Behind the Napier siege

The Napier siege.
The Napier siege.

On the morning of Saturday, May 9, as armed offenders squad members converged on 41 Chaucer Rd in Napier to confirm that gunman Jan Molenaar was dead, Wayne Rollinson clambered on to the roof of his rented bungalow further down the hill at number 10.

He took a paint brush, some white paint, and wrote, in huge letters that could be seen across the whole neighbourhood, one word: LEGEND. It wasn't a message to policeman Len Snee, 53, who had died in a hail of bullets two days earlier following a drug raid on Molenaar's home. It was meant for Snee's murderer, Molenaar, 51, a man Rollinson credited with saving his life.

The solo father knew what he was doing would raise the ire of many of Napier's residents, but he wanted to honour his mate.

"You have to understand," Rollinson says. "It had nothing to do with what was going on, it was to do with his previous life."

The way Molenaar lived elevated him in the minds of those who knew him. He was a disciplined strongman, with moral values, who never took a backward step, they say, a Rambo figure waging a one-man war against the gangs and looking out for weaker friends.

They admired his shrewd way with money; how he'd clawed his way up from down-at-heel Maraenui to posh Hospital Hill through sheer hard work. One associate says Molenaar was like a "white knight guarding the gates of hell" for the way he stood up to the gangs, providing a safe and cheap alternative supply of cannabis.

Fragile souls like Rollinson, who spent six years in an alcoholic depression and was "touch-and-go there for a while", could rely on Molenaar when everyone else had disappeared.

"I had no future, and he was just there. He'd come regularly and check that I had food, give me money now and again. He always knew when I was in trouble and he'd come and sort it out. He was like a big compassionate giant."

Molenaar's mother, Anna, says: "He seemed to think he had to protect people all the time, he was always propping up somebody."

But the image of Molenaar as guardian angel doesn't wash with police, who point to the "cowardly" way he shot unarmed police as they walked away. The "legend" tribute disgusted many, who believed it denigrated the memory of the true hero, Snee, and was offensive to his family.

Though Rollinson's sign has been painted over following a "please remove" letter from the city council, an uneasy tension still hangs over Napier because of it and other outpourings of support for Molenaar.

"I'm quite bitter about it," says long-serving police detective Keith Price, now a pub owner and Napier city councillor. "To rub it in people's faces is pretty horrible. Some people might think he's a legend for other things he'd done... but unfortunately he killed a very good mate of mine and I'll never have respect for anything the man's done."

The sympathy expressed for Molenaar does not surprise Ngahiwi Tomoana, chairman of the Ngati Kahungunu iwi and expert on the tribe's whakapapa, or ancestry. Tomoana explains that Snee was descended on his father's side from Kikirioterangi, and Molenaar on his mother's side from Hawea, brothers from Captain Cook's time who were split up by their father because of rivalry over who would succeed him as chief.

Tomoana sees parallels between the warrior ancestors and their modern-day descendants, both leaders in their own right.

Snee was regarded as a kaitiaki (guardian) taking responsibility for his people.

"He wasn't a hero in everybody's eyes, but he was a policeman making the hard calls, the rough calls, and no one begrudged him that," says Tomoana.

"Different communities reverse the roles. To some, Len was the zero and Jan was the hero. I've heard people saying that."

She says the two men were similar in many ways.

"They were on different sides of the tracks, but they still had the same attitudes about keeping the community safe. In another time and place the Maori Battalion maybe those two would have been fighting shoulder to shoulder. It's just that when those two came together, their two strengths came together into a flashpoint."

JAN MIENSE Molenaar's life began in what were scandalous circumstances for the 1950s. Dutchman Paul Molenaar had come to New Zealand from Amsterdam in 1953 to escape Cold War Europe, met Anna Campbell of Nuhaka at a dance, and married her in 1956. But the apprentice carpenter returned to Holland because his mother was dying, and when he came back to New Zealand, found his wife was three months pregnant to another man, who had moved into their home.

Paul Molenaar, now 75 and living in New Plymouth, says he offered to step aside for the other man, also a Pakeha. "He wouldn't wear it because she [Anna] had Maori blood. I told him to bugger off. I was there the day Jan was born [April 7, 1958, at Porirua], and I brought him up, my name was on the birth certificate."

Jan's biological father was not seen or heard from again.

The boy was not told about his parentage, Paul Molenaar says, and it was not until years later that he discovered the truth. He and his partner, Marise Martin, the mother of Jan's only child, son Madison, had invited Paul over for dinner.

