Police investigating the killing of stop-go man George Taiaroa are closing in on their prime suspect who may be hiding out in eastern Taranaki.
A month ago, Mr Taiaroa was fatally shot on Tram Rd, Atiamuri, as he operated a stop-go sign at roadworks.
Yesterday police said they have a prime suspect and had a major breakthrough in the seizure of a Jeep Cherokee in the Bay of Plenty, that they believe was used in the drive-by shooting.
"We do have a main suspect in relation to this investigation and we are also working on the possibility that he is being protected or actively assisted by others," officer-in-charge Detective Inspector Tim Anderson, of the Bay of Plenty CIB, said yesterday.
He would not say whether an arrest was pending or where they believed he might be in Taranaki but did say police had already spoken to him.
However, the Taranaki Daily News is aware armed offenders squad members raided a property on the Pohokura Saddle, on State Highway 43, last week which was connected to the homicide inquiry.
Mr Anderson did confirm that there were a number of search warrants executed in both the Bay of Plenty and Taranaki. But he would not comment as to whether the seized Jeep had at any time been at the eastern Taranaki property.
Police would not be drawn on what the motive was for the killing but have ruled out any connection with gangs or drugs.
"We also believe we are closer to the motive behind the cold-blooded murder," Mr Anderson said.
"What I can say is that George was a loving, hard working family man who had no real significant enemies. He wasn't involved in drugs. He was a well respected worker and a loved family man."
It was key to the investigation that the movements of the Jeep were tracked, he said. He asked that people cast their minds back to March 19 and in the week before and after and particularly any sightings around Benneydale, Taumarunui, the Taranaki area, Stratford and also Rotorua.
Mr Anderson said the homicide investigation had a team of more than 30 officers on the case.
"We're extremely patient. These sorts of investigations are complex. We've amassed in four weeks a significant amount of information and have some of the best detectives across the North Island on this case and we never give up.
"The Jeep is currently subject to a forensic analysis by scientists. I can't go into specifics about why we believe that it is our Jeep but I can say we are confident it is."
Mr Anderson said the public's assistance to date had been crucial during the investigation.
Anyone with information can contact the investigation team, 0800 Kingswood (0800 546 479) or call anonymously via Crimestoppers, ph 0800 555 111.
MYSTERY MAN LYING LOW
Last night there was no sign of life at the Pohokura property police searched two weeks ago.
The gate to the high deer fence surrounding the eastern Taranaki hill-top property near Whangamomona was padlocked shut.
Residents of the area said they had not seen the owner of the property or his vehicle for several days, but it was not unusual as the man was described as "a right-wing recluse" who did not socialise with the farming community.
It is believed the man, the owner of a blue Jeep Cherokee, was picked up by police in Mamaku and brought back to Taranaki where he was questioned at the Stratford station for two days before being released.
Residents said the police had dug up a recently cemented part of the driveway and had to call a locksmith in from town to get access to the large, windowless aluminum barn that the man lived in.
They said the man was a keen hunter who liked to dress up in camouflage gear and had a gun licence and a number of firearms at the property, some of which he had claimed were stolen recently.
One resident said the man was a hardworking bloke who disliked authority and in the last two years had done some "silly things", including stealing timber from a farmer and making unfounded accusations about his neighbours. It was also said the man had been known to threaten people and fire "warning shots" at them. The man had no drug connections they knew of and despite his odd behaviour they did not believe he would kill anyone.
Some residents had been questioned by police about the man's character and activities, and a former owner of a nearby property had even been contacted in Australia.
One resident said the police seemed convinced they had the right man.
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