Blessie murder accused had just moved to area

One of Blessie Gotingco's sons is comforted by a neighbour. Right, one of the last photos of Blessie. Photo / NZ Herald, instagram
One of Blessie Gotingco's sons is comforted by a neighbour. Right, one of the last photos of Blessie. Photo / NZ Herald, instagram

The man accused of murdering Blessie Gotingco is known to authorities -- and recently moved into the community where the mother-of-three disappeared.

The 27-year-old was arrested early yesterday, just hours after the 56-year-old's body was found in bush at the Birkenhead-Glenfield cemetery on Eskdale Rd.

He will appear in the North Shore District Court this morning charged with murder. For legal reasons the ODT cannot name the man or publish details of his past.

Sources confirmed last night the man has been under supervision since he moved into the community.

As the matter was before the courts, police could not comment on the man or how he and Mrs Gotingco's paths crossed. But it is understood that soon after she went missing, the man was identified as a possible suspect.

He lives 1.4km from Mrs Gotingco's Salisbury Rd home and 800m from the bus stop she is thought to have got off at on her way home from work on Saturday.

Mrs Gotingco was last seen leaving Tower Insurance in Auckland's CBD, where she worked in customer interaction, about 7pm on Saturday. She took Birkenhead Transport's 973 bus from Lower Albert St to Birkdale Rd and it is thought she was walking the short stretch home when she encountered the man.

The search for Mrs Gotingco moved to the cemetery on Monday night. It is unclear who found her body but police stormed the man's Monte Cassino Place apartment less than 12 hours later.

Steve Meadows lives in the apartment above the accused. He was asleep as police arrived yesterday.

"I was woken up at 5.41am. There was just this hell of a bang," he said.

"Then there was a lot of shouting -- and then nothing. I thought, 'God, what's that?' ... I looked out over the balcony and I could see eight police cars and about 15 cops.

"They eventually led him out. He was completely wrapped up in a white suit with a hood pulled tight over his head."

The man was taken away and Mr Meadows tried to "squeeze" information out of officers who stayed at the house. He said one told him "it will all become clear in the next 24 hours".

By 8am, the street was swarming with police -- officers, cars, forensics and detectives.

"They were going through all the rubbish bags and bins outside [the house] and some of the neighbours' rubbish too," one resident said. "It's a really quiet street. I didn't hear anything, like screams or arguing, so I had no idea what was going on."

Neighbours had not noticed anything unusual at the accused's apartment over the weekend. One said he had not been seen for a few days.

As the search went on, police removed several household items from the property and put up black plastic sheeting to shield the garage from the public.

Later in the morning police had a silver BMW belonging to the accused towed out of the street. It has been reported that the car had a smashed windscreen and a repair man was called to the house to fix it on Monday. Police confirmed the car would be examined by forensic experts.

One resident of Monte Cassino Place said police appeared to have found a machete-like weapon in a reserve near the street. Police were also seen examining an alleyway into the reserve. They wouldn't comment on whether a weapon was involved, or Mrs Gotingco's cause of death.

They said once a post-mortem examination was completed today, the Coroner would direct when Mrs Gotingco's body would be returned to her family for burial.

Detective Senior Sergeant Stan Brown said the investigation was ongoing and there was still a lot of work to be done, including taking statements from the "vast number" of people who had come forward.

But the priority for police was the welfare of Mrs Gotingco's family, including her husband who returned to New Zealand from a trip to the couple's native Philippines yesterday and their three adult children.

Monte Cassino Place residents were shocked by the arrest.

"People in houses on this street have lived here longer and so most of us know each other," said Jeremy, who did not want his surname published. "But the apartments -- people come and go. They don't stay very long and they keep to themselves."

A neighbour said the incident had left him and his wife shaken. "My wife is a little bit scared now because she sometimes catches the bus. I went and picked up my kids from school today as well.

"This is a safe area and our neighbours are really good people. It's shocking this man was living not far from us," the man said.

A woman who lives in the same building as the man charged said he was quiet and polite.

"He waved and nodded hello sometimes. He was very polite. We didn't know him though."

- Anna Leask of The New Zealand Herald

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