Malcolm Chaston: Violence for a middle name

MURDERED: Vanessa Pickering.
MURDERED: Vanessa Pickering.

In the late 1990s, the Fourth Reich, a Nazi skinhead gang, became a breeding ground for some of New Zealand's most vicious killers.

Malcolm George Chaston, 41, was right at its heart.

Yesterday in the High Court in Rangiora, Chaston received one of the harshest sentences in New Zealand history, a life sentence with a minimum non-parole period of 20 years for murder, and a sentence of preventive detention for two sexual crimes. For his surviving victims, the sentence will provide some relief. But for Vanessa Pickering's family it's far too late.

MALCOLM CHASTON: In the High Court in Rangiora.
MALCOLM CHASTON: In the High Court in Rangiora.

Chaston's criminal history is long and bloody.

At yesterday's sentencing, Justice French noted Chaston had a "sad and troubled" history. She said he was in and out of boys' homes and eventually ended up on the street.

His offending began 25 years ago and before he murdered Pickering he had 71 convictions, seven of a violent nature. He had used firearms and explosives, attacked prison guards and tried to escape prison.

In January 1989, a teenage Chaston was picked up by a woman while he was hitch-hiking. Over the next three hours, he raped her at knifepoint. He was jailed for eight years.

A decade later, he would tell another female victim about the crime. She told The Press he justified the rape by saying: "She was 24. I knew she'd get over it."

While in prison, Chaston chose the course that would shape his life. In 1994, he was among the co-founders of the Fourth Reich, an extremely violent white power gang.

Over the following years the gang grew in size, both within the prison and eventually on the outside.

Its members would include Leighton Brian Wilding, the master of arms, Neihana Foster, Shannon Flewellen, all of whom would go on to commit murders, motivated by hate.

Other associates of the gang included double murderer Hayden Brent McKenzie and Aaron Howie, also a killer.

Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne McCoy was a member of a team of police who targeted the Fourth Reich in Nelson in the late 1990s.

By that time, the gang had a presence in Invercargill, Dunedin, Christchurch, Westport and Nelson.

Chaston would end up in Nelson. "He was one of the main men probably. Him and Wilding," McCoy said.

In Nelson the gang attracted serious police attention. Full members generally wore a black T-shirt emblazoned with the gang's logo, a Celtic cross that had a smaller swastika in the centre of it.

They and their associates warred with the Nelson motorcycle gang, the Lost Breed.

They ripped off drug dealers, committed violent robberies and assaults.

And Chaston was in the middle of it all.

"He [Chaston] was into violence. Provided you dealt with him straight up and down he was OK. He didn't relate well to other police officers. They had no respect for anybody," McCoy said.

Police came down hard on the Fourth Reich, executing regular search warrants at the members' homes.

In 1999, the armed offenders squad (AOS) were deployed as Chaston had a sawn-off shotgun in his possession.

"Because of his propensity for violence, we used the AOS to surround him. He was in a cabin at the local camping ground," McCoy said.

By now Chaston was a hardened criminal, and the Fourth Reich's violence became more extreme, its members and associates becoming some of the South Island's most infamous killers.

In 1999, Wilding and one of the gang's associates, McKenzie, murdered James "Janis" Bambrough, a gay drifter. Both got life in prison.

In 1998 another of Chaston's associates, Foster, along with Howie, were sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Hemi Hutley. Hutley was severely beaten outside a Westport hotel, dragged 125 metres, stripped and thrown into the Buller River where he drowned.

In 2003, McKenzie and Flewellen, who joined the Fourth Reich after a stint in prison, murdered a Korean man, Jae Hyeon Kim.

About three years previously, Chaston left Nelson for Christchurch where he would soon commit another horrific crime.

In 2001, Chaston met a woman, a fellow drug user who took pity on him and took him in as a boarder.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had no idea what she was getting herself in for. "He was very charming and had the gift of the gab," she said.

Over the following months, Chaston took control of the household, where the woman lived with her young son and daughter.

He used threats of violence and fear. Eventually the children were taken into care.

"He would literally walk down the street with his hands on the back of my neck. He always made sure if I went out one of the children always stayed home," the woman said.

Now, the woman is eager to talk about her mistakes. She described being paralysed by fear, controlled by a man she began to realise was a vicious criminal.

She said Chaston's family had disowned him. At one stage when the pair were low on money they begged Chaston's sister for cash and food but were told to leave.

Meanwhile, their own relationship descended into torture and violence.

