Home' Greymouth Star : February 28th 2015 Contents Greymouth Star
Saturday, February 28, 2015 - 7
I heard a single gunshot.
It was very, very loud, the
birds flew away. Then dead
silence. I dropped the hose
and ran inside, I got quite
a fright. I went to the front
window and had a look
around, but I couldn’t see anything
Mary Tapp, one of a handful of
residents at Kakapotahi in South
Westland, soon forgot about
the gunshot that shattered that
December morning in 1998. That is,
until a body was found on the Bold
Head beach a few kilometres away.
The body was identified as David
John Robinson, who was just 25. A
homeless, petty thief, not even from
the West Coast, he had been executed
with a single gunshot.
His body was found days, even
weeks, after he was murdered.
To this day, police have failed to
find the murder weapon, murder
scene, his bag — or the murderer.
Of course, Mrs Tapp cannot be sure
the gunshot she heard in her garden
at 10 o’clock that morning was the
one that killed Robinson, but her
house is only 1km from the beach,
although a fair distance from where
the body was washed up.
She also thinks she saw Robinson
in the days leading up to his murder,
on the Bold Head Road by the State
highway bridge across the Mikonui
River, although because she did not
get a good look at his face it is hard
to be sure.
In the days that followed the
murder, police went door to door,
asking everyone in the Ross district
if they had guns. For some time
after the incident “did make me very
ner vous”, Mrs Tapp says.
Ross resident Roger Smales
positively sighted Robinson, probably
four or five days before he was killed.
The Smales were having a picnic
with some others at the Totara River,
when he walked past carrying a
bucket and fire shovel.
“ Looking for gold, mate?” Mr
Smales asked, admitting he was being
Robinson did not answer.
After leaving the women, Mr
Smales and two other men drove to
the river mouth and saw Robinson
again, walking. The next day, he went
trout fishing at the Waitaha River,
further south and again spotted
Robinson, in the distance walking
towards them. But then he swer ved
inland and Mr Smales “never saw
Fast for ward to December 28,
1998. Siblings Carol and Stuart Geal,
whose parents lived at Kakapotahi,
were driving on the beach in Stuart’s
“ I was looking at all the driftwood
and bits and bobs and I said to my
brother, ‘there’s a body on the beach,
stop!’” Ms Geal says.
“He said ‘no, it’s a seal’. It was
really bloated, and it must have been
burnt by the sun. I stayed inside the
Landrover. My brother stopped and
walked over. It was face down in the
sand at the high tide mark. He didn’t
They called the police.
It was later, when she saw
Robinson’s photo in the newspaper,
that it became more unsettling. He
became more real to her.
Mr Geal returned to the beach with
“They were quite surprised,” he said.
“They thought it was going to be a
seal. Apparently lots of people notify
them of seals which they think are
The body, he says, had no shirt or
shoes, and was face down in the sand.
Police started looking in his trouser
pockets for information that would
“They rolled him over, and there
was a gunshot wound in the head.”
Former Greymouth detective Rob
Nicholl was second-in-charge for the
murder investigation that followed.
There were five homicides in his time.
The same time Robinson’s body was
found, Kirsty Bentley went missing
in Ashburton — that murder also
“He was a loner, a vagrant, a thief,
and opportunist,” Mr Nicholl says of
“He was driven out of Southland
(his residence before he came to the
Coast) by the police down there. His
parents were good people, and he did
his own thing.”
Despite exhaustive efforts, police
never found the murder scene,
murder weapon, or Robinson’s
backpack. His body was badly
His movements proved hard to
trace. After he had been released on
bail, it is thought he walked a lot
of the way down the West Coast.
Reaching the Totara River, where the
going got tough, he followed the old
Hokitika-Ross railway line.
He was not, Mr Nicholl believes, a
“ To be successful as a dealer
you’ve got to have contacts in the
community. It ’s an unlikely scenario.
“But there’s a distinct possibility
he was an opportunist — that
he found a (cannabis) plot and has
helped himself, and been caught out.
There’s a few people we looked at
There was little to help the police
An ocean buoy used to monitor sea
currents, had been removed before
the murder and taken to Auckland
for the America’s Cup. The drift
is normally north, but at times it
changes, so the body could have
been dumped on the beach, or in the
Totara or Kakapotahi rivers.
Mr Nicholl says he still believes
someone from Ross was responsible
for the murder.
But the odds were against the
police: “ We had no fresh body,
never found the crime scene, never
had a clear motive, never found the
Haast policeman Rob Manera was
one of the few people to spend time
with Robinson, but he recalls that he
said very little.
He found the “tall, slim and quiet ”
man under a bridge at Greenstone
Creek, on the highway heading from
Haast township towards Haast Pass.
While talking, Mr Manera
recognised some of Robinson’s
camping gear, which had been stolen
from a campground at Pleasant Flat,
at the pass.
“ I started talking to him and he
bolted into the scrub. ”
He was arrested, and driven up to
the police cells in Greymouth. On
the drive north he “never said a heck
of a lot”.
Robinson was bailed to a halfway
house in Cobden, but he did a bunk
and failed to appear in court a few
weeks after. The next certain sighting,
Mr Manera says, was when his body
was found on the beach.
The Greymouth Star reported at the
time that three campsites in the open
air were found, suggesting he had
slept on a groundsheet either in the
open or under natural shelter.
An aunt in Hokitika said at the
time her nephew, from Rotorua, was
bright but a loner. Although he was
unemployed he did not receive the
On January 8, 1999, police executed
five search warrants in Ross and
recovered a firearm as well as some
class A and B drugs, but they said
this was not connected with the
The 15-strong inquiry team
canvassed about 65km of bush, and
fliers were sent out all over South
Tantalising clues, such as reports of
two footprints in the sand — one
much smaller than Robinson’s —
In 2009, police offered a $50,000
reward and immunity from
prosecution for information leading
to an arrest. It also came to nothing.
Stuart Geal still wonders what
happened on the remote beach that
day. Did a cannabis dealer come
across Robinson interfering with his
plants? Did he panic? Was there a
And, he says, why did the culprit(s)
not drag the body to the nearby sand
dunes, where it could easily have been
buried by hand, no shovels needed?
After all these years, his sister
wonders why someone has not let
“ What ’s concerning, is that
someone has not been caught.”
“And there were indications it was
someone local. ”
David John Robinson
Murderat Bold Head
A remote, windswept beach and a young man is executed ‘gangland’ style with a bullet between
the eyes. The cold-blooded Bold Head murder has fallen off the public radar and for the police it
remains a West Coast cold case. LAURA MILLS travelled back to 1998, and the unsolved murder
of transient David John Robinson.
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