Who is Jesse Kempson? Grace Millane's murderer's background exposed

Jesse Kempson.
Jesse Kempson. Photo credit: Facebook.

The man who killed British backpacker Grace Millane can be named as Jesse Kempson.

Until now, the 28-year-old's identity has been protected by a court order.

In November 2019, Kempson was found guilty of murdering Millane, a British backpacker, in Auckland's CityLife Hotel in December 2018. He would later bury her body in the Waitakere Ranges. Kempson's lawyers argued at his trial that Millane's death was an accident during a form of rough sex. 

In February of this year he was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.

Who is Jesse Kempson?

The man who would kill Grace Millane was born in Wellington in December, 1991 and brought up around the town of Porirua.

At the age of nine, Kempson's parents separated and he became estranged from his mother, who moved overseas. In an interview with police during the investigation into Millane's disappearance - something shown to the court during his trial - Kempson told officers he tried to re-establish contact with her, but that never worked out. 

The divorce, he said, caused him anxiety and depression.

"It was tough at the time, but through counselling, I got through it," Kempson told police.

After briefly being in the care of his grandfather, Kempson was raised by his father, who later remarried. Images of Kempson at a young age seen by Newshub show him embraced by the merged family. 

At high school, Kempson played softball at a regional representative level for multiple teams. Afterwards, he reportedly worked as a labourer and bar attendant.

But something happened between Kempson and his family that led him to cross the ditch to Australia, where his exact movements are unclear. 

There have, however, been claims he fathered a child while there, something his family has reportedly disputed. A woman, who met Kempson in Auckland in August 2016 after he returned to New Zealand, told Newshub he showed her a photo of a young girl he claimed was his daughter.

Extravagant stories

Kempson spent the years prior to his arrest moving between Auckland properties, frequently posting within Facebook groups for people hunting down flats. 

One former flatmate of Kempson's told Newshub soon after his arrest that while he was initially "chatty" and "reasonably easy to live with", he eventually became "aggressive". 

"[He had] a lot of stories that very quickly stopped making sense," she told Newshub.

"If you would ever question his stories he would become incredibly defensive."

The recounting of extravagant stories is consistently brought up by people who knew Kempson. 

Many were heard by the court during his trial. That includes claims that he was an oil company manager, the cousin of a prominent All Black, that he had gang connections, was friends with police officers, and had cancer.

At sentencing, Justice Simon Moore said a cultural report concluded Kempson's "childhood and upbringing has been affected by various traumatic influences" which impacted his "transition to adulthood" and "ability to make good decisions and the right decisions". 

Justice Moore said Kempson's "volatile upbringing" and "cultural isolation" may have led him to "lie to those you wanted to impress by pretending you were a man of affluence and social standing".

"That appears to have been your modus operandi when attempting to impress the women you met."

Kempson eventually found work as a salesman and began renting a single bedroom apartment at the Auckland CityLife hotel in October 2018, only months before he met Millane and murdered her there. 

His contract to live in the apartment was to last a year, but it was abandoned after his arrest. Earlier this year, it was revealed Kempson had been ordered by the Tenancy Tribunal to pay his landlord more than $5000 due to damages to the apartment and unpaid rent. 

The landlord has said he was caught off guard by the investigation into Kempson, who he hadn't considered violent. It was his understanding the killer was on a salary of about $150,000 a year.

Prior to being found guilty of killing Millane, Kempson had just two relatively minor traffic convictions.

Newshub has attempted to speak to members of Kempson's family over the last two years.

'Web of lies'

The woman who met Kempson after he arrived back in New Zealand in 2016 told Newshub they came across each other on Tinder and had mutual friends within the softball community. 

After hearing what she now describes as "sob stories" about his living situation, she decided to let him crash at her flat while he found his feet.

"I felt sorry for him. [I] introduced him to my flatmates. There was never going to be anything there, but I felt bad for him and in the softball community we all look after each other, and we all knew the same people. We had probably crossed paths before," the woman, who Newshub won't name, says. 

But quickly things began to not add up.

"One minute, he was living in a motel, paying...up to $1k a week, and the next he was being kicked out of his flat," she said.

She says he told her flatmates numerous elaborate stories, including that he was an All Blacks' cousin and was looking to purchase shares in a prominent Auckland Viaduct restaurant with his uncle.

"He was kinda the biggest and the best with everything that he had. His parents were kinda estranged to him. He was over here working for his dad, but he didn't know much about what they were doing."

The woman told Newshub that Kempson stayed with her for several days before suddenly gathering up his belongings and leaving. Later, however, he rang to ask if he could head back and borrow a towel, which she allowed. When she returned home, she found an emergency stash of money she kept in a pile of towels was gone.

According to the woman, Kempson denied stealing the cash. She didn't go to the police about it at the time.

But she did delete all connection with the man and tried to move on with her life. 

However, following Millane's disappearance the woman came across a link between Kempson and the British backpacker.

"When she was missing, I clicked on her Facebook profile and saw he had commented. It was then it was like 'he is probably capable of that'," she told Newshub.

"[Me and my flatmates] wouldn't put that past him."

It was sickening for the woman. 

"It was awful. We just went back to all of the things we thought about him at the time and it brought back all those old memories. I don't know how to describe it," she says.

"You just kinda went numb and thought actually as unlucky as I was to lose that money, I am so lucky to still have everything else."

She told her story to Auckland police in January 2019 and hoped at the time that other women who had encountered Kempson would come forward when his name was released.

"I am sure the kind of guy that he was, he was a good looking dude and said all the right things, there would have been a lot of people in between me and Grace. [They] probably got caught up in his webs of lies."

'He was hiding something'

Kempson told police during their investigation into Millane's disappearance he was a big drinker. He would frequently meet women for drinks, including on one date at Ponsonby's Revelry Bar on December 2, 2018 - at the same time Millane's body was lying in his apartment. 

The date came about after a stream of messages from Kempson.

"Prior to meeting him he seemed normal and nice but very persistent and messaging multiple times in a row even when I hadn't replied," the woman - who cannot be named - told Newshub following the November 2019 trial.

"On the day we met up he did say that if I wasn't feeling up for meeting him then that was okay, but I went ahead and met him anyway."

During their date, she says he seemed "aloof". 

"He seemed a little nervous and fidgety. He did a lot of talking during the date and became very entranced when telling certain stories about his work for a supermarket chain, how snakes can kill you in Australia and how he knew of someone who accidentally killed their partner during rough sex.

"He was engaged during the date but he wasn't really interested in forming a connection. It felt like he was preoccupied with his own thoughts and stories".

The date lasted about an hour and a half, but when they left, she felt uncomfortable. 

"I left at the end of the date after we said goodbye. He was going to walk down the street my car was parked on but something was off so I lied and said my car was down another street," she told Newshub.

"It was a general intuition that I didn't feel safe with him as he was so much bigger than me and his stories were so out there."

Looking back on the date more than a year on, the woman says "he was odd".

"He looked very different from his online dating profile. I got the sense he was hiding something and that he had to keep up a slight facade. It was uncomfortable to be around him and I sensed he could be the type that would spike my drink."