The killing of Rosemaree Kurth
The drive from Okoki up to the Taranaki coastal highway is 15 kilometres of narrow road looping through scrappy, gorsey hills, over one-way bridges, past rusty iron sheds and wandering stock, and the occasional overgrown skeleton of a long-dead vehicle.
That Sunday afternoon in April, Jordan Nelson wasn't driving especially fast. He loved cars. There'd been some mischief with cars in the past, but he wasn't blatting it today. He nosed the 19 year-old white Ford Telstar down the short driveway and past the dog kennels, turned left at the gate and headed west.
He was wearing socks, but no shoes. He had $16.10 in coins he'd taken from the room of his "granddad" Kerry Lock, as well as a necklace of Lock's he'd long coveted but had been ordered not to touch: A real boar tusk carved with a scene of a dog holding a pig at bay. As he drove, the blood from the sock on his right foot smeared the accelerator and the brake, and pooled a little around his heel.
At the intersection with State Highway 3, Jordan turned left, heading southwest - towards Waitara and beyond that New Plymouth.
Back in Okoki, at the farmhouse he lived in rent-free in exchange for keeping an eye on the owner's stock, Lock, 56, had already dialled 111. From up the hill, where he'd been checking on the cattle during halftime of a Warriors game, he had seen Rosemaree Kurth's car leave and naturally assumed it was her driving, not Jordan. He hadn't heard the gunshot. He had come inside and called out to Jordan, then seen the blood - twin drag-marks leading from the dining table to the bedroom.
The door was ajar. Inside, Kurth, 50, Lock's partner of three years, was lying on her back, with blood coming out of her ears and mouth. He tried to resuscitate her, but she was already dead.
By now Jordan was 30km away and nearing Waitara, the town of 6000 where he'd briefly attended high school before getting suspended for turning up to class stoned. Police spotted him and pulled a U-turn. At 3.45pm on April 15, 2012, the white Telstar rolled to a halt on a tree-lined residential street and Jordan was arrested. An officer noticed there seemed to be blood on his socks. Jordan was 13 years and three months old.
ABOUT A fortnight before Jordan Nelson shot Kurth in the back of the head with a .22 rifle, he'd been out looking for eels in the stream. When he got back, Kurth asked him how he'd got on.
I couldn't find any eels, he said, but I got this - and he produced a freshwater crayfish. Kurth's friend Jullie Allison-Hohaia was visiting. She'd never seen a freshwater cray before, so Kurth asked Jordan to take it over to her, which he did.
Jordan put the crayfish in the sink. There were hundreds more, he said, but they were too fast to catch.
Well, said Kurth, there's a whitebait net in the shed. You could use that.
Sure, said Jordan. That's a good idea. And off he went.
"And two weeks later, he shot her," says Allison-Hohaia. "Where did that come from? He was talking like a normal teenager talking to someone who's looking after him."
Though Kurth helped parent him, she and Jordan were not related. Kurth had three adult children and grandchildren of her own, and she and Lock had met, through friends, in 2009, when they were living in the small south Taranaki town of Waverley.
Jordan called Lock "Granddad", but their connection was complicated too. Lock had been in a relationship with Jordan's paternal grandmother around the time Jordan was born in Napier Hospital in January 1999. That relationship ended in 2002, but by then Lock was already raising Jordan, and he carried on doing so, putting the boy through kohanga reo and school. Lock, an outdoor sort of bloke who had worked in forestry and on farms, had been taking Jordan hunting since the boy was 3.
According to court documents, contact between Jordan and his natural father Allan Bryant over the past 12 years have been "limited" because of a restraining order in respect of Jordan. Jordan sometimes stayed with his mother Tracey Nelson in Napier - but that seems to have been a changeable environment.
Sometimes Lock would fetch the boy when asked by his mother. Other times, Child Youth and Family (CYF) got involved. Court documents state Jordan's final placement with Lock, from October 2011 till the day of the murder, was arranged by CYF because the alternative was having Jordan with "some other Child Youth and Family caregiver".
