THE KIDNAPPED ‘$3M BABY’ ON TRAUMA, FAMILY AND GROWING UP
Her kidnapping as a baby made national news. But the now 18-year-old has quietly made a life for herself among family and her beloved horses
She was the “$3 million baby” of high-profile parents whose abduction captured a nation. She’s now an 18-year-old schoolgirl living in rural Rotorua who enjoys nothing more than riding her horses, and dreams of being an actress one day.
In 2002, Kahu Piripi, who went by Kahu Durie, was snatched at gunpoint by Terence Ward Traynor from a Lower Hutt street while her adoptive mother, highprofile Wellington lawyer Donna Hall was pushing her in her pram. Traynor sought a $3 million ransom for 8-month-old Kahu’s return but police found her at his Taumarunui house eight days later and arrested him. Many Kiwis will remember the images of Hall and husband, former High Court judge Sir Eddie Durie, holding on dearly to Kahu after they were reunited with her.
But in her first interview, the Rotorua Girls’ High School student told the Herald on Sunday she was returned to live with her biological parents after the kidnapping — a decision her father Jarmie Piripi made. “He didn’t want me in that environment so he came and got me himself. I grew up with all my siblings like I’d never been whangaied out.”
Kahu’s parents separated when she was 3 and she was raised by her father, his partner Kim Haira and her siblings, Robert, 40, Leanne, 32, Kiri, 27, and Iha, 24.
Jarmie Piripi died on March 7 last year from a heart attack, aged 58, which took its toll.
“When Dad died I lost motivation, my world stopped. He died at home and I found him. Last year was so hard without Dad — Christmas, birthdays and stuff . . . it’s always there, it’s always in our minds and stuff. He was our rock.”
She now lives on a farm on the outskirts of Rotorua with Haira and Haira’s son Himiona, Robert and Iha, eight horses and three dogs.
When the Herald on Sunday visited, Kahu was enjoying the school holidays and about to go for a ride on her horse Rocket on family farmland.
Kahu said she has a pretty “nonexistent” relationship with her adoptive parents. Hall declined to comment for this story to the Herald on Sunday.
Kahu often wonders what life might have been — Traynor snatched her after seeing Hall’s name in a story about the National Business Review’s Rich List which estimated Hall to be worth $10 million. His initial plan had been to abduct Hall.
“I always think about it,” Kahu said. “My life would have been privileged. I would probably be more eloquent, and poised I assume because they are constantly in some sort of spotlight. But I wouldn’t give up the life I had.
“I grew up very humbled and I’ve never really had what I wanted but I had everything I needed, such as love, support, animals, and schooling. I would feel ungrateful if I asked for a different life. I was never in need, I was loved, which is the most important thing.”
As a newborn Kahu was whangaied to Hall, her biological mother Anaha Morehu’s sister, and Durie.
“Mum’s older sister couldn’t have children so I was whangaied to her as a bridge between her and my mother — they never had the closest relationship. But it also happens when families have too many kids, my mum had four kids already.
“I think it was the easiest option to keep me with someone they knew. I think I would’ve been more hurt if I was placed with CYF. At least I was going to be raised by a family and I would’ve grown up knowing who was my family. I would’ve still learned my whakapapa through them.”
Kahu says her father was protective and reluctant to discuss the abduction with her until she was older, but “it never happened”.
“My dad didn’t want my life to be defined as ‘the kidnapped baby’. He wanted me to make my own life on my own terms. He tried to protect me — I wouldn’t say hidden, but surrounded by family.”
But as Kahu got older curiosity got the better of her. “I learned about what happened from articles I read and little bits Dad would divulge. I had dreams about the kidnapping but that was from reading the articles. That was the only trauma I got from it.
My life would have been privileged. I would probably be more eloquent, and poised I assume because they are constantly in some sort of spotlight. But I wouldn’t give up the life I had.
“It was very tough for my dad who didn’t like to show his emotions but he said there were days and days of waiting and praying. He told me he was holding back his mates who wanted to storm down there to find me. They didn’t want to wait.
