A blue Jeep

South Waikato News - - Your Health -

the tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it set­tle­ment of Po­hokura near Whang­amomona in Taranaki, who had some in­trigu­ing in­for­ma­tion about a neigh­bour, Quin­ton Winders, known as Quin.

Winders owned a Jeep Chero­kee, the caller said, and had also al­legedly fired shots to­wards peo­ple hunt­ing near his prop­erty.

‘‘That pricked our ears up,’’ An­der­son says. ‘‘That put him into the sus­pect category, and then we started look­ing at him quite solidly.’’

Winders had no crim­i­nal con­vic­tions though – in po­lice ter­mi­nol­ogy he was a ‘‘clean­skin’’.

If there was a Eureka mo­ment early on, it was the dis­cov­ery that there was a con­nec­tion – al­beit ten­u­ous – be­tween Winders and Ta­iaroa.

There’d been a mi­nor crash at road­works con­trolled by Ta­iaroa on SH1 a week be­fore his mur­der, and his em­ployer HEB Con­struc­tion had kept records of the ve­hi­cles in­volved.

Num­ber plate searches found a Land Rover, tow­ing a trailer, that had over-shot the stop-sign, re­versed and caused $989 dam­age to the trail­ing Ford was owned by none other than Max Winders, Quin­ton’s el­derly fa­ther.

Not only that, but Quin was a pas­sen­ger in the ve­hi­cle that day, and had been heard to say that the crash was the road worker’s fault be­cause he hadn’t been dis­play­ing his sign.

In later in­ter­views with po­lice he in­sisted the in­ci­dent was no big deal, and other wit­nesses said he’d even laughed at his fa­ther’s no­to­ri­ously poor driv­ing.

The crash did cause a few prob­lems with the in­sur­ance, how­ever, Max fail­ing to re­turn re­peated calls from the other driver and ini­tially telling in­sur­ance as­ses­sors the ac­ci­dent wasn’t his fault, be­fore com­ing clean. But it was all sorted out and a cou­ple of weeks later the in­sur­ance was paid.

Po­lice were con­vinced they had their mo­tive, or ‘‘cat­a­lyst’’, and by early May An­der­son was telling me­dia it would ‘‘ap­pal’’ most peo­ple.

The de­fence says po­lice had tun­nel vi­sion from this mo­ment on, un­will­ing to con­sider other sce­nar­ios.

An­der­son ad­mits that Winders had be­come the ‘‘core sus­pect’’ and was put un­der sur­veil­lance.

‘‘If you cou­ple the fact there was a con­nec­tion with the traf­fic ac­ci­dent with Quin­ton Winders, with him hav­ing a blue Jeep Chero­kee, the in­for­ma­tion that we’d re­ceived on his pre­vi­ous be­hav­iour around his use of firearms in very highly un­usual cir­cum­stances, all of those things, made him quite likely.

‘‘But we were still guarded, ev­ery­one was keep­ing an open mind that it could be some­one else.’’

De­tec­tives set about find­ing out ev­ery­thing they could about Winders over the fol­low­ing weeks and months, serv­ing ‘‘pro­duc­tion or­ders’’ or search war­rants on his banks, in­sur­ers, uni­ver­sity – even his old high school. They made in­quiries with au­thor­i­ties in Aus­tralia, Canada and the UK, where Winders had spent time, and placed lis­ten­ing de­vices in the homes and ve­hi­cles of fam­ily mem­bers.

Winders was brought in for ques­tion­ing on April 4, sup­pos­edly for reck­less driv­ing, but re­ally to quiz him about the mur­der.

Asked if he’d been in Tau­marunui on that day he said no, then ac­cepted he was.

‘‘But then af­ter that, when he was chal­lenged on his next move­ments, when it came closer to the time of the homi­cide, he said ‘this is all get­ting a bit se­ri­ous, I need to speak to a lawyer’,’’ An­der­son says.

‘‘Other sus­pects had al­i­bis that we could cor­rob­o­rate – he didn’t have that.’’

Other break­throughs for po­lice came when dairy farmer Co­rina Walker was able to iden­tify Winders from a photo line-up as the ‘‘crazy’’ driver who sped er­rat­i­cally past her near the mur­der scene, and the dis­cov­ery of a tow-bar assem­bly and spare Jeep wheel in bush across the road from Winders’ Po­hokura prop­erty – ev­i­dence, po­lice be­lieved, of at­tempts to change the ve­hi­cle’s ap­pear­ance.

(The Jeep had been found in a shed on Max Winders’ prop­erty dur­ing a search on April 4.)

There was still a big hole in the po­lice case – they didn’t have the mur­der weapon.

When they searched Winders’ prop­erty, they found only two of his four guns. A .22 ri­fle was one of those miss­ing. Winders claimed the oth­ers had been lost, then he said they’d been stolen in 2009.

Not hav­ing the gun be­lieved to have killed Ta­iaroa wasn’t as big a set-back as it could have been, thanks to the metic­u­lous work of a re­tired Taranaki cop called Ray Whittaker.

