On a Thursday afternoon this month, a family returned to their home in New Zealand with a trailer-load of stuff they had scored at an auction. But as they were unpacking the items in a southern Auckland suburb, they noticed a putrid odor.
The Aug. 11 discovery quickly prompted an investigation. A week later, Detective Inspector Tofilau Faamanuia Vaaelua of the New Zealand Police announced that the remains belonged to two children. They are believed to have been between the ages of 5 and 10, according to a post-mortem examination.
“These children may have been deceased for a number of years before being found last week. We also believe the suitcases have been in storage for a number of years,” Vaaelua said at a news conference Thursday.
The discovery has stumped authorities and the public. Myriad questions remain — chiefly, who are the children, and how did their bodies end up in a suburban storage unit?
Foul play is suspected, Vaaelua said.
“We are determined to hold the person, or persons, responsible for the deaths of these children to account,” he said, adding that members of the family who made the discovery are not suspects.
Police are still working to identify the children and hope to notify their relatives, who may not be aware of their deaths, Vaaelua said. The suitcases, he said, had been left in the storage center for three or four years before being purchased by the unsuspecting family.
The family got hold of the bags through a “Storage Wars”-type auction. Participants in the events buy the contents of a storage locker without knowing what’s inside. In this case, the family received a slew of items from a unit at Safe Store’s facility in Papatoetoe.
Safe Store didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Washington Post. However, the company’s director told local outlet Stuff that the business is cooperating with police.
At Thursday’s news conference, Vaaelua said he couldn’t confirm whether police had spoken with the storage unit’s previous owner. He said New Zealand’s national police department is working with overseas agencies and Interpol, an international network of police forces in 195 countries.
“This is no easy investigation,” Vaaelua added. “And no matter how long or how many years you investigate horrific cases like this, it’s never an easy task.”
Residents on New Zealand’s northernmost island — known in English as North Island and in Maori as Te Ika-a-Maui — were shocked by the grim discovery. Neighbors in Clendon Park, an area with about 9,000 residents, told the New Zealand Herald they saw the family that bought the suitcases unloading strollers, baby walkers and toys.
Soon after, a “wicked smell” began to emanate from their home, another neighbor told Stuff. The man told the outlet he used to work at a crematorium and knew how bodies smelled.
“I knew straight away [what it was] and I thought, ‘Where is that coming from?’ ” he said.