Twenty-two years ago this week, troubled 20-year-old Lisa Blakie was murdered after she started hitchhiking towards the West Coast. The man convicted of the killing remains in jail, but some say police have the wrong man. Martin van Beynen investigates.
The Yaldhurst service station on the outskirts of Christchurch is a well-known spot to hitch a ride to the West Coast.
It’s about midday and a slight young woman with shoulder-length brown hair has her thumb out.
For company, she has her dog Kaos, a pup really, part-pitbull, part-Labrador, and no doubt much else. She is travelling with a large cream suitcase and a plain khaki kit bag.
The suitcase contains her teddy bear, pills, soft toys and books on astral travel, palmistry, dreams, Chinese horoscopes, reflexology and witchcraft. A hard-covered exercise book is filled with her poems. A line from one reads: “…men’s poison running through my veins caused by a broken heart.”
The day is cool with sunny spells and a stiff breeze blows from the south across the Canterbury Plains.
She is wearing a strapless, tie-dyed purple mini dress, bought only the month before in Queenstown, pants, and a black woollen jersey. She stands in thick-soled, black Doc Martens with a stud in her tongue and a Taurus bull tattooed on the back of her neck.
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Some motorists driving past feel apprehensive for her.
“I remember she looked so vulnerable because she was young and very attractive,” one says later.
A curious service station attendant watches the hitchhiker, who has bought a chicken roll, a $20 phone charge card and a Primo chocolate milk drink from the service station’s shop.
The next minute she is gone. Her ride is a gingery-headed man called Timothy David Taylor, just turned 30, who lives in Darfield and is driving a messy pale yellow 1983 Ford Cortina.
The day is Wednesday, February 2, 2000. After 1pm, the young woman goes missing.
On Sunday morning, February 6, some visiting American fishermen find the young hitchhiker’s body in the Porter River near a lay-by. It’s big, open country about 70 minutes’ drive from Yaldhurst. Her body, face down and facing upstream, is mostly underwater and immediately below a willow tree. A 104kg boulder is on her shoulder and her sunglasses are in the water about 15m away.
The body is soon identified. She is Lisa Ann Blakie, 20, from Timaru. She has been strangled and has seven knife wounds in her left leg.
On the run
On the day when she was hitchhiking, Lisa was on the run. She was headed to Greymouth to meet up with an old boyfriend, nicknamed Spaz, who was a member of the Epitaph Riders motorcycle gang. Her idea was to regroup, then head to Nelson, and afterwards to Australia to see her mother.
Moving frequently, she had only recently come back to live in her hometown. The plan was to work at Candy’s brothel in Queenstown and live in Timaru on a week-on, week-off basis.
In the short time she had been back in Timaru, she had been drinking heavily and taking pills, mainly appetite suppressants, sleep medication and anti-anxiety drugs. A friend thought she seemed paranoid.
On February 1, when she was supposed to be back at Candy’s, she rang home, upset, crying, saying “they are going to get me”. She had broadcast the same fears to several other friends.
Candy’s was run by the Devil’s Henchmen gang, and perhaps she meant they were going to force her to go back to work.
The night before, she had been parked outside the house of Nathan Williams (Willie), a patched Henchman, with whom she had been in some sort of relationship since Christmas. Williams was a drug dealer and pimp and Lisa was fed up with him. She was not in the Henchmen’s good books because she had gone to a party put on by rival gang the Road Knights. Lisa was outside Williams’ house, honking her car horn. Williams had come out, and later told police he had told Lisa to come in or f… off.
“We are not about to kill a chick because she went to the homos,” he would say when he became a suspect.
In any event, Lisa felt she needed to get out of town, quickly. She had also told a friend she knew enough to “put away a few boys for a long time”.
After Lisa’s distressed call home on February 1, her father Doug, a railway worker, picked her up from a friend’s place and drove her to Christchurch where she stayed the night with a fellow sex worker in a secure flat in the central city.
At their parting, Doug told Lisa not to come back to Timaru until she had sorted her life out. She gave him a hug and told him she loved him.
She intended to take the bus to Greymouth but missed it, and on February 2 took a taxi to the Yaldhurst hitchhiking point, arriving just before midday.
A life sentence
Timothy David Taylor was found guilty of murdering Lisa after a jury trial in Christchurch in April 2002.
He was jailed for life and not released under strict conditions until April 2021. He is a difficult man to champion. By December, he had breached his release conditions by going to Manchester St 13 times to visit sex workers and was recalled to prison, where he waits for another parole hearing.
In 2021, Taylor’s legal team lodged an application with the Criminal Cases Review Commission to have Taylor’s case looked at again. The commission has yet to decide whether it will take the case on.
Taylor’s case is partly spearheaded by Bridget McMenamin, a former detective who worked on the Blakie inquiry and who, disillusioned, left the police in 2002. Doug Blakie is also convinced Taylor did not kill Lisa.
