The Dominion Post
A fatal collision of two loving mothers
The murder of Mona Morriss shocked the small town of Marton, devastated the pensioner’s family and took police nearly two years to solve. Britton Broun reports.
police spoke of a strange sexual element. This was later discounted and the burglary became the focus of the investigation.
Police dive teams searched Marton’s waterways in search of a murder weapon that was never found and up to 40 officers were brought in to canvass more than 2000 residents. With a torrent of information coming in from the public there were well over 100 suspects at one point and at least 8000 people were spoken to before the 18-month investigation ended.
But Goodman came under the spotlight fairly early on, by the end of April 2005.
Mr Smith said it became clear there was a burglar in Marton who specialised in stealing purses and cash from the elderly and, as a description emerged, Goodman’s car registration was taken down after a burglary in Napier.
Goodman was initially charged with a handful of Napier burglaries but was still only a person of ‘‘interest’’ in relation to the murder.
During two days of high-
MONA MORRISS and her killer, Tracy Goodman, had a lot in common. Both women loved their children and plastered the walls of their homes with photos.
Mrs Morriss, 83, sewed and collected doilies and, according to police, Goodman, 40 years younger, had a collection of her own — purses and handbags that made up her burglary trophies.
But while Mrs Morriss was a caring person who seemed to thrive on helping others, Goodman, was a compulsive burglar who preyed on the elderly.
Their collision — when Mrs Morriss caught Goodman trying to burgle her Marton pensioner’s flat on January 3, 2005, — ended with the tiny woman being knocked out by a series of blows to the head.
As Mrs Morriss lay on her immaculately clean bedroom floor, it was believed Goodman ‘‘clinically executed’’ her with six stab wounds to the chest.
Goodman dropped her head and seemed to swear as a jury in the High Court at Wanganui found her guilty of the burglary and murder late on Friday night.
Mrs Morriss was the mother of nine, grandmother of 26 and great-grandmother of 19. She was born in Palmerston North, but had lived in Marton for 45 years, leaving the family homestead after her husband’s death and moving into the Cobber Kain flats where she died years later.
She stood just 1.42 metres (4ft 6in) tall, but was known to be feisty and fiercely independent. She was often seen walking the streets of Marton with her shopping, or going out with the other pensioners for lunch.
One of her neighbours likened her to a sparrow because she was always chirpy and on the move.
‘‘She was always very popular, offering to pick things up from the shops for people, and her family and friends would always come around. Nobody deserved what happened, especially little Mona,’’ the man said.
Tracy Goodman grew up under her maiden name, Tracy Hamahona. She moved around a lot during her youth but lived for a few years in Marton and attended Rangitikei College.
Her family still live in the quiet rural town — and her mother has moved into the Cobber Kain housing complex where Mrs Morriss died.
Though some details of Goodman’s upbringing were suppressed in court, her sister said she had left home at 14. A year later she was convicted of her first crime — breaking into a car in Auckland.
During the month-long murder trial Goodman’s life was laid bare — drug abuse, gambling, sex and an even stronger addiction to burglaries against the elderly.
Friends and associates said the ‘‘light-footed’’ thief preyed on older people because they were slowmoving, had bad sight and hearing and followed set routines.
Goodman had more than 100 previous convictions for crimes such as burglary, fraud and shoplifting when she confessed to 85 burglaries during the police investigation into the death of Mrs Morriss.
After two days of gruelling police interviews she admitted the burglaries — something her defence lawyer argued she needed to get off her chest but which the Crown considered a manipulative distraction to throw police off the murder trail.
Leslie Goodman, who was married to her for less than a year in 2002 and was sent to prison for his involvement in her burglaries, said she was jealous, possessive and argumentative.
Leslie Goodman told the jury Tracy Goodman had burgled Mrs Morriss’ flat in 2003. He said her eyes would light up after a burglary, a rush she said was being better than sex.
Mr Goodman said her young son was her lifeline.
He labelled her a chameleon and said her concerns about other people were a ruse to fool them into a sense of comfort.
Through the Shiloh drug rehabilitation programme in 2002 Goodman professed to develop spiritually and become a believer in God.
She was forced to face one of her victims in a rest home and told police it had taught her empathy and she had not burgled since.
Though this change of heart was another lie, Goodman’s love of her young son was genuine.
She had lost custody of the boy late in 2004 and her despairing journal entries after the murder are full of calls for angels to protect him.
AT her first court appearance after being charged with the murder last year, she called through a steel grille in the cells for family to look after the boy.
‘‘Protect my son. Tell him I love him. Protect my son,’’ she sobbed.
It is this love, or the fear of losing him forever, that is believed to have been behind the murder of Mrs Morriss.
Though confident police would catch the killer, the officer in charge of the murder investigation, Detective Sergeant Tim Smith, said the inquiry began as a genuine whodunit.
‘‘From an early stage it was obvious there were no eyewitnesses, no immediate forensic evidence and, though there was the obvious motive of a burglary gone wrong, there were other motives that had to be considered.’’
Because the victim’s blouse had been torn open and the stab wounds were over her left breast, pressure police interviews in early May, Goodman admitted 85 burglaries between Hawke’s Bay and the Kapiti Coast since 2003.
‘‘At that stage we had no evidence on her [for the murder]. But after the interviews she was unable to give us an alibi for January 3. She became more important to us but it wasn’t until after the confession we knew we were getting there.’’
That confession, allegedly to an old friend and fellow inmate at Arohata Prison in Wellington, be- came a controversial piece of evidence in Goodman’s trial which the defence argued was false.
Mr Smith said with Goodman sentenced to seven years’ jail on her burglary rap in late 2005 police were given time to thoroughly investigate before officially charging her with murder in July 2006.
After the guilty verdict the tearful but relieved Morriss family poignantly reflected on what Mona had missed.
Since her death a granddaughter had got engaged, and two other grandchildren had children of their own. Mrs Morriss would have celebrated her 86th birthday during the murder trial. In a family statement they said the verdict went some way toward closure but would never make up for Goodman’s actions.
‘‘It in no way makes it any easier to know that this woman was responsible for the taking of our mother’s life. We now have to endure the rest of our lives without someone we cared for and loved. We miss her so much.’’
Marton Mayor Bob Buchanan said it was the first murder in nearly 140 years, and in a town of 4700, where people sometimes still left their doors unlocked, it was the end of a way of life.
‘‘It was unbelievable that a thing like that happened in Marton. The older, vulnerable people in the community housing where Mona died were especially spooked, some wanted to move out. We were very worried something like this could happen in a small town and when was it going to happen next.’’ If one positive had come out of the tragedy, Mr Buchanan said it had brought the town’s people a little closer together.
‘‘We’re more security-aware now. But it’s a terrible way to have to learn that lesson.’’