Case 3: Schlaepfer Family Murders

PAERATA, AUCKLAND. May 19 1992, 7.40am. Police Constable Jeff Stuck answers a 111 emergency call from a hysterical woman. Stuck was unable to extract much information from the woman. She was screaming into the receiver, when suddenly the conversation ended. The phone fell to the ground. Constable Stuck, still listening heard in the background, raised voices of a woman and a man; yelling. Accompanied by a pair of loud gunshots.

Visit www.truecrimenz.com for additional information on this case. Including a transcript of this episode, with supporting pictures, sources, and credits.

Hosted by Jessica Rust
Written and edited by Sirius Rust

“Crypto”, “Day of Chaos”, “Evening of Chaos”, “Gathering Darkness”, “Immersed”, “Touching Moments Two – Higher”, “Welcome to HorrorLand”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
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The podcast version is the intended way to consume this article but I make a transcript available for those that would rather read instead. This can be found below.

PAERATA, AUCKLAND. 

May 19 1992, 7.40am. Police Constable Jeff Stuck answers a 111 emergency call from a hysterical woman. Stuck was unable to extract much information from the woman. She was screaming into the receiver, when suddenly the conversation ended. The phone fell to the ground. Constable Stuck, still listening heard in the background, raised voices of a woman and a man; yelling. Accompanied by a pair of loud gunshots.

Five minutes of silence followed. Then, a nine year old girl picked up the receiver, she relayed “He’s looking for me”. Officer Stuck asked “Listen, is Mum there? Can she come to the phone?” the young girl replied “No”.

INTRODUCTION

Fig 1. Brian Schlaepfer

The Schlaepfer family settled in Paerata, a small settlement immediately to the north of Pukekohe, in 1886. The family built a farm on Ostrich Farm Road, planting roots in the small farming community. The Schlaepfer name became respected, locally. There is even a road named after them in the district. As the family grew, new farm houses were erected on the one hundred acres of land. By 1992, the patriarch of the family was sixty four year old, Brian Schlaepfer. Eleven other people lived with him on the Ostrich Farm Road property, in three different houses. In one house Brian Schlaepfer lived with his wife Jocelyn (55) and their adult son Karl (33). Another house was occupied by Peter Schlaepfer (39), Brian’s eldest son. He lived there with his wife Hazel, with their three children. Their two daughters, Kerry (14) and Linda (9), and Aaron (11), their only son. In the final farmhouse Darrell Schlaepfer (31), Brian’s youngest son lived with his de facto wife and their two children

Brian Schlaepfer was, in the mind of the locals of Paerata, an upstanding member of the community. He was described as quiet but hardworking. He had founded the local gliding club and donated a piece of land for the scouts to camp on known as Schlaepfer Park Scout Camp. He had even at one stage volunteered to be scoutmaster. 

But times were not all happy for Brian. As he aged, he began suffering from episodes of deep depression. The family tried to seek help for Brian’s deepening despondency. Help that Brian allegedly refused. This lead others within the family to become doubtful in Brian’s ability to run the farm suitably. Reportedly, leading to a power struggle over authority of the farm. This struggle was supposedly between Brian and his eldest son, Peter and his wife Hazel. He was reported to see Hazel, in particular as a threat. There were rumours around town that Brian was resentful about them changing the farm from pasture into crops. These domestic conflicts led Brian to sink lower and lower into an abyss of depression, becoming more vulgar and estranged from his family.

THE SCHLAEPFER FAMILY MASSACRE

On May 20, 1992. Eight of the potential twelve members of the Schlaepfer family were at home in the farmstead. Kerry, Peter and Hazel’s fourteen year old daughter was staying over at a friends house in Pukekohe. The other three not present, were Darrell’s de facto wife and their two children. Why they were not home is unclear.