CYF would not answer a Sunday Star-Times query about the nature of the crisis that forced Jordan to leave Napier, but last week in a statement, CYF general manager operations Marama Edwards said nothing in Jordan's history had suggested he was at risk of committing such violence.
She said CYF staff should have communicated more effectively with Lock - a problem compounded by a delay in transferring Jordan's case between regions - but "a lot of faith was placed in the fact that Mr Lock had been Jordan's primary caregiver for most of his life, and was doing a great job as a father figure".
Whatever the back story, when Jordan was picked up from the New Plymouth bus station by Lock and Kurth late last year, Lock reckoned he looked "underfed and underweight". He was carrying only a small carrybag of clothes, and was "pleased to see them both".
KURTH WORKED as a caregiver in rest homes and for at-home clients - which is as much a personality type as a career. Besides the showering and toileting of clients and the cooking of meals, you need an innate empathy and sense of humour to do this stressful job well.
One particular knack always impressed her workmates. Those intellectually-disabled clients who are incapable of speech sometimes grow terribly frustrated, or even lash out, if they can't convey what's bothering them. Kurth was better than most at reading those clients, and heading off problems before they arose.
After Jordan was arrested, Kurth's workmates were agog. If that child had been exhibiting any sort of telltale sign that he was ready to explode, Kurth, of all people, would have spotted it.
They figured either Jordan was extremely good at masking his feelings, or the decision to kill had been some sort of spontaneous thing - a bolt from the blue.
Kurth had had other jobs, including milking cows, and working at the Waverley Four Square.
She even started training to be a nurse at one point, but discovered the doctors were "dicks" and never listened to nurses, so she packed it in. But always she returned to caregiving.
Kurth told Allison-Hohaia it wasn't always easy looking after her partner's grandson, but he was there, so she did it anyway.
"She bought him the clothes that he needed for school. She did all the things that you would normally do for a child who was living in your care."
And when Jordan did silly things, Kurth did "what any parent would do - and put some consequences in place".
There was the time Jordan stayed with a friend in Waverley, and the boys climbed out the window at night and went roaming. Kurth was driving him home when she found out, so she turned around, drove back and made him go in and apologise to the woman. Jordan gave Kurth the silent treatment for the full 90-minute drive home.
At other times, the boy made Kurth proud.
"When he got some sort of award at school, Rose came in and told us all about it," says Allison-Hohaia.
When Jordan arrived in Okoki in October he was excited about being in the wop-wops with his granddad, with all the potential for hunting and helping on the farm. After all, even his PlayStation had been bought from Cash Converters with money earned hunting possums.
"But he went from being really excited about being out there, to not really doing anything - going to school, coming home and rarely helping out," says Allison-Hohaia.
"He might go with Kerry in the car, but mostly he sat and watched Kerry move the cows, rather than go and help."
A 13-year-old becomes a bit lazy, and fitful in his enthusiasms. It's not exactly sinister, or something that would raise a red flag, is it?
"It's not! That's what's shocking. He turned into a teenager. But kids don't just turn into teenagers then go and shoot someone if it's convenient to get rid of them."
T HE DAY after the murder, at New Plymouth police station, Jordan initially claimed he could recall nothing - his memory was a blank from the time Lock left the house until the arrest in Waitara.
He had been heading for the Waitara police station, he said, because he had this nagging feeling he'd done something wrong, but didn't know what it was.
Eventually he dropped the act and admitted to the police interviewer that he had stashed the gun and ammunition in a backyard sleepout that morning while Lock was walking the dogs.
Then when Lock headed up the hill about 3pm he had fetched the weapon, taken it back inside and shot Kurth.
He told police he understood how guns worked, and understood that when you shot an animal or a human it would likely die. He agreed shooting someone was against the law. He agreed that killing someone was wrong.
He said he had been unhappy with Kurth because "if I do something wrong she gets all shitty with me". He mentioned a ban on television watching and an occasion when he was grounded for a month, and a time he was prevented from visiting his mother in Napier. He also felt Kurth didn't like him riding the motorbike up and down the road to the farmlet.
