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THE GIRL WHO WANTS TO DIVORCE HER PARENTS How a night of underage group sex destroyed a family

IT IS SHAPING UP AS A NEW ZEALAND TEST CASE: THE ‘RIGHT’ OF A CHILD TO DIVORCE HER PARENTS BECAUSE SHE WANTS THE ‘RIGHT’ TO ASSOCIATE WITH OLDER MEN. AT LEAST, THAT’S THE ISSUE AT THE HEART OF THIS SHAKESPEARIAN TRAGEDY PLAYING OUT IN ONE OF AUCKLAND’S LEAFIER SUBURBS. IAN WISHART AND NEILL HUNTER REPORT

32, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, October 2005


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t was a hot November afternoon, sticky, redolent with the promise of Christmas and lazy languid days on the beach, and if the kids at the bus-stop by a well known girl’s high school in Auckland had been old enough to remember Alice Cooper’s teen an them, School’s Out For Summer, they’d have been singing it. In other words, it was one of those afternoons. As the TV news camera car pulled up at the traffic lights, windows rolled down to lure as much of the light summer breeze as possible into the vehicle, there was little interest from the girls at the bus-stop. Except for one. While, all around, her friends chattered amongst themselves incessantly, punctuated occasionally by giggles or peals of laughter, one girl locked eyes on the cameraman in the passenger seat, gave a waifish smile, and promptly hoisted her skirt into the air, Marilyn Monroe-style. No one else around her batted an eyelid, but for the news crew being flashed by a fourteen year old girl was an unnerving indicator of how sexualised kids were becoming. Labour’s plan to legalise sex between 12 year olds may have been shot down in a storm of protest two years ago, but there’s little doubt that underage teens are increasingly being seen as fair game. Which is where Megan’s* story comes in. To friends and family, Megan was just an ordinary 14 year old, but to a 21 year old St John’s Ambulance worker and youth programme leader, Sam Brens, and two other men from St Johns, she and her underage friends were precocious sex kittens ripe for an orgy. The narrative of her journey, from schoolyard to a packed Auckland courtroom where three men were to face charges of statutory rape, is a gruelling one. Some of it has been pieced together from entries in Megan’s diary, some from police investigations, still more from interviews with some of Megan’s friends. Her mother Donna, for example, discovered late in the piece that Megan was not the only girl the three men had preyed on. She located a second 14 year old, Phoebe, who in turn told of a third victim, Tiffany. Megan’s father told Investigate: “Phoebe described to Donna during that phone call her contacts with the men. The modus operandi used on Megan was the same as on Phoebe, and also apparently with Tiffany: One of the men would befriend the girl (initially through a text message), then have sex. “Then, eventually, he would introduce the girl to one of the other three men. The second man would have sex with the girl. This was followed by group sex. Phoebe said she was eventually having group sex with all three of the men. All three men are members of St John’s Ambulance, at least two of them were leaders in St John’s youth programme for six to 18 year olds.” On the St John website, incidentally, the organisation boasts of its youth programme: “Providing a safe and secure environment for young people to learn new skills, meet new people, experience new things and, of course, have fun.” “Yeah, they had fun all right,” says Megan’s father, Murray. “In my view, those three men are paedophiles, and there they were leading the youth group.” It had begun, as far as police know, in early to mid 2003 while one of the ambulancemen commuted on a bus packed with hormone-charged schoolgirls from two nearby schools. The man was, according to Megan’s friends, “good looking”. “We used to sit either behind or in front of him,” says Jill, now

*The names of Megan, her parents Murray and Donna, and friends Phoebe and Tiffany, have been changed. The names of the accused have not been changed. All photos in this article feature models, not the girls concerned

sixteen and appalled at the events of the past two years. It seemed innocent fun at the time, a little flirting with a good-looking older guy on the bus, but it graduated to an exchange of text messages. As Jill tells it, Megan was drawn like a moth to a candle to the illicit mobile messaging game. Megan didn’t use the bus, and seeing as she hadn’t met him, and he didn’t know what she looked like, she felt less inhibited in sending “jokes and stuff ” to the St John’s worker because she thought she’d never meet him so it didn’t matter,” recalls Jill. But it did matter. The 20 year old was soon trying to persuade the girls to meet him socially. “He used to text me and my other friend and ‘say do you want to meet, I’ll send a taxi?’ and we’re like nah-nah because we knew what he was like,” says Jill. So why didn’t Megan? Why did Megan take a walk on the wild side where some of her friends knew not to go? She at least, given her family background, should have been safe: a tight-knit, upper socio family with a strong Christian faith, plenty of support and plenty of communication. Jill remembers the old Megan. “She wasn’t like that before. He changed her.” He changed her…a young teenager’s words resonate long after the late night interview, her parents nearby. Two girls have spoken to Investigate on the condition of anonymity and they are quite clear, Megan wasn’t previously doing ‘bad stuff ’. One of the girls in front of us was angry enough about what was happening to her friend that she gave a statement to the police. According to Megan’s close friend Kim, it was July 2003 when she discovered Megan had taken text and stranger-danger messages to new levels. Kim confronted 20 year old ambulance worker Karl Berghan about his sexual relationship with a 14 year old: “do you realise how old she is?” But nobody told Megan’s brothers or parents. Between July and December 2003, the 14 year old and the older man rendezvoused on numerous occasions, sometimes socially but frequently for sex. Then, in December, a dark new twist on a hot summer night, documented by Megan’s father. “After spending the day at home with her family, our daughter slips out her window at night where she is picked up by Karl Berghan and his 21 year old friend Sam Brens. They take her to Shakespeare Park where the two men have sex with her. Our daughter had never met Brens before that night. Our daughter said that Brens came along because Karl Berghan wanted to watch our daughter have sex with another man. Our daughter has said that she was intimidated into going through with the sex…” When Megan’s friend Jill discovered Megan had become a sexual plaything for the older men, she confronted Sam Brens. “I said, ‘Oh that’s so yuk, you’re way older than her’,” she tells Investigate. Megan’s parents at this point still weren’t aware of what was happening to their daughter, not until a room clean-up three weeks later. The discovery that Megan was on the Pill, in mid January 2004, was made by her mother. If it seems odd that a 14 year old can be on the Pill without parental consent or knowledge, and despite the risk of fatal blood clots, you can thank Labour for that policy, part of its “wimmins” legacy from the 1973 wish list referred to in the May 05 issue of Investigate. It is a double indictment because sex with a 14 year old girl by anyone is a crime, punishable by jail, regardless of whether the child “consents”. Labour, in a move championed by Helen Clark, appears to turn a blind eye to sex with children, endorsing instead a campaign of October 2005, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, 33


