Beyond the call of duty
This is the untold story of Detective Constable Maureen Glassey, a maverick South Auckland detective who single-handedly cracked one of New Zealand's worst serial rape cases. When young Indian girls started telling police they had been blackmailed for sex by a man they met online, no one believed them. One was even convicted of making a false complaint - until Glassey got hold of the files. She told the victims she wasn't like a normal cop, and during an exhaustive year-long investigation they came to think of her as 'God's angel'.
THE 15-YEAR-OLD sexual assault victim, Jaya,* had been texting Maureen Glassey, known as Mo, for days. She kept wanting to know if Glassey would be her friend. "Wil u b my bst friend 4 eva?" came the message one morning in August 2008. Glassey replied: "I'm not your best friend but I'll always be your best cop."
Later that day Glassey was told Jaya – a witness against Junior Ranga Sami Pillai, one of the country's worst serial rapists – had overdosed on pills and was not expected to survive. Glassey was distraught. She thought of Jaya, and the other victims, as daughters, and blamed herself. She rushed to the hospital and found Jaya connected to a drip. "I was holding her little hand, making sure she was all right," she says, tears welling at the memory of the darkest moment of an extraordinary year-long investigation.
"It doesn't bear imagining," Glassey says. "This is a 15-year-old child, a baby whose life hasn't even begun, and to think that a person can act in a way that would make her want to die. You always question yourself and ask, 'What could I have done better?' But she had every single support service there for her."
Glassey had run what amounted to a covert operation, staying in touch with the 15 victims by text message, meeting them in secret, and making sure no correspondence went to their homes. They were all from strict religious backgrounds – the thing they feared most was their parents finding out. One had already been badly beaten by her father over a previous relationship of which he did not approve, and Jaya's father seemed more worried about her virginity than her health.
Pillai's evil was that he exploited this fear to gain money and sex. He would convince the girls to send him pictures of them in their underwear and threaten to show their parents if they didn't bend to his will.
Jaya had been sucked into Pillai's world by chance, and was one of only three victims not found on social networking sites. She and a 15-year-old friend, Iksha, also a victim, met him outside a sweet shop. He said his name was Karan. Pillai later told Iksha he would kill himself if Jaya didn't say she loved him. He sent Iksha video phone footage of him with a noose around his neck. The response of the average Kiwi teen might have been "go ahead", but the threat of suicide was all it took for the naive and vulnerable Jaya to fall into Pillai's clutches.
As she later explained to police, she believed in ghosts and feared Pillai would haunt her in her dreams.
"My religion is Hindi, and I am superstitious about death, so I told him that I loved him to stop him committing suicide," she said in evidence.
Jaya agreed to spend the next two days with Pillai. He took her to a motel, supposedly to meet his mother. He talked about marrying her, and insisted she practice introducing herself as his mother's new daughter-in-law. But there was no mother, only Pillai, all 96kg of him. He started kissing her and lay his bulk on her tiny 45kg frame.
Jaya pleaded with him to take her back to school, but he sexually violated her, then videoed her in her underwear. If she told anyone what had happened, he said, he would hurl himself off a building, leaving a note saying Jaya was responsible. She was worried she'd go to jail. Jaya took up to 80 Panadol that night, but just vomited. She tried two more times to kill herself, including the incident which left her in hospital. She described her feelings of guilt to Glassey in an interview: "In my religion, if you have sex with a person, you have to marry that person. If you don't marry, then the girl has to commit suicide because she has brought shame on her family."
Jaya recovered and showed remarkable bravery to testify against Pillai at trial last year, one of six victims to testify. He later pleaded guilty to offences against another eight girls and young women.
In March, the girls had the satisfaction of seeing their tormentor jailed for 19 1/2 years on 48 blackmail and sex charges. Justice John Priestly made special mention of the "competent and sensitive" way Glassey conducted her investigation. Pillai, 25, will serve 10 years before he is eligible for parole.
He will go down in history as one of New Zealand's most prolific serial rapists, possibly third only to Joseph Thompson (47 victims) and Malcolm Rewa (28), who operated out of South Auckland in the 1980s and 90s. The police criminal profiling unit says Pillai is a new kind of beast, using modern technology to find his victims, and that there are probably more victims who for cultural reasons are too ashamed to come forward.
The other thing that set Pillai apart was his willingness to keep offending while on bail. Glassey interviewed him three times before he was finally remanded in custody, ending his spree. And while squads of detectives tracked Thompson and Rewa, in the Pillai case it was Glassey alone who chipped away, uncovering victim after victim.