In fact, Jordan had recently been in slightly more trouble than usual. Six weeks into his first term at Waitara High School, he and two friends had bunked off in school time and returned to class stoned.
The outcome was, says Waitara's principal Jenny Gellen, "a very simple suspension". The school takes drugs seriously, but this sort of thing happens four or five times a year. Jordan confessed. Lock was informed. The boy was sent home with schoolwork to fill his weekdays.
Jordan was a mid-stream, fairly intelligent, generally well-behaved boy and there seemed no special cause for concern. Under normal circumstances, such a student would be back at school within three weeks having produced a clear drug test. In Jordan's case, says Gellen, "we didn't quite get there".
What really bothers Gellen, though, is that despite Jordan seeming a "nice young man", he in fact had some baggage, especially around his life back in Napier and the involvement of CYF, but none of that information came with his school file. Gellen still doesn't know what Jordan might have got up to in the past, or what might have been done to him.
"When they come into a high school we often have information about those who are likely to be disruptive - and he did not feature at all," says Gellen. "We didn't know this child had any involvement with CYF. We didn't know there was any history."
Nor had Jordan played up at his previous school, Waitara's Manukorihi Intermediate.
"Jordan was only with us for a short time," says the school's principal Scott Walden. "Normally the poorly-behaved ones stick out, but he seemed like a run-of-the-mill young man in the classroom."
Knowing more about Jordan may not have prevented a murder, says Gellen, but when a school has better information about a student, "sometimes we can put in things that will help the student's transition into the school, or put support around the student, just quietly".
In its statement last week, CYF conceded its staff should have communicated more effectively with Waitara High.
Detective Senior Sergeant Grant Coward led the inquiry into Kurth's death. Square-jawed and stern, he attaches little special importance to Jordan's past custody arrangements. He deals in the facts.
"We build a case around investigations into the victim's activities and the crook's activities. If it turns out he was in CYF care or whatever, that's just another thing. I don't think there was anything in that case that was remarkably significant, from CYF or from anything else."
Coward was ready for a trial, but given the confession Jordan had made, it was "appropriate" that on November 15, a few days before it was due to start, he pleaded guilty to murder in the High Court in New Plymouth.
Certainly it's a "very sad" case, says Coward, but "in terms of him being 13 - it's not unbelievable".
"Because kids are kids and they do crazy things. I've described every homicide as bizarre. The killing of a human being by another is not natural. It's bizarre."
Teachers, relatives, acquaintances - everyone who knew Jordan says they would never have expected something like this, but that's par for the course, says Coward.
"Every homicide, you look at the offender and you think, if you had to pick someone that had done this, it wouldn't be that person. It's random."
He sees no need for exotic theories around motive.
"The facts on the ground were he didn't particularly care for her and he shot her in the back of the head. Pretty simple."
KERRY LOCK doesn't know why the boy he raised killed the woman he loved, and he has no plans to ask Jordan about it.
"I can't talk to Rose, so why should I talk to him?"
Lock has been in limbo since the murder, hanging around for a trial that didn't happen, now waiting for sentencing, stuck in the house where the murder took place because it is tied to his job. He has his own house back in Waverley, but is unwilling to evict the tenants, and doesn't want to live there anyway: "The gossip, mate." He's been trying to get another job down the line.
For a week after the murder he was a shattered mess, and he is still not doing well.
"I've been hurt twice. I lost two people. A lot of people don't realise that."
He's on sleeping pills. He is getting counselling from someone in New Plymouth. Sundays are the worst, around the time that it happened. He'll grab the dogs and head off up the road, and walk for hours. He's smoking more than he used to. "It's called de-stressing, and I ain't gonna give up smoking, Mr Key."
When the Sunday Star-Times visited Lock on a Wednesday afternoon last month, he had been out cutting manuka. He was wearing a faded black singlet and there was a holstered knife strapped to his stubbie shorts. There are black stumps where some of his lower teeth should be. He's stocky, but says he's shed 2 stone since taking this job, from all the walking.
He's wary of talking to the media too much before the sentencing on December 20, as he doesn't want the judge going soft and giving Jordan a short sentence. He's happy that Jordan is being charged as an adult. "I've always said, ‘you think you're 38, not 13'."
