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The end of all enquiries

By 21 August 2023September 13th, 2023Feature Article, North&South

The end of all enquiries

A year on from the podcast GUILT going to air, people are slowly coming forward, connecting the dots with small pieces of information, but will the puzzle ever be solved? This is the final part of Ryan Wolf ’s investigation into the death of Paeroa pizza restaurant owner Jordan Voudouris.

By Ryan Wolf

When I walked into Arkwright’s Antiques on day one of this investigation, among the many interesting things store owner Viv Leonard said to me was that a man had walked into her store and said he knew who killed Jordan Voudouris — the killer was his nephew and he’s dead now.

This lead had bothered me right through this case. Why would someone walk off the street and make this claim for no apparent reason? When I finally tracked the man down, I learned that his nephew had been connected to a gang and that he had died as the result of a single gunshot wound. Despite the cause of death being ruled a suicide, this was disputed by the family and by those on the street and in the know. Why he should have been accused of being the suspect by his uncle was never made clear to me. There were many leads in this case and I wasn’t ready to rule out any of them yet.

The other person of interest Viv told me about was a local woman called Sierra, who Viv thought might have some key information. Sierra, she said, didn’t own a phone, but Viv told me where I could find her, and with a map scrawled on the back of a napkin I set off. The centre of Paeroa is not a big place and I walked past the entrance of the building a few times before I realised the large roller shed door with piles of old bricks leaning on it is what I was looking for. Across the centre of the door is an old message, written in large, faded red paint strokes. It’s difficult to read, but the words are still legible: “The cops know who killed Jordan…” The rest trails off under newer paint. Next to the roller door I find a small, locked wrought iron gate, overgrown with vines and ivy. It feels like the entrance to some magical kingdom, where mystery and the unknown lie in wait. I give the gate a rattle and call out, but no one is home. I head back to my car, and just as I’m packing in my equipment, hear my name called and see Sierra jogging towards me.

Sierra is one of those characters who could only be described as larger than life. A proud trans woman, she told me she spent her younger years dancing in high-end cabaret bars throughout New Zealand. Her story is worth a podcast on its own, but today she wanted to talk about Voudouris. Sierra’s property backs directly onto the courtyard where Voudouris was found dead. She told me that on that night at 1.15am, while she sat up waiting for a movie to start, she heard “a hell of a noise… a man and a woman fighting. The fight lasted about 40 seconds, there were three pieces of conversation. Then everything went quiet.” Despite making herself available to police, it was days before they finally arrived to perform a series of sound tests to see exactly how much she could have heard from her building. The police performed 40 test gunshots and she was able to hear 36 of them, although on the night in question the only thing she did hear were “two foreign voices, one of them a Greek accent”.

A trip into the bush

As the podcast has grown over the course of this investigation, the number of tips I received exploded. Most of these were obviously not credible after a brief check, but my ears started to prick up when I got multiple sources with the same information.

There is one particular name that’s talked about in the corners of pubs and garages of Paeroa. Let’s call him John Smith*. I’d been told several things about John Smith. That after Voudouris’s murder he suddenly left for Australia, that he’s a “loose weapon”, a “wildcard”. And then I received a phone call from a known source saying they had someone who wanted to speak to me privately, but would only meet in person. I was given a time and an address in the nearby town of Waihi ,and three days later I was swinging open a high gate hiding a large barking dog. When I met the owner we sat down in his lounge and I could tell he was genuinely scared for his safety. He went on to tell me that he’d known John for years and that it was his belief that John and “others in his circle” were responsible for Voudouris’s death. He recalled hearing talk of “taking him (Jordan) for a boot ride before he was shot and dumped back where he was found,” and that this was “payback” for some grievance. He told me John is an unpredictable and dangerous guy, who “plunged a knife into a guy’s leg as a joke at a party”, and said “if they found out I was speaking to you, I think they’d take care of me too”.