sexual education and contraception and, if necessary, abortion for children, all of it without parental knowledge. Faced with a government that made it easier for children to work as prostitutes, and which wanted to make sex with 12 year olds legal in some circumstances, it is perhaps little wonder that Megan’s family would soon hit bureaucratic brick walls when they tried to get the statutory rape of their young daughter investigated. When mum Donna made the contraceptive discovery, Megan fled the house. She wasn’t located until one the next morning, at a friend’s place. The following day, say her parents, she “confessed” to being involved with an older man. She neglected to mention being involved with two men. As a mark of her still-childlike mental state, Megan used her father’s cellphone that evening to send a secret text message to her new sexual partner, Sam Brens, asking him to come and pick her up. It is the beginning of a long and tragic rollercoaster ride for Megan’s family. Her father Murray, tried to trace and identify the men who’d been raping his daughter. When he discovered Karl Berghan and Sam Brens worked for St John’s Ambulance, he was stunned, but recovered sufficiently to pay a visit to their employer and get them suspended, at least temporarily. Megan, meanwhile, was leading Murray and Donna on a chase. Just a week into the new school year, she ran away from school. “We find her at a friend’s house the next morning at nine am, five minutes walk from where Karl Berghan works in Takapuna,” Murray wrote in a diary note. “Megan later says she spent the night in a park in Takapuna. We did find out with the police, that late that night, our daughter had walked into a strange house on Takapuna beach, introduced herself to four men having a barbeque, told them she was 16,

finally convinced police to investigate the statutory rape issue. He thinks it took that long because the police youth aid officer originally handling Megan’s file was stuck in the mindset ‘runaway teen, hormones, parenting issue’. Police youth aid, according to Murray, “even got angry with me and told me I wasn’t listening to them. I thought reporting it to CYF as police asked me to do was part of the investigation process. Then police told me I had to make a complaint so I went to the area commander and spent about one and a half hours with them, then I went back to youth aid who still told me I wasn’t doing things correctly and hadn’t made a complaint.” Eventually, Murray managed to convince police that his daughter was a victim, not a juvenile delinquent, but only after detectives took over. Detectives saw what their colleagues in uniform apparently could not, went hunting and when they cornered their prey with arrest warrants, two came quietly while another fled his work place, only to be caught later. And there one might feel this story could end – police proactive, parents’ story believed, offenders arrested for enticing under-age girls into carnal knowledge which is how one lawyer described it. Surely these parents could focus on recovering their daughter from the dark side and leave police to do their job. After all, CIB investigations were now revealing that there were four other young teenage victims, so they were going to be busy. But the urging of police youth aid to bring in CYF eventually poisoned the entire criminal case. And that’s because the prevailing social attitude today is that children can choose to have sex, and that’s a valid choice. Fourteen year old Megan was infatuated with her 20 year old boyfriend. As far as she was concerned, her parents had no right to

THEN, EVENTUALLY, HE WOULD INTRODUCE THE GIRL TO ONE OF THE OTHER THREE MEN. THE SECOND MAN WOULD HAVE SEX WITH THE GIRL. THIS WAS FOLLOWED BY GROUP SEX. PHOEBE SAID SHE WAS EVENTUALLY HAVING GROUP SEX WITH ALL THREE OF THE MEN. ALL THREE MEN ARE MEMBERS OF ST JOHN’S AMBULANCE, AT LEAST TWO OF THEM WERE LEADERS IN ST JOHN’S YOUTH PROGRAMME FOR SIX TO 18 YEAR OLDS and had a beer. On her return we find Megan’s diary in her bag and discover the events that occurred with KB and SB during 2003. The diary will be used as court evidence in the upcoming court case against the two men.” But it is the events that followed the discovery their daughter had been raped that are most perplexing to Megan’s parents, and perhaps to parents everywhere. What should have been a straightforward criminal investigation of two men for having sex with a minor, instead became a story about a 14 year old’s right to have a boyfriend without her parents intervening. It is this essence, if you like, of the case that is a microcosmic example of the Labour Government’s social engineering. Murray and Donna’s initial reaction, after talking to their daughter and counselling her, was to call the police. But the police reaction was to get CYF involved. Now remember, there was no suggestion in this case of sexual abuse happening within the family. There was no suggestion that Megan was not being brought up in a loving household. This was a criminal case, little different in law than if Megan had been accosted in a park by strangers and sexually assaulted. In such a circumstance, CYF would not be called in. But in this case, police asked Murray and Donna to get CYF involved. It happened because initially the family tried to deal with Megan, but Megan kept running away from home. Murray or the police would pick her up in the middle of the night, often close to where Karl Berghan lived or worked. Murray says it took five weeks of this repeated behaviour before he 34, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, October 2005

interfere in the way they did. Twenty years ago, such a claim from a person still legally a child would have been laughed out of court, and often was. But in modern New Zealand, that’s all changed. When Labour’s Helen Clark lobbied hard for under 12 year olds to have the right to an abortion without their parents even being told, let alone giving consent, she was not only saying that children have a right to be sexually active, but that parents don’t have a right to know. Just weeks ago, newspapers carried reports that 11 year old girls receiving MeNZB vaccinations in front of their classmates were being asked by health officials “are you sexually active?”. The question wasn’t being asked with a view to prosecuting anyone, but merely because the vaccine is not safe in pregnancy. The newspapers reported that one young girl had been found to be pregnant, but there was no report of anyone being arrested for having sex with a child. Instead, the New Zealand Government appears to have adopted a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy based on a misguided belief that asking children who’s having sex with them is abuse in and of itself. While such a policy may be mooted with genuine intentions, it is fundamentally flawed not only because it lets paedophiles get away to prey on others, but also because it rapidly conditions society into thinking it no longer has a right to ask the questions, and that if a child chooses to have sex, and it is consensual, who are we to interfere? When you add into the mix the growing number of kids who’ve gone off the rails, child prostitutes as young as nine, and 12 to 15 year old school students mating like rabbits, and then factor in the huge


growth in violent crime, it is also easy to see why police no longer assign a high priority to such grey area sexual offending. So when CYF became involved in Megan’s case, although initially supportive of the parents’ efforts to deal with the situation, that quickly changed as the CYF worker assigned to the case developed an empathy with the opinionated and articulate 14 year old who blamed her family, rather than her boyfriend, for the whole mess. The CYF file note from January 27, 2004, states: “Parents seem to be adequate protectors and have tried to address the issues themselves by involving the Police, engaging in the Tough Love programme and willing to link Megan to counselling.” On February 4, another CYF note reads: “Parents are protective and willing to engage with whatever support and resource they can access to address the difficulties.” February 6: “Mother did sound committed and said a member of the family will sit with Megan day and night to prevent her from running away. She really wants a social worker to talk to Megan, as they felt that may curb her behaviour. Mother appeared to be doing all the right things in attempting to manage Megan’s behaviour.” 24 February, 2004: “The parents were very cooperative and supportive of Megan. It appeared that they had her best interests at heart…The parents definitely want to assist their daughter.”

