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Guilt, Part 2: The robberies and the outcast

By 24 July 2023August 10th, 2023Feature Article, North&South
Jourdan Voudouris
Jourdan Voudouris

Guilt, Part 2: The robberies and the outcast

The investigation continues. Were the armed robberies that followed Jordan Voudouris’s murder pure coincidence? And what can investigative podcaster Ryan Wolf find out about the various characters locals believe might know more than they’re letting on?

By Ryan Wolf

Ryan Wolf ’s podcast GUILT investigates the unsolved murder of Paeroa’s beloved pizza man, Jordan Voudouris. In North & South’s July issue, we learned about Voudouris’s outgoing character, generous spirit and the impact his murder had on the small rural town of Paeroa. In the second of three parts, we find that rumours were swirling about Voudouris’s death. Why did a former employee abruptly leave town, and what was the significance of a spate of burglaries, within a couple of hours, east of Paeroa on the morning after the murder?

When I punched in the numbers on my phone to call Linda Hunter’s friend — he’s the one who stayed the night of Voudouris’s murder, and Linda was the local shop owner who found the body — I had a feeling he might be a bit surprised to hear from me, but I didn’t expect the response I got. He straight up told me to “fuck off ”. Naturally this only fuelled my desire to speak to him, so I immediately dialled again, thinking perhaps we got off on the wrong foot and I could smooth things over. But he never answered that call, nor any other. He simply sent me an all-caps response: “NEVER TRY TO CONTACT ME AGAIN, IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, ASK THE POLICE.” This was in 2021. I’ve since worked on many cases and spoken to hundreds of witnesses, and I’ve never encountered this level of hostility.

So, what to make of it? I’ve been told he’s an arsehole, and I’m digging up the past, and clearly it’s a moment he doesn’t want to relive. I don’t want to jump to any conclusions — perhaps he’s embarrassed by his actions that morning, but obviously he’s not going to speak to me, so I’m at a dead-end on that front — for the moment.

There are two other main lines of inquiry I need to pursue. Firstly, Voudouris’s former out-of-town employee, who apparently disappeared immediately following the murder. Secondly, the two armed robberies that took place in the nearby towns of Waihi and Katikati that morning, only hours after Voudouris’s murder — that jumped out at me with big red flags the moment I started investigating this case.

As I’ve found when investigating a case, the decision about what line of inquiry I tackle next is often made for me. My email dings. Word about the podcast is starting to spread through the area. It’s an email from Waihi resident, John, whose daughter was assaulted during one of these armed robberies. In his eyes, he always thought it was too much of a coincidence.

Here’s what I know about the timeline of these armed robberies. At 5.45am on 18 June 2012 — approximately four hours after Voudouris was shot, three men wearing balaclavas, armed with a gun and a hammer, committed an aggravated robbery on the Mobil service station in the small town of Waihi, 15 minutes’ drive east of Paeroa. They assaulted the attendant before continuing on to conduct a second armed robbery 20 minutes later at the Park Road convenience store in Katikati. Three men, aged between 17 and 20 years old, were eventually charged for these robberies, and were sentenced to between four and six years’ jail each.

It was John’s daughter who had arrived for work at 5.45am that morning. As she was opening the store for the day, the men came around the corner and assaulted her. He tells me that it was “quite a traumatic time for her” and according to John she actually stood up to the men when they demanded she open the till and the cigarette cabinet.

When she didn’t comply, one of the men kicked her in the stomach before they fled. And incredibly, she actually went back to work the next day, the shock probably having not yet truly set in.

Eventually I managed to connect briefly with John’s daughter, and she confirmed the details of the robbery and the fact that they were armed with a hammer and a small pistol.

John tells me that unbeknown to his daughter, at the time of the robbery, she was pregnant and when she eventually gave birth to a baby girl, they named her Olive. It wasn’t until sometime later it came to their attention that the name given to the police investigation into Voudouris’s murder was Operation Olive — an eerie coincidence.

When John’s daughter made the call to police that morning to report the robbery, there was a delayed response, as she was told they were dealing with an incident in Paeroa — Voudouris’s murder. The three offenders would go on the run and not be found until some weeks later.

When caught, police questioned the men about potential involvement in Voudouris’s murder, but the three were able to provide an alibi. Apparently, they had been at a party in Waihi at the time of Voudouris’s murder and this was confirmed by others present. A strong alibi? I believe weak at best. 