Af­ter he left the po­lice, Whittaker, now 73, was a firearms vet­ter for many years and had vis­ited Winders when he went for his firearms li­cence in 2008. Winders han­dled guns ap­pro­pri­ately, and gave no cause for con­cern, Whittaker said in a state­ment.

‘‘He gave no vibes or feel­ings he was un­to­ward in any way...a solid sort of bug­ger.’’

He wasn’t re­quired to, but Whittaker noted down the se­rial num­bers of Winders’ firearms, in­clud­ing a Winch­ester Cooey model 39 .22 bolt ac­tion ri­fle, a de­ci­sion that would help the po­lice con­sid­er­ably sev­eral years later.

A bul­let frag­ment re­moved from Ta­iaroa’s head came from the same type of gun.

Lo­cal ex­perts ran tests on weapons with se­rial num­bers just three or four away from Winders’ miss­ing ri­fle, and then firearms ex­perts from New South Wales po­lice were asked to carry out fur­ther tests.

They were from the same team that had stud­ied the bal­lis­tics ev­i­dence left be­hind in the Lindt Cafe in Syd­ney af­ter the shoot-out with Man Haron Mo­nis in 2014.

The ex­perts found mark­ings on the bul­let frag­ment re­cov­ered from Ta­iaroa matched in­den­ta­tions on bul­lets fired from the test ri­fles.

The de­fence ar­gued that se­rial num­ber­ing pro­vided ev­i­dence of the se­quence the num­bers were stamped on a gun af­ter assem­bly, not the man­u­fac­ture of the var­i­ous parts.

But for po­lice it was the fi­nal piece of the puz­zle and Crown pros­e­cu­tor Amanda Gor­don would tell the jury it was ‘‘highly likely’’ the fa­tal bul­let was fired from Winders’ miss­ing gun.

What does he think hap­pened to the gun?

‘‘He’s a fencer, he’s been right across the North Is­land, so it could be in any tomo, hole, cave, wher­ever.’’

Dur­ing the in­quiry, when it seemed to re­porters that po­lice were strug­gling, An­der­son said he

‘‘We’ve got ev­ery­one from Bilbo Bag­gins to An­dre the Gi­ant. ’’

was happy to bide his time.

He raised the spec­tre of the Scott Guy mur­der, where the vic­tim’s brother-in-law Ewen Macdon­ald was ac­quit­ted, and said he didn’t want Winders walk­ing be­cause there wasn’t enough ev­i­dence. ‘‘You only get one shot.’’

He fi­nally got to ar­rest his man in Novem­ber, 2015.

Asked dur­ing the trial how he’d feel if Winders was found not guilty, he said: ‘‘It’s just the sys­tem we work with, that’s the ad­ver­sar­ial sys­tem we’ve got.

‘‘I of­ten talk about this within my team and also with the [Ta­iaroa] fam­ily. The way I look at it, we’ve put the best pos­si­ble case be­fore the court, that’s all we can do, we re­spect the court’s de­ci­sion.’’

De­fence lawyer Jonathan Temm is a gifted or­a­tor and held the jury spell­bound at times when his cross-ex­am­i­na­tions.

He found par­tic­u­larly fer­tile ground in the vary­ing de­scrip­tions of the Jeep driver, some wit­nesses be­liev­ing he was a large Maori. ‘‘We’ve got ev­ery­one from Bilbo Bag­gins to An­dre the Gi­ant,’’ Temm said.

And there was a dra­matic mo­ment in the first week of the trial when Temm ex­tracted a con­fes­sion from the other lol­lipop worker on that day – he’d ex­posed him­self to a five-year-old girl and been con­fronted at home by the girl’s Mon­grel Mob rel­a­tives. Could the mur­der have been a botched mob hit?

An­other man with gang con­nec­tions who owned a Jeep with what ap­peared to be doc­tored num­ber plates was vis­ited by po­lice but not prop­erly in­ves­ti­gated, Temm said.

It was all aimed at sow­ing doubt in the ju­rors’ minds.

But re­porters ques­tioned Temm’s de­ci­sion to call two goat hunters who’d had a fright­en­ing run-in with Winders at Whang­amomona about seven months be­fore the mur­der.

They’d shot goats on or near Winders’ prop­erty and he’d chased them, pulling up in his Jeep with a gun.

It was meant to show that Winders had been in­volved in con­fronta­tions where no shots were fired and was not prone to over-re­act­ing, but only served to re­in­force his un­pre­dictable na­ture and left an image of an an­gry Winders, gun across his lap, con­fronting some­one in his Chero­kee.

PHOTO: MARK TAY­LOR/FAIR­FAX NZ

De­tec­tive Su­perinden­dent Tim An­der­son was happy to bide his time.

The dam­age caused by the nose to tail cost more than $900 to re­pair.

PHOTO: CHRISTEL YARD­LEY/FAIR­FAX NZ

Quin­ton Winders ac­cused po­lice of a "fab­ri­ca­tion".

The road in Ati­a­muri where Ge­orge Ta­iaroa was mur­dered.

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