An investigative podcast claims to have discovered a new witness in the notorious case of the murdered Swedish tourists Sven Urban Hoglin and Heidi Paakkonen on the Coromandel in 1989.
Finding Heidi, the podcast series by actor and lawyer Ryan Wolf, is promising to reveal evidence from the witness, who did not come forward at the time or in the decades since, but says they saw the young couple being driven by a person known to the police, in their white Subaru car near where Hoglin’s body was found two years later.
Wolf told Newsroom the sighting was around the time the couple went missing in April 1989 after going tramping in the bush inland from Thames. He has reported the new information to Waikato police who he says have interviewed the new witness. He is declining to name the person “at this stage.”
Hamilton police would not discuss the case or any developments publicly as it is again heading back before the courts.
David Wayne Tamihere was convicted of their murders, despite the bodies not being found at the time and Hoglin’s eventually being discovered after the trial 70 km across the peninsula near Whangamata. Police said he had stolen the Swedes’ car and driven it around the Coromandel and to Auckland.
Tamihere’s appeal against his conviction, after the body was found in circumstances contrary to claims in the police case, failed.
A watch police claimed Tamihere had stolen from Hoglin, 23, and given to his son was found with the Swede’s body. The prosecution had alleged Tamihere disposed of the bodies in bush northeast of Thames near Crosbie’s landing, where two trampers had said they’d seen Paakkonen, aged 21, in a clearing with a man they identified as Tamihere. Prison informants even claimed Tamihere had told them he had disposed of the remains at sea.
He served a life sentence before being released on parole in 2010.
One of the prison informants who gave evidence against Tamihere was subsequently found to have committed perjury in the case.
In 2020 the case was referred back to the Court of Appeal by the Governor General on the advice of the Minister of Justice because the original guilty verdict could have been unsafe.
The Crown is now re-testing DNA from the time using modern methods and that re-investigation has delayed the new Court of Appeal hearing until next year.
Now Wolf, who has investigated cold case murders in his true crime podcast Guilt, is canvassing Coromandel towns seeking original and new witnesses to the case.
“We’re going to push the limits of what’s possible in this podcast, with only one thing in mind,” he says on the Finding Heidi podcast explainer. The first episode is already live.
He says it’s unknown if the new hearing at the Court of Appeal will include the sighting by this witness.
Wolf says the fact Paakkonen’s body has never been found adds to the intrigue over the murders. He believes she was murdered in the Whangamata area, somewhere near where her boyfriend’s body was found by pig hunters a year after they disappeared
“The passage of time is always going to be a difficult hurdle when investigating a case 30-plus-years old, but finding this new witness we hope may finally shine a light on the events of that tragic weekend in April 1989.
“I have no doubt that had this witness come forward at the time they would have been an integral part of the case. Whether that will turn out to be the case today, remains to be seen.”
Wolf told Coromandel residents via local Facebook pages that started the investigation “with one goal in mind, and that’s to try to find Heidi and bring her home.”
“Already I’ve turned up new witnesses that could be the biggest new evidence in the case in 30 years. But I’m still looking to speak to anyone who may have any information that could be relevant.
“Did you see or speak to Heidi or Urban in 1989? See their white Subaru station wagon? Were you or someone you know involved with the search? I’d love to hear from you,” he wrote early this month.
“Some people I’d like to make contact with are Merilyn Round, Edward Corbett, Paula Johnson, Randal Cornish, Jackie Payne or anyone working at the Sunkist Lodge at that time.”
To Whangamata residents his appeal is for anyone present in the Wentworth Valley or Parakiwai Valley Area in 1989 or anytime since … “in particular pig hunters familiar with the wider Parakiwai location Hoglin’s body was found in 1990.
Last week he was back on Facebook reassuring the community about a finding of bones in the district.
“I just thought I’d drop a post here to update on a rumour that’s currently spreading like wildfire. Yes, police were recently in Parakiwai after a call out for possible human bones. But they were confirmed to be the remains of a cow. I was there and saw this for myself and I can confirm this 100 percent from the highest level.
“Sadly, Heidi still remains missing.”
Wolf’s previous two podcast seasons were about the murder of pizza man Jordan Voudouris in Paeroa in 2012 and the disappearance of Jim Donnelly from the Glenbrook steel mill in 2004.
He tells Newsroom he was drawn to the case of the murdered Swedes after being approached by a member of the public. “I decided to take a look because of the fact Heidi has never been found and I felt the answer to her whereabouts must have been overlooked.”