In short, they believe Henchmen gang members went after Lisa on February 2 and found her near Porters Pass, after Taylor had dropped her off. They killed her and did not deposit her body in the Porter River until several days later.
Doug Blakie says the key to allaying his concerns about Taylor’s guilt lie with a former Henchman, now in Australia, who has eluded a DNA test.
Blakie believes there’s a good chance the former Henchman can be linked to a 4cm hair found on Lisa’s stomach. The hair was neither hers nor Taylor’s.
“That could blow the case wide open,” Doug Blakie says. He reckons the record of calls between Henchmen and their contacts shows that they knew Lisa was dead by February 2.
He’s cagey about some other information which he believes supports the theory, wanting to put it before the commission first.
Taylor had reasons to be terrified of the Henchmen and therefore lied repeatedly to protect himself and others, he says.
“He took the rap. He was the fall guy.”
“I’m looking for closure,” says Blakie. “I want to get the guys who did it.”
Police declined to comment for this article but have in the past said they investigated the Henchmen intensely for at least six weeks after Lisa’s murder, but could not find a connection between the gang and Lisa’s death.
Attracted to gangs
Although only 20, Lisa had seen much of the underbelly of New Zealand life. Her world was a tangled drama of high-paying sex work, sickness, drinking, drugs, gangs and constant moves. Romantic and in some ways naive, she hankered after something different but was in very deep. She loved her family and kept the more sordid details of her life from them.
Lisa liked to go out with white power-type gang members. Some said she did it for the status and that she couldn’t make up her mind if she was a biker chick, a hippie or something else. She started with the Lost Breed in Nelson, progressed to the Epitaph Riders, had connections in the Road Knights and ended up with the Devil’s Henchmen. None were known for treating women well.
Lisa first met Nathan Williams, then 27, around the Christmas before she died. Her contacts at Candy’s had mentioned him, and she took a $200 taxi ride from Queenstown to Timaru to find out more. Her friend and fellow sex worker Debbie Wilson (deceased) was tied up with Williams’ flatmate, another Henchman called Matthew Cook (Slippery), 28. After the Christmas meeting, Lisa and Wilson put their new boyfriends up in a flash Queenstown hotel over the New Year. They worked and paid for everything while the men partied.
Lisa’s life could have been very different. She was bright and did well at school, but after her parents’ marriage broke up, she became transient, refusing to live at home.
She began working in massage parlours and by Christmas of 1997, only 17, she was living in the bleak Greymouth suburb of Cobden and working as a prostitute from home. When she tried to work as a check-out operator at the SuperValue, she lasted a day. Her former clients pestered her.
She enrolled as an adult student at Greymouth High School in 1998, telling a school counsellor she wanted to give up drugs and prostitution.
At Candy’s she was regarded as professional and good at getting money out of clients, but some older sex workers thought she was “dizzy”.
Despite her transient lifestyle, she kept in touch with her family and was close to her stepsister, Lynda, who she worried was going off the rails like she had.
Lynda would recall that Lisa would read her poems to her.
“She would write how her life was such s… and about love hurting so much.”
A liar and a cheat
By the time Taylor turned 30, he could legitimately be called a wife-beater, a rapist, a drug dealer, a burglar, a fraudster, a gambling addict, an armed robber and a thief. But no-one had accused the small man with gingery hair, and a large swastika tattooed on his chest, of murder.
Around the time of Lisa’s death, he was something of a one-man crime wave.
Just before Christmas he held up the Darfield Hotel with a sawn-off shotgun and kidnapped the barman. He had also been dropping dud cheques around town and in the days after Lisa went missing, he met with his supplier of morphine sulphate tablets to do a drug deal and robbed a Lotto shop in Christchurch.
Taylor grew up on a farm in Cust in North Canterbury. His schoolmates remember him as stealing anything he could lay his hands on.
He worked on a fishing boat, married and had three children but did not see much of them after the marriage broke up in 1996.
In the three years before he became a suspect in Lisa’s murder, he worked as a labourer, truck driver and sawmill worker. He lost the jobs over thefts and erratic work habits.
He was known by his cohorts as a wannabe biker but not taken seriously.
“He might act tough but at the end of the day he is a bit of a blouse,” a gang member told police.
“He wouldn’t be able to kill anyone even by accident. If an argument developed you could always count on him not being there,” the biker said.
Taylor appeared to have an unusually high sex drive. A previous partner told police he tried to sleep with all her friends.
“He wanted sex all the time every day when we were together.”
Even when in a relationship, he would visit prostitutes walking the notorious Manchester St in Christchurch. A sex worker, now deceased, told police she had accompanied him on a drug run up north when he stopped in the middle of nowhere and threatened to leave her there if she didn’t have sex with him. They had sex on the bonnet of the car.