Sometime before 7.30am. What exactly happened in the inception of this incident can only be speculated on. Although evidence does suggest, that Brian and his wife Jocelyn were having a heated domestic dispute. The content of that altercation can only be surmised. The idea that it was about Brian’s paranoia over his family undermining his partrichy has been floated, yet this is only a theory. While the content was unknown, the events pertaining to it are not. At some point, during this fiery altercation, Brian picked up a knife. Stabbing the knife into Jocelyn’s heart. Jocelyn fell to the floor. Dying soon after.

The murder created a loud commotion. Karl; Brian’s middle son, hearing this. Got up out of bed, he travelled toward his parents bedroom to investigate the noise. During this time. Brian moved toward the shotgun he kept in his room. Picking it up, loading it; readying the weapon to fire. Karl made it to the doorway of his bedroom when discharged shotgun slugs penetrated his neck. Becoming Brian’s second murder victim. 

The loud gunshots drew the attention of Hazel. She asked her two children, Linda and Aaron to stay at their farmhouse while she investigated the shots over at their Grandparents

Meanwhile, Brian had made his way through the house and relocated outside. He was advancing to the tool shed. Where he knew he would find his youngest son, Darrell. Brian deposed of him at close range by firing shots penetrating his neck and jaw. 

Hazel, hearing the second gunshot began moving in the direction of the noise. This is when Brian emerged aiming his shotgun at her. He pulled the trigger. Slugs penetrated Hazel’s arm and chest. While Brian worked the reload. Hazel; wounded, managed to hobble towards her farmhouse, towards her two children. Hazel burst through the door. Advancing hurriedly to the kitchen. She picked up the kitchen phone and dialed 111. The time that call was logged at was 7.40am.

7.41am. Brian entered the house, although ignoring the kitchen. He migrated upstairs, toward the bedrooms; where the two children were located. Brian found 11 year old, Aaron still laying in bed. Brian once more lifted his shotgun, aiming at the abdomen of the young boy. Linda heard from across the hall, her brother pleading with their grandfather to not shoot. Ignoring these appeals for mercy, Brian fired a single shot. Aaron lay with massive gunshot wounds on his chest and abdomen, gasping for air. 

A terrified nine year old Linda, hearing this in the immediate vicinity. Hid in her closet. Shortly after, Brian reached Linda’s room. Not immediately seeing his granddaughter. He called for her. While pausing to listen for evidence of Linda. Brian was distracted by the screams of his wounded daughter in law, Hazel. Brian withdrew from Linda’s room. Heading toward the screaming. Hazel was yelling into the phone receiver in fear, having heard a gunshot from upstairs. Police Constable Jeff Stuck, who had answered the 111 call was trying to make sense of what had transpired. When, he heard the receiver fall to the floor. 

Brian confronted Hazel in the kitchen, a short, fierce exchange took place before Brian continued his slaughter. Firing at Hazel, hitting her in the abdomen. Hazel continued to plead for her life. Overhearing this was Constable Stuck, although the exchange was mostly incoherent, he did make out one sentence, he heard Hazel scream “I don’t know where Linda is”. Apparently unsatisfied with this answer, Brian fired at Hazel once more. This time, the shotgun blast was aimed at her head, Hazel was no longer screaming.

Brian continued his search for his missing granddaughter. He tried calling once more. Linda was still in her bedroom, now hiding under her bed. She heard Brian exit through the backdoor. The calls were now coming from outside. The calls got quieter and further away until Linda could no longer hear them.

LINDA SCHLAEPFER

Around four minutes passed, Linda willed the courage to venture outside her bedroom. First she checked on Aaron, across the hall. Finding her brother clutching his abdomen, dying on the bedroom floor. 