She escaped and phoned her son's father, who came to get her, after Chaston assaulted her and left her bleeding.

She eventually fled to Auckland, before finally going to the police. In 2002, Chaston was found guilty by a High Court jury on charges of bashing, choking and sexually violating the woman and sentenced to six years in prison.

With Chaston in jail, this victim found out more about him. She recalls meeting a shy woman in Nelson, who told her she had a young daughter by the man.

"She said to me, `lucky escape' and I never saw her again."

She said Chaston had a son with a Christchurch sex worker, who has since fled the city.

"She ending up going right down the South Island to get away from him, when she had this baby," she said.

Now, she fears Pickering's murder may have been an act of revenge against women.

"He's come out and I feel sick thinking he's gone out and murdered somebody out of revenge. I'd hate to think it's because of what he did to me." One of the woman's daughters also spoke to The Press, describing Chaston as a druggie, decorated by racist tattoos.

"I was visiting my mother in Christchurch and he spent the two days [that] I was there in bed with methadone withdrawals. He barely crawled out for a meal or two and told me he had `great plans' to make him a lot of money.

"I felt very uncomfortable around him the whole time, though mostly I was disturbed by the swastika on his neck."

While in prison Chaston worried the guards, to a degree they contacted Sensible Sentencing Trust founder Garth McVicar in the months leading to his release.

Chaston, they said, should never be released. They were right.

The emails included one which stated: "He [Chaston] is bragging to everyone that he is going to rape and murder `some shiela' [sic] so he can mak [sic] a name for himself and come back to prison as top dog.

"He has committed some atrocious acts on a number of woman [sic] ... He loves prison, he fits in well and will definitely come back but not until some poor woman gets murdered. Who will be responsible for this?"

Another guard wrote: "I know this man and feel he's more than capable of doing unspeakable things to women."

Bromley woman Haleigh MacBeath, 27, believes she was lucky. The young mother feared for her life when he drove her to the banks of the Avon River only days before Pickering's murder.

Her father, Andrew MacBeath, knew Chaston but they were not friends.He remembered Chaston's tattoos: swastikas across his face. Chaston, he said, wanted out of the Fourth Reich – a decision which prompted a visit from the gang.

"They came to cut them (the tattoos) out as he was getting out of the gang."

In 1997, another of Chaston's former associates, the group's leader, Ivan Gugich, took similar revenge against a gang dropout who failed to smuggle cannabis oil into prison. The skinhead was stabbed in the chest, before his scalp was sliced and peeled. Finally, his little finger was hacked off and taken away in a bread bag.

Chaston has since had his own tattoos removed and changed his name to Maniapoto Walker.

MacBeath also remembers Chaston as a hard drug user.

Andrew MacBeath's partner, Kim Scott, remembers, not long before the murder, Chaston bringing his girlfriend to their home – another woman he worked with at the meatworks where he met Pickering.

"They seemed absolutely fine. Like a normal couple. [They were] planning on going out and about and have a trip to Kaikoura. Just so normal," she said.

"He was always pleasant enough. Just a bit off. You always knew there was something odd."

She paints Chaston as a man who had only a few friends, but still liked to keep them apart. "He kept everything in files. Certain people didn't mix with others, very ordered."

While in Christchurch, Chaston would also strike up a relationship with prostitute Mellory Manning, who was murdered. Investigators do not have him high up on a list of people of interest for the killing.

Christchurch detective Richard Quested has interviewed Chaston. A day before Pickering's body was found near Godley Head, police captured their man at Cheviot in North Canterbury.

"I spent some time talking to him and built a reasonable rapport with him to the point he answered questions that were put to him. He is a worldly character with an extensive history that indicates a violent and unpredictable nature."

Chaston eventually pleaded guilty to Pickering's murder in November, but, until February 8 this year, he did not admit a charge of assault with intent to commit sexual violation against another woman on the same day of the killing. And until then, details of that earlier plea were suppressed.

Today, Chaston starts an indefinite term in prison. His gang, the Fourth Reich is in tatters, some of its main members behind bars for life.

Pickering's family have been through so much, but they believe there is much to do. They are eager to ensure men like Chaston are not allowed back on the street.

Robyn Hanson, who spoke on behalf of Pickering's daughter and the child's father, said the revelations surrounding Chaston's history should lead to an overhaul of the criminal justice system.

"I'm certainly going to be pushing for changes in the justice system – really to prevent this happening to any other family. It's too late for our family," she said.