Murder of Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen

Swedish tourists Sven Urban Höglin, 23, and his fiancée Heidi Birgitta Paakkonen, 21, disappeared while tramping on the Coromandel Peninsula of New Zealand in 1989. Police, residents, and military personnel conducted the largest land-based search undertaken in New Zealand, attempting to find the couple.[1] In December 1990, David Wayne Tamihere (born 1953) was convicted of murdering the pair, and sentenced to life imprisonment based largely on the testimony of three prison inmates.[2][3] Höglin's body was discovered in 1991, revealing evidence which contradicted the police case against Tamihere, who has always maintained he is innocent of the murders[4] and filed a series of unsuccessful appeals during the 1990s. Tamihere was released on parole in November 2010 after serving 20 years.[5] In 2017, Secret Witness C, one of the former prisoners who had testified against Tamihere at his murder trial, was found guilty of perjury. On 26 April 2018, the identity of Witness C was revealed as Robert Conchie Harris. He had originally been convicted of the double murder of a couple in 1983.

Urban Höglin and Heidi Paakkonen
Thames is located in New Zealand


On 8 April 1989, backpacking tourists Höglin and Paakkonen from Storfors, Sweden went into the bush near Thames. They vanished and were reported missing in May. The disappearance led to an intense police investigation under the name Operation Stockholm and attracted substantial media interest. Police, local residents, search and rescue and military personnel carried out the largest land-based search undertaken in New Zealand, performing grid-searches centred on Crosbie's Clearing, 12 km from Thames.[1]

David TamihereEdit


David Tamihere is the brother of former MP John Tamihere.

David Tamihere had a prior conviction for the manslaughter of an Auckland stripper, 23-year-old Mary Barcham, whom he killed in 1972 when he was 18 by hitting her on the head with a rifle.[2] In April 1986 he broke into an Auckland house, where he sexually violated and threatened to kill a 47-year-old woman over six hours. He pleaded guilty, but fled while on bail and was still at large, living rough in the bush on the Coromandel Peninsula when the two tourists disappeared. He was not found until 1989 after which he was jailed for six and a half years for the 1986 offences.[6] In 1992 he was found guilty of assaulting a 62-year-old woman in her home in 1985.[2]


After absconding, David Tamihere lived rough in the bush in the Coromandel area for three years before Hoglin and Paakonen disappeared.[6][7] He moved around in the area and said, after his arrest on the rape case, that he came across the Swedish couple's white Subaru on 10 April 1989. It was parked at Crosbies Clearing and 'loaded with gear'. He says he broke into the car, planning on driving up to Auckland, but the next day, he gave three visitors to the area a tour of the peninsula. He drove one of the tourists to Auckland the day after that and dumped the car at the Auckland Railway Station.[8]

Tamihere was picked up on the 1986 rape charge on 24 May 1989, two days before the story broke that the Swedes were missing.[8] His link to the Swedish couple surfaced when one of the three tourists recognised photographs of the Swedish couple's car and told police in June 1989 that Tamihere had given him a ride in it.[9]

Tamihere was already in prison on the rape charge when he was charged with murdering the Swedes. He was tried for their murders in October 1990. At the trial, three witnesses (fellow inmates of Tamihere's, granted name suppression by the court) gave evidence that Tamihere had confessed the murder to them. One of the inmates told the court that Tamihere said he tied Höglin to a tree and sexually abused him before raping Paakkonen. Two trampers also identified Tamihere as a man they saw with a woman believed to be Paakkonen in a remote clearing.[7][10] In December 1990, the jury found Tamihere guilty of the murder and theft, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a 10-year non-parole period.[11]


Paakkonen's body has never been found.[6] In October 1991, ten months after Tamihere's conviction, pig hunters discovered Hoglin's body near Whangamata 73 km from where police alleged the murders took place.[2][10] With the body was a watch which police had claimed at his trial Tamihere had given to his son following the murders. Discovery of the body also contradicted the testimony of the fellow prison inmate who said Tamihere had confessed to cutting up the bodies and throwing them into the ocean (and that he had sexually abused the couple).[7][10] Based on these evidential discrepancies, Tamihere appealed his convictions. The Court of Appeal of New Zealand rejected the case in May 1992 arguing there was "nothing substantive in defence claims that the skeleton revealed new evidence"[12] and that the Crown had provided "convincing circumstantial proof".[2] In 1994 Tamihere was also denied leave to appeal to the Privy Council.


