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Family and police call for the community help to solve grandmother’s killing

One person could hold the key to solving the cold case of a woman who was seriously assaulted and died in a deliberately lit house fire four years ago.

Roma Joseph, 58, a mother and grandmother of Tīrau, died in the early hours of May 1, 2017, at her rented home in Little St.

Her family are calling for people to come forward with information – so she can finally rest in peace.

New details and evidence had emerged, and pointed towards one suspect. Joseph’s granddaughter Simone Riri said it was only a matter of time until she got the justice she deserved.

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The scene of the fatal house fire on Little Street in Tirau.

Mark Taylor/Stuff

The scene of the fatal house fire on Little Street in Tirau.

The case featured on TVNZ’s Cold Case on Tuesday with appeals for information. Officers were in Tīrau on Wednesday to take information from people who might be prompted to help.

The family gathered in two households to watch the episode, connected via a video call.

“We had some time to prepare for this moment as we watched it brought back a lot of raw emotions,” Riri said.

The details and evidence were “astounding”, so she watched it twice.

“I wasn’t until then that I had finally understood what had happened to her. She didn’t deserve to have her life shortened. To hear about what had happened leading towards her final moments was heartbreaking.”

She said Joseph was the glue of the family. She, and Joseph’s other grandchildren were still growing up when she died.

Dominico Zapata/Stuff

Roma Joseph was murdered in her home in Tirau and police are still on the hunt for those responsible (First published in February 2018).

“Some starting to find their feet, others still in school, even as young as starting school. We were all still so young. Having her taken away from us left a huge hole.

“We were all quite close to her growing up, often visiting or having her stay and visit. We miss those times especially.”

Police were calling for people to come forward to help them find the last few pieces of the puzzle.

Officers sat in a mobile police unit on the main street of Tīrau on Wednesday, hoping to find them.

Detective senior sergeant Lindsay Pilbrow said a few people had come into the mobile station with information of note.

It seemed like the whole town had seen the episode, and Pilbrow said feedback had been positive.

Detective senior sergeant Lindsay Pilbrow and detective Sergeant Gary Hawkins were at a mobile police base in Tīrau on Wednesday.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Detective senior sergeant Lindsay Pilbrow and detective Sergeant Gary Hawkins were at a mobile police base in Tīrau on Wednesday.

Detective sergeant Gary Hawkins said it was too early to make arrests, but officers were making continual assessments about the evidence on hand.

The goal was for someone to be charged, and for the case to proceed in court.

“We will see how it goes in the next week or two.”

A woman who lives across the road from Joseph, who did not want to be named, said she became frightened on Tuesday night, after the episode aired on television.

“I got scared, I thought they might come back. I only hope they do get it solved.”

She and other neighbours heard thumps on the night Joseph died. She got a call not long afterwards from a neighbour who said, “Come over, Roma’s house is on fire.”

The woman had lived on Little St for 14 years and said Joseph lived for her family. She had a small grandchild who used to visit and stay with her.

The police were asking for information at a mobile police base on the main street of Tīrau on Wednesday.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

The police were asking for information at a mobile police base on the main street of Tīrau on Wednesday.

Another neighbour said Joseph was a lovely lady, and she and other locals often talked about what happened.

She did not hear anything on the night of the fire, until her dog started barking when fire trucks arrived.

“I just hope they find whoever did it, and the family gets some closure. I feel bad for them.”

Two people were then seen in the area around the time of Joseph’s death. One spotted in a white hoodie walking along Little St, and another by the front door of the house.

Shortly afterwards a silver four-door sedan, with a boot scoop, pulled away, gliding off towards Bear St.

Detective Mahara Alcock said on TVNZ’s Cold Case that there as a man of interest, who was known to the wider family, and had been at Joseph’s house in the past.

Posters were plastered up around the town, asking people if they had information to help police.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Posters were plastered up around the town, asking people if they had information to help police.

Joseph took out a trespass order against the man about two years prior to her death, after he made unwanted advances on her.

Police connected the man to a silver sedan, and DNA found at the scene was linked to his family.

Officers could place the car in Tīrau on the night of the fire, but could not confirm it was the car that reversed out of Joseph’s driveway.

The man also used his phone in Tīrau around the time of the fire, but it was afterwards removed from the phone network.

Police interviewed him twice, but on the second interview he became agitated and stopped cooperating.

“We don’t have all the pieces of the puzzle in this case,” Alcock said. “This case is still very active, and it needs to be solved.”

People can contact 0800 Cold Case – 0800 2653 2273 – or email the investigation team through the police website.

People can watch the episode online at TVNZ OnDemand.



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