I’d like to highlight a couple key points about these robberies. First, something I find particularly odd. They didn’t steal anything. No cash, no cigarettes, nothing. At their second target, the Katikati convenience store, they simply ran in brandishing their weapons and when the owner threw a pie in defence (only in New Zealand), they simply fled, hiding out in remote areas for weeks until they were eventually located by police.

In his police statement, one of the offenders claimed that he thought they would net $10,000 from the Mobil service station robbery —I find hard to believe anyone could genuinely expect to find that much cash at a petrol station at 6am.

And the second obvious point is the timeline — all three events occur within a four-hour window. At approximately 2am, Voudouris is murdered in Paeroa, then a 15-minute drive away, the Mobil robbery takes place at 5.45am, then the Katikati convenience store at approximately 6.15am. Starting from Voudouris’s murder, the incidents all occur in the same easterly direction.

When the offenders were eventually caught, it was claimed the pistol used was an imitation and not capable of firing a round. The evidence given was from a relative recalling seeing the gun briefly and believing it wasn’t real. Either way, even if it was genuine, it wouldn’t match the .22 calibre rifle police say was used in Voudouris’s murder. 

My attempts to contact these men were not successful, and without any further evidence of a connection between the crimes it’s time to move on.

Before I climb into my hunt for Voudouris’s former employee, yet again fate intervenes, this time in the form of a call from a relative living in the Waihi area who tells me they know someone with an interesting story that may be relevant to Voudouris’s case. When I meet Fiona in her workplace the next day, it becomes immediately clear to me that she’s a strong woman. She tells me that she’s lived a colourful life, which on one occasion resulted in the police busting down the door to arrest her partner for a large-scale drug operation. Today, she has a good job and stability thanks to her decision to no longer associate with “bad types”.

At their second target, the Katikati convenience store, they simply ran in brandishing their weapons and when the owner threw a pie in defence (only in New Zealand), they simply fled.

However, she goes on to tell me about a man she dated for nine months, and his bizarre disappearance on the night of Voudouris’s murder. “I had just gone upstairs to put my kids to bed and say good night. And when I came back down he was gone. He’d just vanished. I didn’t hear a door open or anything. It freaked me out.” Having searched every nook and cranny of her home, Fiona locked her doors and tried to call him only to find his phone had been turned off. The following morning, she woke to news of the armed hold-ups in Waihi and Katikati and Voudouris’s murder. Two days later her phone rang — it was the police: “They were like, ‘We need to talk to you about the pizza man.’” When two detectives arrived at Fiona’s house they brought with them “a ream of paper. They’d tapped into his phone and printed off all our text messages and phone calls.”

Four days after this interview — two weeks after he disappeared — Fiona finally receives a message from this man, now from a new number. Telling her “Don’t stress, the cops are just interviewing every male that fits a certain description. They’ve tapped my phone so I had to get a new one. Don’t worry, it wasn’t me.” Fiona’s nine-month relationship with this man ended that night — the night of Voudouris’s murder. Apart from the odd quick word when they occasionally ran into each other around town, they never spoke again, and as far as she’s aware, he was never officially connected to either the robberies or Voudouris’s murder.

Naturally, when I heard this, it screamed that something wasn’t right. This man was known to police and I’ve been told by another source that he’s someone who “can make people disappear”. In the small town of Waihi, population 5400, there aren’t many coincidences. And his disappearance and subsequent behaviour don’t seem to be the actions of an innocent man. While I believe it’s possible this man may be connected to the robberies or Voudouris’s murder, I’ve been unable to find any evidence to corroborate this, and this lead remains an outlier, a suspicious piece of the puzzle that just doesn’t quite fit.

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Earlier, in part one of this story, Linda Hunter mentioned a “French guy with blonde hair” that worked for Voudouris at the time of his murder, and the fact that they had argued a lot. Tatiana, also an employee, echoed this, saying that Grant had a tumultuous relationship with Voudouris, and that apparently the day before his murder, he’d been fired after another heated row.

Another former staff member thought Grant was involved with a dangerous crowd, and recalled Grant asking when they were leaving because “he (Grant) was expecting visitors and they’re not people you want to meet”. Viv Leonard believed he may have had some involvement with the notorious triads. Whatever the case, it became clear to me that in many people’s minds, Grant was a dangerous man. So who was he and where did he go?

My initial searches are drawing a blank, Grant is either a ghost or just doesn’t want to be found — even the human rolodex Viv Leonard doesn’t have the answer. However, Viv is able to point me in the direction of Paul, an old flatmate, whom I meet in a deserted car park in a backblock of Paeroa.