On 3 November 2010, Tamihere was granted parole, to be released on 15 November.[13] At a parole board hearing on 11 November 2011 he was said to have spent several months in hospital due to on-going health issues but was otherwise actively involved in marae activities and carving, being actively supported by his family. His parole conditions were relaxed.[14]

Tamihere continues to maintain his innocence, claiming he was framed by police. A 2012 interview with TV One's Sunday current affairs program, in which he advanced this claim, was widely watched with 413,300 viewers.[15] During filming, the film crew flew him by helicopter over areas prohibited to him by his parole conditions and while the parole board chose not to revoke his parole,[16] police charged him in relation to the incident.[17]

Royal prerogative of mercyEdit

On 21 April 2020, Tamihere was granted a royal prerogative of mercy by the governor-general, Dame Patsy Reddy, on the advice of the Minister of Justice, Andrew Little, which means that the case will be referred back to the Court of Appeal.[18]

Secret Witness CEdit

Three prison inmates testified against Tamihere at his trial. One of them, known as Secret Witness C, who has permanent name suppression, claimed that Tamihere confessed to him in prison that he had beaten Urban Höglin over the head with a lump of wood and dumped the couple's bodies at sea. He also claimed Tamihere told him he gave Hoglin's watch to his son.[19] Höglin's remains were eventually found near Whangamata on 10 October 1991 with his skull still intact and the watch still on his wrist.[19]

On 25 August 1995, five years after the trial, Witness C swore an affidavit retracting this statement, saying police had fed him the information, and told him: “a sum of money up to $100,000 was available should I decide to give a statement helpful to the Police". The prisoner also claimed the police indicated they would support his early release at his parole hearing if he did what they wanted.[20]

The existence of this affidavit only came to light a year later on 17 July 1996, when Witness C spoke to broadcaster Paul Holmes in a prison telephone interview. He publicly admitted to lying at Tamihere's trial and confirmed that the affidavit he had signed in 1995, stating that he had lied and given false evidence, was the truth. He told Holmes that his original testimony against Tamihere had been "playing on his mind" and "they definitely have an innocent man inside".[21] The publicity created immediate concerns about police conduct in the case, leading a Member of Parliament to request a ministerial inquiry. The Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) was also asked to investigate the police handling of the case. The IPCA eventually concluded that the police had not been guilty of any wrongdoing,[20] and Minister of Justice Doug Graham rejected a call for further inquiry.

Witness C later tried to withdraw his affidavit and claimed that his original trial testimony was the correct version of events. He said he only signed the affidavit because he and his family were under threat of violent reprisal because of his reputation as a jailhouse "nark".[22] Twenty years later, long after Tamihere had been released on parole, jailhouse lawyer Arthur Taylor brought a private prosecution against Witness C for perjury. In August 2017, Witness C, who still has name suppression, was found guilty on eight charges of perjury. Taylor was represented in court by lawyer Murray Gibson, who said the verdict called into question everything about Mr. Tamihere's conviction.[23]

On 25 October 2017, Witness C was sentenced to 8 years 7 months on each of the eight charges of perjury, the sentences to be served concurrently.[24]

On 26 April 2018, the identity of Witness C, the prisoner whose false testimony in 1990 helped convict David Tamihere to jail for 20 years, was revealed as Robert Conchie Harris. He had originally been convicted of the double murder of a couple in 1983.[25]

Other developmentsEdit

In November 2009, New Zealand journalist Pat Booth, formerly a journalist of the Auckland Star, alleged that the Crown prosecutor and the police inquiry head in the Tamihere case were both leading figures in the earlier prosecution of Arthur Allan Thomas which had involved the planting of evidence, perjury, and withholding of information and evidence from the defence.[26]

In May 2017, Alan Ford, an experienced bushman, found a plastic bag containing three pairs of women's leggings in the rugged bush on the Whangamātā Peninsula about 15 km from where Urban Höglin's remains had been found. Ford took the bag and clothing to the Whangamata police station. Two months later, a police constable emailed him saying that his senior officer had "no interest in the items" and that they wouldn't be testing them. The constable said Ford could pick up the items the next time he came to town. On 7 July, Ford went to the police station but was told the items had been destroyed on 9 June, a month before the constable had indicated by email that the items still existed.[27]

Media interestEdit

The TV3 show Inside New Zealand: What's Your Verdict? re-examined the case with a television jury in 2007.[10]

Filmmaker Bryan Bruce made a documentary Murder, They Said in 1996 examining the case,[28] and wrote the book Hard Cases, which puts forward the theory Tamihere did not act alone, on the basis that as there were no defensive cuts to the bones of his hands, Höglin may have been held from behind while being stabbed from the front.[29]