At the time of Lisa’s disappearance he was living in Darfield with a former member of the Templars motorcycle gang called Ross Heselwood, a pig hunter with a fearsome reputation. They were close, and their house had a red and black Nazi flag hanging from the ceiling.
The day before Lisa’s body was found, Heselwood came to the flat, where Taylor was ensconced with his then girlfriend Ruth Lewis, and gave him a ferocious hiding_ it sent blood up the walls_for reasons that remain unclear. Taylor spent the night in hospital with head injuries, bruising and a broken left forearm.
Habitual lying was another of Taylor’s character flaws. In repeated interviews with the police, he continually changed his story and made up new ones.
At his trial in 2002, Justice William Young told the jury:
“His lying has been so serious and prolific that you can place no reliance on what he says unless it has been corroborated.”
Lewis and Taylor spent most of their days drinking and playing the pokies. Lewis knew both the Henchmen, Nathan Williams and Matthew Cook, and liked them both. On the night Taylor was in hospital, she was in bed with Cook.
An extensive inquiry
When the police charged Taylor with Lisa’s murder about a year after her death, they had done one of the most extensive investigations in New Zealand history. It was certainly one of the biggest files.
Taylor was a sexual predator who saw an opportunity when he spotted Lisa hitchhiking, the Crown said at his trial. On his way to Christchurch in the Cortina, he had quickly turned around (Taylor said he forgot his wallet) when he saw Lisa and picked her up.
He then drove to the Porter River lay-by where there was a struggle, perhaps because he tried to rape her. He may already have stabbed her seven times in the leg while she was in the car. Lisa escaped, and he caught her near where her body was found and strangled her, the Crown said. He then went through her belongings, took the phone charge card, and dumped some items in a rubbish bin at a lay-by near the Kowai No 2 bridge, about 10 minutes’ drive from the Porter River.
Strands of a circumstantial case
Linking Taylor directly to the murder would not be easy. The police found no forensic link between Lisa’s murder and Taylor. No blood traces were found in his car and none of his DNA was found on her body. His fingerprints were not found on any of the items in the bin at the lay-by.
The thrust of the defence case at trial was to pour doubt on the allegation Lisa had died on February 2. A later time of death made it highly unlikely that Taylor was the culprit.
But certain things were not in Taylor’s favour. On the Wednesday Lisa went missing, Taylor was seen halfway up Porters Pass with a woman in his car. The pass takes traffic over the Torlesse Range past Lake Lyndon, and is the first steep climb from the plains towards the Alps.
Before apparently heading up Porters Pass, Taylor and Lisa had stopped at the Springfield garage at 1.02pm, where Lisa bought a newspaper, $20 worth of petrol and a Bic lighter. It seems likely that Lisa paid for the petrol because Taylor had offered to take her further.
On February 7, police found a chicken roll wrapper in the rubbish bin at the Kowai 2 lay-by. It looked very much like the wrapper from the roll Lisa bought at the Yaldhurst service station. The find supported Taylor murdering Lisa at the Porter River lay-by and then getting rid of the evidence.
Another piece of indisputable information was that Taylor loaded the phone card Lisa bought at the Yaldhurst service station onto his phone at 1.58pm (Feb 2). He could have done this on Porters Pass (although coverage was uncertain) or after going over the Kowai 2 bridge towards Darfield. It seemed like a dumb mistake. He had jettisoned Lisa’s belongings but had stupidly kept the phone card and used it. Taylor would say he found the phone card in his car.
Support for the Crown case also came from Lisa’s stomach contents, which showed identifiable fragments of chicken, grated carrot, lettuce, tomato and beetroot, all ingredients of the roll she bought in Yaldhurst. This pointed to Lisa being dead within hours of consuming the roll.
Then Taylor acted like a guilty man. He kept lying to the police, repeatedly denying he had given Lisa a ride, and then changing the place where he had dropped her off. He asked his girlfriend to tell police he had been with her during a period including February 2, telling her he had been “up to no good”.
Kaos was another piece of the puzzle. The friendly pup was seen about 2pm on February 2, coming towards the Kowai 2 bridge. He was picked up by two heavy drinkers who called him Nowhere because of where he was found. Lisa would not have abandoned Kaos, so something must have happened shortly before. It fitted with Taylor shoving him out of his car on his way to the Porter River lay-by or on the way back.
That Lisa was killed at the Porter River lay-by on February 2 by Taylor was supported by other factors. The marks on her body were consistent with a struggle at the river and the injuries to her leg were inflicted close to the time of death. There were spiky twigs from undergrowth similar to that at the river in her hair and between her legs. Her damaged necklace, sunglasses and can of pepper spray were found near her body.
In October 2000, Lisa’s suitcase and kitbag were found by a water race adjacent to the Old West Coast Rd. It was a good hiding place and Taylor knew the area well.