"All evening she was on at me about why Jan was different from his brothers, why he had different hair... I said `I adopted you'. He flew off the handle. He said, `If that's the case, what are you doing in my house?' I was told to go, and we didn't speak for a number of years."

Paul says Jan was a "clinger" as a child. "He used to hang around and grab me by the trouser leg and never let me out of his sight. It wasn't until he got into his weightlifting that he became a macho type of person."

Paul and Anna had four more boys Charlie, Johan, Hans and Pieter whose Dutch-Maori blood gave them olive skin, piercing eyes and the blond, surfie hair that Jan lacked. The family lived for many years in Jull St, near Napier's CBD. A regular visitor to the home remembers Anna, a Mormon, as a strict disciplinarian. "Affection was a stick or a broom, it was survival of the fittest."

Paul and Anna separated in the mid-70s, Paul remarrying twice.

Anna says Jan had a social conscience, even as a child, insisting on giving part of his wages from a paper round to Barnardos.

"He loved money, he'd count it nearly every night."

ANOTHER BOY who was good with money was growing up at Takapau, a small town about 80km southwest of Napier in central Hawke's Bay. Leonard Snee was born two years before Molenaar, to shearing contractor Leonard "Bandy" Snee (so-called for his bowed legs) and Pakeha wife Patricia. Aunt Sandra Snee remembers Len, one of six children, was a "good little saver".

"His mother would borrow $10 off him, and this was when he was still at primary school. He'd say, `I'll lend it to you, but you'd better make sure you give it back before I'm home from school'."

Sandra Snee says Len was a determined boy who "never backed down from anything".

"He grew up a master at everything he turned to, whether it was cubs, boy scouts, senior rugby. His name was Len Snee and he was number one on the hit parade he never made no bones on his outlook on life, he knew what he wanted."

Snee attended Central Hawke's Bay College in Waipukurau and it was there he met his childhood sweetheart, Vicki. They would later marry and have two sons, Sam and Joe.

Though Snee was confident, he was also quiet, even shy. Cousin Brian Morris described him at his funeral as a "man of very little fuss, very few words" and joked that over 30 years they probably said only 10 words to each other. Son Joe would say at his funeral that his father was the "perfect mixture of strength and gentleness".

At 20, Snee followed his older brother, Ben, into the police. Ben joined in 1969 and became a physical training instructor at Police College at Trentham, but had been seconded to Auckland when Len entered the college in 1976.

"I wasn't there to give him a hard time," says Ben, now retired from the force and living in Tauranga.

But the brothers were destined to work together and ended up stationed at Taradale, Napier. Ben was the officer in charge of the community policing centre there and Len worked under him, while also a member of the armed offenders squad.

Len Snee was first on the scene when Constable Glenn McKibbin was fatally shot next to his patrol car at Flaxmere, Hastings, in 1996, and joined in the hunt for his killer, former soldier Terence Thompson, who was eventually shot dead.

Snee's other great love was rugby, and he was able to fit it around his police career. A hard-running five-eighths, he played for Titahi Bay and the Northern United Club in the Wellington competition and, after being transferred back to Napier, became a stalwart of the Technical Club, playing 155 games for its senior side.

He represented Hawke's Bay in the 1980s, played for the NZ Police side for 11 years, Combined Services for eight and was still playing rugby well into his 40s.

His colleagues describe Snee as an "old-school" policeman, who commanded respect when he walked into a room.

"He was a bloody good cop," Ben Snee says. "He kept his ear to the ground and acted on information. He ferreted out stuff and locked up the bad guys, the druggies."

Price, the cop turned councillor, says Snee would often "sneak off" and do his own inquiries, sometimes doing search warrants on his own, acting on tips from contacts.

Criminals respected him, Price says. "If you did something minor, he was an old-style of copper, he'd take you home if it wasn't a biggie, rather than lock you up straight away."

Some of the stories that emerged after Snee's death paint him almost as a super-cop. Former officer Craig Skeet recalls in the latest Police News magazine how Snee once went alone to stake out a cannabis plantation that had been under surveillance and stumbled across nine growers, arresting them all single-handedly.

But not everyone was fond of Snee.

Tomoana explains that some Maori resent the way Maori policemen tend to ride roughshod through their communities, including during the hunt for McKibbin's killer.