In 1999, Leanne Pooley made a television documentary Relative Guilt about the impact on Tamihere's extended family of his arrest, trial and conviction. The documentary won Best Documentary at the 2000 Qantas Media Awards.[30]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b Garner, Theresa (9 April 1999). "Friendships born out of tragedy". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  2. ^ a b c d e "Swedes' killer up for parole but history is against him". The New Zealand Herald. 1 December 2000. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  3. ^ "Tamihere denied parole for eighth time". The New Zealand Herald. 5 December 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  4. ^ @nickjonesnzer, Nicholas Jones Nicholas Jones is an investigative reporter at the New Zealand Herald (March 5, 2012). "Big audiences for Bain, Tamihere interviews" – via
  5. ^ Carolyne Meng-Yee (7 November 2010). "Tamihere home in eight days". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 11 September 2011.
  6. ^ a b c Mussen, Deidre (5 April 2009). "Heidi's family cling to hope". Sunday Star Times. Retrieved 25 April 2012.
  7. ^ a b c R v Tamihere (No 2) (1990) 7 CRNZ 594
  8. ^ a b "The Tamihere case: In the Shadow of Murder".
  9. ^ "Heidi's family cling to hope". Stuff.
  10. ^ a b c d Stokes, Jon (12 March 2007). "Brother believes convicted killer will be out by 2009". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  11. ^ "Tamihere denied parole for ninth time". The New Zealand Herald. 10 November 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  12. ^ "Tamihere and Thomas – worrying links". Stuff.
  13. ^ NZ Herald staff, NZPA (3 November 2010). "David Tamihere to be released from prison". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 2010-11-04.
  14. ^ "Tamihere - David Wayne". 2011. Retrieved 7 December 2011. Unfortunately, the progress report shows that he has continued to be plagued with serious health issues. It is estimated he has spent about three months in the hospital now. Today however Mr. Tamihere was looking well. [Withheld] says that she has lived with these medical crises but he seems now to be improving. Certainly when out of hospital he has been active and actively involved in marae activities, carving and so forth.
  15. ^ "Big audiences for Bain, Tamihere interviews". 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012. TV One's Sunday, featuring David Tamihere, was seen by 413,300 viewers.
  16. ^ "Tamihere to remain free despite breach". 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012. Convicted double-killer David Tamihere will not be recalled to prison despite breaching his parole conditions by flying over the crime scene with a television crew.
  17. ^ "Tamihere in court for parole breach". 2012. Retrieved 25 April 2012. Convicted killer David Tamihere has pleaded not guilty to breaching his parole conditions by flying over a crime scene with a television crew.
  18. ^ Smith, Anneke (21 April 2020). "David Tamihere's murder convictions referred back to Court of Appeal". RNZ News. Retrieved 21 April 2020.
  19. ^ a b "David Tamihere shows emotion as he recounts sexual assault allegations". 29 August 2017. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  20. ^ a b Report By The Police Complaints Authority On The Investigation Into The Validity Of Affidavit Of Witness C, Police Complaints Authority. 3 September 1996.
  21. ^ Witness C perjury trial scrutinises Sir Paul Holmes prison phone interview from 1996, NZ Herald, 30 August 2017
  22. ^ "Witness C perjury trial scrutinises Sir Paul Holmes prison phone interview from 1996". New Zealand Herald – 30 August 2017. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  23. ^ "Tamihere witness found guilty of perjury". Radio NZ – 1 September 2017. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  24. ^ "Witness C jailed for David Tamihere murder trial perjury". New Zealand Herald – 25 October 2017. Retrieved 7 November 2017.
  25. ^ "Revealed: The identity of secret Witness C whose false testimony helped send David Tamihere to jail for 20 years for the 1990 Swedish backpacker murders". Television New Zealand – 26 April 2018. Retrieved 26 April 2018.
  26. ^ "Tamihere and Thomas – worrying links". 16 November 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2017.
  27. ^ "Swedish murders: Clothing found near murder site sparks renewed interest in case". 20 August 2017. Retrieved 19 August 2017.
  28. ^ "Film : F26819". The Film Archive. Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 2009-11-11.
  29. ^ "Shock new theory on Tamihere's Swedish murders". Sunday Star Times. 2 August 2008. Retrieved 2009-11-10.
  30. ^ Screen, NZ On. "Relative Guilt | Television | NZ On Screen". Retrieved 2019-08-25.