He arrives with a friend for support and climbs into the back seat of my car for our interview. He’s tall, middle-aged, and very genuine. Before meeting we’ve spoken briefly on the phone, and he told me that he’s been through some dark patches in the past. I can tell he’s lived a tough life. A number of years ago, he was nearly killed in a vicious unprovoked attack in Paeroa. While he was fortunate enough to survive, the attack left him with significant facial injuries and speech difficulties. He tells me that the reason I’d struggled to track Grant down is that I had the incorrect last name.

It turns out that at the time of Voudouris’s murder, Grant was living with Paul only a few blocks from Mykonos Pizza. Paul shows surprise when I tell him I’ve been told he’s a dangerous man that I should be wary of. He describes Grant as just a normal guy who “played games on his laptop”. We drove across Paeroa to visit his old flat on Station Road. As we stand across the street, Paul points out Grant’s old room and recalls him returning home from work on 17 June 2012 with a few pizzas. They “had some beers and eventually went to bed”. The next morning, someone knocked on the door with the news of Voudouris’s murder. He tells me that the moment Grant heard this, “He literally threw on shoes, clothes and ran straight from the house to Mykonos Pizza.” Paul has heard the rumour that Grant had been fired, but says that when Grant had returned home from work the previous night he wasn’t angry, as might be expected, “He was just normal.”

One thing is for certain, and that’s that the police had Grant at the top of their list of suspects from the early hours of the investigation. Paul tells me that his house was searched multiple times, his yard was even swept by metal detectors in the search for the gun used to kill Voudouris. To complicate matters, Paul had at one point owned a .22 calibre rifle, the same as the one used in Voudouris’s murder. But he assured me that this gun was no longer in his possession, so if Grant had somehow snuck out of the house after they had gone to bed, and murdered Voudouris in those early morning hours — it was not with his gun.

After speaking to Paul I’m beginning to feel that Grant isn’t as dangerous as everyone believes him to be. But now I’m armed with his full name, and using the world’s most sophisticated investigation software, Facebook, I track him down and fire off a message to him. Three weeks pass and it remains “unseen”. So I try another tack, and message his sister, who replies saying she’ll pass on my details. I don’t have high hopes of a response, so I’m shocked when only 10 minutes later my phone vibrates. It’s Grant: “I hear you want to speak to me about Voudouris?”

A week later I’m on the Auckland motorway, on my way to meet Grant at his home on the North Shore. I’m really not sure what to expect. According to Paul, Grant’s just a normal guy. But everyone else I’ve spoken to has said the exact opposite, and I’ve been warned “not to go alone” when meeting him. Heeding this advice, I asked my friend, Jacob, to come along. As we pull up at Grant’s house, it’s not what I expect — a two-storey house a short distance from the beach in an affluent suburb. I tell Jacob to wait in the car. In my mind he’s not so much a bodyguard, but a witness should this go sour.

There’s a man out the front watering a plant; he smiles as I approach. It’s Grant and he’s not what I expected. He’s a skinny guy, in his late thirties, with shaggy blond hair. He has a tired look in his eyes, but is friendly, even if he is a bit rough around the edges. As he leads me upstairs we pass his partner, I greet her with a “Hi” and get no response, reminding me why I’m here, and I guess it’s not something everyone’s happy about.

We sit at Grant’s dining table, the sliding door next to us revealing a beautiful ocean view, in stark contrast to the darker topic we’re about to discuss. He grimaces as he sits, the result of a recent surgery to remove two cysts from his stomach. When I’d spoken to Grant via text, I’d made it clear that my purpose was to clear up the rumour so I could get to the facts. He’d expressed some surprise at the possibility of rumours involving him and was keen to hear what these were.

He tells me that he’s “known Jordan for 20 years, I’ve watched his kids grow up for fuck’s sakes.” Grant met Voudouris through his brother Niko’s popular North Shore restaurant. He tells me that it was a cool place to go. “There was a really good atmosphere, and the three brothers were all really cool.”

One of the prevailing theories surrounding Grant and why he ended up in Paeroa, is that he was in some kind of gang-related trouble, and Voudouris offered him a job to help get his life back on track. When I run this past Grant, he becomes visibly frustrated and tells me that’s not the case. “I grew up with some nasty little Asian guys when I was younger, you know, I got in a bit of trouble when I was younger. That’s all behind me. That was my past.” The reason he ended up in Paeroa was because Voudouris “wanted to start a little Greek restaurant down there. I didn’t have work at the time. That was the trouble I was having — finding work. So he offered me a job, and I went down.”

