Heather Walsh's tale of survival is told video


The Monster of Mangatiti screens on September 6 as part of Sunday Theatre drama. The docudrama details the suffering of Heather Walsh, who was held captive by alleged rapist William 'Bill' Cornelius in 1985.

After sharing painful details of the months of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of The Monster of Mangatiti, Heather Walsh's parting words are succinct. "I just want people to stop raping people. It's really that simple." 

"Just stop it. The world will be a better place," she says.  

Heather is sitting in an inner city hotel, discussing her past with three strangers. One of them is a man, a Fairfax photographer. The situation is a huge turnaround for Walsh. "I'm working full time and hopping on planes now. I mean, sitting here with a strange man in my room, all those things I could never, ever do before".    

Heather Walsh has narrated her story for the docudrama 'The Monster of Mangatiti'

Heather Walsh has narrated her story for the docudrama 'The Monster of Mangatiti'

She quickly offers a "no offence" to the photographer, who is sitting on the floor due to a lack of chairs. "And I'm not happy about you having to kneel either!"

Walsh is kind. She frequently apologises for how tired she feels, and gracefully declines to speak about her family and what she does in her spare time - de rigueur for Sunday profiles. "I don't really want to be personal, there's enough personal stuff...if that's okay." 

To say there's enough personal stuff is an understatement. Her life, 23 weeks of it in particular, has already been picked apart. In the initial police questioning and the ensuing 27 court hearings. In interviews with the media and even interviews she didn't do with the media. Google her name and the first search result is the headline Woman 'kept as sex slave'. 

William Cornelius appearing in the Whanganui District cCurt.

William Cornelius appearing in the Whanganui District cCurt.

Heather understands the attention, saying her story is "unusual" in some ways. "In other ways it's very common." Next week it will be immortalised yet again on the small screen in the docudrama The Monster of Mangatiti. It's a glimpse at what happened during her months in captivity. Rapes, beatings, cruelty. It's difficult to watch. ("Jeez, yeah, um, it's not for children. Make sure you have support," she says.) 

In 1985 a teenaged Heather answered an ad for a live-in tutor. She thought she was embarking on an adventure. It was back country New Zealand. Nothing but beautiful bush and birdsong. Wild animals were the only habitants in the Mangatiti Valley, near the central North Island town of Raetihi, and one William Paul Cornelius.

Cornelius and his son lived in a shack a 30 mile trek from nearby town, Raetihi, south west of the Tongariro National Park. The drive to the ramshackle hut was pockmarked by locked gates, dense bush and precarious gorges. The 'driveway' was a private track, set an hour away from the main road. So remote was the location it was literally impossible to walk away from. 

Her stay went fine, at first. Cornelius was nice, the kid was sweet and Heather could mail her parents regularly, or so she thought. Although there were some chores involved and no electricity, the country was beautiful, she thought. 

Ad Feedback

The abuse started after a one-off consensual sexual encounter with Cornelius. After that he insisted the pair be together and he moved her into his room. She was repetitively raped, and fell pregnant, later miscarrying after a violent sexual assault.

Daily chores turned into slavery. Food had to be on the table when Cornelius returned from hunting. He claimed she was overweight and made her run laps around the farm. He slaughtered healthy animals in front of her as a warning, and destroyed letters from her family, isolating her further.   

Eventually she summoned the courage to leave, stealing the opportunity to drive away in his ute while he was hunting. For years she hid, fearful he would make good on promises to kill her. She married and had six children but after the sudden death of her husband in 1998 she no longer felt protected. She went to police with her story in 2008. 

There were other victims. Cornelius was charged with rape, abduction and unlawful sexual connection in 2009, the charges later increasing to span hundreds of rapes alleged by four victims. Three others were known to police but they declined to lay formal complaints. Four years and 27 hearings later the case against Cornelius was dismissed after he was deemed unfit to stand trial because of mild dementia. The mild part is something Heather is keen to emphasise. "I feel it's important, as the general public understands dementia to be a very debilitating condition to be in, which he was not."

Judge David Cameron said "on the balance of probabilities" Cornelius was likely guilty. Cornelius died months later, aged 79 and in the same hut where he had terrorised his victims. 

Not long after, a production company contacted Heather with an idea. Although survivors of sexual abuse typically aren't named in court cases to protect their anonymity, Heather had applied to have her suppression lifted, so she could talk openly about her case. When Screentime came calling she wasn't surprised. 

"It's an unusual story," she says. "I thought it would be something that people would think was interesting."

It's one thing to tell your own story, and another to have others tell it for you, no? Yes, it was a huge gamble, she says. "They're creating a story that has only lived in your head because you were the only one there. You, and the other person." 

"I suppose I went into it with an open mind and thought well, I'll see how I feel and if they're going to portray it with the messages that I would want to be told - with that integrity - and that they weren't going to use it as something to shock people." 

Now working as an advocate for survivors of sexual abuse, Heather says it was important to make a film not about rape, but survival. In sharing her story, she hopes others will see that recovery is possible, and it's okay to speak out. "It's about adversity, it's about those challenges and how you best manage those as an individual."

