It’s close to the beach and it’s a good neighbourhood, “till all this stuff happened”.
That stuff was a grisly beheading just upstairs from her a week earlier then reports of the head being carried around in a plastic bag.
But it wasn’t just that incident that cast a pall of darkness over the area of Housing NZ flats at the end of Jackson St that locals have aptly named The Bronx.
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There were two other recent killings, both with links to the Mongrel Mob, which thrives in and around these three-storey concrete blocks even if the Government landlord says no gang members are tenants there.
There is the sometimes-stench that rises from Te Mome Stream – or Dead Man’s Arm to locals – that barely flows behind the flats and till recently featured on a nationwide top-10 worst-of-the-worst contamination list.
“Our door is always getting kicked in,” the woman, who doesn’t want to be named, mentions nonchalantly. Her friend comes out from the police cordon offering home baking.
Elsewhere, another woman finds little nice to say about the Bronx, which she moved out of the day after a murder.
She wants to go by the name Monique rather than her real name – she doesn’t want her former neighbours knowing where she is now.
August 23, 2013, was her last day there. The day before Sio Matalasi, 25, died after a bullet from a cutdown rifle tore through his torso. Mob members Shane Pierre Harrison, 44, and Dillin Pakai, 19, were later found guilty of his murder.
“When I walked over he was still alive [and receiving CPR],” Monique said. Soon after Matalasi’s partner came across the horror scene.
“I moved out the next day. I left all my stuff there and I left,” Monique said.
That same year, Jessica Lee Keefe, 30, was found not guilty of the murder or manslaughter of her violently abusive Mongrel Mob member partner Sean Verma in nearby Housing NZ flats. A jury heard that, as Verma lay dying on the ground his dying words to a neighbour were, “she stabbed me, dog”.
But things weren’t always so grim. About six years earlier Monique had asked Housing NZ to move in – specifically to those same flats where a friend of her’s lived.
“They moved me in that day … I found out quickly what it was like.”
She remembered finding a three-year-old boy sleeping in the public stairwell at 1am. She knew where he lived. She had heard the shouting, the arguing, the drunkenness that night and knew why he wasn’t home.
She took him in for the night and in the morning returned him to another family member. At 8.30am that morning she saw the boy’s mother, who didn’t know her son had been missing. “I think she was still a bit drunk,” Monique said.
Arguments, fights, and drug deals in public areas were par for the course, as was seeing raging arguments between parents while young children screamed hopelessly for them to stop.
“Every night I had this thing, is this the night my door gets kicked in?”
Heavy metal doors to block entry to all but residents on the ground floor of each block were often destroyed, as were security cameras. The stench from the stream – if it can be called that – permeated the place.
“It gets into your flat, it gets into your washing.”
She reckoned all sorts of weapons – machetes, baseball bats – had been thrown in that grey-brown water.
There is an irony that lying on the other side of that same putrid water lies the private Shandon Golf Club where a year’s membership costs $1335. Safe to say there are also a few Titleist golf balls in there among the machetes.
Monique believed Housing NZ was intentionally placing Mongrel Mob members in the flats, as well as turning a blind eye when they moved in without permission.
These days in a nicer house, Monique was upset but not surprised to hear Frank Tyson, her one-time neighbour, had been killed. It was just par for the course at the Bronx. “It is absolutely normal there. They talk about it for a few days then it is gone.”
Housing NZ, in a statement, said no known gang members were tenants at the complex. Chief operating officer Paul Commons said last week’s death was a shock to tenants and the neighbourhood.
There was little he could say about the killing, as there was a homicide case going through the courts, but he said staff were supporting residents.
“What I would like to emphasise is our Jackson St tenants are a strong, resilient group. It’s a community where the tenants, along with our help, are supporting each other through this. They’re also respectful of each other and their wider community.”
Housing NZ was upgrading 75 per cent of its properties in the coming 20 years and the Jackson St site would be upgraded in 2019, he said.
“All the homes at Jackson Street meet the necessary requirements under the Residential Tenancies Act,” he said.
The Jackson St complex had generated few complaints in recent years.
“We’ve also made safety improvements to the complex in the past couple of years which have included adding CCTV to monitor access points and entrances, installing swipe cards to limit public access to the buildings and adding lighting to improve site lines around the complex.”
Back at the Bronx this week, the rumour – almost a week after the homicide – is police are about to pack up. Apart from the police tape, the man walking around in a forensics outfit, the crime scene tape and all that hoopla, life is back to normal.
A resident – the same one handing out home baking – passes a cup of coffee to a security guard and others proudly show off the badges for graduation from a living with non-violence course.
Over the back fence, the ferocious stench of Dead Man’s Arm from a few days before is notably less.