Glassey is "overwhelmingly proud" of Jaya, and the others, who ranged in age from 12 to 22 – five of them under 16 – at the time of the offending.
"Junior used everything she held precious against her – her family, her faith, her culture, her innocence – even her life," Glassey says. "We put her in an environment where she won some of that back."
UNTIL GLASSEY came along, the girls were anything but empowered. It seemed that because the girls had willingly met Pillai, and in some cases several times, certain police believed it could not have been rape.
One victim, Jasmin, 18, was arrested when she and her parents went to police to complain that Pillai had forced her to give him cash and electronic goods. She did not complain of the sexual assaults at the time, fearing the consequences if her parents found out. The officer who spoke to Jasmin told her that if she pleaded guilty to making a false complaint, she would be dealt with under the police diversion scheme for first offenders, so she did – to make it all go away. She did 40 hours' community service.
Glassey later tracked her down as part of her investigation. Jasmin became a witness against Pillai, who was convicted of her blackmail and sexual violation. She told the court: "When I went to police... I was arrested for making a false statement because they didn't believe me. I think it was wrong to be arrested and not fair. Even though that has been sorted out, I don't trust the police any more."
Glassey later arranged for Jasmin's conviction to be wiped from the record. As a result of the "shame" she had brought on her family, she agreed to a marriage arranged by her parents, although it was later annulled.
Another victim told the court she was made to feel "stupid" by police, and when she asked if her parents would have to know if she made a rape complaint, was told they would. Glassey says this is not correct, that the rights of the child and the victim are paramount and they must be able to approach police in confidence.
A 22-year-old victim, Sasha, who met Pillai on the Hi5 social networking site, told the Sunday Star-Times that when she first went to police complaining that Pillai had raped and blackmailed her, "the first question they asked me was `are you lying?'
"He [the officer] asked me if I was lying because I wanted to sleep with this guy [Pillai] and I didn't want the current guy [her boyfriend] to find out about it. I was like, `why would I want to make up something like this?'
"I felt like they wanted to make me the bad guy. It just made me feel like, I don't want to deal with it, I'd rather just forget about it."
She withdrew her complaint, but because the police system keeps a record of such cases, the file came across Glassey's desk at the Counties Manukau adult sexual assault team.
Glassey is a different kind of cop. She doesn't dress like one for a start; she's often in heels and a skirt and wears makeup to accentuate her killer cheekbones and ice-blue eyes. You could imagine Lucy Lawless playing her in a tele-movie.
Police sources say she is a straight-shooter with a mouth on her that would make a sailor blush, and also has a reputation as a bit of a loner who does things her way, which has not made her popular with her bosses.
But she was the perfect person to handle the complaints from the Indian girls, as she sensed straight away what they were going through, and their fear of their parents.
"I'd worked with a lot of people like that, I'd travelled, so I kind of instantly knew... I never doubted. They would rather have this awful, ugly beast do these things than have their parents find out. I got that," she says.
Glassey, 41, born in England to an Irish mother and English father, spent the first five years of her life in Zambia before migrating to New Zealand. A Catholic, she attended St Mary's College in Ponsonby, Auckland, before travelling overseas and embarking on a career in clinical biochemistry. She joined the police in 2000, and is a single mother of a five-year-old girl.
In early 2007, she joined the sexual assault team and one of the first files to come across her desk related to a 20-year-old student, Kala, who had gone into a police station to make a complaint, then withdrawn it. Glassey made contact with her, and she agreed to meet over a hot chocolate. A man was harassing her, Kala said, would Glassey make him go away?
"I sensed something bad had happened, she hadn't really told me her whole story," Glassey says. "She was desperately frightened, when I talked to her she'd be trembling. I just made a promise that I would go to this guy."
Pillai had been using the name Arayan, and had met Kala on the Hi5 site. It took Glassey a couple of months to track down his real identity, which she finally did when one of his mobile numbers came up on a speeding ticket.
Glassey picked Pillai up from his parents' house in South Auckland, and brought him in for questioning. He admitted he had blackmailed Kala for $1200, but claimed their sex was consensual. He was allowed to go.
Just a week after the interview, Pillai changed his name by deed poll to Karan Nath, the name of a Bollywood film star, to make him more attractive to girls on the internet. His brush with Glassey was not going to slow him down.
A MONTH AFTER the first file came in, another file landed with Glassey. She noticed the same motel had been used and one of the mobile numbers matched the first case. This woman, Sasha, had also met Pillai online. He'd convinced her to send him an intimate photo of herself, then pretended to be a private investigator working for her father. He'd release the photo if she did not have sex with him and pay him $4000. He took her to a motel, where he forced her to perform oral sex, then brutally raped her.
