From The Press:
Reign of the Fourth Reich
25 June 2005
The Fourth Reich tortured its enemies and forced a police officer into hiding. What chance did an eccentric West Coast drifter have? Matt Conway delves into the strange life and brutal death of James ‘Janis’ Bambrough.
The tall man in the green jacket lay on his side, a woollen scarf round his neck. Head resting lightly on his chest, the 54-year-old was shoeless and balding, with a thin ponytail.
His trackpant pockets held nothing more than a scrunched ball of newspaper, a handkerchief and a worn string of pink beads.
A clay-encrusted watch on his wrist had stopped at 8:17; morning or night, who could say?
Time was indeed standing still. The only constant was rain sweeping against the beech and manuka that hung over his lonely West Coast grave.
For five years James Bambrough stayed buried in this beautiful, wretched place, lost to his family, to his beloved black labradors and to the fringe-dwellers he called his friends.
For five years police chased the skinheads they knew had killed him. Proving it would be confounded by a murky trail of lies, cover-ups and threats. The trail would eventually lead to a shallow hole near an abandoned coalmine, about 30km from Westport.
It ended this month in the Greymouth High Court, with former skinhead mates Leighton Wilding and Hayden McKenzie sent down for murder.
Wilding, 38, was a founding member of the ultra-violent Fourth Reich, a neo-Nazi gang said to despise not only non-whites, but also homosexuals.
McKenzie, 28, was a white supremacist who infamously had Die Nigger Die tattooed on his forehead. He knew Bambrough as a family friend.
The trial was ignited by a cut-throat defence that saw the once staunch Wilding and McKenzie blame each other for strangling “a faggot” in the Buller River.
Hating someone because they were different was foreign to Bambrough. Few were more different than he was, even on the character-filled Coast.
Known as Janis, he liked to wear a beret and carry a handbag. He was a homeless gay man and a pesky drunk.
Occasionally he slept in caves, most often in the back of his car. No threat to anyone, he drifted for at least 17 years around the upper South Island.
How Bambrough lived and died â€“ and what happened next â€“ is a riveting story.
The Weekend Press followed the trail into a twilight world of misfits and villains. A world where the first beer is guzzled by 9.30am and you are off your chops by lunchtime. A world where a cutting remark is met with a smack to the head, or much worse.
A world where on October 13, 1999, a flower-power eccentric and two white power extremists fatally collided.
James John Bambrough was born in Christchurch two months before VE Day, in March, 1945. Striving for harmony and tolerance would be the challenge of his generation.
His personal challenge, however, would be finding acceptance for his conflicted masculinity.
James was the youngest of four children. The oldest, Jean, he never knew. She was just a toddler when she tumbled off rocks and died. His father, William, was a railway worker from Britain. His mother, Ruby, was from Reefton. Both are dead.
The couple separated when James was 18 months old. He went with his father to Hamilton.
At eight, James returned to his mother’s care in Canterbury and was reunited with his sister, Elizabeth.
“He was lovely, the loveliest kid you could ever meet,” says Elizabeth Brunel, 65, a music teacher. “Gentle, kind, generous. He would do you a good favour and give you the shirt off his back.”
Soft hair and a smooth complexion set James apart from other teenage boys. His voice never deepened. There was no need to shave. Puberty, according to Brunel, simply overlooked him.
Bullies and bigots did not.
James was offered a sex change at 14. Brunel remembers how eager he was. Christchurch’s Princess Margaret Hospital offered to send him to Australia for the procedure, but the family had to find extra money.
Ruby Bambrough, about to remarry, said no.
“She didn’t really want to know,” Brunel says. “She preferred to think her son was normal.”
Another twist comes from January Kozijevic, one of three daughters from Ruby’s second marriage.
She says her mother led her to believe that James was a hermaphrodite, that he had both male and female sex organs â€“ including ovaries.
“I’m convinced. My mother told me that he was born very deformed in the male way.”
Brunel, whose relationship with her half-sister Kozijevic is strained, dismisses this as “complete nonsense”. She says James’ only physical abnormality was enlarged testicles that were corrected soon after birth.
“He was very effeminate,” Brunel admits. “But as far as I knew, he was a fully functioning male anatomically â€“ a fully functioning male with a female-wired mind.”
Catholic-raised James Bambrough left Xavier College at 15 and landed a job in a Christchurch jewellery shop.
A year later he went to Auckland, where he worked in a nightclub as a female impersonator.
“He was pretty good, from what I heard,” Brunel says.
Bambrough drifted back south in his late 30s. By then he had whiskers, a tricycle with a homemade trailer, a couple of afghan pups called Tasha and Lullabelle, and a taste for the grog.
Why he became a bush-loving wanderer is unclear. One friend talks of him being “very much at home with the wilderness” because “there was no badmouthing or trouble”.