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ll of those file notes record the actions of good, supportive parents. But things were about to change. On March 4, 2004, CYF arranged for Megan to meet with a counsellor from an organisation called the Rosa Counselling Trust. Megan’s parents, again, were “supportive”, believing the counsellor would gently bring Megan out of her confused and traumatised state, typical of victims of sexual abuse. “I tried to speak to the Rosa counsellor prior to their meeting with Megan,” writes her father in a diary note, “but they are completely closed to any input from me. Megan has first session with Rosa Counsellors – 30 minutes duration. She is still in a negative mood and not talking to her parents since running away two days previously. The assessment the Rosa counsellors make during these 30 minutes is crucial to the disastrous events that follow in subsequent weeks. As parents we thought we had faced a nightmare in the past 7 weeks, however the CYF-appointed Rosa counsellors were about to make matters far, far worse.” Megan spent just half an hour with the counsellor. But in that half hour, the counsellor quickly concluded Megan’s problem wasn’t the

fact that the 14 year old was having group sex with several adult men – it was her domineering family. And this comment, without having spoken to the family. The next day, the counsellor – whom we’ll call Flora – met with Murray and Donna to discuss her conclusions, which Murray again noted: “They announce that ‘Megan is at the greatest risk in the home environment’. They are completely closed to any input from the parents and illustrate gross incompetence.” Further than that, Flora allegedly contacted CYF immediately after her session with Megan and told CYF that Murray and Donna were “problem parents”. That phone call and subsequent diary note are recorded in the CFY file on the case. Murray was seething, and wrote in a complaint to the Ombudsman’s Office: “Flora, the Rosa counsellor who counselled our daughter, has no qualifications whatsoever. Flora took an instant disliking to the father from the moment she met him. She has described this in detail in writing. Her reasons for disliking the father are that he wanted to talk with her and tell her the background about the sexual crimes his daughter was a victim of, before she counselled his daughter. “Flora refused to counsel our daughter in connection with the sexual crimes, she counselled our daughter that her greatest problem in life is her parents, and that she should leave home as soon as she was able. “Flora maintained that the relationship between our 14 year old daughter and the adult men who committed the sexual crimes on her was ‘love and romance’ (the men have been arrested and are currently awaiting trial for the sexual crimes committed on our daughter). “Flora refused to listen to anything the parents said (she told us she did not need to listen to us as she had 20 years’ experience and had heard it all before). Upon meeting Murray for a few minutes when he dropped his daughter off for her first session, she later that day contacted CYF and recommended that our daughter be immediately removed from the family. “The outcome of the counselling, and of CYF’s behaviour toward us, is that our family has now been destroyed.” Investigate has spoken to Rosa Trust, but spokeswoman Rowena Manning refuses to discuss the specifics of the case. We’d have liked to get an answer to an obvious question: “does a counsellor who condones sex between two 20 year old men and one 14 year old girl as ‘love and romance’ deserve to continue working in NZ?”, but sadly, that’s too specific. Investigate understands Rosa has however denied making the comment. But if it didn’t say it, the documents in Murray’s possession suggest October 2005, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, 35


that Rosa was definitely treating the case as if it was just a case of teenage love and angst. Over the following week, matters slid from bad to worse. Although still with her parents at that point, Megan “wigged out” at one point when told she couldn’t dye her hair blonde, and began smashing crockery. So much crockery, in fact, that her mother felt compelled to call police, who removed Megan to an undisclosed CYF location for the night. CYF’s attitude towards the parents in the wake of Rosa’s recommendations was also rapidly changing. A CYF diary note of 12 March by social worker Karen Goodwin states: “I advised [Murray] that by focussing on Megan’s previous sexualised behaviours it is not helping her move on.” At that March 12 meeting, the parents say they are forced to sign a “temporary” order placing Megan in CYF’s care. CYF refused to change the counsellors, despite numerous requests from the family who regarded them as quacks. For the parents, the problem seemed blindingly obvious. Older men had seduced a child into a deviant sexual relationship, the child was infatuated and throwing tantrums at not being allowed to continue her relationship with the men. Her behaviour, argued the parents, stemmed from the fact that she had been sexually abused. Under the law, this is certainly the case: Sam Brens and Karl Berghan had sex with a child. Statutory rape. End of story. At the touchy-feely new age school of social work that many counsellors now graduate from, such views are seen as out of date. And parents who don’t like their kids being lured into group sex with adult males should apparently just “get over it”. During the temporary custody arrangement, Megan was staying with a family friend down the road whose daughter attended the same

• She says that the process to achieve this has already commenced. • When I asked her if she believed the state would be better parents for Megan than her own parents she said “Yes”. Although Goodwin denied many of the allegations in a response to the Ombudsman, the family have obtained the full CYF file on their daughter and say they believe their interpretation of what was said is correct. As Murray put it in his comment to the Ombudsman, “A cursory glance at Ms Goodwin’s notes in the CYF computer system will leave the reader with no doubt as to what she thought of us as parents.” And from the documentation Investigate has seen, there is evidence of some kind of clash. For example, Goodwin’s file note of 25 March records: “[Father] said he has not said Megan should come home, but that he wants the temporary custody arrangement cancelled. I said the next step could be possible court action.” Another CYF diary note from May has Goodwin writing: “I have at times recommended for this case to be presented before the court…On the 25 March 2004…I advised the father at this stage that court action may be the next step. The Social Worker was anticipating that court action would be the next step in order to keep Megan safe.” Another note records: “CYPFS to take court action against Father of Child for custody of Megan.” Yet CYF area boss Peter Topzand at one point – before the file was released to the family - rejected the family’s complaint that CYF had been heavying them: “I have asked Karen Goodwin about your assertion that she said she would be initiating court action to remove Megan and that you would not be seeing Megan again. Karen emphatically denies this and believes you must have misunderstood her.”

