Transcript: 90. The Mysterious Murder of Kayo Matsuzawa | New Zealand

You are listening to: The Evidence Locker.

Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones. 

Humiko Matsuzawa was going about her usual day in the Japanese fishing village in the Yamagata Prefecture. It was another hot and sticky August day, and she was looking forward to getting home. As she walked, she greeted all the familiar faces of the small town. She had lived there most of her life. Her children were grown up and had left home. In fact, Humiko’s 28-year-old daughter Kayo was not even in Japan anymore – she was living in New Zealand for a year to work, travel and learn English.

Humiko missed Kayo, but she was not worried about her. Her daughter had a good head on her shoulders and made friends wherever she went. Since she was a little girl, Kayo wanted to see the world, so Humiko knew that one day, she’d have to say goodbye.

When she reached her home, she was excited to see a postcard from Kayo. She had been very diligent in keeping in contact. Besides regular phone calls, she always sent a postcard when she travelled around New Zealand. It almost felt like the family was travelling with her. This one was from Christchurch and it said:

“Dear mum,

Happy Birthday! I’ve decided to come to Japan on November 4th, so another 3 months to go… Take care, 

Love Kayo”

Humiko could not be happier! What a great birthday present – knowing that Kayo was almost home and she’d be able to see her every day. In the meanwhile, she’d decided to keep an eye on the post box, waiting for the next postcard. Kayo had mentioned something about travelling to Auckland from her home in Christchurch soon, so it was bound to come. 

She sat down and read through all the correspondence from New Zealand – it felt like Kayo was right there in the room with her, telling her everything. Humiko found a postcard addressed to Kayo’s brother, Junichi – it was one of the first ones she’d sent. 

Thank you so much for your support when I left. It’s much colder here than expected. But it’s such a beautiful place. Everyone here is so kind, I will probably not get killed. I’d better get going now. Please don’t do too much overtime at work, and take good care of yourself.”

But no postcard came from Auckland, Kayo had gone quiet, and her family could not understand why. Then the phone call came - the phone call that is every parent’s worst nightmare. They had found Kayo’s body in Auckland. 

>> Intro Music

Kayo Matsuzawa was born in a village along the coast of Yamagata in Japan. She was close to her family and always had many friends. She excelled at school and loved learning as much as she liked socializing.

After high school, Kaya planned to travel abroad. She always had something pulling her to the emerald islands of New Zealand and made it her goal in life to - one day – spend some time there. Kayo worked long shifts at a local fishmonger to save up for the trip of a lifetime. She also attended an English school to prepare for her time there.

When the opportunity came for her to go to New Zealand as an English student in 1998, 29-year-old Kayo was more than ready to go. Her family was apprehensive, but she convinced them that New Zealand was a safe destination and many young people travelled there alone. Knowing how much it meant to Kayo to go, her parents gave their blessing. Kayo said goodbye to all her friends and family in Japan and ventured into the unknown.

The city of Christchurch on the South Island became her home base for most of 1997. She met Naomi Saishu at the Dominion English School, and they decided to move into a share-apartment together. They both worked part-time at a local restaurant and enjoyed every minute of their Kiwi experience. 

Kayo socialized a lot, meeting up with friends for drinks or dinner. Recreational drugs weren’t her scene, and she also wasn’t a big drinker – because of her small frame it didn’t take too much to get her tipsy, so she was careful. A night out with Kayo was always a lot of fun: she was a good dancer and loved talking to everyone and anyone. Men loved the outgoing and friendly girl that she was, which meant she received a lot of attention from the opposite sex. But Kayo never led them on and saw most of them as friends, not lovers. She was out to have a good time and wasn’t looking for a relationship.

Her routine consisted of studying English, attending classes, then going to work where she practised speaking the English language. She was fluent and comfortable when conversing in English and did not find it difficult to assimilate in Christchurch. Whenever Kayo had some time and had saved enough money, she travelled within New Zealand. She was good at sending postcards to her parents back home, and they looked forward to hearing all about her adventures.