Pillai had by then been charged with blackmail in relation to Kala, and had been released on bail. Glassey brought him in for questioning a second time, grilling him for hours about the nature of the sex.
Sasha had previously been beaten by her father because of a relationship he did not approve of, and Glassey pointed this out to Pillai.
Glassey: "The first time she had sex she was beaten so severely you know, so next time she knows she's probably going to die."
Glassey: "And so now suddenly she's on the phone to you, a complete stranger, and whoopee, bang goes those ovaries, she wants to have sex with you, a man she's never met. You must have said something pretty flash on the phone. Come on Junior, help me."
Pillai maintained the sex was consensual, but was charged with rape, sexual violation and blackmail. He was again released on bail.
Glassey, realising that she had stumbled on to something big, began digging for more victims. She went through Pillai's numerous phones, and found screes of pictures of young girls. Sometimes she'd have no clues other than a school uniform, so she'd visit the school and ask if they had a student matching that description. She also went through Pillai's bank statements and found blackmail victims who'd made automatic payments.
"I started to get really scared," Glassey says. "I would think, `I need to find them in case there is some kid out there who's got this horrible [attacker] with no one to tell and he's gonna do the same'."
She discovered more and more victims, from across Auckland and other centres, including some who had already tried to contact police. Their stories were heartbreaking. An 18-year-old had been raped twice by Pillai and fallen pregnant to him. He had been communicating with her using two identities, Guarav and Korish – she was raped by the man she thought of as Korish. She rang "Guarav", who she thought of as a friend, asking that he come with her to the abortion clinic – he refused, and she never heard from him again. She later told the court Pillai had "truly ruined my life... I hope he goes to hell, just as I felt he has sent me."
Another victim, also 18, was forced to get a tattoo of his name, or he would show naked pictures to her parents. She had one of Pillai's aliases tattooed on her body – Glassey later arranged for a free removal at an upmarket clinic.
As she made contact with the victims, Glassey reassured them that their identities would not be revealed, that they would get permanent name suppression. She said they could trust her.
"I'd say, `I don't dress like a cop, I don't look like a cop, I'm not going to be driving a cop car'. I said `if anyone sees us sitting talking, no one's gonna know'. I would meet them in cafes, wherever they wanted to meet.
"I would say to these girls if they were ever hesitant, `you look at Louise Nicholas [who accused police officers of rape], that skinny little girl... she didn't even win, but she did this'."
The first victim, Kala, whose case was dealt with separately to the other 14 victims when Pillai pleaded guilty to blackmailing her, told the Star-Times that, thanks to Glassey's efforts, she went through the entire court process (she testified at Pillai's trial as a propensity witness) without her parents ever knowing a thing.
"I wasn't allowed to have any boyfriends," she says. "The whole incident is not something I want to share with my parents, I don't want them to be ashamed. I don't want to hurt them. But I had friends, I had Maureen. I made it through."
IN MARCH 2008, a year after Glassey first started investigating Pillai, he was sentenced to six months' supervision for the blackmail of Kala, the first victim. The previous month, Glassey had arrested him for a third time, over the rape and blackmail of a 16-year-old. Again he was released on bail, on the condition he not use internet dating sites or mobile phones. He ignored the order.
Things were coming to a head. Glassey discovered a 12-year-old girl who had been raped about 10 times over a six-month period. She tried to find Pillai, but he had gone to ground. A manhunt began, Glassey arranging for Pillai's picture to be published in a newspaper.
She was told he might be leaving the country, so alerts were put out at Auckland airport. Each day Glassey would come into work and go out looking for Pillai in the places she knew he haunted.
In May, Pillai was pulled over by police for speeding. He had a 15-year-old girl with him. He was allowed to go, but the officer took a note of the girl's details, and contacted Glassey. The name was spelt wrong, and Glassey had to track her down through immigration records. The girl helped her to find Pillai – he was hiding out at a motel in Avondale, West Auckland, under a false name.
He was arrested on May 19 – Glassey later found a 15-year-old victim who had been brutally raped by him just a day before.
"You can't describe that feeling," Glassey says. "Firstly, it shows he was just not going to stop. He was wanted for arrest, he'd been arrested before. It just shows he was so intent and so malicious. When I got him I wanted to say to him, `Couldn't you have just saved one girl? A little bit of self control? You didn't have to do this one.' For me, I always think if only I'd got there a day sooner."
Ironically, Glassey may have saved Pillai's life – he had hung a rope from the ceiling and appeared to be preparing to hang himself. He told Glassey: "I'm tired of this life."
