Bay of Plenty rampage: Grieving families say four brutal deaths in five days a ‘never-ending nightmare’

Five days. Four deaths. Four devastated families.

It was the week from hell for four heartbroken families.

Within five days in early February 2020, three people were shot with a firearm and another died from numerous crossbow bolt wounds.

On February 11, Tauranga grandfather Paul Lasslett, 43, and his visitor Nick Littlewood, 32, were gunned down at Lasslett’s property in Ormsby Lane, Ōmanawa.

Within two days, one of the two shooters, Anthony Fane, was shot dead by police after he fired multiple rounds at Armed Offenders Squad members after a lengthy pursuit.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority found the officers were justified in shooting Fane because of the significant risk he posed to officers and the public.

The next day his partner Jessie Lee Booth, 30, was found dead at her Brookfield home by police.

Police believe Fane killed Booth around February 9 with a crossbow he bought a month earlier after he became convinced she and Lasslett were having an affair.

Last week Fane’s younger brother Samuel Fane received life imprisonment with a 17-year minimum non-parole period for the murders of Lasslett and Littlewood.

He was convicted of the murders at a jury trial in May.

Samuel Fane’s partner Sarah Lee Tarei was sentenced to nine months home detention after she was found guilty of being an accessory after the fact to the murders.

But although the court process is over, the families of the dead say they are still living a nightmare and their heartbreak never goes away.

Littlewood’s grieving mother Trish Littlewood says every day she wakes up hoping her son murder was “just a nightmare”.

“Learning to live without Nick in our lives is beyond unfair.”

Rotorua-born Nick Littlewood had moved to Tauranga in 2009 and was the older brother of Katie Littlewood, 30, and also a member of a large extended family.

A qualified exterior plasterer, he had also done landscaping work all around the Bay of Plenty and was experienced at driving and fixing diggers.

Trish Littlewood said the Littlewood family did not have any connections to the Lasslett family and did not even know Paul Lasslett.

“All we knew was that Nick went off to help a mate who needed a hand to fix a small digger stuck in an effluent pond about 2pm. That is the last we saw or heard from him.

“That was just so typical of Nick, as he was Mr Fix-it and could repair most things.”

The day before the murders, she, husband Darrell and Nick had been laughing and joking together going through a treasure trove of family items at a Te Puna storage unit.

“It brought back so many wonderful memories of happy times we shared as a family.”

At the time, Littlewood said she and her husband, who had been married for 36 years, were still living in Port Headlands, a mining town in Western Australia.

They had returned to the Bay of Plenty the weekend before the murders for a family friend’s wedding and had been staying at her sister’s house in Rotorua.

Littlewood said her son’s murder was “unbelievably sad”.

She said the Fane brothers had robbed her of the chance to become a grandparent for the first time and her son had been “very hopeful”of becoming a father one day.

“Nick had a larger-than-life personality, and he always had such a positive ‘life was good’ attitude to life, and had so much to live for. He would have made a wonderful dad.

“For those b******s to say Nick was in the wrong place, at the wrong time, laughing and high-fiving each other, is so disgusting and very callous,” she said, expressing her view and refering to evidence heard during the trial.

“Nick did not deserve this, no one does.”

Heartbroken Nimu Lasslett said no words could describe the heartache she feels daily.

“I feel like I’m serving a life sentence,” she said.

“But it’s not just our family, the families of Nick Littlewood and Jessie Lee Booth have also been left devastated, and there is also a fourth mother who is hurting.

“I feel bad for Donna Fane as no mother wants to be in this situation. She has lost one son and now another is going to be in prison for a very long time.

“We have all lost so much and there were so many missed opportunities for someone to have stopped this from happening.

“Especially Samuel Fane, who knew what his brother Anthony had done and intended to do, then cowardly tried to hide behind the actions of his dead brother.”

Whether Anthony knew Samuel’s intentions was also argued in court and it was determined he did.

“I cannot forgive him, today, and maybe given time I will be able to, but I will never forget what he has done to our family.

“Four families lives have been changed forever and we have to live the rest of our lives knowing this was all preventable.”

Kath Wihapi, 51, from Mount Maunganui, said life without her beautiful daughter Jessie Lee Booth was “unimaginably hard”.

“It’s a living nightmare that just keeps going on and on.”

Wihapi said the evening Anthony Fane was shot by the police she was at a police traffic cordon on State Highway 2 near the intersection with 15th Ave.

She said her 12-hour shift as a traffic management controller started at 6pm and she was directed to work the cordon until her shift ended the next morning.

“All night I was only about 100 to 150 metres back from the scene. I didn’t think anything of it at the time and the police certainly didn’t tell me someone had been shot.

“I saw them walking a dog to a police van and also an ambulance arrive. I also saw them take a body away in a bag on a stretcher. But no way in hell did I know it was Anthony.”

The next day about 10.30am, her sister phoned and told her “heaps of police” were at Jessie Lee’s house after she went to check up on her.

“When we got to the house, the police told us there was a woman’s body inside and thought it might be Jessie Lee. They had gone there to tell her about Anthony being shot.”

Wihapi sobbed as she described learning about her daughter’s brutal death.

“I just couldn’t believe it was true and I still can’t believe this has happened. It felt like half of me has died with Jessie Lee and still does. I wanted to be with her to protect her.”

She said the police asked them to confirm her daughter’s identity from a partial photograph taken of the clothing Jessie Lee had been wearing.

“By that stage, she was unrecognisable. And at the morgue in Auckland, we had to show the undertaker photos of Jessie Lee. The undertaker was glad we did as there wasn’t much left of her.”

Wihapi said her daughter went on leave from her dispatcher job at the local freight delivery firm PBT just weeks before giving birth in January 2020.