FLORA MAINTAINED THAT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OUR 14 YEAR OLD DAUGHTER AND THE ADULT MEN WHO COMMITTED THE SEXUAL CRIMES ON HER WAS ‘LOVE AND ROMANCE’ (THE MEN HAVE BEEN ARRESTED AND ARE CURRENTLY AWAITING TRIAL FOR THE SEXUAL CRIMES COMMITTED ON OUR DAUGHTER) school as Megan. According to Murray and Donna, they didn’t try to contact Megan directly during this time, and spoke only to the caregiver, their friend. Additionally, on all but one occasion, the calls to the caregiver were made while Megan was at school. Yet according to Megan’s social worker, the mere fact that her mother was ringing up at all was “a source of distress”. The parents were ordered by CYF to back off, and warned that the next step would very likely be the permanent removal of Megan from their care. Again, Murray diarised the conversation of 25 March: “Later, Karen Goodwin phones me: • She informs me that from now on, Donna is only permitted to telephone Mrs [Caregiver] 3 times a week and for a maximum of 15 minutes per phone call. • She accuses Donna and I of “putting ideas of prostitution into Megan’s head”. • She tells me that they wish to hold a Family Group Conference and because we do not have extended family in this country, the Rosa counsellors will represent Megan. • She says that Megan’s greatest problem is her parents. • She says that CYF refuse to change the counsellors of Megan. • She does not address any of the issues I raised in the letters regard ing Rosa counselling incompetence. • She tells me that if I do not allow Megan to go to Rosa counsellors they will go to court to have Megan permanently removed from our care. They say that if this happens we will never see our daughter again. 36, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, October 2005

Goodwin later apologised via the Ombudsman if Megan’s family felt threatened. Remember, the family had approached CYF to seek expert sexual abuse counselling for their troubled daughter. Instead, they’d been cut out of their daughter’s life by Rosa Counselling Trust, the organisation CYF had hired to do the counselling, an organisation that allegedly wrote off the statutory rapes as “love and romance”. Maybe grown men having group sex with a 14 year old is love and romance in Auckland’s west, where Rosa is based, but it shouldn’t be treated as such at CYF. Murray and Donna’s instant reaction was to find out everything they could about Rosa and its counselling staff. The parents believed the counsellor was unqualified. “The counsellor’s letterhead displays the letters MNZAC and MCTAANZ prominently. MNZAC indicates that she is a member of the NZAC. We made extensive enquiries to establish what MCTAANZ represents. NZAC they said they had no idea what the letters MCTAANZ represent. They referred us to the counselling department at the Waikato Institute of Technology who have also never heard of the qualification or membership association. So we wrote to 350 NZAC members asking if anyone knew what the letters MCTAANZ represented. One counsellor replied that it represents: ‘Creative Therapy Association of Aotearoa New Zealand’. She said that anyone could join, there were no entry requirements except payment of a $50 annual subscription.” Rosa’s trustee and spokesperson Rowena Manning denies her organisation is staffed by bogus quacks, saying her team is qualified by


virtue of learning counselling on the job over a long period. The letters, she says, are not intended to imply qualification, only association affiliation. “Anyone who practices in that agency (Rosa) is required to be either an applicant member or a member (of NZAC).” We agreed, in return for an interview, to not mention the names of the counsellors involved in Megan’s case. Manning claims “both those counsellors had qualifications, both go overseas for training, over the past two years they have been employed by us and one gives training in tertiary institutions in the US and England. They are very experienced and competent but as far as their academic qualifications go I would have to check them.” She agreed they were her staff but she did not have their qualifications “at my fingertips” and offered to try to obtain them by deadline. She telephoned later to say she had been unable to get them. The agency began nine years ago and Manning says “the two senior counsellors that work for us have over twenty years experience individually”. Manning says she is a “community member appointed to the human ethics committee” of Massey University and has a good working knowledge of ethical issues.

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s the famous saying goes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. No matter how sincere Rosa feels it was in the way it approached Megan’s case, her family feels Rosa fundamentally misunderstood both the law and its own role. Murray and Donna say they’re the ones now being sent to Hell in a handcart because of what they assert is Rosa Counselling Trust’s total incompetence. When they protested to the New Zealand Association of Counsellors, NZAC, they claim they were stonewalled. The NZAC simply asked Rosa to file a report, then made a decision exonerating the organisation without seeking any input from Murray and Donna. To top it all off, the NZAC told Murray not to write to them on the subject again. Incensed, the parents went over the heads of both Rosa and NZAC, emailing details of their case to hundreds of professional counsellors both in New Zealand and overseas, asking whether as parents they were overreacting, or whether in fact they’d become unwitting guests at a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party thrown by CYF and Rosa. The response from other counsellors reassured them Rosa appeared to have crossed the line. “I was very disturbed to read of the events you outlined in your email to me,” wrote Lyn Coker, a member of NZAC. “I am shocked that any counsellor would express the views your daughter’s counsellor did regarding your daughter’s sexual abuse. “If what you tell me in your email is correct, then this counsellor has, in my opinion, committed a serious breach of trust and crossed professional boundaries. The fact that the counsellor reacted so strongly without knowing you appears to be a case of transference. “With regard to your daughter – if the counsellor formed an alliance with her against you and your wife – your daughter is likely to be very confused. And once a teenager has made a stand, it is often hard for them to back down or see things from another perspective. She would benefit from proper professional help.” Janne Sergison, another NZAC affiliate, wrote: “I’m sorry you had such a bad counselling experience with your daughter. Your counsellor in my opinion did not behave very professionally. Your daughter may have been seeing the whole situation as one of love and romance BUT the fact remains she is a 14 year old kid. “There were crimes committed. In fact, consensual sex under 16 is statutory rape. This is because a child under 16 is regarded as being developmentally not ready to give informed consent as they do not

understand all the dynamics. Also, the effects are just as bad as any other abuse, as you are probably finding out.” Said Warwick Smith, another NZAC member: “Sadly, the impact of such trauma has a profound effect upon the victim that takes time and skilled help to overcome. I am astounded that any counsellor would have taken such a position in regard to what is a criminal act and viewing it as ‘love and romance’.” On the international front, support was just as strong. Dr Graham Cocking, the Registrar of the International Society of Professional Counsellors (ISPC), told Murray: “Under ISPC rules, the type of counselling discussed would be unethical.” The co-Chair of the Ethics Committee of the American Counselling Association, Professor Donald Anderson, told Murray he had “deep concern” about what had happened, while a professor of Applied Psychology at the University of Calgary, Bryan Hiebert, said: “The situation you describe sounds like a travesty…it sounds like you have a strong case for pursuing litigation.” Indeed, a large number of the international experts made the same comment: “I would consult a lawyer.” The New Zealand Association of Counsellors may well find itself on the wrong end of litigation, as one of several co-defendants, if the parents decide to sue. NZAC, the ‘governing’ body for counsellors, purported to hold an investigation of Murray’s formal complaint without disclosing to Murray the contents of Rosa’s submission, or allowing Murray to comment on it. In other words, the NZAC simply rubber-stamped Rosa’s denial of wrongdoing without any real attempt at an independent investigation. October 2005, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, 37


