‘You never get over it’

SHARE

Movie premiere brings back painful memories for mother who lost son

Joan Hartley takes one day at a time.
She says that is the way she has learnt to live with the fact her 18-year-old son, and his best friend, were murdered in Timaru almost 30 years ago.
Memories of the horrific incident, which happened in Timaru on Boxing Day, 1986, flooded back for Mrs Hartley when she attended the screening of Amanda Newall’s movie The Hoover Diaries at the Geraldine Cinema on Friday evening.
She appears in the movie, which in part draws on the death of her son Steven, talking about the events which changed her life forever.
‘‘It is hard and you never get over it,’’ she said.
‘‘You learn to live with it, and just take one day at a time.’’
While she has tried to block out much of what happened, Mrs Hartley remembers being concerned when her usually punctual son did not return home after going fishing with his longtime friend Paul Wilson
(21), on Boxing Day, 1986.
She was close to Steven, who was due to start a mechanical course at Aoraki Polytechnic.
‘‘It was so out of character for him.
‘‘I was cross with him but as the day wore on I knew something wasn’t right.’’
The wait for news of her son and his friend was unbearable, Mrs Hartley said.
‘‘I remember pacing and I had my elderly parents with me and they tried their best with distraction.’’
Then came the news the friends had been kidnapped, shot in the head execution-style at Centennial Park before their bodies were dumped at sea.
Hours after the pair’s bodies washed up on shore near Timaru, Frederick Llewellyn Williams and co-offender Robin Albert Pope were arrested for the murders.
Mrs Hartley said the only motive for the murders was that her son had supposedly told the police Williams was in possession of stolen pork. ‘‘It was a huge shock,’’ she said. ‘‘Steven was everything they were not — a good, honest, decent person. We all were. Before this I didn’t even know where the police station was.’’ As news of the Boxing Day murders spread, Timaru became a media hotbed, photographers and journalists travelling to the town to report on the event. ‘‘A lot of media came here. ‘‘The media hounded Peter [her late estranged husband] — it was terrible. The TV crew banged on his door saying they wanted a picture of grief.’’ She owed a lot to the police and would always be grateful for the way they treated her and her family, Mrs Hartley said. ‘‘They were so respectful and I have the utmost respect for them. ‘‘I will never forget them.’’Living in a small town, she had often thought about leaving and making a new life elsewhere, Mrs Hartley said. ‘‘I have a lot of support here and I realised that if I did leave I wouldn’t have that support anywhere else.’’ She remembers returning to her job in a dairy after her son’s death and having to serve Pope’s children. ‘‘I was polite but it was hard.’’ Pope and Williams were both sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders in October 1987. Pope was released in 2001 and died in 2013. Williams was released in 2004. Almost 30 years later, she initially had been reluctant to appear in The Hoover Diaries, Mrs Hartley said. ‘‘One day a couple of years ago, I came home to a message on my phone from Amanda, who I didn’t know. ‘‘I knew it had something to do with Steven’s death and I thought, ‘Do I really want to go through dredging up the past?’ ‘‘In the end I did, and Amanda has been very aware of just how emotional it has been for me.’’ The movie was something she did for her son, she said. ‘‘He is always with me — he’s just there [in my heart].’’