Bravely, instead of retreating back to her bedroom Linda then risked venturing toward where she had last heard her mother’s screams. Linda discovered the deformed corpse of her mother, laying near, the off the hook phone. Still not turning back, Linda passed her dead mother to the phone receiver. Stuck, confused asked:

STUCK: What’s happening there, love?
LINDA: My granddad….
STUCK: Your granddad…
LINDA: He’s shot my brother.
STUCK: Your granddad has shot your brother.
LINDA: Yes, and I think he’s coming to shoot… he’s going to shoot me.
STUCK: And he’s going to shoot you now.
LINDA: He’s looking for me.
STUCK: Listen, is Mum there? Can she come to the phone?

Stuck described Linda’s reply to his question as clinical, “No. Mummy’s dead. He shot her up her nose… she’s just lying there”.

While the events with Linda were transpiring. Brian returned to the tool shed. Where he had earlier murdered his youngest son, Darrell. It was here, he lay in wait. Waiting for the return of his only remaining son, Hazel’s husband; Peter. Peter was out working on the farm. When he returned to the tool shed. Peter became Brian’s latest victim. Firing his shotgun one more time. Peter became the fifth person to be shot and the sixth person killed by Brian Schlaepfer that May morning, although he would not be the last.

Still on the phone, nine year old, Linda Schlaepfer talked through the events from her perspective to Constable Jeff Stuck, she said that her grandfather had “been a bit weird lately”. She then gave directions to the property. The Constable recommended locking the doors and hiding upstairs. Linda locked both entrances, before rushing upstairs. Taking refuge in an upstairs room, barricading the door with tables and chairs. Linda picked up the upstairs phone and continued speaking with Constable Stuck. Stuck later commented “I was amazed at just how brave and intelligent the girl was. She became very scared when she realised that the offender was possibly still outside and she knew that he was hunting her – she was quite distressed about that, understandably. I couldn’t do much to calm her down except to suggest that she go and hide straight away. She sort of hit a wall when she realised just what had happened and was very, very upset when she realised she could possibly lose her whole family, at that stage I had been talking to her for three-quarters of an hour. She was controlled pretty much all the way through”. 

Constable Stuck said he became greatly alarmed when Linda told him she could hear noises, at the door. “I knew that armed offenders squad was in the immediate vicinity as were other armed police and I assumed at that stage that they had not entered the house. I thought yes, that may have been the offender come back to try and locate her. It transpired that it may have been cats – she was very concerned about three of her pet cats that hadn’t had breakfast and I had to assure her that the police would be feeding the cats.”

Constable Stuck said to take Linda’s mind off the murderous chaos around her they talked about her school interests. Her ballet and jazz dancing, and about how her family had been to the movies the day before. Every 15 minutes or so, Constable Stuck would try divert the conversation to try obtain more details of the massacre for the police converging on the area. “She was able to give us good information about the house – unfortunately she didn’t know where the offender had gone, which gave her great concern and me in the control room great concern.”

POLICE RAID

At approximately 8am. Twenty members of the armed offenders arrived on Ostrich Farm Road. A farmhand, who had shown up to work was whisked by police to safety after stumbling on the carnage. The early morning shootings sparked a mass police alert. Sixty officers, many of them armed, rushed to the Paerata farm from different parts of Auckland. Road cordons, kept reporters and the curious locals at bay. Ambulances were waiting to enter the cordons to help the injured but had to wait until the police were satisfied their route was clear. The police helicopter kept a watch from above, with the Westpac rescue helicopter providing back-up several times when it needed to be refueled.

With the shooters whereabouts unknown. The police had to approach the large farm property with caution. Things moved slowly. Three hours passed. Linda and Constable Stuck continued speaking over these hours. As the armed offenders raid was getting closer. Linda decided on a password she would use when the armed offenders squad reached her. The word was “rabbit”.

At approximately 11am. Still on the phone with the young girl, Stuck informed Linda of the impending Police raid:

STUCK: All right, I’ve just been speaking to those policemen that are going to come in. They’re going to be there very, very soon and they’re going to have to smash the back door, right?LINDA: I’ve heard one of them talk… I just heard another one talk.
STUCK: …They’re going in now, all right? So you wait for the back door to get smashed, now you just wait where you are talking to me, you tell me when you can hear the backdoor getting smashed, all right? Or when you can hear a lot of noise, all right? You describe to me what you can hear then… I can hear… I can hear some banging.
LINDA: Yes, they said, “Police, police, this is the police”.