"Maori communities were traumatised by the Maori policemen in the posse. Because they knew the community so well they just blasted through them, I fielded a lot of complaints from whanau."

Some criminals believed Snee had an "arrogant" or "cheeky" manner, which was probably just the confident way he held himself. According to sources he left the address of one cannabis bust with the words "you're gonna get it one day, Snee" ringing in his ears.

WHILE SNEE was busy locking up crooks (there is no evidence that he and Molenaar ever met, although it would not be surprising), the Molenaar brothers were having their own brushes with the law. Pieter Molenaar says his brother Charlie did a stint in the notorious Mangaroa prison for "dislocating a cop's shoulder" during a scuffle and had to fight off Mongrel Mob members who attacked him in his cell.

Pieter did a short stint in the same prison "for slapping my girlfriend" and Johan, known as Joe, was suspected by the police of running methamphetamine and Ecstasy between Hawke's Bay and Wellington, although nothing was proven.

Jan had managed to keep his nose relatively clean. His rap sheet was short: using obscene language in 1978, theft as a servant in 1979, an unproven assault charge in 1988 and speeding in 2007.

Anna Molenaar says she was tired of the police always turning up when her sons were younger. "When you have a family of boys, you always have cops on your doorstep." Jan had worked a variety of jobs after leaving William Colenso College in a woolstore, forestry worker, storeman for the railways, security guard, carpenter. He was also in the army territorials for six years in the 1980s friends say his pedantic nature was perfect for the discipline required by the army and was fanatical about his fitness, making home-made weights and practising taekwon-do.

A redundancy payout from the railways helped Molenaar achieve his life's aim to own his own home. In 1988 he paid $68,500 for the 1960s property on Chaucer Rd, Napier's steepest street, with stunning views of the bay. He would later erect a "Hobbit House" in the backyard, built to beat council planning restrictions, which he rented to the poor.

Molenaar later bought an investment property in nearby Cameron Rd, selling it for a $60,000 profit, allowing him to erase his mortgage, pay off Martin when they separated in the mid-90s, and buy a BMW to go with his beloved Buell motorbike.

One of Molenaar's tenants at Cameron Rd was a down-on-his luck friend called Lenny Holmwood. Molenaar gave him cheap rent and free furniture and after the property sold, found Holmwood another flat on Guys Hill Rd, over the hill from Chaucer Rd. Molenaar's final gift to Holmwood would be a bullet (see timeline, right).

Guns were part of Molenaar's life from a young age. He would take a .303 rifle pig shooting and later gained a collector's licence. At one point he wanted his mother to sign a police firearms licence form, but she refused. "I'm not into guns," she says.

Throughout his life Molenaar fought a running war with the Mongrel Mob. Friend Arthur Hyde says he shunned gangs because he believed most of them were born out of weakness.

Pieter Molenaar says Jan and a friend were involved in a brawl with members of the Notorious chapter "the worst of the worst" in Hastings and the Mob later smashed the friend over the head with a sledgehammer in retribution.

Cousin Ken Newton claims Jan once smashed his fist through the glass of every window of a car to systematically punch out the Mob members inside, a story that sounds suspiciously like urban myth, or at least hyperbole.

The Mob is said to have put a hit out on Molenaar and for the last 10 years of his life he lived in constant fear of retribution, at one point wiring up surveillance cameras to his house. A couple of years before his death there were reports of shots fired from Molenaar's house; police investigated but no charges were laid.

Meanwhile, Molenaar was acting as an enforcer in his neighbourhood, beating up a paedophile, confronting boy racers and campaigning against P.

In 2003, his brother Joe took his own life. Jan and Joe had fallen out a few years earlier over a security contract for an outdoor concert, and the death inspired Jan to focus on family, getting back in touch with his son, Madison, who had moved to Auckland. He had also resumed contact with his father after being encouraged by his new partner, Delwyn Keefe, whom he met through a bodybuilder friend.

But Pieter Molenaar says things had not been going well for Jan this year. He claims the relationship with Keefe had been rocky, and two weeks before the seige he complained to Pieter that police were sniffing around. He and Keefe had driven through Taradale and someone had passed their number plate to police. Molenaar was furious that police seemed to think he was a common thief.

"He was paranoid, he said it's a trap, he felt they were cornering him," says Pieter. Jan had never been good at controlling his temper. "People like that can't handle it, they like things nice and cruisy."

His mother, Anna, says: "Jan wasn't the sort of person who could handle stress, he used to blow up, then cry.

