Spike in Taranaki homicide investigations will deplete resources, former top cop says

By Contributor

A South Rd property in New Plymouth has been identified as an address of interest in the area's latest homicide investigation. Photo / Tara Shaskey

By Tara Shaskey, Open Justice multimedia journalist, Taranaki

Taranaki police have launched their second homicide inquiry in less than a week - the fifth such investigation for the region in six months.

The caseload will be depleting police resources, says a former top cop who describes the spike in homicide cases as "absolutely unusual" for the area.

Blair Burnett, who retired from the force six years ago after a 25-year career, said he never experienced this many homicides occurring in a short term when he headed the Taranaki CIB as a detective senior sergeant.

"That's an awful lot of homicides in a short period of time and it will have a big drain on resources," he said on Friday.

"There's the day-to-day crime that still needs to be addressed and dealt with as it comes in as well.

"Let's just hope that the drain on the resources doesn't let something else slip through the door crime-wise while everyone's too busy."

But Taranaki area commander inspector Belinda Dewar said the required resources for each operation were available and help would likely be pulled in from other regions.

"It is not uncommon for police to call on specialist resources, including investigators, to assist from other districts when required," she said in a statement to Open Justice.

"This is common practice across the country and as an organisation we have always deployed to demand."

The region's latest homicide investigation was launched on Thursday morning after New Plymouth man Rei Joseph Tumatauinga Maihi Marshall was taken to Taranaki Base Hospital the previous night suffering serious injuries.

Despite receiving medical treatment, the 23-year-old father died.

A post mortem took place on Friday as police continued a scene examination at a South Rd property identified as an address of interest, and of the vehicle used to transport Rei to hospital.

Only days prior, on Sunday, the body of farmworker Jacob Mills Ramsay was found at a property in Upper Kina Rd at Oaonui, South Taranaki.

On Wednesday, two men, aged 39 and 18, appeared in New Plymouth District Court charged with his murder.

The older man also faces a kidnapping charge in relation to Ramsay, who was the father of two boys and was expecting the birth of his third in six weeks.

The accused, who have interim name suppression, have not entered pleas to the charges and were remanded in custody by consent until August 19 when they will appear in the High Court at New Plymouth.

Despite the arrests, inquiries into the case continue as police work to piece together the timeline of Ramsay's movements before his death.

Other active homicide cases in the region include that of Leigh Beer, 31, who has been accused of killing Emma Field, 21, on May 27.

It is believed the pair were in a relationship at the time of her death.

Field's body was found at an address on Devon St West in New Plymouth after a fire ripped through a century-old house divided into flats.

Beer is yet to enter pleas to charges of murder and arson and remains in custody until his next court appearance on September 23.

Earlier, Adrian Humphreys' body was found at Tāngarākau campground in east Taranaki on May 7. An arrest is yet to be made in the homicide case and the investigation into his death continues.

And Henry Wensor remains in custody and is yet to enter a plea after he was charged with the murder of his wife, Levonne Wensor, on February 14 at their New Plymouth home.

Burnett didn't want to speculate about what may be behind the spike in local homicide cases, saying a number of factors could have led to the deaths.

"Homicides are a bit like the weather really, the numbers and types can be unpredictable just like the weather forecast," he said.

"What I do know is the Taranaki CIB will be under the pump in order to solve them and investigate them thoroughly enough to get them before the court."

Burnett said he has faith in the competence of the team.

"They won't be slacking off I can tell you that, they'll be putting their boots on and getting stuck in."

Dewar echoed Burnett's confidence in the investigators.

In her statement, she said staff have been working tirelessly on each case and were committed to bringing those responsible for the deaths to account.

Dewar also acknowledged the impact the deaths have had on the Taranaki community.

She said police are satisfied none of the homicides are linked but because all are subject to either court hearings or ongoing investigations, she is unable to comment on what may have motivated the alleged offenders.