She's "good" now, she says, unable to offer too much more but the basics. She struggled with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder but therapy has given her the tools to move forward. She works full time and is often in court with survivors. She doesn't want to reveal where she's living but her spare time is filled with her friends and family. She still loves the outdoors.

Later, she emails more thoughts. "There seems to be a general public belief that survivors of sexual abuse are able to put it all behind them and move on. I don't find this to be true at all. Survivors don't move on, leaving the abuse in the past. It stays with you as you move forward, but with specialised help and support you learn to live with it in a healthy way where it doesn't sabotage your future."

Others have noticed a difference in Heather since the case was closed. "The person she is now is incredibly different," says The Monster of Mangatiti's executive producer Philly de Lacey, who met Heather immediately following the trial's dismissal. "By then she was absolutely exhausted. (Now) she's smiling. She's in control of her life." 

Through Screentime, de Lacey says she's accustomed to dealing with difficult subject matters. The company has produced Beyond the Darklands where psychologist Nigel Latta profiled the country's most notorious killers, and in recent weeks it has aired Sunday Theatre dramas How to Murder your Wife, and Venus and Mars - both true New Zealand crime stories.

Hearing of Walsh's story as it went through court, de Lacey said it struck her as "bizarre...that something like that could happen in New Zealand and that somebody had been able to carry on this behaviour over so many years." 

Heather narrates the drama, devised from interviews with producers. She was generous with her time, de Lacey says, offering them full access to her court files and detailed "frank" admissions. Heather's story gave de Lacey nightmares, she says.  

"Mentally, she was absolutely trapped. I think when people hear stories of domestic violence people can be quite glib and say 'why couldn't she just leave?' (but) I think you can tell in this story, when you're psychologically beaten down, you can't just leave." 

De Lacey flew over Mangatiti during filming and describes its remoteness as "phenomenal". Actual filming took place at West Auckland's Bethell's Beach, at Clevedon in east Auckland, and Raetihi. Heather was invited on set for two days where she met the actors. A counsellor was on hand and de Lacey says she felt so nervous she asked a crew member to tie his long silver hair back- fearful his likeness to Cornelius would be too much. 

Heather has only seen the final version once, accompanied by de Lacey and a counsellor. It was "surreal" and nerve wracking for her, but she's pleased with the result having helped ensure the script's accuracy. Although Walsh never saw justice in the true sense of the word, in the country's courtrooms, she says that's not what it's about for her. 

"I don't really feel that this is a story about justice. I think it's about telling my truth. It's one individual telling their own survival story, I don't see that has anything to do with justice. You're sharing something that happened to you in the hope that it may help others along the way."

The Monster of Mangatiti airs on September 6, on TV One. 

 - Sunday Star Times

Ad Feedback
special offers

Truck leaves trail of destruction video

The truck came to a rest inside the store.

Runaway truck crosses four lanes, sends container into cars before crashing through store.

Akl luxury Metro Suites sells for $11m

Auckland's Metro Suites has been sold to Thai-owned hotel branded Avani Hotels and Resorts.

Metro Suites bought by Thai-owned Minor Hotels, as it expands its Avani brand.

Paralysed after farm accident

Kiranjit Singh and wife Beant. Kiranjit was left tetraplegic in a workplace accident after he was struck in the back of ...

Kiranjit Singh was always "hard-working and sporty". Now he's paralysed from the neck down. 

Reaching new depths

Siblings Otomar and Dagmara Rudolph, prepare for a scuba dive at Leigh.

Young Aucklanders gain the skills to go where their friends can't.


Cyclists battling cones in their road

Chairman of Cycle Aware Wellington, Ron Beernink.

Road cones and work signs are appearing in bike lanes, putting cyclists in danger.

Asbestos washing case

Elva Halliday, now 84 and suffering from mesothelioma, is taking building products supplier James Hardie to court for ...

Widow says her cancer comes from washing husband's asbestos-riddled clothes.

New housing set to 'warp' Kapiti

The Ngarara subdivision beside Te Moana Rd, Waikanae Beach. The first stage, comprising 55 homes, could be finished by ...

Massive 850-lot development in Waikanae could be just the start, says mayor.

Measles case in Wellington

The measles virus is highly contagious and easily spread from one person to another through the air via sneezing or coughing.

Health officials say sick person may have spread illness before being diagnosed.


Stadium with a monorail? video

A multi-use arena will include facilities such as exhibition and conference spaces, cafes, bars and a transport hub.

Christchurch has its first glimpse of what its new stadium could look like.

Danny's death haunts

Danny Mathew Hendriks, 18, of Rakaia, died at the scene after the car hit him in Acton Rd on April 5, 2014.

They didn't know each other, but on a dark country road their fates tragically intersected. 

David Bain's new name, life

David Bain at his home in Christchurch after the Government's compensation announcement.

The 45-year-old, acquitted of his family's murder, is now William Davies and is moving overseas.

Christchurch homes left to rot

Boarded up and vacant in Linwood.

Almost every neighbourhood has one – a damaged and dilapidated eyesore. Who will crack down?


Hard times after the flood

Ian Eggleton and the glamping site.

A couple's dream job is over in the aftermath of the Coromandel flooding.