“It was the first time a baby was kidnapped. It was unheard of and people didn’t know how to react. But as soon as the man was caught and they knew I was safe, Dad drove all the way to Wellington to get me with all my siblings in the car.”
Kahu felt for her adoptive parents.
“The kidnapping was a blow for my aunty and uncle — you can’t say they didn’t suffer emotionally from that, especially knowing my aunty was the main target but instead the baby who was supposed to be your daughter became that target instead.”
Traynor pleaded guilty to five charges relating to the kidnapping and the threats he made to Hall and her two nieces, who had been walking with her at the time. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison and released after serving seven years in 2009.
Traynor’s brother, who didn’t want to be named, told the Herald on Sunday, he now lives off the grid “somewhere in the North Island”. He doesn’t drink and is into fitness. He said Traynor was in a car crash 10 years ago that nearly killed him.
The year he kidnapped Kahu, Traynor had bought the Taumarunui home and fitted it out to hold his hostage — making it soundproof and renovating the interior so his victim couldn’t escape.
He also spent months scoping Hall’s
Lower Hutt house to monitor the family’s movements. He used decoy cars fitted with stolen number plates to cover his tracks.
Traynor’s brother wasn’t shocked that his brother had masterminded the kidnapping.
“It’s not like we couldn’t believe it. I think my mother was in more shock than anything. He snapped for some reason and no one could understand why. We’re an odd family, our upbringing wasn’t the most picturesque.
“I regret what happened and so does my brother. I wish the girl all the best — it must be weird being the $3 million baby.
“Everyone with half a brain knows it was a ridiculous and stupid thing to do, including him. But he did it and he has to live with the repercussions and the consequences. But remaining anonymous is high on his list of priorities.”
Kahu, appreciative of the sentiment, said: ” I want to thank them for acknowledging it did happen. I hold nothing against them and I thank them for their apology: it’s not needed from them.”
The man said his brother lost his way after his 5-year-old son Nicholas died in a farming accident nearly 40 years ago. He became estranged from his family and moved to Australia in the 1970s.
“His life, in general, has been traumatic. Interestingly there was a section of the population who thought — other than doing a stupid, stupid thing — Terence was very gentle, very caring and made sure the baby was safe. There was no harm done. But I am so pleased the girl is doing well.”
A documentary was made in 2010 of the kidnapping which Kahu watched but said she “couldn’t take it seriously” as it was “overdramatised”.
Growing up, Kahu always thought of herself as a Piripi but the name Durie remained on her birth certificate and she recalled a funny moment on her first day of high school. “I forgot about it to be honest. At the roll call when they yelled out ‘Durie, Kahu’ I didn’t react. Thirty names later I was still sitting there and it finally clicked I am a Durie. I got some funny looks but it was funny to me.”
Kahu is in her final year of school and studying music, theatre, dance and English. After school, she is a waitress at Pataka Kai, a restaurant at Rotorua tourist attraction Te Puia. She is part of the cast ensemble in the musical Grease.
She hopes to further her acting career at Toi Whakaari drama school in Wellington, or go to university. But she is not ready to leave home yet.
“I want to be an actor but I’m not quite ready. I want to wait until I am comfortable and not push myself too early to go. I love my life with the horses, I own eight of them and I can’t imagine being away from my animals for months on end.”
She is content to remain a “homebody” and doesn’t want to be remembered as the $3 million baby.
“I don’t really think about the man who kidnapped me. I look at life now and I have no regrets. I am not asking questions anymore. I don’t feel like I need to reconcile anything for myself.”
I don’t really think about the man who kidnapped me. I look at life now and I have no regrets. I am not asking questions anymore. I don’t feel like I need to reconcile anything for myself.
Kahu Piripi, 18, with her horse Rocket on her family property near Rotorua.
Clockwise from left: A police team searching for abducted baby Kahu Durie in Wellington suburb of Southgate; Terence Traynor; Traynor’s property; Donna Hall and Justice Eddie Durie reunited with baby Kahu; Hall, with inquiry head Detective Inspector Stuart Wildon, making an impassioned plea for the return of Kahu.