Man who lived with murdered girlfriend’s corpse denied parole

Murderer Gordon Hieatt. Photo / Natalie Slade
Murderer Gordon Hieatt. Photo / Natalie Slade
Warning: This story contains distressing content which some people may find upsetting

A man who strangled his girlfriend to death and lived in the same flat as her decaying corpse for nearly a month will remain behind bars after being denied an early release from prison.

Gordon Hieatt was jailed in 2011 for life with a minimum non-parole period of 11 years after murdering his girlfriend Nuttidar Vaikaew at her flat in the Auckland suburb of Western Springs in 2009.

Hieatt then lived with her corpse for nearly a month before police found her in a bed at the back of the flat - a fan had been pointed at her body in an attempt to disguise the smell.

After becoming eligible for early release in 2020 Hieatt has had several appearances before the New Zealand Parole Board, but yesterday was not actually hoping to be released.

Instead, the former computer programmer was hoping for another hearing later in the year so he could bring himself back up to speed with advances in the industry before starting to apply for jobs in the new year.

He made it clear to the board he hoped to become a computer programmer again, despite also saying his obsession with his work was the “root” of his offending.

“What we established is that my obsession with my work was the main root of the problem. I had made it an absolute thing where I was basing my whole future on it,” he told the board today.

“Any issues I had with making that work became overly magnified.”

Hieatt said that it got to the point where he viewed Vaikaew as being an existential threat to himself.

“This is what allowed it to become so violent,” he said.

“It was really a feeling of her or me.”

The argument

According to Justice John Priestley’s sentencing notes from 2011, Hieatt and Vaikaew, who was a sex worker, had got into an argument about how much rent he was to pay and him having to leave the flat when she had clients around.

Hieatt, who had been in an on-again, off-again relationship with Vaikaew for several years, admitted during the trial he had strangled her, but said he didn’t intend to kill her.

She attempted to escape at one point during the argument, which had become physical, only for Hieatt to seize her and pin her down on her bed, where he attempted to gag her with masking tape.

Hieatt told one report writer he believed Vaikaew had goaded him into killing her, and thought she made the plan when he wouldn’t pay her rental bills.

He told the court after her death he washed her body with a cloth, wiping blood from her mouth, nose and eyes before spending the night in bed with her body.

It was Vaikaew’s landlord, Ray Goffin, who called the police after realising something was wrong when he came around to collect the rent.

“It just hit me,” he said of the smell, speaking to NZME recently.

“There were piles of flies in the kitchen, on the floor, on the windowsills. Just everywhere.”

Goffin didn’t know at the time the source of the smell was the 3-week-old corpse of his tenant, who also went by the name Sky.

As he turned to leave, he ran into Hieatt in the hallway.

“He told me Sky was sick at the moment but she [would] be okay in a few days,” Goffin said.

“I got out of there and went straight home and called the police.”

Justice Priestley said during sentencing Hieatt had a difficult upbringing, suffered from depression and had substance abuse issues with cannabis.

“Despite your various strengths, you are a person who has serious personality flaws which you have not been able to overcome,” Priestley said.

Hieatt attempted to appeal his sentence on the grounds that he had been provoked into killing his girlfriend, which was declined.

A ‘high-stress situation’

Today the board asked Hieatt why he had persisted with attempting to kill Vaikaew after she’d tried to escape several times.

“It was a high-stress situation and I was just trying to resolve it between the two of us, rather than having her run out and call the police and have those sort of consequences happening,” he said.

“It was just panic at trying to not make a bad situation worse by calling in anyone else.

“It was self-protection in that sense.

“That’s really all there was to it.”

Hieatt said he’d seen a new psychologist who had helped him look at not just the external triggers of his offending, but the internal triggers as well.

He has been applying for work outside the wire and wants to be a computer programmer again, ideally as part of a team developing major enterprise applications.

Hieatt hasn’t had much opportunity inside prison to keep up to date with technological advancements in the programming space as he’s not permitted to access the internet.

“This is why I want time upon release to get up to speed,” he said.

Several support people, who have automatic name suppression, spoke highly of Hieatt and said they’d seen a recent change in his behaviour and acceptance of responsibility about what had happened.

The board declined his early release from prison today and said they wanted a more recent report from a psychologist and for Hieatt to start supervised work outside the wire.

The board will see him again next year.

By Jeremy Wilkinson
Open Justice multimedia journalist