He's angry a court report in the Taranaki Daily News seemed to imply Kurth had been too hard on Jordan.
"Rose isn't a bad person like it's been portrayed . . . Don't make him out as a good boy. Because he's not. I don't want the story to come out all lovey-lovey for him."
Despite his reticence he offers a coffee and a chair at the dining table where Kurth died, and goes to dig out some photos of her.
Lock is the son of a butcher, and a keen hunter. His three dogs are called Matu, Guts and Sam. "I had another one, he's dead. He got ripped by a pig. He was called Tutae, which means s...!"
The sitting room is large and cluttered. Animal skins line much of the floor, and there's a stuffed baby deer next to the TV, which is playing a Sky documentary. In a utility room out the back antlers and a couple of mounted boar heads lie jumbled on the floor, and there are cardboard crates of empty Tui and Woodstock bottles. The Woodstocks were Kurth's favourite. Occasionally, says Lock, "I have one for her".
After Jordan's arrest, Lock was charged with not having kept the .22 secure. It still rankles.
"It's the farm gun! The gun was not mine, but because of the offence, I've lost my f...... gun licence, which I've had for 42-f......-odd years."
At least, says Lock, "I pleaded guilty straight away. Paid my fine - about 450-odd f...... dollars."
Lock had thought he and Kurth were going to be together for the long haul. They were planning to move back south to Whanganui, for her work.
It was her personality that drew him to her - she was "straight up". Sometimes she'd walk out on the farm with him, "chase the cows with me, a bit of fun". She got fed up, though, the time the powerlines came down and there was no electricity for a week.
"Rose had a gutsful of it after a couple of days and went to town - left me to it." He chuckles. "I got the barbecue out."
Kurth baked a mean banana cake. She'd jokingly call her intellectually-disabled clients her "retards", but she really cared for people, that's why she did that kind of work.
Jordan and she clashed, just like in any normal family, "but there was a lot of love, you know".
The problem, though, was that Jordan "just wanted to go back to Napier all the time, and that's where he was getting into trouble".
Lock hasn't been in touch with Jordan's mother since the murder. He says she changes her number often, or takes her mobile phone to the hock shop. She lives "over in Niggernui in Napier. Maraenui. I call it Niggernui."
Wouldn't that word offend the people of Maraenui?
"Most likely," says Lock with a sly grin. "But it's like the pub down in Waverley. I had a name for that too. Put it this way - you needed a torch to go in there to see the people! But I used to drink in there too." He laughs at his own folly.
Shortly before the trial was meant to begin, Lock had a visit from a psychiatrist hired by Jordan's defence team.
"The first thing he said to me was ‘[Jordan's] not insane', and I said, ‘I could have f...... told you that.' He's just a f...... little greaser. He greases up people."
Lock believes the psychiatrist was trying to establish if Jordan had been neglected. "I said I was the one who was looking after him, so that wipes that one out too."
The psychiatrist then said something about the significance of what happens to a child before the age of 5, "and I said ‘well, I had him since he was a baby, and I had him through kohanga, kindergarten, primary school, so that wipes that out, doesn't it?' They were just trying to find a leg to stand on."
But the facts are these. Early one Sunday in rural north Taranaki, while his granddad was walking the dogs and his granddad's partner was sleeping, a 13-year-old boy got up and hid a rifle and some bullets in a sleepout.
That afternoon, when his granddad was outside and the woman was doing a jigsaw puzzle, he fetched the gun, stood behind the woman and fired one shot, which hit her in back of the head.
He dropped the gun, then fell to the floor. He stood up again and panicked. He dragged the body into an adjoining bedroom, getting blood on his socks. He went to his granddad's room, tipping drawers on the floor and lifting the mattress, finding a small collection of coins but missing a wallet containing a few hundred dollars that was under a seat cushion. He picked up a carved necklace, but doesn't know why. Blood marks show he made a trip to the sleepout then back inside, and that he tried to wipe some blood off the floor.
Then he went outside, got in the car, and started driving.
Sunday Star Times