Linda heard the front door of the house burst open. She heard the police ransacking the house. Stuck explained to her they were securing the house “in case Granddad’s hiding anywhere”. Police checked the lounge and all the cupboards in their search for Brian. Then Linda heard rapid footsteps ascending the stairs. They were approaching her, knocking began:

LINDA: They’re knocking on the door now, are you sure it is the police?
STUCK: Don’t you unlock the door.
LINDA: They’re in.
STUCK: They’re in, they’re in.
LINDA: Yeah.

Constable Stuck had a line to the armed offenders squad in the house and he confirmed that it was the police. Inspector Edwards who was one of the officers present in the rescue praised Linda for her demeanor. Asserting she was cool headed, adding that when she was taken to a safe assembly point she seemed surprisingly composed “She did more than we would want anybody to do … and performed a remarkable feat”.

After getting Linda to safety. Police searched for any further signs of the gunman; now understood to be Brian Schlaepfer. With no luck; the squad then split in two, with one group searching the building and the other nearby areas of bush. 

Fig 2. Police tents cover the bodies of Peter (39) and Darrell (31)

Almost seven hours after the drama began. The police located Brian Schlaepfer. He was behind the furthest farmhouse in an open field. He was dead. He died from a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The expelled shotgun was still cradled on his chest. Police believe he died a short time after murdering six members of his family.

AFTERMATH

Fifteen years after the massacre. The NZ Herald ran a follow up on the tragedy. This article gave a small update on the orphaned Linda and Kerry Schlaepfer. Kerry became a teacher but moved away from the property. Linda declined to be interviewed for the article but said through a family friend that she wanted to leave the events in the past. As of 2007, Linda was living in Paerata with her partner and was the recent mother of a one-year-old child.

CONCLUSION

Blame for this tragedy is often directed at Brian’s depression or his paranoia about losing control of his farm. Although, these are just theories. To muddy the waters further, when Police were asked about a note written by Brian found at the property. The police would not divulge it’s content but when asked if it was a suicide note, the police replied with “It could have taken that form”.  It seems that the only person who could truly give answers to the lingering questions we have is Brian Schlaepfer. Therefor, his motives for this mass killing will never be totally known.

Fig 3. The Schlaepfer family resting site

Whatever the reason, a reminder of the tragedy can be seen about 2km from the site, at Heights Park Cemetery. Where you’ll find Brian Schlaepfer’s final resting spot. The man who died that May morning in 1992; at his own hand, taking six members of his own family with him. 

Remarkably, you will find Brian Schlaepfer’s gravestone situated next to the resting places of his six victims, they were buried together. 

His epitaph reads:
“No words we write can ever say how we feel day to day”.

SOURCES

Books
Bronwyn Sell, ‘Law Breakers and Mischief Makers’, 2009

Articles
AP News, ‘9-Year-Old Girl Praised After Massacre’ https://www.apnews.com/af40ab8f57156201b32d44b7d11d09ce
Crime.co.nz, ‘The Schlaepfer Family Massacre’ http://www.crime.co.nz/c-files.aspx?ID=10
Deseret News, ‘FARMER KILLS 6 MEMBERS OF FAMILY, HIMSELF’ https://www.deseretnews.com/article/227579/FARMER-KILLS-6-MEMBERS-OF-FAMILY-HIMSELF.html
NZ Herald, ‘Day of slaughter on family farm’ https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10440545
Murderpedia.org, ‘Brian SCHLAEPFER’ https://murderpedia.org/male.S/s/schlaepfer-brian.htm 

Videos
Sean Callinan, ‘Troubled Schlaepfer’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDMnvbZTMjQ 

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