“Jessie Lee was at a stage in her life where she was happy and felt her family was now complete.”

She and Fane met in the Mamaku area about eight years ago when Jessie Lee was working in the early childhood sector, and studying for her early childhood certificate.

Wihapi said her oldest daughter was a natural-born teacher and mother, who loved playing school and dresses with her siblings growing up, as long as she was in charge.

The couple lived in Rotorua for a time, then moved to Tauranga in 2014 for a “fresh start”, for a better lifestyle, and to be closer to Anthony’s roofing contracting work.

“Moving to Tauranga was like the New Zealand dream for them. They both had big plans,and Jessie Lee planned everything,” she said.

Described as a hard worker, highly organised, and a “fiercely independent” person, Jessie Lee completed a culinary course at Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology about three years ago and her ” big dream” was to own a cake decorating business.

“She even had a grand plan for the rest of her life. But I think that sort got a bit messed up when she met Anthony,”Wihapi said.

Being told by the police they believed Anthony was responsible for her daughter’s death was a “huge shock”, as it was not something she had foreseen.

The last time she saw her daughter was about 5.30pm on February 9, she said.

“We could sense something was wrong. Jessie Lee was not her usual happy talkative self. When I asked her if she was going to be alright, she assured me she would be okay.

“When I talk about that whole week, that’s what really gets to me. I know there’s no point saying ‘could have, would–have, should have’ now, but I’m sure something could have been done to prevent this from happening.

“Jessie Lee did not deserve to have her life ended this way.

“It astounded us that there was even a hint of a suggestion she would be unfaithful or be the cheating wife. She would never do that, she loved her family too much.

“Three innocent people lost their lives that week. I feel for the other families too because I’m pretty sure they don’t believe the allegation of an affair is true at all either.”

Damning evidence at the trial included a recorded prison call between the siblings and a third Fane brother Cody – a prison inmate at the time – on February 13, 2020.

Wihapi said, in her view, there were many missed chances to prevent her daughter’s death.

“Alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear at that time,” she said.

“Even the Corrections department who were monitoring that prison phone call could have called the police and asked them to send someone around to the house to check on her,” she said in her opinion.

“When we couldn’t contact Jessie Lee for days one of us was going around to check the house every day. It was devastating to find out Jessie Lee had been lying in the house the whole time.”

Jessie Lee’s brothers Honore Te Ra and Farrin Wihapi said it was still difficult to accept their beautiful sister was gone.

“She was too young and had so much to live for,” the brothers said.

“Our sister was very smart and clever, and would definitely keep us on our toes. She could never sit still and do nothing and would make things happen,” Honore said.

“Jessie Lee was a positive person who was kind, caring and had lots of lifetime friends who adored her, and loved her, as we did,” he said.

“She was very humorous and cheeky. But you knew if she was angry, she was straight-up and would tell you how it is. She was the sensible one, and tell us off if we needed to be.”

Honore also said he still “loved Anthony Fane like a brother”.

“He was a good man at heart.”

Farrin Wihapi said his late sister was the “role model of their family”.

“She was always telling me, that’s wrong and this is the right thing to do. She was always looking out for me. Jessie helped me looked after my son and really loved her nephew.

“She was very supportive in helping me to be the best dad I could be. That is the sort of loving, caring person she was and she didn’t deserve this. We all miss her so much.”

Jessie Lee is also survived by her sister Sabrina, 28.

Donna Fane, the mother of Anthony and Samuel Fane also approached for comment.

Detective Sergeant Geoff Whiteside earlier said although some of the men had gang connections, he and the families wanted the community to understand these tragic deaths were not gang-related, they were the result of a “very serious” family harm matter.

A brothers' phone call

During the trial, Simon Lance, Samuel Fane’s defence lawyer, argued his client’s “angry and deranged” brother Anthony was solely responsible for the murders.

The Crown evidence made it clear the murders of Lasslett and Littlewood were set in train days earlier.

The Crown prosecutor argued there was inescapable evidence Samuel and Anthony Fane were the Ōmanawa shooters and Samuel also knew Anthony had killed Booth.

It only took 10 minutes for the shooters to commit the execution-style killings in Ōmanawa.

Littlewood had been visiting the property that day after being asked to give a good friend a hand with landscaping work on the property.

He and Lasslett were talking inside Lasslett’s converted shed dwelling when the shooters fired a volley of shots and fled.

In a prison call between the siblings and a third Fane brother Cody, Samuel Fane tells Cody that Anthony revealed he had “already done the first one” then went on a retribution mission to kill Lasslett.

The brothers can be heard laughing, giggling, sharing a round of high-fives and repeatedly complimenting each other for “going hard out” to get Lasslett.

Anthony tells one brother, “It was easy bro. I’m happy that I did it all”.

“Honest to God I’m on top of the world bro. Why stop a good thing, It’s going good. There’ll be more … there’ll be news soon,” he tells Cody.

Cody replies, “I’ll be watching my bro. F***ing gangsta.”

Anthony also tells Cody, “bro, my life is a lie bro”.

“I’m starting to crack it. It took me a year yo. I’m still gonna carry on even if everyone hates it. F*** it.”

After Anthony disconnects from the call, Samuel tells Cody, after the shootings were done the beaming smile on his late brother’s face was “like he had won the Lotto, bro”.

Samuel also tells Cody Anthony had “finally figured it out” when talking about how Anthony believed Booth had been cheating on him.

“He’s got all the evidence bro. All the phones, everything … GPS and everything.

“I think that is why he’s just rampaging now, ‘cos he knows. The count’s already high G.”

Samuel Fane also told Cody Littlewood’s murder was a case of “wrong place, wrong time” and treated his death like acceptable collateral damage for Lasslett’s murder.

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