When I ask him about the heated arguments I’d been told about, and him being fired the day of the murder, he’s genuinely pissed off: “Hell no. Maybe near the end we had a couple little tiffies… but throwing stuff… getting fired… that’s a new one. That’s one I’ve not heard. No. That’s bullshit. Complete and utter fucking bullshit.” As we speak, Grant’s frustration with what he’s hearing is growing, and he steps out onto the balcony to light a smoke and take a break. When he returns, he expresses his disdain for the town of Paeroa, and its “dark, incestuous underbelly”.

I ask him why he left Paeroa so soon after Voudouris’s death. Paul, his old flatmate, had told me that Grant literally walked out the door and left most of his belongings behind. He tells me that helping Voudouris out with the restaurant was the only thing keeping him in Paeroa, a place he couldn’t stand, and he had previously spoken to Voudouris and told him he was going to move back to Auckland. When Voudouris was murdered, there was nothing keeping him there other than bad memories, so he just up and left as soon as he could.

“That’s fucking brutal man… I don’t know what he did, but he didn’t deserve that. He’s a fucking good guy.”

I ask Grant about that last night he worked, and he says they sat and had a few beers out the back of the store to celebrate their birthdays — both of which were due in the next few days. He then made a couple of pizzas, walked home and continued to drink with Paul. The next thing he remembers is waking up and sprinting down to the store when he heard the news. When I mention the possibility of “knife cuts” to Voudouris’s arms, I feel a shift in Grant. Tears well in his eyes. “That’s fucking brutal man… I don’t know what he did, but he didn’t deserve that. He’s a fucking good guy.” He repeats that they weren’t angry at each other, and it really annoys him that people think that. But yes, there was some tension about him heading back to Auckland.

I can sense in Grant a feeling of genuine sadness and perhaps some guilt, that their relationship had become somewhat strained towards the end of his time at Mykonos and that this is not an accurate reflection of their friendship over the years. In our lives we all have moments of strain with our friends and family, but we’re able to mend these issues and move on. I can only imagine how difficult it must be when the damage can’t be repaired; the wounds never healed.

Grant spent a lot of time with Voudouris over the years, so knew him very well. I ask him what he believes may have happened and he’s genuinely at a loss, he tells me that Voudouris “didn’t have a dark side”. His only vice was that he loved putting a bet on the horses. But then he pauses and remembers one particular event that took place in the weeks prior to his murder. It was a back-alley deal, where Voudouris purchased some undersized snapper from “shady” locals. Grant says he told Voudouris: “Don’t buy that shit man, you’ll get yourself in trouble.” If Voudouris was in fact buying undersized fish, could this relationship have soured and somehow led to his death? It would seem too heavy a price to pay for a fish deal gone bad — but stranger things have happened.

Grant tells me that the police put a lot of pressure on him, giving him the “good cop, bad cop treatment. They also raided his father’s home in what proved to be a fruitless search for the .22 rifle. He says that he was “shitting himself ”, and recalls thinking: “Holy shit, I’m their number one suspect right now. Am I going to go to jail for murder?…For the murder of a fricken good friend of mine… All because some people have made some assumptions about me.”

Ultimately no evidence was found and the police moved on. But this didn’t prevent locals continuing to believe Grant had gotten away with murder. He tells me that he used to really like all the staff at the store — Tatiana and the other girls he worked with. But he felt they turned on him, the out-of-towner, the outcast. And today, he has “nothing to say to them”.

There’s no doubt Grant carries a lot of anger and resentment over how he’s been targeted by the town. And if he’s genuinely innocent — which I believe he is — then it’s not hard to see how he’d feel this way. When I ask about what he’d say to those responsible for Voudouris’s murder, his face turns into one of pure hatred. I get the sense there’s a huge amount of bottled emotion. He says they can “rot in hell, rot in fucking hell”. The anger dissolves into a smile through damp eyes when he recalls his fondest memories, when they used to “muck around making shit” behind Mykonos. A tear slides down his face when he recalls Voudouris’s favourite catchphrase, which he used to shout at the top of his lungs: “OBRIGADO, SUN-DRIED TOMATO!”

This concludes Part Two of this three-part series written exclusively for North & South, covering Season Two of the investigative podcast GUILT, which can be found on all good podcast platforms.

Note: Some names have been changed in this story.

GUILT is free on Apple and Spotify
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This story appeared in the August 2023 issue of North & South.