West Coast communities held captive by fear

FOR SEVERAL years in the late 90s and early 2000s, members of the Fourth Reich ran wild in Westport and the wider Buller area, terrorising members of the community with threats, intimidation and violence, including drive-by shootings and home invasions.

According to some who suffered through that time, and are still terrified of the gang, the community swept it under the carpet. "I don't think the community is acknowledging how many souls it has affected, and their [the Reich's] ongoing presence. It's like you're not allowed to mention anything," a source, who was too frightened to be identified, said.

"They definitely have their support within the community. It's about time the community stopped turning a blind eye because there will be more murders."

Buller mayor Pat McManus agrees that locals may have been "naive" about the types of people who were "infiltrating" the community. "We tend to be a bit laidback on the coast. But the police were well aware of who was coming in."

McManus said gang members from other centres such as Christchurch and Nelson, including the notorious white power Harris gang, had moved to Buller when police put the "heat" on them in their home towns. He said the local community did not have a racist mentality "by any stretch of the imagination".

The gang was formed in Paparua Prison near Christchurch in the early 90s and has a fearsome reputation for its hatred of minorities and use of extreme violence. A former member was partially scalped and had a finger hacked off in retribution in 1997.

The same year, a group of Fourth Reichers attacked Maori sportsman Hemi Hutley at a Westport hotel. They dragged him 125m over wasteland, stripped him and threw him in the Buller River, where he drowned.

One of his killers, Fourth Reicher Aaron Howie, had said the day before the murder: "If any Maoris get in the way we will knock them down," and later told his brother: "We killed that nigger and threw him in the river."

The other man convicted of the murder, part-Maori Neihana Foster, confirmed to police he was committed to the white power cause because his father was white and his heart was white.

In 1999 gay drifter James Bambrough, 54, who preferred to be called Janis, was at a boozy party in Westport with Fourth Reich sergeant at arms Leighton Brian Wilding and local Reicher Hayden Brent McKenzie.

Bambrough at one point hugged Wilding and he and McKenzie lured him to the river, throttled him, and later buried his body at an abandoned mine at Denniston. His body was not found for five years and the pair were convicted in 2005.

They had earlier bragged they were going to "waste" Bambrough because "we don't like faggots". McKenzie had "die nigger die" tattooed on his forehead.

A police source has confirmed that racism appears to be the motive for the killing of Korean tourist Jae Hyeon Kim at Charleston, south of Westport, in 2003.

Asked if Kim's death was hate inspired, a police source said: "You're on the right track."

The two men charged with Kim's murder, Shannon Brent Flewellen, a 28-year-old fisherman, and a 31-year-old Westport man, are due to appear in the Westport District Court on July 24. A third man will also appear. His name and the nature of the charges he faces have been suppressed.

The officer in charge of the case, Detective Inspector John Winter, said events during that time warranted police taking a close look at all other [missing person] cases.

He said it was a huge undertaking.

Kim's family had not reported him missing for several months after he was killed, and it was five years before police realised they were dealing with a murder.

Winter said he would ask the missing persons unit to go through all its files and had instructed senior detectives to review a number of tourist deaths.

One of those was Mikimoro Nakanishi, 64, presumed to have died when his car plunged off a cliff 26km north of Greymouth, about seven months after Kim was allegedly killed. His body was never found.

Nakanishi had been staying at a bed and breakfast in Greymouth and had gone to the Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki and never returned. It was assumed he had crashed his car and there were no suspicious circumstances at the time.

"We want to be doubly sure," Winter said.

Several sources the Star-Times spoke to said they believed the gang murders had been premeditated, but an associate of the gang said they were opportunistic.

"It's not like the gang has ordered these people to die. It's just random acts they've done to prove themselves, to verify their hatred."

The imprisonment of most of the gang has seen a drop-off in offending in recent years, but their associates and relatives remain in the area. One is currently before the courts after stabbing a man at a local nightclub.

A Buller police officer, who asked that his name be withheld, said the gang still had a presence, but it was difficult to tell who was associated and who just had a shaved head.

"They don't wear patches, they're not in your face, it's not like the Mongrel Mob." He said they could be vicious. "They're sneaky, they'd just as soon knife you. There's an element in the community, for sure, who have a genuine fear of them."

An associate of the gang was scathing of the murders of Hutley and Bambrough, saying they were "pathetic and pointless." "If they'd killed a cop or a judge I'd go, `good on ya mate' but as far as killing these people, it's proved nothing."

More than 10 years after Hutley died, his killers are eligible for parole. Aaron Howie has attempted to distance himself from the Fourth Reich, telling the Parole Board at a hearing last November that he was never a member and people assumed he was because he had a shaved head.

For Hutley's mother, Flora, her son's murder more than 10 years ago is still fresh in her mind.

But she refuses to spend any time thinking about his killers. "I haven't looked into the Fourth Reich, I've only been a victim of it. They're just a bad gang of people."