Kozijevic says, “He lived that lifestyle because he didn’t fit into our world, as far as the sexual side of things went.”
Fox River, near Punakaiki, was a favourite spot, but over the years Bambrough popped up in makeshift camps all over the West Coast.
Cheap cars provided shelter and the freedom to roam. When the warrant of fitness expired, he simply bought another vehicle.
Bambrough survived on the dole, driving to town to buy pet food, rice, vegetables and other supplies.
He made sure he had fresh batteries for his transistor radio, which was tuned to classical music or talkback. He visited the library for books on travel, film stars, the Royal family, or any rattling good yarn.
He shared what little he had. One Christmas, a box of goodies sent from Wellington found its way (via the police) to his camp in the Lyell Range, near Murchison. Bambrough dined on tinned ham, whiskey and fruit cake with two tourists.
He was a sociable soul who frequently popped in on family and friends. His nutty humour could lurch from endearing to embarrassing to obnoxious, depending on how much he had had to drink.
“What am I going to do?” he’d wail, breezing into a room. “I’m pregnant to Robbie Williams and I’ll have to go on the DPB.”
Janis could be touchy-feely at parties â€“ and not only with people who knew him. “How are you, gorgeous?” he’d say. The bloke on the end of the inquiry would invariably growl or crack up laughing, trying not to slop his ale.
At a Westport gathering in October, 1999, Bambrough produced one of his familiar, drunken displays.
He cuddled a man, flirted with another and made indiscreet comments about a girl’s breasts. The man he hugged, in thanks for a favour, was Fourth Reicher Leighton Wilding. The girl’s brother was a gang wannabe, hot-headed Hayden McKenzie. This time Bambrough did not get a chuckle or a chiding. This time he pissed off the wrong crowd.
The Fourth Reich was not so much born as ripped from the womb. Skinheads uniting in petty crime, drugs and a whole lot of empty posturing was nothing new. But this was something else.
Formed in 1994 in Paparua Prison, near Christchurch, the Fourth Reich quickly became the most fearsome force in the South Island underworld.
“They love to hate,” one police source says. “Hate’s a big part of their whole philosophy. They’re angry men.”
Men capable of stomach-churning violence. Victims were shot, stabbed, menaced and bashed as up to two dozen Reich followers went on the rampage through the mid to late-1990s.
“There was some scary s…,” the source says. “Some very scary s…”
Bank robber Wilding was a founding member and master-at-arms, in charge of weapons. A prodigious sportsman, he represented Nelson in junior hockey, soccer, cricket, softball, rugby league and swimming.
Westport skinhead McKenzie did not belong to the gang, but shared its Nazi leanings. Die Nigger Die was etched on his forehead in prison, a gesture said to have been aimed at a Maori inmate who fatally bashed one of McKenzie’s best friends.
Based in Nelson and Christchurch, and with a network of contacts on the West Coast, the Fourth Reich muscled in on cannabis growers and drug dealers. Snatching their action and knowing the cops would not be called was a smart strategy.
Many Fourth Reichers were themselves opiate users, police would later learn. Armed hold-ups involved cunning ploys. The skinheads wore wigs and applied fake tattoos. Decoy drivers were used to speed from the crime scenes and confuse police as the real culprits drove calmly away.
Torture and intimidation were commonplace. One story traced to the Motueka area tells of a man who crossed the gang and had a bayonet rammed up his rectum. Nelson CIB head Wayne McCoy, a central figure in the Bambrough case, was inclined to believe it, but says the victim never complained to police. Urban legend or not, word spread. These guys were hard core.
In 1997, the former Fourth Reich president, Ivan Gugich, took revenge on a gang dropout who failed to smuggle a cannabis-oil stash into prison. The skinhead was stabbed in the chest, collapsing a lung, then had his scalp sliced and peeled like a boiled egg. Finally, his little finger was hacked off and taken away in a bread bag.
Gugich, who carried out the attack with an associate, was jailed for eight years. Now working in Christchurch, he is said to have renounced gang life. He declined a request for an interview.
Detective Derek Shaw, who conducted the finger-hacking inquiry, says Fourth Reich enforcers are the most ruthless he has met in his 25 year career.
“They were driven. They were determined. Nothing seemed to worry them. Of everyone I’ve dealt with over the years, these guys gave me serious concern about my off-duty safety and that of my family.”
His assessment is backed by Sergeant Greg Sparrow, who in 1998 was involved in a crackdown on the gang’s activities.
“They take no prisoners, these guys,” Sparrow says. “We were tied by what we could do by law and they were tied only by their imagination.”
The Reich’s reign of terror peaked during this period, when its foot soldiers:
Murdered feisty rugby player Hemi Hutley. Beaten unconscious in a Westport pub fight, the halfback was dragged over wasteland, stripped naked and thrown in the Buller River, where he drowned.