Little wonder that another NZAC affiliate, Steven Dromgool, agreed with his colleagues in saying, “I unsurprisingly think that you have experienced abusive and coercive counselling and an enormously abusive response by the NZAC.” So where did this leave the family? In the midst of their battles with CYF and Rosa Counselling Trust, Murray had managed to persuade the local CIB to arrest and charged the two men who’d engaged in group sex with his daughter in a public park. As police investigated, they discovered four other underage girls who’d also allegedly been caught in their web, but only one other who they could positively identify, Phoebe. Two of the St Johns Ambulance men who’d raped Megan had also allegedly raped Phoebe, along with a third St John’s volunteer. Throughout 2004, Megan remained living at home, after returning from her initial temporary custody arrangement. During this period, she cooperated with the police investigation, giving statements and providing information. But on 11 May 2005, just weeks before the scheduled criminal trial of three men on statutory rape charges, she stunned her parents once more. “I wasn’t home,” says Murray, “but Donna was. It was in the afternoon, and suddenly Megan walks in with six girls from her school, all carrying boxes. They pushed past Donna and went straight to Megan’s room and began helping her pack all her things into the boxes. They were really abusive to Donna. It was really intense. And that was the last we saw of our daughter until the trial.” The writing was on the wall, only Murray and Donna didn’t want to see it. Now 16, Megan had no intention of testifying against the men or remaining in her parents’ home. With the assistance of a school

yers tells Investigate: “None of these boys have ever been in trouble before, all have good jobs, one of them is training to be a nurse, another employed by a large public company and doing extremely well. I’ve had to represent people who are always in and out of court and couldn’t give a toss, that’s life but these boys have never been in strife before and facing charges that if convicted could have seen them go to prison.” Then he quickly adds for effect: “Scary stuff.” There is an ironic footnote to this tragic case, however. As this article was about to go to press, Megan tried to take legal action to prevent it, wrongly assuming that Investigate was going to name her. The legal action is understood to be a New Zealand precedent, because it is an application by Megan herself to be made a Ward of the Family Court. In essence, Megan has applied to divorce her parents. Who put her up to it? Arguably the team at YouthLaw Tino Rangatiratanga, but with the collusion of a guidance counsellor at her high school who gave Megan copies of a document her father had sent to the school, and physically accompanied her to see a barrister. As Murray makes the point, “What kind of country are we living in now where a government school teacher takes a child to see a lawyer in order to divorce her parents?” It is as part of that application that Megan also tried to seek an injunction to prevent the story being told. And the irony is this: After refusing to identify the men in the dock when she was in court, and after refusing to testify on oath, Megan then filed a sworn affidavit against Investigate, drafted by YouthLaw, admitting she had underage sex with the men: “In about the second half of 2003, when I was fourteen, I was having a sexual relationship with my, then, 19 year old boyfriend. We

WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF A SCHOOL TEACHER AND A YOUTH PASTOR AT A NEARBY CHURCH, SHE’D ARRANGED NOT ONLY A “SAFE HOUSE” TO STAY AT, BUT ALSO TO RECEIVE PAYMENT OF THE INDEPENDENT YOUTH BENEFIT, WHICH THE GOVERNMENT PAYS TO CHILDREN WHO WANT TO LEAVE HOME WITHOUT THEIR PARENTS’ PERMISSION teacher and a youth pastor at a nearby church, she’d arranged not only a “safe house” to stay at, but also to receive payment of the Independent Youth Benefit, which the government pays to children who want to leave home without their parents’ permission. When the trial opened in July in the District Court at Auckland, Murray and Donna and their two teenage sons – Megan’s older brothers – sat in the courtroom waiting for Megan to enter. When she did, she didn’t even look at her family. She simply walked straight past as if they didn’t exist, saving her greeting smile for the men standing in the dock, the men accused of statutory rape. The other police witness, Phoebe, had disappeared. As the judge enters, a solitary young woman stands alone in the witness box on yet another cold, grey mid-winter day. Megan makes her final decision. Slightly built, she looks younger than her 16 years and three months, neatly dressed in a light coloured fur collared jacket, dark shoulder length hair tidily styled, head slightly bowed. She says “no,” she won’t testify. And, each time the judge asks her a question that faint smile reappears again, not in amusement, probably only nervousness as her body swings slightly side-to-side, her answers barely audible. “No,” she will not give her evidence. Finally, all efforts of by the veteran judge to firmly yet gently ensure she understands her actions, all efforts are exhausted. The young student leaving court smiles briefly again towards three young men sitting tightly side by side in a low narrow wooden cubicle. Two security guards stand like sentinels nearby. Later one of the law38, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, October 2005

had at that time been together for about six months. My parents did not know I was sexually active. “My boyfriend asked if I would have a “threesome” with his friend. I consented. As a result I had sexual relations with both my boyfriend and his friend whom I now know to have been 21. It happened on only the one occasion. I was a willing participant. I was not forced and I was not a victim. I realise now that it was a very silly thing to do and I very much regret it. I want to put the incident behind me and get on with my life.” “Because of the pressure from my parents the Police did investigate and when I was interviewed again and under pressure from both my parents and the police I made a full statement identifying the men, in the hope that it would improve my relationship with my parents. The Police decided to prosecute. “As the date of the hearing approached I retracted my statement. The Police that I talked to said they did not want to continue with the prosecution but because of the pressure my father brought to bear, the prosecution continued anyway. “The two men were charged with unlawful sexual intercourse. The Court trial commenced on the 25th July 2005 before a jury. I was the first witness. I had previously told the lawyer prosecuting the case that I did not want to give evidence. I was asked a couple of times to identify the accused but refused. As a result the case against the Defendants was dismissed. “In addition to my IYB I have just started working part time. I earnt $230 for my first two weeks. I continue to attend school. I intend to sit


NCEA Level 1 at the end of the year and return to school for years 12 and 13. I hope to go to University to study Law.” Megan’s story raises a number of important issues. Regardless of how Megan felt about having group sex in a public park with two men – one of whom she’d never met before – the community has a wider public interest in ensuring that legal boundaries, especially those on sex between adults and children, remain in place. Although the men’s lawyers argued that they had never been in trouble before, there were up to five underage girls who had been seduced by three men in their 20s. One incident could be construed – on a good day – as star-crossed love. Perhaps. But adult group sex with a 14 year old, and a number of victims in law, raises much bigger questions about how far societal tolerance should go. The case also brings into focus the sexualisation of children. Once upon a time, adults having group sex with a 14 year old would be regarded as rape not just by the law but by the 14 year old and her peers as well. Today, it’s increasingly no longer the case. The reality is that Labour’s legalisation of prostitution appears to have dramatically increased the number of child prostitutes on the streets, and police are

doing nothing about them either. Megan doesn’t want her story told because she feels it is personal. But it is a personal story played out in an orgy in a public park, involving men who allegedly had preyed on other underage victims. Is the story a matter of serious public interest? Or does this case mark possibly the last time that a statutory rape charge will be heard in a New Zealand court, because of changing public attitudes to sex with children? Is it a victimless crime simply because Megan does not consider herself a victim, or does society have a wider interest in protecting other children from the advances of the same men? And should Megan have the right to divorce her parents, or is that an ongoing manifestation of the original trauma, compounded by transference and bad counselling? If readers wish to comment on this story, they are welcome to post messages at our new blog site, www.thebriefingroom.com, or email us your thoughts to editorial@investigatemagazine.com.

