Tirau fatal house fire investigation now homicide probe
Roma Midwood usually kept to herself.
On the quiet street of retirees in the South Waikato town of Tirau the slightly built grandmother would pop across the road from her two bedroom rental for a coffee with one or two of her closest neighbours.
She'd throw a wave to others as she walked a block into town, or when feeding the two cats who hung around.
It was inside the weatherboard house, listed on real estate websites for $179,000, the 58-year-old was killed in the darkness in the early hours of Monday, May 1.
Her home purposely set alight.
Fifty one days after her body was found in the charred living room, Detective Senior Sergeant Matt Cranshaw said police were treating Midwood's death as a homicide and believe the fire that tore through the house where she lived alone was deliberately lit.
"Roma was a mother and grandmother and was loved by all who knew her," he said outside the blackened house, now boarded up on Tuesday morning.
"This was a shocking incident that has devastated her family. It is important that those responsible are held accountable.
"Someone in the community knows what went on inside the house and the circumstances surrounding her death and we want to hear from them."
The fire was lit in the living area of the house towards the left hand side of the home sometime between 3am and 3.30am on May 1, he said.
But Cranshaw would not be drawn on exactly what was used to light the fire or Midwood's cause of death.
"A fire was lit inside the house and she died in that fire," he said.
By the time the first fire truck arrived on scene about half of the house was engulfed by flames.
Cranshaw said a silver sedan was seen leaving Midwood's home at about 3.30am, turning into the darkness.
Police were looking to speak to anyone who may have seen the vehicle leaving or travelling in or around Tirau and SH1 Sunday night and early Monday morning. Anyone with information can speak directly to the investigation team on 0800 766 211, he said.
Neighbours earlier said they had that they woke to a thumping sound and recalled seeing a person come out of the door of Midwood's home.
"That's what woke us up. There were no voices, two or three thumps," one woman said.
She recalled seeing one person, who appeared to have their head covered and was wearing dark clothing walking down the street.
Another person, who she believed was a man, then came out the door of the woman's home. He walked around the outside between the hedge and house, along the driveway around the back to a vehicle, she said.
"He wasn't in a hurry or anything, he was just walking. He must have got in the car.
"We didn't even know the car was there, it just glided out of the driveway."
Moments later an orange hue could be seen coming from the kitchen area.
Police had spoken to these witnesses, Cranshaw said.
"That forms part of our thinking but we are yet to get to a point where we are able to establish exactly what that means and who was involved," Cranshaw said.
Over the last 51 days of the investigation Cranshaw said police had spoken to a large number of people, including those who knew Midwood.
"A lot of people have been spoken to and a lot more need to be spoken to. At the moment we are trying to get information from the public to help us out."
He said it was too early to say whether this was a random attack or whether it involved people known to the grandmother.
Those who knew Roma, who was known as Rona to neighbours, described her as a "lovely woman, who kept to herself".
Her best friend of 30 years said Joseph was a "talented and crafty woman who lived for her grandchildren".
South Waikato Mayor Jenny Shattock described the revelation as shocking.
"It is really sad and it does affect the people in the community - you worry about your safety when something like this happens because it's not normal in a community like Tirau where everyone looks out for each other - it's one out of the ordinary."
"I hope they get the person who did it."
Hearing the news so soon after Kim Richmond's body was discovered in the ute pulled from the south Waikato's Lake Arapuni was another blow to the region, she said.
"Again I can only say how sad it is but at least she has been found but unfortunate she's not alive and well."
"We are actually a safe district."
Police are now appealing to anyone who has information, including truck drivers who may have been travelling SH1 through Tirau early Monday, May 1, and may have seen a silver vehicle or have recordings of the stretch of road in their cabs to contact police.
"Anything out of the ordinary - give us a call."