massacre sues Government, NZ Herald 3 August 2005
  8. ^ "Triple murderer gets record non-parole prison term". New Zealand Herald. February 13, 2003. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  9. ^ RSA accused 'binged all night', NZ Herald, 21 June 2002.
  10. ^ "THE QUEEN v WILLIAM DWANE BELL [2003] NZCA 179 (7 August 2003)". 7 August 2003. Retrieved 2009-03-09. 
  11. ^ "TUPE, Darnell Kere - 18/01/2012". paroleboard.govt.nz. 2012. Retrieved 14 March 2012. 
  12. ^ Government orders inquiry into Bell parole breach claim', NZ Herald, 13 Dec, 2002
  13. ^ ‘Slipping through Probation cracks’, NZ Herald, 15 February 2003
  14. ^ Koubaridis, Andrew. "Killer admits stabbing at Paremoremo". New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009-06-14. Convicted murderer Dean Joseph Shepherd has pleaded guilty to a frenzied attack on RSA triple-killer William Bell who was stabbed through the left eye with a weapon made by sharpening the workings of a lever arch folder. 
  15. ^ Corrections Department pays RSA survivor $300,000
  16. ^ "McVicar: RSA compo brings 'closure'". 3 News NZ. December 6, 2012.