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HEIDI SEEK A 29 year old mystery reignites

When Wellington mother Heidi Charles vanished without trace in the summer of 1976, one person more perplexed than most was a twelve year old Ian Wishart, who lived almost next door to the Charles home and was good friends with her two sons. Wishart remembers Heidi Charles as a loving mother who adored her children. Was she murdered or did she disappear deliberately? Now journalist and author SCOTT BAINBRIDGE has re-opened the mystery in this extract from his new book, Without Trace

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otorua on New Year’s Eve, 1976. The city was buzzing with the festive spirit. In a day crammed full of activities for locals, holidaymakers and tourists alike, it was estimated the population in Rotorua that day exceeded 70,000. Towards midday, crowds began lining the streets of the central business district to watch a parade of floats proceeding around Fenton and Tutanekai Streets, and then repeating the route. The lakefront was alive with musical bands and cultural performances. A fairground had been set up, and Lake Rotorua was busy with many water-based activities. Amid the bustle and throng of activity it would be easy for somebody to slip away without being noticed, and simply disappear of the face of the earth. That is indeed what happened to Heidi Charles, a 36 year old German-born mother of two. She had been holidaying with her family when she mysteriously disappeared during festivities that afternoon. Her case still ranks as one of the most baffling missing persons cases of the 1970s, made more notorious by rumours of links with a famous unsolved murder 19 months earlier. Heidi Rittberger was born in 1940 in Tilsit, East Prussia, then part of Germany. The second largest city in Kaliningrad, it is situated near the border of Lithuania. At the end of the Second World War, the territory was claimed by the Soviet Union, and the name Tilsit was changed to Sovetsk. Today it is still known as Sovetsk, and remains part of Russia. To escape the Nazi regime, and perhaps with foresight of what was to come, the Rittberger family fled to Switzerland. Heidi was studying dentistry when she met Englishman Robin Charles while on holiday in Austria in 1959. In 1961 they married and moved to Assam, India, where Charles managed a tea plantation for the Jokai Tea Company. The couple remained in India for a further ten years, and during that time had two sons. Charles’ contract expired in 1971. After briefly returning to England, the family moved to the small African state of Burundi, where Charles worked for a Dutch tea firm. In March 1976, the family emigrated to New Zealand. They wanted a place to settle and raise their boys where they could acquire a solid education. Charles secured employment as an auditor for a tyre company in Lower Hutt, and the family purchased a home in Cheshire Street, Wilton. Heidi was a loving wife and doting mother to her sons. Despite English being her second language she was fluent after the years spent in the colonies. She quickly became used to her new surroundings, and made a few friends. With the boys at school, Heidi busied herself with redecorating the family home, and resumed her studies at Victoria University. Towards the end of the year she was looking forward to a visit from her father, Dr Rittberger, and his companion, Frau Bruder, who were retired and living in Stuttgart, Germany. Her father and Frau Bruder arrived in New Zealand in mid-December. After spending Christmas morning at their Wellington home, the family and their two guests piled into their Volkswagen campervan and drove to Rotorua. On Boxing Day they checked into the Okawa Bay Motor Lodge, where they had earlier booked a family cabin. Okawa Bay is about 14 km northeast of Rotorua City, and the motor camp is situated on the shores of Lake Rotoiti. For the next few days the family enjoyed visiting the city’s attractions and relaxing at the camp. Shortly before midday on Friday, 31 December 1976, Charles, Heidi and the boys left Dr Rittberger and Frau Bruder at the motor camp and drove to Rotorua’s city centre to do some shopping. After dropping the boys at the lakefront fairground, Robin and Heidi parked their campervan in Arawa Street at 12.30 p.m. Heidi planned to buy food at a local delicatessen for the night’s meal, and told her husband she wanted to go by herself. It was agreed they would rendez-

42, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, October 2005

There was an initial thought she might have fallen into one of the hot springs. It was assumed that once you fell into one of those that would be it. Gone for ever. We tested this theory by throwing in some sheep carcasses, and after a short time they would bubble up to the surface. Those tests dismissed that theory vous an hour later near the swings at the lakefront. Charles watched as she walked from Arawa Street into Fenton Street. An hour later, Charles met the boys at the swings as arranged. They waited until 2 p.m. Heidi did not turn up. Thinking she may have returned to the campervan with the groceries, Robin returned to Arawa Street, and decided to drive closer to the fairground, but could not get through due to the procession. He then parked the vehicle behind Durrants Supermarket, and returned to the boys where they waited until about 4.30 p.m. When Heidi did not show up, Charles thought she may have become lost, and had taken a taxi back to the camping ground. They returned to Okawa Bay in hope. Heidi was not there. An anxious Robin Charles left his sons with the older couple and returned to Rotorua city centre. After driving around likely places, he checked at the local hospital in case Heidi had met with an accident. She had not been admitted. He then went to Rotorua Police and reported her missing. Heidi Charles was described as being of medium build, and 167 cm in height. She had shoulder-length brown hair with a centre parting, and brown eyes. When last seen, she was wearing orange slacks, a blue and white striped sports shirt, and a navy blue cardigan, with light tan canvas shoes. She was carrying a brown leather handbag, which contained her driving licence and purse. Heidi was understood to have had about $400 cash on her at the time, as well as the family chequebook. Charles said they had split $400 between them, but believed her father had given her a further $200. Heidi spoke fluent English, but with an accent that could easily be mistaken for a New Zealander of Dutch heritage. A small team of police led by Rotorua CIB Sergeant Ron Leitch began making enquiries on Saturday, New Year’s Day, 1977. A check on local motels, hotels, travel agencies and the bus stations was carried out. A description of Heidi was circulated throughout all police stations in the country. At this early stage police were keeping an open mind and did not suspect foul play. Former Assistant Commissioner Brion Duncan was a detective inspector at Rotorua CIB at the time. ‘Initially the case was given to the uniform branch because it was assumed she may have become lost or had a mishap of some kind. The whole township was covered, in particular ladies restrooms, travel centres and motels. When it became apparent it would possibly lead to a full-scale enquiry, the search area was expanded to include hot pools and bush-covered areas. ‘There was an initial thought she might have fallen into one of the