Blew up a Ford Fairmont car outside the Lost Breed’s gang headquarters in Nelson, inflaming a turf war.
Tried to extort almost a kilogram of cannabis and $5000 from a Nelson couple by threatening their young children. “If you mess us around in any way … my organisation will execute a family member, which would be a shame as you two have some lovely children,” the warning letter said. It was signed “Murder Inc and Brothers”.
At the height of the police crackdown, Sparrow received what he considered credible warnings “that I was going to get hit”.
He got his wife and two children out of Nelson for a fortnight, before returning to finish the job. Sparrow has since transferred to the North Island.
It was this unnerving background that made it so difficult for police when Bambrough vanished from the Westport party.
They knew Wilding and McKenzie were there. They knew the pair hailed from a homophobic culture. But detectives had no body and no forensic evidence. Wilding’s car, in which Bambrough was driven to his death and, later, to his hidden grave, had been torched by Wilding’s brother and an accomplice.
What they did have was a group of witnesses cowed by the Fourth Reich’s near-mythical reputation. Police believe most found it safer to lie, fudge, or look the other way.
An exception was Michelle Batt, who spoke soon after the disappearance, and at trial, of Bambrough’s tormented last hours.
She was with him at the boozy session, held at the home of their mutual friend, Trish Lee. Lee is McKenzie’s mother. Her loyalties were about to be tested.
Bambrough shouted beer and rum to celebrate buying a $100 Nissan Pulsar car. His busted Volvo had been towed to Westport the day before by Wilding.
Legless and loud after an all-day binge, Bambrough made a fatal mistake when Fourth Reicher, Wilding, joined the fray. He cuddled and thanked him. Lee’s daughter Holly, then 13, said Wilding seemed uncomfortable, but patted Bambrough on the back as he stepped away.
Later, Trish Lee flung a full beer stubby at Bambrough when he would not shut up about Holly’s developing breasts. The bottle smacked him on the head.
Batt said an ugly mood developed as McKenzie began “staunching” around the room threatening to “waste” Bambrough.
She told McKenzie to “piss off and leave him alone”, but the skinhead would not relent.
“F… him, he’s a faggot,” she heard McKenzie say. “We’re going to waste him tonight. We don’t like faggots.”
Wilding apparently sat silently.
At the kitchen table, head down, rocking back and forth, Bambrough was petrified. “They’re going to kill me,” he said over and over, according to Batt.
She tried to get Bambrough to leave with her, she said, but he would not go. Perhaps he was worried about Pip and Pippi, his labradors asleep in the car.
When the party finished, Bambrough was either forced or lured on a short drive to the Buller River. He was dragged into the water and throttled, according to the competing stories of Wilding and McKenzie. Each claimed the other was responsible, and that they were shocked and surprised by the murder. However, the court also heard accounts of separate confessions by the pair.
Just weeks after the killing, a tearful Wilding was said to have admitted choking a “gay guy” who had annoyed him at a party.
A former friend, whose name was suppressed, said Wilding had this to say about it: “My thumbs were squeezing on his larynx and the life was getting drained out of him. His eyes were rolling back and his face was turning different colours. He was … like jelly.”
Wilding described it as a “powerful” sensation, according to the witness.
The former friend said that in March 2000, Wilding again talked of murder. “He said `I’ve got that urge again’. I said `what urge?’ He said `take the life out of someone again’.”
Wilding even nominated a gang rival as his next target, the witness said.
McKenzie later joked to another white supremacist of having “killed a faggot”, according to a former girlfriend who said she overheard the comment. She coaxed a confession out of McKenzie in bed that night. He said he would kill her if she told anyone.
When she tried to end the relationship a short time later, McKenzie flew into a rage and threatened her with a sawn-off shotgun. The girlfriend fled to Women’s Refuge and never looked back. Her name was suppressed.
Trish Lee knew far more than she wanted to. McKenzie revealed early on what had happened. Fearing reprisal, she sat on crucial evidence about the death of her friend, year after year, even while helping carry Bambrough’s coffin to a proper resting place last October.
The trial was just weeks away when Lee finally told police of Wilding’s visit two days after the killing, of being led by the elbow to her backyard, of him standing legs apart, arms crossed, eyeballing her.
“What happens now?” she asked. Wilding stared her down. “You and yours will be OK as long as Hayden does what he’s told.”
The Bambrough case was not a whodunit. The Fourth Reich’s menacing shadow made it a who-would-tell whodunit.
Police always thought they would get there in the end. “It was just a matter of breaking someone,” Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne McCoy told The Weekend Press.
The killers alluded to the murder when they were locked up for other serious offences.
