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Killers of Tokoroa teacher Lois Dear and Rotorua woman Tania Burr seek parole

The murders of two women by unknown men in separate cases shook New Zealanders in the early 2000s. They occurred in places where the women should have been safe: a school classroom and at home. Now the murderers of tokoroa teacher Lois Dear and young pregnant woman Rotorua The woman Tania Burr wants out of jail. Journalist Kelly Makiha speaks to relatives of Burr and Dear as parole hearing dates approach for Whetu Te Hiko and John Wharekura.

For Coromandel truck driver Kevin McNeil, his message to the New Zealand Parole Board deciding the fate of his mother’s killer is simple.

“I don’t want to see that idiot on the street.”

Lois Dear was murdered in her Tokoroa classroom in July 2006.
Lois Dear was murdered in her Tokoroa classroom in July 2006.

Lois Dear was murdered in her classroom at Strathmore School by Whetu Te Hiko on July 16, 2006. It was Sunday morning and she went inside to prepare for her lessons that week.

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Te Hiko was passing by the school, still drunk from the night before. He saw Dear’s car stop and tried to steal it.

Dear saw it and threatened to call the police. Te Hiko overpowered her in her classroom, punching and kicking her and finally suffocating her on the floor with her sweatshirt.

Whetu Te Hiko will be eligible for parole in July.  Photo / Alan Gibson
Whetu Te Hiko will be eligible for parole in July. Photo / Alan Gibson

At Te Hiko’s sentencing it was revealed that Dear, 66, was found pantsless, with her underwear pulled down to one ankle and her blouse pulled up.

His abandoned car was found shortly after his death and police arrested Te Hiko, 23, after an eight-day manhunt.

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A large crowd of angry passers-by lined the street and shouted insults as police escorted Te Hiko, dressed in overalls and a hood over his head, to his first appearance at Tokoroa District Court.

On July 11, Te Hiko will be eligible for parole for the first time after being sentenced to life in prison for murder with a non-parole period of 18 years.

Tanya Burr, 21, was in the early stages of her pregnancy when John Wharekura stabbed her to death in her Hilda St apartment.
Tanya Burr, 21, was in the early stages of her pregnancy when John Wharekura stabbed her to death in her Hilda St apartment.

For Palmerston North woman Val Burr, 71, the parole hearing process is one she is used to. She dreads every August when she once again faces pleading with a panel of people not to let her daughter’s killer out of jail.

On September 15, 2002, 16-year-old John Wharekura knocked on the door of Tanya Burr’s Hilda St apartment and asked her for a piece of paper and a pen, ostensibly to write a note to a friend in a neighboring apartment.

When the 21-year-old turned around, he walked in and stabbed her 15 times. At the time, she was one of New Zealand’s youngest killers and suffering from undiagnosed psychosis.

John Wharekura was 16 when he killed Tanya Burr, making him one of New Zealand's youngest killers at the time.  Photo / NZME
John Wharekura was 16 when he killed Tanya Burr, making him one of New Zealand’s youngest killers at the time. Photo / NZME

He was released in 2018 after a 14-year non-parole period, but was removed the following year due to issues with compliance with parole conditions and his mental health. He has since been found guilty of prison assault offences.

In 2021, he was charged with wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in relation to an assault on another prisoner. The Auckland District Court confirmed the Rotorua Daily Post no conviction was handed down because he had an insanity defense.

The impact of Lois Dear’s murder

McNeil said he would not attend the parole hearing because he did not want to see Te Hiko or hear his arguments for wanting to be released. Other family members would attend.

In his opinion: “It is not easy to accept. He is a mongrel.”

McNeil said he believed Te Hiko “should be kept locked up longer.”

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He wasn’t sure Te Hiko was a changed man or had adequate family support, especially knowing that his brother and uncle were also imprisoned for killing women.

Kevin McNeil with a photo of his mother Lois Dear.  Photo / NZME
Kevin McNeil with a photo of his mother Lois Dear. Photo / NZME

His brother Hamuera Te Hiko was jailed for 14 years for killing his wife, Eliza, after he sexually raped, beat and bit her in Putaruru in 2000. His uncle Jamie Te Hiko was sentenced to life in prison for beating to death to his partner, Queenie Thompson. at her home in Ātiamuri in 2016.

“There are a lot of people who shouldn’t be breathing the same air as us,” McNeil said.

In the 18 months after his mother’s death, McNeil became an outspoken advocate for justice, meeting politicians, including the then Prime Minister Sir John Key, and linking up with the Sensible Sentencing Trust.

He said it eventually started to consume him and he had to let it go.

Police escort Whetu Te Hiko from the police station to Tokoroa District Court in front of an angry crowd of locals.  Photo / John Cowpland

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