HEIDI CHARLES: MURDER OR PLANNED DISAPPEARANCE? hot springs. It was assumed that once you fell into one of those that would be it. Gone for ever. We tested this theory by throwing in some sheep carcasses, and after a short time they would bubble up to the surface. Those tests dismissed that theory.’ Robin Charles told police he and Heidi had a happy and loving relationship, and she doted on her two sons. She had been looking forward to moving to New Zealand and had felt very settled here. This fact was confirmed when police later interviewed neighbours and the few friends they had made since arriving in New Zealand just over seven months earlier. For Heidi to leave her family of her own volition was simply unbelievable and totally out of character. Those friends that she had lived in Wellington, and she knew nobody in Rotorua.

Of her mood at the time, Charles stated she had been happy about seeing her father again, but had been feeling the strain of having to interpret for her family. She was the only one in the group who could speak both German and English. Because her father could not speak English, he placed a heavy reliance on Heidi to accompany them, and shop for him and Frau Bruder. This stressed her somewhat. Charles had not been surprised Heidi wanted to go shopping by herself, as she needed some time out. Information filtered in as to Heidi’s movements after 12.30 p.m. Three shop assistants from a women’s fashion store in Tutanekai Street, Rotorua, stated they had seen a woman matching Heidi’s description, browsing in their shop around 4 p.m. on Friday, New Year’s Eve. Although remaining in the shop a while, she made no purchases. This October 2005, INVESTIGATEMAGAZINE.COM, 43


would have been around the time a worried Robin Charles contemplated returning to the motor camp, which he did 30 minutes later. There were a number of possible sightings of Heidi in the Waipa area, Dannevirke and Blenheim. There was also an unconfirmed sighting of Heidi late Friday afternoon at a Rotorua motel. These were checked but found to have no substance. By Wednesday, 5 January, police had no clear direction as to how enquiries would proceed. Then, during that day, they received a vital lead from two independent motorists. These people separately witnessed a woman matching Heidi’s description hitchhiking along the Atiamuri Highway, seven miles southwest of Rotorua, on Sunday, 2 January 1977. The estimated times were between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. The sightings were considered genuine, but what mystified police was the apparent lack of any rational explanation to her actions. It was unlikely Heidi had become lost and was attempting to find her way back to Okawa Bay. The recent sightings placed her walking in completely the opposite direction. She was spotted heading in the direction of Taupo or Tokoroa. Even though English was her second language, Heidi spoke fluent colloquial English, and would have the confidence to ask for directions back to Okawa Bay. She would have done so much sooner than two days later. One theory was that Heidi planned her own disappearance. This was out of character, but there were no reported accidents, or any reports of suspicious activity. The sightings of Heidi walking along a busy road made the theory of a planned disappearance unlikely. People who choose to disappear usually have a method well planned in advance. On a busy street without anyone knowing her circumstances, it would not have looked suspicious if she had climbed into a car parked at a pre-arranged place, and simply driven off. Heidi would know her family would be concerned enough to contact police within hours of her non-appearance at the lakefront. Knowing police would be looking for her as early as Saturday, it was unlikely she would attempt to walk along a busy highway a day later, if she had not wanted to be found. If Heidi had been abducted it would have been in the area where she was last positively seen — which was in the middle of the day, in a busy city street. Or, if the latest sightings were genuine, she may have been the victim of an offender in a car she accepted a ride in. When this latest information was released, the public immediately compared the circumstances of Heidi Charles’ disappearance to another similar unsolved case 19 months earlier. Were they related?

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n 31 May 1975, Queen’s Birthday weekend, 18-yearold Mona Blades disappeared while hitchhiking from Hamilton to Napier. She was last seen in an orange Datsun 1200 stationwagon, which had turned into Matea Road, a metalled side-road off the Napier– Taupo highway. It was widely suspected the driver of the vehicle murdered Mona Blades. The owners of around 300 orange Datsun stationwagons were interviewed, but neither Mona nor the driver were ever located. Today this case still remains unsolved. Heidi Charles also disappeared on a public holiday, in the central North Island, while supposedly hitchhiking. Could these cases be linked? On Sunday, 9 January 1977, Sunday News published an article expounding this supposition. The story made mention that police had not discounted a theory Heidi Charles was the second victim of Mona Blades’ killer. This was based on views that Rotorua was considered a key area in the Blades case, and because one of the prime suspects lived there. This sent conspiracy theorists into a frenzy with rumours of a serial killer operating in New Zealand.

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Four hundred dollars was enough money for an airfare to Australia. Instead of going to the delicatessen, had Heidi walked to a travel agency and booked a flight overseas? One hour would be sufficient time to book a flight, and quickly find a way out of town The next day, Monday, 10 January, Detective Senior Sergeant Ned Ryan angrily responded to the claims as ‘arrant nonsense’. Based in Rotorua, Ryan and Detective Inspector Phil Berryman, from Hamilton, were in charge of the Mona Blades investigation from the outset. Several days earlier, Ryan also inherited the Heidi Charles file when the case was upgraded. Ryan angrily refuted the newspaper’s assertions as ‘sensational and totally unfactual reporting’. In 1985 Ryan said the following: ‘There was never any known link between the disappearances of Mona Blades and Heidi Charles. We are absolutely certain Mona Blades was killed in the vicinity of Matea Road. Although there were perhaps half a dozen or so people we interviewed in the Rotorua area, there were none we considered to be prime suspects. ‘When Heidi Charles disappeared, we did not consider it to be in a similar vein. The sightings near Atiamuri were never substantiated. We had police driving that road on the day she was supposedly seen. This wasn’t ruled out, of course. When CIB was passed the file in the first week without any results, we did look into the aspect she had been abducted and killed, but there was never any evidence of such. There certainly were no actual suspects we had in mind.’ If police publicly refuted the link, it was certainly an avenue they considered privately. What police did not admit was there were actually two men interviewed independently, in relation to both cases. Both were living in the Rotorua area at the time Heidi Charles disappeared, and one was known to have had access to an orange Datsun stationwagon at the time Mona Blades disappeared. Both men had a history of violent sexual offending. A police source says suspicion fell on these two men after a list was compiled of possible suspects, in the event they would find Heidi Charles’ murdered body. However, it was learned both men had reliable alibis that were thoroughly checked and their names cleared. In 1999, Rotorua Detective Inspector Graham Bell examined a theory there may have been a serial killer in New Zealand during the 1970s. Bell claimed a high number of unsolved murders during the decade involved female victims hitchhiking, or at risk to an offender in a vehicle. Mona Blades, Jennifer Beard, Tracey Patient and Olive Walker were all killed by an offender in a car, and their bodies dumped in remote locations (Mona’s body was never found but it was considered she was killed and her body hidden in dense bush in the desolate Rangitaiki Plains). However, Bell stressed it was unlikely these particular cases were linked. Heidi Charles was not mentioned in Bell’s examples. Although there was no evidence of such, it was possible Heidi had been abducted and killed in a similar manner. As the enquiry progressed into its second week, police maintained an