He liked everything peaceful."

AT HIS auto engineer's workshop at the bottom of Napier Hill, Tony Moore produces a police exhibit book containing photos of a cache of high-powered guns and military paraphernalia strikingly similar to Molenaar's. The book has Moore's name on the cover, but he won't say what charges he faced.

The point, he says, is to illustrate how police "stuffed up" with their drug raid on Molenaar's home. "If they can profile me in a few minutes, they should have been able to profile Jan even quicker." Police confirm they didn't know about Molenaar's frightening cache of weapons when Snee and colleagues Bruce Miller and Grant Diver arrived that Thursday morning.

Price, a former drug detective, blames the lack of intelligence on the failure of Molenaar's friends to tell police about his weapons.

Moore says Molenaar had made it clear many times that he believed he had a "green light" from police for his cannabis dealing. The Sunday Star-Times has learnt that Molenaar was running a successful tinny house, with $20,000 found in his home and $70,000 in his bank account.

Moore says his friend "felt betrayed" by the raid, and there was a certain senior officer with whom he refused to negotiate during the seige.

Price says it's possible there might have been one detective Molenaar was "giving info to", but "there's no way there would have been a general word to leave him alone".

Friend Hyde says: "I understand from discussions with him that he had the occasional discussion with senior police. They may have used his position to their advantage. It could have been intelligence, it could have been also to do favours for them."

Friends and family struggle to understand why Molenaar snapped that day. "What he did was quite cowardly, but he wasn't a coward, there's got to be more to it," one associate says.

The initial police investigation found that a fear of prison and losing his home, along with "paranoid delusions" that police were spying on him, drove him to open fire.

Family and friends say arriving home from a walk with dog Luger to find his house full of police would have been too much. No one, let alone police, was allowed to just turn up.

Fellow soldier Kevin Rollinson, brother of Wayne, says: "You couldn't just go up there unannounced, you had to ring or text him first, he liked his personal space. He was quite temperamental, you had to know how to talk to him." Newton, his cousin, says: "He was king of his castle, his house was everything." On the second morning of the siege, just hours before Molenaar shot himself in the head, Moore got through to his friend by phone.

He says it was a difficult conversation. "What do you say to a man who's going to die?" Molenaar talked about how he was going to "have a beer with Joe", his dead brother. "He didn't want any more killings. He had regret, he wished he hadn't taken those first steps. But he said `it's too late to turn back, I'm not doing 20 years'."

Moore believes jail would be "the most hellish place" for someone like Molenaar, who would have spent the rest of his life with his back to the wall fighting off gang members. But he believes at that point, there was still a chance to convince Molenaar to surrender. "I think he was trying to cling on ... he didn't shut me down, he left a door open for me [to negotiate]."

Wayne Rollinson says: "I can imagine what he was going through, he would have been alone and regretting it heaps, knowing he wasn't going to see his family and friends again. It would have been pretty horrible."

Pieter Molenaar says the family knew early on that Jan wasn't coming out alive. "We were planning the funeral on Thursday." Anna Molenaar says the worst part of the whole episode for her was the way her son left Snee's body in the driveway and shot at police who tried to retrieve it.

Tomoana says that was "unforgivable... Going back to the warrior days, when you met each other in battle, you treated each other with respect". Moore says Snee's death was "a shame ... but I told them, you got your mate killed you f------ idiots." He calls Molenaar a "martyr" and, shockingly, suggests he would have "had an even bigger halo above his head" if he had gone out shooting rather than killing himself. "A lot of people would like to stand up to the cops, they'd like to do what he did." Tomoana confirms that many in the community support this sentiment.

"A lot of Jan's community are very poor. A lot of his whanau and friends haven't got 40-hour jobs ... they live subsistence lifestyles, they will live by any means, including illegal stuff, just to survive.

"Therefore their patch, their territory, becomes even more crucial to who they are, their mana. It's all they've got, even if they're renting, a lot of them have no tribal lands so it's their turangawaewae, their place to stand.

"He [Molenaar] was ready to protect his patch against anybody. A lot of people have said they've always wanted to do that, to defend their patch whether it's against intruders, the gangs or police, but are too chicken."

Tomoana says Molenaar will be sorted out by his tipuna (ancestors).

"As far as we're concerned, they are both our sons. We don't send one to heaven and one to hell. We send them back to their tipuna. When they go back to them, they are equal."



Sunday Star Times