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Det. Insp. Tofilau Faamanuia Vaaelua confirmed to media Thursday that the bodies found in the suitcases were likely there for some time – potentially three or four years – and the victims are thought to be between five and 10 years of age.
“The nature of this discovery provides some complexities to the investigation especially given the time lapsed between the time of death and the time of discovery,” Vaaelua told reporters during a press conference in Auckland, reports Al Jazeera.
“This includes establishing where, when and how.”
The investigation, first reported by BBC, began when the family purchased a trailer-load full of goods from a local storage facility in South Auckland on Aug. 11.
Local news outlets report that the suitcases were sold in an attempt to clear out an abandoned locker.
The remains were discovered after the family brought the goods back to their home and deposited the items on their front lawn.
Neighbours told New Zealand news outlet Stuff that almost immediately they began to smell a strong “rotten” odour and police were alerted.
“I could smell it here. I thought it was a dead cat or something. That day Thursday (before the police came),” an unnamed neighbour told the New Zealand Herald, adding that as a pig hunter he is very familiar with the smell of animal decay.
“They brought it back on a trailer. How did they not pick up the smell?” he asked.
A former police investigator told the Herald earlier this week that New Zealand’s small size and population means a greater chance of finding whoever was responsible for putting the remains in the suitcases and other potential crimes behind the discovery.
“It’s a small country. We have very few unsolved homicides, we have a handful of them, you can count them. So I’m quite hopeful,” said Lance Burdett.
However, he also said there’s also a good chance that the responsible party could be far away – possibly living elsewhere in the country, or even overseas.
“But again, you leave a trail … somebody will brag,” Burdett added.
On Thursday, Vaaelua told media that he has reason to believe the children had relatives in the country, who might not be aware of the deaths.
He also said there were household and personal items also found in the suitcases, which could help police identify the victims.
He did not say whether police had spoken to the previous owner of the storage, but did confirm that Interpol and overseas police agencies are involved in the investigation.
“Today’s update will be extremely upsetting for the community to hear,” Vaaelua said, according to The Guardian.
“A lot of us (police officers) are parents and we have a job to do and we’re doing our very best to conclude the inquiry and identify the victims.
“No matter how long or how many years you serve and investigate horrific cases like this, it is never any easier to do.”
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