open mind to her fate. To date there was no evidence suggesting she had been abducted and murdered. Evidence pointing to the possibility Heidi planned her own disappearance was strengthened when two employees of Okawa Bay Motor camp came forward stating Heidi approached them on two separate occasions. She allegedly made enquiries about alternative methods of transport from the camp, sometime between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve. If these assertions were correct, it could be assumed Heidi had been considering leaving her family from at least the time the family arrived in Rotorua.

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obin Charles stated he had a loving relationship with his wife, and she had a close bond with her sons. Friends the family had made supported this fact. For Heidi to voluntarily leave her husband and sons was inconceivable. But perhaps Heidi had been secretly unhappy and was waiting for her father to arrive before making a decision to leave? She was the only one in her family able to converse with him. Perhaps Heidi had discussed her feelings with her father and he offered to assist her in leaving? Robin Charles stated he had given Heidi $200 cash. He was aware Dr Rittberger had given her a further $200 cash. Therefore she was carrying a total of $400 cash, as well as the family chequebook. She had insisted on going shopping alone. Four hundred dollars was enough money for an airfare to Australia. Instead of going to the delicatessen, had Heidi walked to a travel agency and booked a flight overseas? She had arranged to meet her family an hour later. One hour would be sufficient time to book a flight, and quickly find a way out of town. But it was New Year’s Eve, and many of the travel agencies in town were not open. Police checked the agencies open, but there were no sightings of Heidi, or record of her making any arrangements. If Heidi had been in a hurry to leave town, then her actions displayed a relaxed attitude. While her worried family was racing back to Okawa Bay, she was patiently browsing in a clothing store several hundred metres away. The scenario of Heidi spontaneously leaving her family is uncharacteristic, but is feasible. She had the financial means to travel to Australia. But having to find a way out of Rotorua to an international departure point showed the lack of a clear strategy. If the sightings of her hitchhiking in the Atiamuri area were correct, it would prove she had no clear plan. She would know a missing persons report would have been filed that evening and police would be searching as early as Saturday. Yet on Sunday she was seen by two separate motorists, hitchhiking on a busy stretch of highway, which local police were driving over in an attempt to locate her. Brion Duncan doubts Heidi left New Zealand. ‘Heidi leaving the country was certainly an early possibility. However, we located her passport on the Monday, and kept an eye on the possibility she might apply for a new one, or even a passport under her maiden name. This never eventuated. ‘The day following the missing person report, the uniform branch was quick to check with all the local travel outlets, like the transport centre, bus companies and travel agents, but there was no proof she left the city by bus or any other form of public transport. When enquiries were stepped up, we checked all airports and ships, but there were no signs she made attempts to leave the country.’ Dr Rittberger left New Zealand in mid-January and regularly kept in contact with Rotorua Police and Charles of news of his daughter. Meanwhile there were further sightings. While Ned Ryan was busy admonishing the press, police received a

call from the manager of a hamburger bar in Pt Chevalier, Auckland. The man stated a woman matching Heidi’s description patronised his restaurant at 6 p.m. on Sunday evening, 2 January – two days after she was reported missing. What prompted his suspicions was upon asking about her accent, the woman replied she came from a part of Germany that was now Russian. This was a vital piece of information because the personal background of Heidi Charles had not yet been released publicly. Several days later, two further people came forward saying they had seen a woman matching Heidi’s description, shopping in the vicinity of the Pt Chevalier shops on Thursday, 6 January. Local police carried out shop-to-shop enquiries in the area she was allegedly seen, but did not hold out hope she was still in town. As optimistic as these latest sightings seemed, Brion Duncan questioned the validity. ‘There were many alleged sightings of Heidi, but none we could absolutely confirm. Hopes were not pinned on the Pt Chevalier sightings. If we considered them genuine, a large team of officers would have immediately been sent up to Auckland to search the area thoroughly.’ If the hamburger bar sighting was genuine, one would have to question the weight of the two independent sightings earlier that day in the Atiamuri area. However, it was viable for Heidi to have been picked up while hitchhiking between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m., and driven to Auckland to be in time for the 6 p.m. sighting in Pt Chevalier. There were no more reported sightings of Heidi Charles after Pt Chevalier. By mid-February, searches in the bush-clad hills around Rotorua were scaled down and police shifted focus to Wellington in case she attempted to make contact with family or friends, but to no avail. Searches were called off and information ceased to filter in. Police were perplexed as to the fate of Heidi Charles. There was no evidence she had been abducted and killed. The police investigation proved she couldn’t have left New Zealand. Police now tended to believe she left her family, created a new identity, and was living somewhere in New Zealand. Even if this was uncharacteristic, it seemed the only logical explanation. But if she had started a new life, wouldn’t she have needed assistance from a third party? If Heidi had not used the $400 cash on a ticket out of New Zealand, she could have used it to help establish a new life somewhere locally. This money would not have lasted long. She had the family chequebook, but enquiries revealed it had not been used. It was possible she had met another man. She may have made arrangements to meet him in Rotorua that New Year’s Eve. Upon meeting at a specified place and time, they could have left town together without creating suspicion. Or more likely, Heidi may have arranged to leave Rotorua by her own means. This would account for the two separate queries she allegedly made at the motor camp about alternative transport from the camp. Once in town and separated, she may have realised the lack of transport facilities being a public holiday, so she made her own way out of Rotorua. On the Sunday afternoon she found a car to take her to Auckland and to her destination. Whatever happened, the Heidi Charles case remains one of the most puzzling missing person cases of the 1970s. Police remain divided about her fate. By the very nature of their circumstances, Mona Blades, Jennifer Beard, Olive Walker and Tracey Patient have all become household names. Yet the average person today has not heard of Heidi Charles. Public and media interest in the aforementioned cases remained high for years afterwards, yet very little was reported about Heidi Charles after the Pt Chevalier sightings. We may never know. There has been little reported since about the case.

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Investigate October 2005  

Heidi Charles cold case

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