'He said he had to come clean': Huntly woman 'mortified' to learn husband of 10 years murdered his first wife

A chance encounter led to love but ended in a traumatic marriage with psychological abuse, betrayal and coercion.
A chance encounter led to love but ended in a traumatic marriage with psychological abuse, betrayal and coercion. Photo credit: Getty Images.

When New Zealand woman Sandra* first met Alistair Federick Rehutai at the Huntly RSA in 2009, she was taken by his charm and drawn into his kindness. 

The pair were married the next year, starting their life together by selling her $300,000 home and moving to Waihi to start a business. 

Now she's been forced to start over again in a new place with a new identity after learning ten years into their marriage Rehutai is a convicted murderer on lifetime parole for killing his first wife. 

Having lost her husband of 30 years to cancer in 2006, three years later Sandra felt ready for love and to give a new relationship a chance. 

She was having a night out with relatives at the Huntly RSA when a chance encounter inserted Alistair Rehutai into her life in 2009. 

"He happened to come over and introduce himself, and we just started talking," Sandra told Newshub. "He was such a nice person." 

Sandra says Rehutai told her he had been working as a commercial fisherman, going out to sea up to six months at a time. 

As they got to know each other, Sandra found common ground with Rehutai, who told her his first wife had died from breast cancer, and they bonded over the cruelness of the disease. 

The pair fell in love and married a year after they met, with family members and friends from each side at the wedding. 

"His family were so nice to us. Not one of them said boo."

Sandra and Rehutai met at the Huntly RSA (pictured) in 2009. The pair later bonded over losing both of their first spouses to cancer, but Sandra would eventually learn the sinister truth.
Sandra and Rehutai met at the Huntly RSA (pictured) in 2009. The pair later bonded over losing both of their first spouses to cancer, but Sandra would eventually learn the sinister truth. Photo credit: Supplied.

She sold her home and business before the pair moved to Waihi, where they bought a home together. They opened a shoe and handbag store and Rehutai became a director of their new company with her. 

There weren't any red flags in the beginning, Sandra says - but over time their relationship unravelled. 

Rehutai grew controlling of Sandra, wanting to know her every movement and tracked her whereabouts on her iPhone. 

She says he would call every hour to check where she was and who she was with, and frequently made derogatory comments and threats against her life. Rehutai had told her that if she left, he would "put a hit out" on her, telling her "If I can't have you no one can."

"If he rang me on my cellphone while I was driving, as soon as I answered it was like 'where the f**k are you?'" Sandra recounts.

"A couple of times in the car while I was driving he had his fist against my cheek and said he'd love to hit me."

He refrained from being physically abusive toward her, backing down when she told him she would call the police. 

One day Sandra came home to find a found a glass pipe in the sink, which she regonised as paraphernalia to smoke meth.   

"I thought 'what the hell is this?' I don't know anything about drugs. I asked him what it was and he said 'oh, my mates been here today', and I thought 'yeah right'."

Fed up with her husband's controlling and manipulative ways, Sandra knew she had to find a way out - but there were challenges. 

He had moved $20,000 of their money into an account she couldn't access as an "insurance policy". They also lived on his family's land in a transportable cabin where she had all of her possessions, and she was fearful that he would send "gangsters" to kill her, like she says he had promised. 

But although the hold he had over her was strong, she knew deep down she was done with his deceit, finding drugs in their home, being coerced and the psychological abuse. 

Sandra had been in the process of planning her exit for two years when Rehutai came home one night, around Christmas time last year, and told her he had something to confess. 

"He said he had to come clean and tell me something. I'm like 'OK, what is it?'" Sandra said. "He said that he had murdered his first wife, that he had done 15 years' [prison] and he was a lifetime parolee. I'm like: 'You're kidding'." 

She says Rehutai told her that he had come home from fishing, found his wife in bed with another bloke, went to his mate's house, got a gun and went back to shoot them both. 

Sandra was mortified but she would later learn the version of events he told her weren't accurate. It wasn't an affair that drove him to murder, it was a dispute over custody of their child. 

Rehutai had pleaded guilty to the murder of his de facto wife and mother of his child Shayne, Mary Smith on November 12, 1996, at the High Court in Rotorua in April 1997, aged 31. 

Sandra was shocked to learn Rehutai had been in prison following the 1996 murder until 2008.
Sandra was shocked to learn Rehutai had been in prison following the 1996 murder until 2008. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Justice Paterson sentenced him to life imprisonment after the court heard Rehutai murdered Smith when she told him he could no longer have access to the child. 

He was released from prison on December 3, 2008 with the standard conditions for life and special conditions for three years from the date of release. 