Even though the shell casing believed to be from the single shot that killed Voudouris was found about 25 metres from his body, I still felt I needed to pursue this lead. I reached out to John Smith through social media and asked if he’d be willing to meet to discuss rumours around town and was surprised when he messaged me back almost immediately saying he’d be “more than happy to speak”. A couple of days later, on his instruction, I followed him in my car from Paeroa out into the Karangahake Gorge. John had asked to have someone else present for the interview, so we’re meeting at his brother’s house. Safety-wise, I’m feeling okay. I’ve spoken to John a bit via Facebook and he’s told me the rumours are all “bullshit”, and that he “thought Jordan was a great guy”. But as I followed this man I’d never met out into the remote bush; a man who is apparently dangerous and who once plunged a knife into someone, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I felt a bit exposed — considering I had no idea where I was going, and who was going to be there.

“I had an answer for all the questions. I knew he had a lot of illegal firearms. I knew he had a sawn-off shotgun, a .22, a handgun. He had knives, machetes, things like that.”

When he eventually led me into a driveway, I was immediately put at ease. His brother came out to meet us and they were both friendly, typical Kiwi blokes. We admired John’s brother’s muscle car for a time before heading into the nearby man cave which housed a fully stocked bar, beer fridges and a pool table. The three of us pulled up stools. John is a young-looking 41-year-old Pākehā wearing a beanie and the casual clothes you might expect of a farmer. We made some idle chit-chat before I asked him a few more direct questions. John admitted he did head to Australia sometime after Voudouris’s death, but this was purely coincidental. He told me that “yes” he was a “bit too eager to make stupid decisions’’ when he was younger, but it was just “standard issue troublemaking, nothing serious”.

And the knife in the leg? According to John this was a combination of too much drink and a joke gone wrong with, of all things, an “ornamental battle axe”. A knife plunged into a leg, not so much. When I asked if the police ever spoke to him, John told me that yes, they interviewed “pretty much anyone of interest”, but in his case even went so far as to execute a search warrant, and he even had detectives tail him for a time. John recalled an incident where a detective leaned in his car window while he waited at the bakery, and told him, “You know, holding onto something like this is big. It’s BIG. I was speaking to a guy recently who felt so much better after he spoke.” John’s reply, “I’m not telling you fucking anything because I didn’t do anything!”

The reason for the extra police attention, he told me, was a disgruntled former friend who falsely tipped off the police about John owning a .22 calibre rifle. I asked him if these rumours affected him and he said, “No. If they had any substance I’d be worried… but sometimes people just say stuff to have something to say on a Sunday.”

Making my way back down through the Karangahake Gorge, I crossed the Crown Hill Bridge, the Ohinemuri River cascading below; it really is a stunning part of the country. But the sun was quickly going down and I still had one more interview today.

Her name is Tatiana. She had initially declined my request because, for her, even now almost 10 years after Voudouris’s death, it’s still raw. She had been a huge part of the running of Mykonos Pizza, and considered Voudouris a father figure.

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We found a booth by the window at the famous L&P cafe at the northern end of Paeroa. Tatiana is still only in her mid-20s. I knew this interview was going to be hard for her. She was only 13 years old when she started working in the kitchen “as a dishy”, and worked her way up until she “could do everything in there”. She’s proud of the fact that Voudouris trusted her so much that she “was one of the only people he ever showed how to make his pizzas”. When I asked her to describe his character, her eyes suddenly welled with tears and she turned to look out the window, taking a moment to gather herself. “He’d give you the shirt off his back, that’s the kind of guy he was… I don’t know if I told you, but my son, he’s three and his name’s Jordan.”

She told me that over the hours and days following Voudouris’s death she was questioned relentlessly by police. When it comes to who could be responsible, Tatiana is at a loss, but believes it had to be someone that “knew exactly where they were going, and exactly how to get in… without being seen.”

An unexpected lead

By far the biggest lead I would get in this case wouldn’t come for over a year after the release of the podcast, when a new listener who knew little about the case, suddenly connected some dots and had something to say. I met Sarah* in a cluttered garage in a large central North Island city. Discretion is a high priority here. She told me that a few years back she was in hospital, when “two detectives showed up and started asking questions about a former friend and whether he could have been involved in the murder of the pizza man.” They peppered her with questions “Did she think he did it? Is he capable? Does he own a .22 rifle? Who would cover for him?” She told me, “I had an answer for all the questions. I knew he had a lot of illegal firearms. I knew he had a sawn-off shotgun, a .22, a handgun. He had knives, machetes, things like that.”

The police came to her because during a recent stint in prison he had made a confession to a cell-mate.

