OPINION: To his neighbours, he was the type you would cross the street to avoid. But to the 30 victims whom he raped, beat and drugged over a 20-year period, Stewart Murray Wilson was a monster.
The Beast of Blenheim, a tag given to him by media covering his trial, has been locked up for 16 years. But he is to be set free in five months unless the Government can find a way to keep him behind bars.
Because his sexual convictions predate preventive detention, Wilson can't have an open-ended jail sentence. Convicted of 22 crimes - rape, stupefying, attempted rape, bestiality, ill treatment of children and indecent assault - he was given 21 years. It was the maximum at the time.
Parole Board members say Wilson is "likely to commit a specified sexual offence" and remains "threatening and intimidating". Now his imminent release has become a test case, with Justice Minister Judith Collins trying to rush through new legislation to keep the Beast of Blenheim in prison indefinitely.
I back this legislation. Stewart Murray Wilson must never be released.
In 1995, I was a Dominion reporter assigned to cover Wilson's case. Over a year I attended court hearings, spent time with his many victims, visited Wilson in prison twice and got to know his in-laws.
On the occasions I met him when he was awaiting trial, this unattractive, toothless man, with shaking pasty-white hands and long, lank hair, greeted me like a long-lost friend but continued to deny his involvement in these heinous crimes. He had been trying to help the women, he said; he couldn't understand why they had turned on him.
Those crimes involved luring vulnerable women with young daughters into his life, then drugging, beating, degrading them and raping them, often mothers in front of their daughters. He kept his "wife" and mistress virtual prisoners and sex slaves and made his six-year-old daughter eat with the cats. One victim described him as "an angel of the devil"; another said the dog was better treated than she was.
During his depositions hearing, Wilson tried to pass me notes. I felt so uncomfortable that I moved seats.
The three-week hearings in Blenheim were gruelling. The court heard testimony after testimony, some from victims behind screens barely audible, they were so beaten, ashamed and destroyed. Others were so angry.
I have covered many horrific stories in my almost 30-year career as a journalist here and in Britain, but none that has affected me as much. It sounds silly but I couldn't touch whitebait for a few years because it constantly reminded me of Wilson, a whitebaiter.
In pre-social media and internet days, my colleagues back at the office were often speechless as I recounted down the phone the details of each day's court hearing. Like the townsfolk of Blenheim where Wilson and his wife were known as the "odd couple", no-one was prepared for such horror stories and no-one had suspected the truth of what had been going on behind the doors of Wilson's respectable red-brick house.
The details of each attack were so humiliating and degrading that it was decided some copy would be toned down for the reader.
After the depositions hearing and a prison visit from me, Wilson bombarded me with letters proclaiming his innocence, worried about his daughter taken into care, worried about how he would defend himself, begging me to help him by providing documents, threatening to take his life. They were always signed "God Bless You" and were always assigned to my filing cabinet, unactioned.
I have seen up close the damage this sick man has done to his own family and the many victims who were scattered across the country and wider; he picked up two young Danish hitchhikers and raped them. Both had to be flown back to New Zealand for the trial.
The women I interviewed were broken. Some had had mental breakdowns, one had become a drug addict, one was a bag of bones.
Wilson has shown no remorse, no appetite to seek proper help while in prison and still, authorities believe, is a danger.
My brush with Wilson was brief. I'm no expert on the mind of a monster. But every time Wilson comes up for parole anger stirs inside me. There will be those who argue that he has served his time and should be released.
The Government is looking at how to keep him behind bars. Ms Collins has got it right. Wilson's crimes were so abhorrent that we should support the move.
This is a man who has wrecked lives, including that of his own daughter, now a grown woman. We know in our heart of hearts that they will never recover from their living hell.
Bernadette Courtney is editor of The Dominion Post
- The Dominion Post
Do you think schools should be allowed to seize and search students' smartphones in cases of bullying?Related story: Law will allow seizure of phones