Case 34: Phyllis Symons

HATAITAI. WELLINGTON. Construction on, what would become, Mount Victoria Tunnel began in December 1929 and was estimated to take 15 months and cost around £132,000 (approximately $16,000,000 today).

Two teams of diggers began on each side of the mountain and began tunnelling through. The initial breakthrough occurred on the 31st of May 1930, six months into construction.

Construction of the tunnel continued into the next year. However, sometime in early July 1931, construction on the tunnel was halted. The workers were contacted by police to cease work on the project. 

Over the next three days, over 100 police and relief workers sifted through over 2,000 tons of rock and soil from the excavation. They were searching for something, but what were they searching for, who were they searching for?

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Case 33: Waikino School Shooting

WAIKINO. WAIKATO. 19th of October 1923. 10 am. The Headmaster of Waikino School Robert Theodore Reid was in the teacher's room, perhaps going over some reports, perhaps grading some papers. The classrooms were full of children, maybe learning English, a bit of maths, or even history and undoubtedly looking forward to the morning break only half an hour away. 

The Headmaster Robert Reid had brought his dog Pax (a brown and white setter) with him to work, as he had done many times before. Pax spent the day in the school’s front yard, presumably sleeping most of the daylight away, as Pax seldom made a fuss.

However, as the clock ticked over to 10.10 am, Pax began barking loudly. Curious about what had caught the canine’s attention, Robert arose from his desk and wandered through the entrance to the front door. He opened the door to see a man in his 50s, 6 feet tall, tanned and sporting a small moustache approaching the school. As the man got closer to the entrance he announced his hideous intentions to Headmaster Robert Reid, “I’m here for revenge!”.

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Case 32: The Newlands Baby Farmer (PART II)

NEWLANDS. WELLINGTON. Hugo Lupi was born sometime in the late 1800s possibly in Cairo, Egypt, to an Italian family. Hugo immigrated to New Zealand in 1912 and eventually settled in the South Island city of Dunedin. While in the Land of the Long White Cloud, Hugo became a sailor, before giving up the sea life to become a pie-shop proprietor.

Hugo Lupi was married, it is unclear when exactly he ‘tied the knot’ but it is probable it was sometime after he arrived in New Zealand in 1912 as it would seem he had his first child to his wife in the late 1910s.

However, Hugo began employing a woman by the name of Lily Lister sometime around Christmas 1921. The twosome began an affair. 

In April 1922, Hugo Lupi left Dunedin and moved to the Wellington suburb of Island Bay with his wife and children, leaving his mistress behind.

It would seem that Hugo found employment as a fisherman in the new location but also did some carpentry work on the side. This is where he met a man who would become important to his life. Hugo had helped the man build a house in Island Bay sometime between April and June of 1922. Hugo received no payment for his help as it was understood that the man would help him build his own home at a later date as compensation. This is where Hugo got to know the man a little bit, including that he ran a specialist health business that ‘helped’ women ‘in the family way’.

In June 1922, Lily Lister joined Hugo in Wellington where he found her a job at a cafe on Willis Street in central Wellington. Although, Hugo was surprised to find out she was also approximately four months pregnant with his child.

This is when Hugo Lupi remembered the man he helped build the house with earlier in the year, the man with the specialist business in helping women ‘up the duff’, Daniel Richard Cooper.

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Case 32: The Newlands Baby Farmer (PART I)

NEWLANDS. WELLINGTON. In the 1800s to early 1920s, there was another, more controversial, type of farming going on, baby farming. Baby farming is the historical practice of accepting custody of an infant or child in exchange for payment. This was usually due to the child being born ‘illegitimate’ (meaning the child was born outside of a marriage, also known as bastardy) and the social stigma that it carried on the mother. 

Some baby farmers ‘adopted’ children for lump-sum payments, while others cared for infants for periodic payments. However, in the case of a lump-sum adoption, it was more profitable for the baby farmers if the child was no longer around, as the sum would not cover the care for the child for long. In these cases, the child was sometimes adopted out to other families, and in other cases, the child simply died due to unsanitary and subpar living conditions. However, finally and most sinister, occasionally the baby farmer would commit the most heinous of acts and murder the child; pocketing the adoption fee.

These acts came to light most infamously when English serial killer and baby farmer Amelia Dyer dubbed the Ogress of Reading was officially tried and hanged in 1896 for intentionally killing six children for profit but it is estimated the real number of child deaths she was responsible for was closer to 400.

New Zealand had its own baby farmer scandal late in the 1800s when Minnie Dean was tried and hanged for the murder of three children in 1895.

However, in the early 1920s, baby farming became a topic of controversy once more within NZ as a new scandal gripped the public. With headlines splattered over the NZ Truth newspaper such as “The Newlands Horror”, “A Gruesome Discovery” and “The Massacre of the Innocents”, the public was enraptured yet horrified with what was being uncovered. The case would go on to become one of NZ’s most discussed and pondered tragedies of the 1920s. This is the story of The Newlands Baby Farmer.

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Case 31: Christchurch House of Horrors (PART II)

CHRISTCHURCH. CANTERBURY. Thursday. 25th of September 2008. Some time between 11 am and 12.30 pm. 32-year-old Jason Somerville is home alone at his house, 312 Wainoni Road, on the corner of Hampshire Street and Wainoni Road in the Christchurch suburb of Aranui, his wife Rebecca Chamberlain was out and about.

“I was outside [chopping] some wood, came in to get a drink, someone was knocking at the front door. It was her…”. ‘Her’ was 28-year-old Tisha Lowry wearing a Chicago Bulls jacket and jeans who had just walked home from the nearby Bower Tavern. It would seem that Tisha had been to Jason’s house previously (she lived only two doors away with her grandfather), what she had come over for this day is unknown.

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Case 31: Christchurch House of Horrors (PART I)

CHRISTCHURCH. CANTERBURY. Within the eastern suburbs of Christchurch, on the South Island of New Zealand, you will find Aranui. Originally called Flemington (after one time resident of the area Jubal Fleming), Aranui (a Māori word meaning great path) was officially established in 1912.

Found in the middle of Aranui is Hampshire Street, dubbed by many “the worst street in Christchurch”. During the 1990s, Hampshire Street was infamous for many instances of violent crime including a 13-year-old boy who was shot by his best friend, a fish and chips shop being firebombed and many occurrences of teenagers being stabbed.

In the 2000s, Hampshire Street improved its standing in Aranui, mostly with the help of the Aranui Community Trust and a Labour government that helped revitalise state housing areas. However, Hampshire Street still saw its fair share of violent crime. 

Of those crimes, none are more infamous than the depravity that took place in the house on the corner of Hampshire Street and Wainoni Road, between the years 2008 and 2009. The debaucherous, degenerate and depraved crimes shocked, not only the residents of Aranui, or the citizens of New Zealand but the world at large. 

This is the tale of that wickedness, an account of the folk that frequented the house at the corner of Hampshire Street and Wainoni Road, the story of the building that forever became known as The Christchurch House of Horrors.

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