“He confessed to shooting the pizza man. So I guess they thought they’d speak to people that had known him over the years.”

Sarah told me he was extremely violent and unpredictable. And when she looked up the names of those involved in the armed robberies at the Waihi Mobil Station and the Katikati Dairy, she immediately made the connection; the man who apparently confessed to murdering Voudouris and these armed robbers “used to roll together”. She’s 98 per cent sure he would have been with them that morning.

“One thing this group of guys used to do was rob freezers in the area… I know they robbed Jordan’s freezers more than once because I remember being round there once and seeing frozen pizzas that I knew were from Jordan’s… and it was sort of common knowledge the second set of gates was never locked.”

Sarah also told me that at the time of Voudouris’s murder she worked in a store in Paeroa and recalls the police coming in to check the security footage. She watched as the recording played, and noticed a vehicle driving down the main street that night, “I didn’t say anything, but it was their car, the one they used to mainly drive. Because I remember thinking, ‘What are they up to? They were from out of town, so it’s not like that car would be driving through Paeroa every day of the week.’” She also revealed that the car police wanted identified, that appeared on security footage twice just after 1am, “the one that looks like a Big Horn… well the guy’s brother, he also had a car like that”. I frantically pulled out my phone and showed her the grainy security image and asked if this could be the car? “Yeah like that… it was silver with gunmetal grey, which from looking at that picture, looks like that.”

At this point in the interview, my heart was racing, circumstantial evidence was beginning to pile up. A question still nags me though: why take a gun to rob a freezer?

Sarah told me: “These guys, they just carry guns all the time, because of who they were… they would have them in the car regardless of whether they’re going to take the kids to the beach or to rob a freezer.” I advised Sarah to contact the police. After that initial call she has never been contacted again.

I haven’t been able to verify Sarah’s statement, and everyone should be considered innocent until proven otherwise but this was the strongest lead I had in the story.

From left: Niko Voudouris, Ryan Wolf and Christos Voudouris.

So based on the hundreds of hours of interviews, meeting real larger-than-life characters, reading police files, tracking down old newspaper articles and thinking for hours and hours on end, what do I think happened on that fateful night? 

At 1am on the morning of 18 June 2012, Jordan Voudouris was upstairs in the apartment above his pizza restaurant Mykonos. He was browsing Trade Me on his computer (this we know from his computer history), and he heard a noise, perhaps as someone opened the inside gate to access the freezers. He went outside to investigate and there was an altercation. I’ve been told by so many who knew Voudouris that he would not have backed down to intruders. He most likely grabbed the gun by the barrel. The killer (or killers) were then forced to fire the rifle in an effort to get him to let go, the bullet ricocheted off his inner arm (this detail has been released by police) and entered his chest, striking his heart. From all my enquiries, from the many hours I have put into this case, I don’t believe this was a premeditated attack. I don’t believe it was murder. It was a case of the wrong place at the wrong time.

One of the first people I spoke to when I started this podcast was Jordan’s older brother, Christos Voudouris. His vitality and Greek spirit was palpable, even though we’d only ever met over the phone. I knew that when I finished making this podcast I needed to meet him and his brother Niko in person. That is how I found myself walking into Niko’s Pizza Shop in Orewa, Auckland. If there was one thing I heard over and over again during this whole investigation it was that Jordan made the most amazing pizzas. Here at Niko’s, it’s obvious that it’s in the family blood. The brothers greet me with a hospitality that their beloved brother Jordan was also famous for. They shake my hand firmly and smile warmly while inviting me to sit down, to have a drink of ouzo and to eat with them. Their hearts expand as they retell family stories, making me feel at home. There is no doubt of the Jordan-shaped hole in their lives and all of a sudden it’s as though I’m standing in Jordan’s pizza restaurant. How it must have been, how his customers loved him — diners happily chatting over their food to the background sound of Greek music. It feels good that despite Jordan’s passing, his spirit lives on through his brothers.

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

On 18 June 2022, the final episode of Season One of GUILT aired at 2am, exactly 10 years after Jordan’s murder. I called on those who wished to join us to mark this moment, and that afternoon myself and many others involved in this case — Tatiana, Viv, “John” and others — remembered the vivacious pizza man with a shot of ouzo.