Doubts and flaws
Like most circumstantial cases, the Crown case against Taylor was not open and shut.
Two crucial witnesses for the defence were Barbara Beckford, then 54, and her friend Helen Chambers. Beckford was the chair of the West Coast Health and Disability Ethics Committee and on February 2 was going from Greymouth to Dunedin with Chambers for a bioethics summer school. She had driven the road for more than 20 years.
Beckford told police she had seen a young woman, with luggage and a dog as she drove past the Kowai 2 lay-by after 2pm, probably between 2.10pm and 2.15pm. Beckford was deep in conversation with Chambers but recalled wondering what on earth the young woman was doing out in the middle of nowhere. Chambers thought they had sighted the young woman a bit closer to Christchurch but otherwise supported Beckford. The sighting, if valid, completely cleared Taylor because it meant Lisa was still alive after 2pm and not where the police said she was.
Then came the odd matter of Lisa’s body not being discovered until Sunday morning, about four days after her death on the Crown case. Those four days were a busy time for the West Coast route, due to the Coast-to-Coast multisport event. It started on February 4, but most competitors travelled to the start on the West Coast the day before.
The Porter River lay-by had multiple visitors. Between the time Lisa went missing and her body’s discovery, nine people were in the vicinity of the stream and didn’t see her body. Yet on February 6, two fishermen arrived and immediately spotted it.
The timing for Taylor to have killed Lisa, arranged her body in the stream and got back to Darfield was tight. On the Crown case, Taylor had to drive from Springfield to the Porter River, struggle with and murder Lisa, arrange her body, remove all evidence from his car and dump some items at the Kowai 2 lay-by, all in about an hour.
In addition, if Taylor had been in the stream, either struggling with Lisa or positioning her body and the boulder, he should have had wet clothes when he returned to Darfield. However, there was no evidence of him being wet.
Some facts which undermined the police case emerged from the post-mortem on Lisa’s body. The stomach contents supported the contention she had eaten the chicken roll about midday and was killed soon after. But samples of tissues taken during the post-mortem, which started about 8.30pm on the day she was found, showed few signs of decomposition. The Crown’s own pathologist estimated the time of the death about 18 to 24 hours before autopsy, mainly due to the fact rigor mortis was present when the body was found. But he didn’t exclude February 2 as the time of Lisa’s death.
Taylor’s latest scenario
In about 2015 Taylor decided to come clean. He claimed he saw the Henchmen in a white Bedford van as he was driving back to Darfield after he dropped Lisa off, at her request, at the Kowai 2 lay-by. He claimed she was freaking out about threatening text messages she was receiving and wanted to get out of the car.
A Bedford van was parked at the Henchmen’s Timaru pad, but was not seized or searched by police, who were told it hadn’t been drivable since Christmas 1999. Doug Blakie says that might be true but believes the Henchmen had another Bedford.
Taylor’s latest account would explain Beckford’s sighting, and suggests Lisa’s fears were well-founded.
In this scenario, the Henchmen either killed Lisa immediately and preserved her body in a chiller or kept her in a secure place until killing her the day before she was found in the river. Taylor’s supporters believe her body wasn’t dumped immediately because the Henchmen needed time to set up alibis.
This new account has certain problems, aside from the fact Taylor is an inveterate liar.
For a start, Lisa did not receive any text messages after 2am on February 2. If the sighting of Taylor on Porters Pass is reliable he did not turn around at the Kowai 2 lay-by, and how could he recognise and name Henchmen he did not previously know.
Bank transactions, telephone records and medical appointments point to the Henchmen accused by Taylor being in Timaru on February 1 and 3. Calls were made to their address on February 2 and were answered.
And why would the Henchmen, hardly inconspicuous people, use a distinctive vehicle which could be traced back to them, return to the Porter River area to dispose of Lisa’s body at a time when the area was crawling with Coast-to-Coast traffic?
Although there were numerous sightings of a similar white van in the area at the relevant times, police following up the sightings found no evidence supporting a scenario the Henchmen were involved.
However, the Henchmen Taylor identified were definitely in Christchurch on February 5, when they went to the Latimers Hotel about 3pm and paid cash for a room. They left about an hour later, saying a Dunedin woman or women they had arranged to meet hadn’t turned up. It’s suggested they had Lisa’s body with them.
These will be matters the CCRC will consider in deciding whether its scarce resources should be used to look into Taylor’s new story. It seems like a big ask but maybe the information Doug Blakie claims to be holding back will be highly persuasive. The commission will be looking for new information showing the Henchmen were in Christchurch on February 2 and knew where Lisa was heading.
This is a murky case populated by people who do not habitually tell the truth. Those that want to tell the truth may be too frightened to come forward. If the CCRC does decide to investigate Taylor’s new claims, it will have its hands full.