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Read an exclusive extract of 17 Years Later by J.P. Pomare.


PART ONE

Detective Marsden: Can you describe to us what happened this morning?

Jo Blackwell: Well, I woke up suddenly. I don’t know how long I was asleep for but it was late.

Detective Marsden: And what woke you?

Jo Blackwell: Well, umm. I heard screams, these animal screams, you know. Like nothing I’ve ever heard before. I  knew someone was in trouble so I sat up and shook my husband, Paul. I figured there was a fight at the house. I didn’t want to interfere but the screams were so loud and so desperate that I thought I better call the police.

Detective Marsden: You called the police as soon as you heard the screams?

Jo Blackwell: Well, maybe I waited a minute or two. Paul thought I might have been hearing things, then he heard them too. I  called the Primrose house but no one answered, then I tried Gwen’s mobile but she didn’t pick up. By that stage, the screams had stopped. But then I heard them again.

Detective Marsden: Okay. And were these screams also animalistic? Or different?

Jo Blackwell: A bit different, just this long, winding scream. I put my dressing gown on and we wandered down the driveway. We can see their house from there, we’re directly across, you see. We thought we’d wait for the police because we didn’t know what was happening – we didn’t want to be seen. After a few minutes, we heard sirens. The fog was really thick but then we saw a man come out of the property. We could sense something was wrong. He didn’t seem to notice us but he came out of the gate and went off down the road.

Detective Marsden: Can you describe the man you saw?

Jo Blackwell: We both recognised him. He used to live there – we’d see him on his skateboard some days. He was Maori. He was their chef. Maybe Paul’s height.

Detective Marsden: Did you see anyone else? Or any vehicles?

Jo Blackwell: No, just him. Just that man. He was stumbling. Dark patches on his clothes. It looked like he had blood on him. We sort of froze. We didn’t know what to do. Then you all turned up and Paul ran over to tell you but by then the chef was long gone.

TK

HUMILIATION: That was one motivation offered by the prosecution. The shame of rejection drove Bill to stab each member of the Primrose family with his chef’s knife. Or wrath: he did it in a fit of rage because Simon and Gwen Primrose fired him and withheld his final paycheque. Lust: Bill’s infatuation with their teenaged daughter grew to an obsession. He’d sent her lewd notes and couldn’t live knowing he would never have her. Or a sort of psychosis: Bill was drunk, unstable.

Endless possible motives, that’s what the prosecution had – and circumstantial evidence for every one of them.

But if you believe Bill’s version of events, he simply found the bodies, heard the sirens and panicked, fleeing from the crime scene. Wrong place, wrong time.

I spent three years of my life trying to figure out what really happened and concluded that two facts should have created reasonable doubt:

One, Bill Kareama has experienced lifelong severe asthma.

Two, Bill Kareama did not have an inhaler on the night of the murders. 

But the jury did not agree: when he was on trial, they decided the second fact was a lie, or seemed to believe a young man with severe asthma was capable of running three kilometres in twelve minutes without an inhaler.

It’s true that Bill did not do himself any favours the morning of the murders: at approximately 6 am, he walked 900 metres from his flat, past The Pope sports bar, past the strip of shops and the service station, to the Morning Star bakery on the corner of Pope Terrace. As he made his way there, he placed a shopping bag full of ashes into the skip beside the BP. The ashes were once the clothes he’d worn the night before, when he was at the Primrose house. At the bakery, he sat and ate a mince and cheese pie, staring out into the quiet street. It also didn’t help that he’d cut his nails to the quick, shaved his head, bleach-cleaned the flat he’d recently started renting and destroyed his mobile phone.

These acts alone do not make him a murderer but they sure as shit didn’t help his defence. Because most people don’t really understand what trauma, fatigue and drug-induced chemical imbalances in the brain can do to someone’s behaviour. Behaving strangely after exposure to death and extreme violence should not automatically get a man locked up for twenty-five years.

There were other issues with the original trial too, and if Bill ever got his retrial, it’s likely he’d win for a number of reasons. First, the question of procedural fairness and sub judice. Second, the police failed to consider, let alone investigate, any other potential suspects. Third, the coercive interview techniques used on Bill.

But there would be no retrial. Today I read that he’s now been in prison for seventeen years – it was reported in the Sunday paper, his face on page three, a recent shot from inside. It sucker-punched me, and for a moment, I was back there, meeting Bill. The first thing I noticed about him that day was his size – the photos in the press didn’t seem to capture it. He was big but lean. The second thing I noticed about Bill Kareama was his unusual calmness.

As I drive from my parent’s place in Rotorua back home to Auckland, I feel the pull of Cambridge. Just like before. I can’t shake it. So I take the familiar turn-off and head out toward the house. I park outside a pair of iron gates set within a stone wall bordering the property – the sort you might find in the British countryside. I get out and approach the gates, and feel a funny sort of nostalgia as I look through. I hadn’t exactly forgotten, but it had been a while.

A wide driveway splits the generous garden, leading to the expansive frontage of a stately home that looks more country manor than New Zealand farmhouse. The surrounding grounds have long since been sliced and diced, each portion auctioned off, built on. The density of suburbia has closed in on what was once a small number of properties with serious acreage, the surrounding landscape now blighted with townhouses. All that remains of the Primrose estate is that grand old house. Last time I was here, you could barely see the house through the tall grass and unruly hedges. Now it’s tidy, well maintained, with hedges trimmed tight and lawns buzzed close. The new owners have done a good job.

I promised myself I’d move on, put this place behind me. So why am I here? Promises are funny like that – once you break one, the rest don’t seem to matter.

Tyres on gravel. I turn to see a Mitsubishi Pajero slowing, turning into the driveway. I step away as the gates begin to open and the vehicle pulls in and then stops.

I look in and smile, but the woman behind the wheel isn’t smiling back. The window lowers.

‘Leave us alone.’ Each syllable is bitten off with such rage I’m struck silent for a moment.

‘Sorry?’ 

‘You heard.’

‘I was just admiring the ho— ’

‘I know what you’re doing,’ the woman says. I see the tiny spider veins in her cheeks, she can barely meet my eye. ‘Go on, clear off or I will call the police.’

‘Sure, sorry,’ I say, exhaling. I take one more look up at the house. It’s perfect – you could almost believe nothing bad ever happened here. I take my keys from my pocket and walk back to my car. Why did I come here? I shake my head. I remind myself that I don’t owe Bill Kareama anything. Not a bloody thing.

  • 17 Years Later - J.P. Pomare

    Who really killed the Primrose family? The unputdownable new crime thriller by multi-award-winning author J. P. Pomare.

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