McKenzie, after a shooting spree, admitted in an off-the-record chat that he had throttled Bambrough. He promptly backpedalled, saying it was a “bulls…” attempt to get cigarettes.
In October 2000, Wilding was sprung for the armed robbery of a Wellington supermarket. He asked about the policy on custody clearances, and whether he could clear up a murder without being convicted. Told that was impossible, he clammed up.
In May last year, Detective Inspector John Winter, the man heading the marathon murder inquiry, called together McCoy and others in the Operation Janis team.
They elected to go for broke, to charge Wilding and McKenzie and the two men who torched the car.
Cornered but calm, Wilding looked at a photo of Bambrough and said: “I knew that sooner or later this day would come.”
Later, he stared at the photo for several minutes until his eyes got moist. “I didn’t do it,” he said, but otherwise refused to comment.
At the same time, in a Greymouth police cell, McKenzie was feeling the heat. “I’ve never been this scared in my life. The new Reich members are honourable people … they will get me,” he said.
“Did Leighton kill him?” a detective asked. Sitting on the cell floor, McKenzie rocked back and forth, sobbing. No answer came.
In September, he at last betrayed the Fourth Reich code and fingered Wilding.
McKenzie led police to a remote bush track near an abandoned Denniston coalmine. There they found Bambrough, shoeless in a shallow grave.
Cool, moist conditions meant that, even after 59 months, his body was remarkably intact. Fats in the upper arms, thighs, legs and feet had converted to a wax-like substance, known as adipocere. Eerily, this mummifying process had also preserved his chin and lips, and grizzled remnants of grey whiskers.
It was almost as though Bambrough, in some metaphysical sense, had been defiantly holding on. Now, at long last, the truth could be spoken.
Forensic pathologist Martin Sage would not confirm or deny whether Bambrough was a hermaphrodite.
January Kozijevic stood in a police tent over the empty grave, listening to the birdsong. She reached down, picked up a rock and slipped it in her pocket.
“I just felt he’d been touched by dirty hands, and it was our turn to put him right.”
Almost a fortnight later, they gathered at a family home in Mokihinui, north of Westport. The hippies from Fox River came. The woman from the Salvation Army sent a lovely card. Children ran amok with paints and felt pens, decorating Bambrough’s plywood coffin with flowers, butterflies and native ferns. Of course, there were drawings of Janis too, with Pip and Pippi by his side. It was a free-spirited romp that lasted three days.
“We laughed and screamed,” Kozijevic says. “We played Doris Day full bore. Doris Day records, because that’s what he liked.”
On the last day they took turns carrying the coffin out the door, through the gate, round the corner and down the road to the cemetery, which overlooks the whitebaiters on Mokihinui River. Trish Lee took her turn.
They put Bambrough in the ground lovingly this time, with dignity â€“ and in a nod to his eccentricity, with a big bag of hair he had collected from his favourite dogs, Tasha and Lullabelle.
McKenzie had a bid for immunity denied. He was, however, given witness protection and will serve his 10-year life sentence in a secure unit for at-risk inmates.
Although the Die Nigger Die tattoo has been removed, he remains distinguishable by a birthmark on his face and a plum-coloured nub on the side of his head. He sliced off his oversized right ear because no doctor would do it for him.
Wilding faces the same stretch. The Crown could not press for longer jail terms because the Bambrough killing happened before tougher sentencing and parole conditions were introduced.
An inscrutable Wilding concealed his emotions during the most torrid trial evidence. He seemed shy while testifying, turning the blowtorch on McKenzie as the one who strangled Bambrough.
More than once, a barely audible Wilding was asked to speak up by the judge. Hardly what was expected from a Fourth Reich master-at-arms.
Wilding claimed to have quit the gang in 1998, months before Bambrough was killed. Police cannot validate this one way or the other â€“ or to what extent (if at all) the Fourth Reich still exists.
A message scrawled on a courthouse toilet wall during last December’s preliminary hearing perhaps offers some insight.
“Hayden McKenzie, police nark. The real nigger. Vengeance is mine. Won’t your dead mate be proud of you now you f… ing trash. I will be seeing you soon Hayden. When you least expect it. Oi f… ing Oi!”
It was written by Wilding.
Fascinating, scary and machiavellian are the words one source uses to describe Wilding, a man “capable of making things happen”.
However, Christchurch gang liaison officer Jim Nisbet believes the feared Fourth Reich has been effectively smashed. “As far as police are concerned, they’re basically a nonentity.”
Acting West Coast area commander John Canning tends to agree. “Hopefully, they’ll be broken old men by the time they get out.”
Another police officer who tangled with the Reich is not so sure.
“They were at their best and their strongest when they were all inside. They had strength and unity. On the outside, they eventually self-destructed.”
Ominously, he adds, “I believe that they’re probably ticking away in prison.”