Schools' vetting costs

Schools will be forced to sell sausages to raise the average fee of $600 to be paid to police for vetting staff.

Larger schools may have to rely on sausage sizzles to pay for police to vet their staff and keep kids safe.

Med school progress

Waikato District Health Board chief executive Dr Nigel Murray said the Waikato med school bid is focused on improving ...

High-level talks continue on Waikato's bold med school bid.

Trump lacks mana video

President Donald Trump muscled himself to the front of the Nato pack during a photo opportunity in Brussels on Thursday, ...

People with real mana don't have to shove to the front - the crowd automatically parts for them.


A scene of destruction

26052017 News Photo ANDY JACKSON/Fairfax NZ.   Moturoa School has been vandalised, damaging a fence, pool cover, toilet ...

Vandals caused thousands of dollars worth of damage and left a huge swastika in a primary school's playing field.

Easy ride for sheep video

A sheep leaps over the mud after her first ride along a portable sheep conveyor belt at Te Wera on Friday.

A sheep-shape conveyor saves ewe time and stress.

Ready for Wizards

Taranaki Thunder point guard Iritana Hohaia makes a pass.

The Taranaki Thunder are looking forward to a better level of competition this weekend.

The war on myrtle rust

Myrtle rust fungal spores found on plants such as pohutukawa, rata and manuka.

The battle against myrtle rust gets harder every day, but those in the thick of it remain confident of victory.


Saying no to bullying

26052017 news photo DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ
Newbury School take part in Pink Shirt Day an anti bullying campaign. Lachlan ...

Children donned pink stripped socks and coloured hairspray to deliver an anti-bullying message.

More work in Gorge 

Higgins contractors work on a fallen section of road at the Manawatu Gorge.

An exact opening date for the Manawatu Gorge is unknown as contractors work hard to clear the road of debris.

Shoring up the Domain's banks

Work has commenced on a temporary fix for the erosion problems on the right bank of the Manawatu River where it has been ...

Ashhurst Domain work to reduce threat to a major transport link and the area's ecology.

The great NZ data binge

The average Kiwi household's data usage is doubling almost every year watching shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

The average Manawatu home is chewing through more internet data than ever before.


Big win for musclebound mum

Hollie Pluck won the Bodybuilding Championships in Christchurch in her category as well as best in show.

Toned, tanned and ripped, one Nelson woman proves the fairer sex can multi-task.

NMIT boss resigns

Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology CEO Tony Gray has resigned.

The chief executive of the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology is leaving after 11 years in the role.

Boost for families

Low income families in Mapua eligible for the accommodation supplement could get an extra $145 a week following Budget ...

Low income households in Mapua among big Budget winners.

Hunter rolling with 'pedal power' video

Hunter Grooby 6, with his sister Abby 7, and his new customised trike.

A young boy with cerebral palsy has the whole community behind him as he gets a new set of wheels.


Mac is the man

Richard McNamara will be responsible for Tasman, Marlborough-Kaikoura, the West Coast, North Canterbury, Christchurch ...

Marlborough's rural fire boss Richard McNamara has landed one of the top jobs in the new amalgamated fire service.

Two suspicious fires

Blenheim Volunteer Fire Brigade crews responded to two suspicious fires on Thursday night.

Months on from a spate of suspicious fires in Blenheim, fire crews responded to two suspicious fires in one night.

Help for renters

Finance Minister Steven Joyce holds up a copy of Budget 2017, which includes the Family Incomes Package.

Budget reacts to "crazy" city rents in Blenheim, but will landlords follow suit?

Board that kicked the hornet's nest

The board is reconsidering moving district nurses to the health hub on Queen St, in the former FloorPride Civic Theatre ...

Angry mob warns health boss he'll get stung if he shifts district nurses away from hospital.

South Canterbury

Rural location no barrier video

Kate Ivey juggles her expanding business with caring for her three children and helping run the family farm.

Mother of three says living in the 'middle of nowhere' is no barrier to business success.

Guilty of manslaughter

Timaru Court.

Kooly Managki Te Tomo found guilty of the manslaughter of Arran Gairns.

Accommodation boost

Finance Minister Steven Joyce announced his first Budget on Thursday.

The Government has recognised parts of SC have become more expensive.

Pink promotes positive message

Timaru Christian School pupils dressed in pink to promote the anti-bullying message.

Timaru youths take stand against bullying and don colourful and creative clothing.


Your chance to cast a vote

Cyclist Eddie Dawkins.

Your chance to have your say for the 2016/2017 Southland Sports Awards.

Bus stuck on the beach

Jeff Leeden got his 1964 VAL Bedford bus, Chubby Cheeks, stuck in the sand on Oreti Beach.

Off on an adventure, two men travelling from Melbourne found their vintage bus stuck in the sand at Oreti Beach.

Health professionals unhappy

Association of Salaried Medical Specialists Ian Powell.

A medical union has accused the Government of "continued neglect" with its annual health budget announcement on Thursday.

Council's 'Gypsy Day' u-turn

Cows are moved, near Rakaia.

It's deemed too offensive so a new name for sharemilkers moving cows to farms is needed.

Ad Feedback