Back at the police station, Glassey stepped out of the interview room for a few moments and there was a power surge. Pillai had tried to electrocute himself by jabbing a paper clip into a wall socket. He later went on a hunger strike in prison, protesting that he wanted "justice", and claiming Glassey had framed him.
Glassey says the guilty verdicts made it all worthwhile.
"You see these girls now, and, because they have been though this, they are so much stronger. I spoke to one of the girls recently and she said, `I've told my mum now, and everything's so much better."'
Dr Pushpa Wood, an expert in Indian religions who gave evidence at the trial, told the Star-Times that Pillai was able to exploit the very real fears the girls had of their parents finding out about their contact with him. "It's not only that the parents will find out, but also other people in the community. In our community, if girls acquire a `bad name' or are seen to be of loose character, then it's very, very hard for them to find a suitable partner from a decent family.
"I really take my hat off to Maureen. She believed those girls and really stuck with it and did methodical work. She put her heart and soul into it, we need more police officers like her."
The Crown lawyer who prosecuted the case, Nick Williams, is effusive in his praise of Glassey. "We wouldn't have been successful if it wasn't for her, basically. Not just getting them to make a complaint, but getting them to court to give evidence. She was able to establish a rapport with them and make them feel comfortable."
Glassey says two detectives, Chris Mantell and Matt Stickland, did brilliant work helping her find more victims after Pillai was finally taken into custody, as did a range of specialists who helped bring the case to trial. She hopes the case will encourage other victims from "hidden cultures" to come forward, knowing they will be dealt with discreetly.
"I want training and understanding about the offence of blackmail for all police staff, particularly as it's used as a weapon to sexually violate. And I want all the girls I spoke to during this investigation to know how uniquely brave and wonderful they are, and how much respect I have for them." She no longer works sexual assault cases, having been transferred to a strategic analysis role within police.
Two of the victims, Sasha and Kala, spoke to the Star-Times because they wanted to warn other young women against the dangers of the internet.
"Don't trust people online," Kala says. "They can have pictures and you wouldn't know the person behind the computer is someone completely different, someone you wouldn't even give a second glance to. Because of the photo, it just lured me in."
Kala says Glassey should be made "cop of the year". "She's taken good care of us, she's always been there for us. She's OK with us texting her at any time of the day."
Sasha, who tried to withdraw her complaint after her first dealings with police, says Glassey made the process more bearable.
"She's honestly God's angel, I have no other words to describe her. I have no words to express how grateful I am for her, and what she did for me. She's awesome."
* All victims' names have been changed to protect their identities.
For information on how to report a rape or sexual assault and which agencies can help, visit www.rapecrisis.org.nz
Lessons to be learnt from police who 'stuffed up'
Louise Nicholas, who accused former assistant police commissioner Clint Rickards and two other officers of raping her in Rotorua in the 1980s, says she is shocked but not surprised that one of serial rapist Junior Pillai's victims was convicted of making a false complaint and that others were not believed.
"That's the sad reality of a lack of training a lot of our police officers have," she says. "If they can't see the evidence in front of them, then a lot of them unfortunately deem it false. That's got to stop."
But Nicholas, now a survivor advocate with Rape Prevention Education, says adult sexual assault teams set up in 2006 following her case, and a commission of inquiry into police conduct, have improved things.
Maureen Glassey, who brought Pillai to justice, was a member of the Counties Manukau team, one of four nationally.
"That will be the reason she stuck to wanting to help these girls out, it's the training they're receiving in dealing with survivors of sexual assault and rape, whereas old Joe Bloggs policeman who's in a police station throughout New Zealand, I don't think is getting the adequate training."
Detective Senior Sergeant Neil Holden, the national adult sexual assault and child abuse co-ordinator, says the officers who dealt with the girls who were not believed had "stuffed up".
"It's an indictment of some of our practice ... but it is a pretty clear indication of the dynamics and the difficulties around sexual violence, that a victim will recant and say they made it up to get out of a situation they are uncomfortable in. Our training for our investigators is really to promote the awareness of that. It's a very fickle and difficult area to work in."
Detective Inspector John Tims, area crime manager for Counties Manukau, says a new multi-agency centre is opening in his district on May 17 which will be a one-stop-shop for sex abuse victims, including health, CYF and police staff.
"Instead of going to three different locations, they will receive the treatment and service they deserve from that one location." He paid tribute to Glassey.
"It was a very difficult case to investigate, but her commitment to the victims certainly led to a very good outcome. She really worked very hard on it and worked with the victims and supported them. It was excellent work."
Sunday Star Times