Sandra says Rehutai told her that he was "petrified" at the thought of going back to jail, and she suddenly understood why her threats to call the police carried so much weight. But she also now knew what he was capable of. 

The revelation only drove home how important it was to leave Rehutai, but it wasn't just a matter of packing her things and going. Sandra says he had run their business into debt, and she wasn't prepared to leave suppliers and bills unpaid. There was also the constant fear hanging over her head of what could happen if her plans went wrong. 

She reluctantly stayed living with him for another six months.

"I just played the game," she says.

Through this time, Sandra continued getting reminders of just how vulnerable she was living with Rehutai. After one particularly bad argument she tried to leave, but says she was stopped by Rehutai who stood in the middle of the driveway wielding an axe. 

She says when she threatened to call the police, he walked away. 

By June this year, she had everything in place to flee and took her opportunity when he was away on a trip to Auckland. Knowing something wasn't right, Rehutai called her phone 49 times the day she left. 

Sandra went to Women's Refuge, who put her in a safe home that she's stayed in for 14 weeks. She was granted a protection order, allowing her to now start her life afresh with a new identity in a new location. 

Sandra and Rehutai lived together in Waihi (pictured) when their relationship unravelled.
Sandra and Rehutai lived together in Waihi (pictured) when their relationship unravelled. Photo credit: Getty Images.

On July 21, 2020, the New Zealand Police advised the Parole Board of the protection order and in a hearing on August 17, an application made by Corrections was considered for Rehutai, now 54, to be recalled from parole to prison to continue serving his life sentence for the murder of his wife, documents supplied to Newshub confirm. 

The New Zealand Parole Board granted the application for recall, and he has been behind bars since his arrest on 24 July 2020.

Looking back at their time together, Sandra knows betrayal was a huge component of her and Rehutai's relationship. 

"I found out he was having affairs on me, he's taken cash from the business," she said.

Sandra says he's hidden $80,000 worth of assets, a boat, a brand new ride-on mower and a brand new 2019 Nissan Navara truck and understands he paid cash for another car before his arrest. 

Sandra urges anyone going through a relationship that involves any form of domestic violence to "be strong" and not to stick around. 

"If you have to stay and play the game for a little while do it as long as you know you can get out safely," she says. "I planned for two-and-a-half years to leave.

"Anybody can do it, you've just got to make sure you keep your mindset that you've got a goal that you're going to reach. 

"I've learned, I've grown, no man will ever control me again, ever. " 

Although feeling stronger for having "made it out alive", she says she's frustrated there were not processes that worked to prevent ex-prisoners from deceiving others.  

"The parole board knew nothing, so what the hell were they doing? They didn't know anything about him, where he lived, that he was married." 

Ex-prisoners are expected to comply with any conditions imposed by the Courts or New Zealand Parole Board. It is Corrections' role to manage a previous offender's compliance with those conditions.

Rehutai is now back in prison.
Rehutai is now back in prison. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Corrections Operations Director for central New Zealand Louise Wood told Newshub although Rehutai had no condition preventing him from forming a relationship or requiring him to disclose being in a relationship, he was specifically and regularly asked about his relationships and continued to advise he was a single man.

"We regularly carried out third party verification of what he was telling us with his family and employers however no information about a partner was ever received. In 2012 he did indicate on one occasion that he had a girlfriend, however no further information eventuated," Wood says. 

She says as soon as Corrections became aware that the man was in a relationship and that there were concerns for Sandra's safety, it was acted on. 

"We had frequent contact with his partner, the agencies supporting her, and police, to ensure her safety and obtain the evidence required to apply to recall the man to prison to continue serving his sentence of life imprisonment.

"I can only imagine the trauma suffered by this woman as a result of being deceived by her husband about his history."    

During this time, Wood says Rehutai was not aware of his partner's location and was required to report to his probation officer more frequently during this time with additional verification of his location and living circumstances. 

She said when a person is initially released from prison, their contact with their probation officer is intensive to ensure that their reintegration to the community is closely and safely managed.

As they settle into life outside of prison, if they are meeting the obligations of their parole and there is no evidence of concern or risk, this contact gradually becomes less frequent.

"Following two years outside of prison, with no apparent issues raised and positive progress monitoring hearings before the New Zealand Parole Board, he was required to report to his probation officer every 40 days, which included meeting at a Community Corrections site and the probation officer visiting him at home."

"While the man was compliant with these obligations, it is now evident that he withheld information and his engagement was superficial." 

An application for Newshub to talk to Alistair Rehutai is under consideration by Corrections. 

* Sandra's name has been changed to protect her identity. 

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