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Photo: Ivan Di Marco / EyeEm
Photo: Ivan Di Marco / EyeEm

SocietyAugust 11, 2020

I complained about my stalker, over and over again. Then he killed

Photo: Ivan Di Marco / EyeEm
Photo: Ivan Di Marco / EyeEm

Content warning: This pieces includes discussion of harassment, stalking and violence.

‘I don’t sleep. I’m terrified.’ Sophia shares her story with Emily Writes.

Sophia* was 19 and a talented swimmer. She was teaching swimming lessons at an Auckland public pool with a gym attached and one day, while she was using the gym, a man chose the exercise bike next to hers. He started a conversation.

Jack seemed harmless at first. He told Sophia he had never learned to swim and wanted to book in a lesson with her. They had one lesson.

This was 2012. What followed was years of stalking and terrifying harassment by a man who became a murderer.

“He began watching my lessons from then on,” Sophia said. She immediately modified her behaviour to keep away from him. “I would turn and run my classes from the other direction. I also kept my distance if we happened to be in the gym at the same time – if he got on a machine next to mine, I would immediately move to one further away. Everyone I worked with commented on it.”

She then noticed on Facebook that Jack had been trying to contact her. “I discovered all of these messages in a hidden Facebook inbox. They obviously concerned me. He spoke about me very possessively, saying he loved me and wanted to marry me, and had sent abusive and even threatening messages because I was not responding.”

The Spinoff has viewed 10 pages of messages that include comments like, “You just don’t give a fuck do you? I can make you go to Hell bitch.”

Sophia replied only twice, once to say she was contacting police, and again a year later to say she would go to court if he didn’t stop. “I don’t know you and I do not want to speak to you. I have spoken to the police, please do not contact me again.”

He replied: “What makes you think the police will care?”

Jack contacted Sophia’s friend’s boyfriend on Facebook and threatened him too. Sophia was terrified and immediately went to Auckland Central Police. It was the same station Anne, whose story is told here, complained of rape to, only to wait nine months for a detective to be assigned to her case. It was Anne’s story that prompted Sophia to tell her own.

“I gave the police all of the messages and told them that this man was often at my workplace when I was, and that I was concerned for my safety given his threats and obsession with me when we had barely ever spoken to each other. They handed me a victim support pamphlet and never got back in touch.”

A police spokesperson has confirmed the complaint was received.

Over the next six months, the messages continued. Sophia went to the police every Saturday for months with print-outs of the new messages and details of how he’d followed her bus home in his car. She called every week. They did nothing, she said.

“I was told that his behaviour and messages did not constitute a threat and that it was my responsibility to deal with – if I wanted him to stop, all I could do was take him to court myself for a restraining order.”

A police spokesperson confirmed that they were “aware civil proceedings were undertaken in late 2012”.

Sophia spent more than $6,000 taking Jack to court for a restraining order. “I had to face him and be in a courtroom with him for hours on the day of my hearing. The judge seemed confused as to why we were there – she asked me what the police were doing about it.”

Jack immediately broke the restraining order. He continued to contact Sophia and she kept telling the police, she said. She couldn’t understand why they did not act on the breach of restraining order. He trespassed her workplace. There were threats to kill her lawyer and her boss, she said. Despite the fact that she’d lost faith in the system, she kept reporting the threats and stalking.

In 2013, a full nine months after Sophia’s first complaint, she was contacted by an officer who said he would issue Jack with a warning. Sophia said the officer told her Jack was not a threat and had no history of violence or “history with police”.

A police spokesperson told The Spinoff: “Multiple attempts to speak with the subject of the complaint were made, however it was established that he was overseas at the time.”

Despite this, police said, “a formal warning was issued in relation to his behaviour”. It is unclear how a warning was issued yet police were unable to speak with him. Sophie continued to get messages from Jack into 2014. Her lawyer also complained to police about new threats from Jack. In 2015, she found out Jack had been looking for her at the pool where she’d worked.

That same year, Sophia found out she wasn’t the only one Jack had been stalking. She discovered this after police called her into the station. “They couldn’t give me any details as he still had name suppression then, but I was assured it was nothing at all similar or to do with what I had been through,” she said.

Nothing at all?

Jack had murdered a sleeping teenager with a hammer. The teenager was the boyfriend of a young woman he had been stalking since 2010. He had killed the young man as he slept next to the woman, also a teenager, whom he’d been stalking. She woke to find her boyfriend’s body lying next to her and Jack in the same bed.

Jack had apparently stalked her throughout the period that he’d stalked Sophia. She was the same age as Sophia and they lived in the same area. We have agreed to use pseudonyms in this story because Sophia is terrified that Jack will come after her when he is released.

“I knew as soon as police called that he’d killed someone. It was not a surprise to me in the slightest. It’s always an escalation. These things are always an escalation, it’s always the next step. I knew it would happen.”

Sophia lives with anger and fear. She has never stopped being afraid of the man she barely spoke to almost a decade ago.

“I believe that if my complaint had been taken seriously, he would have had a criminal record. He would have had a record of harassment, stalking and violent threats. He would not have been allowed near that girl and her boyfriend most likely would not have been killed.”

After the murder trial, Sophia complained to the Independent Police Conduct Authority. The Spinoff asked the IPCA for a copy of the report but they said they could not provide it.

“The complaint was investigated by the New Zealand Police with oversight of the police investigation by the authority – the IPCA did not publish a public report in relation to this matter,” said a spokesperson.

The IPCA did not respond when asked why there is not a public report.

Sophia showed The Spinoff the letter she received from the IPCA.

“The police investigation concluded that your original complaint was assessed and dealt with appropriately at the time and that there was no indication of the tragic events that would unfold some time later in relation to [victim].”

Sophia doesn’t agree that her almost five years of stalking was dealt with appropriately. As far as she knows, there was nothing on his file about her complaints. “If there had been some history, anything at all – they would have taken it into account. There was nothing there about stalking or anything inappropriate.”

Jack will be up for parole in July 2025. Because Sophia was never considered a victim, she is not legally allowed to know when or if he is let out. She says she has lost all faith in New Zealand Police. She is traumatised both by Jack’s stalking and her treatment by police.

“I do not trust the police with anything. All I’ve seen from them since is mistake after mistake. I have been so angry with them for so long, and now I’m at the point where I have to try and let go of my anger so I can focus on staying alive once he’s let out. I have five years left before my life will change. I will spend the rest of my life looking over my shoulder, seeing his face in crowds, not able to sleep through noises I hear during the night,” she said.

“I genuinely don’t know how I made it through those years before he was arrested – I struggle more and more as time goes on. Facing a belligerent police officer a number of times, arguing with you at every sentence, isn’t easy. I can feel my anxiety increasing every year. I look carefully at every police car driving by, I blockade the doors when my partner goes away for work, I leave the lights on overnight, I don’t sleep. I’m terrified.”

New Zealand Police said through a spokesperson: “The murder of [redacted] which occurred three years after this initial complaint was a tragedy but Police are not aware that these matters are in any way related.”

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