In September 1998 she had made plans to spend a weekend in Auckland and then travel farther north to the Bay of Islands for five days. She preferred to go travelling with friends, but Naomi could not join her on this trip, as she did not have enough money. Kayo realized that her time in New Zealand was running out and if she wanted to make the most of it, she had to make peace with travelling alone. It was not that she feared for her safety, but rather that she enjoyed being around people. Kayo was someone who always saw the good in people and formed acquaintances quickly. She loved talking to anyone and was always approachable and realized she’d probably make a travel-buddy along the way. 

She promised Naomi that she’d send her a postcard, and told her she’d return in a week – give or take. On Friday, September 11th, she took the one and a half hour flight from Christchurch to Auckland. 

When she arrived at Auckland Airport, she took the shuttle bus to the CBD. Then she checked into Queen Street Backpackers, a youth hostel on Fort Street at 2:14pm – intending to stay for three nights, all paid up. As soon as she left her bags in her single room number 25 on the second floor, she headed out to go sightseeing. 

Auckland’s main drag in Queen Street has a selection of mainstream label clothing stores, restaurants, oyster bars and boutiques. Heritage buildings give it an old-world charm. The Street goes all the way down to the glinting harbour. Although it has the buzz of any city’s downtown area, Auckland has a sense of calm about it, a chilled vibe of joie de vivre. Kayo would have felt safe and ready to explore the welcoming city centre.

It is not 100% clear where she went after she left the hostel. A security camera caught a visual of her walking outside the Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) Building in Queen Street, across the road from the hostel, shortly after checking in, at 3:32pm. Although the images are grainy and of poor quality, it is clear that it was the petite Kayo, in her black pants, black jacket and black backpack.

Kayo was never seen alive again.

When Kayo checked into the hostel, she did not spend a lot of time in her room. She left her backpack on her bed, how it was found by cleaning staff of the hostel three days later. The room was tidy, and nothing was lying around, the bed was made. Kayo never sent a postcard from Auckland, something she habitually did whenever she travelled.

On Wednesday the 16th of September, a garbage truck was doing its regular rounds in Auckland CBD. When a garbage collector emptied a trash can on the busy corner of Swanson and Albert Streets at the BNZ Tower, a black daypack fell aside, onto the pavement. It looked like it could be of value, so he kept it aside. He took it home and found a Japanese passport and some documents inside. He wasn’t sure what to do about it, so handed it in at the city council office where he worked.

Almost a week later, on the 22nd of September, a fire alarm technician called Dennis Groves conducted a routine check at Centrecourt – a high-rise next to the BNZ Tower on Queen Street. He entered the stairwell and went straight to the switch room. The door was locked, but it wasn’t very secure. He had been there many times before and knew it was possible to use his screwdriver, wedge it between the frame and the handle, and unlock it. 

The musty little room was dark when he opened the door, and there was a strong smell, like ammonia. When he entered, he was overwhelmed by another scent, the odour of decay. He saw something lying on the floor and thought it was a mannequin at first. It didn’t take too long to connect the dots: he was looking at a human body. He told TV1 show, Cold Case:

“I had a darn good look at the body because I thought I might be called as a witness later on.”

Dennis informed Auckland police who rushed to the puzzling scene. They were able to determine that it was the body of a young Asian female, possibly in her twenties. She was naked and in an advanced stage of decomposition. She had no jewellery or anything that could help identify her. 

Investigators looked at missing person’s reports, but nothing matched the description of their victim. They told the media that an unidentified Asian woman’s body was found and appealed to the public for information. 

At about the same time, the daypack with the Japanese passport found in the garbage made its way to police. It was Kayo’s. This was a significant discovery, as it was vital in the identification process.

Fingerprints from the daypack matched the unknown victim’s fingerprints. Using her passport, police were able to connect Kayo to Queen Street Backpackers Hostel, that was across the road from where her body was found. Her brother Junichi was flown to Auckland with the grim task of identifying his sister’s badly decomposed body. He was able to provide dental records from her dentist in Japan and police were able to positively identify her: the remains were, in fact, Kayo Matsuzawa.

Auckland police spent two weeks working through garbage at the East Tamaki landfill, hoping to find Kayo’s belongings, but despite rigorous searches, her clothes and jewellery were never found. 

While a team of officers were looking for physical evidence, others investigated Kayo’s last known movements. They learnt that she resided in Christchurch and had only arrived in Auckland on the 11th of September. After checking into the hostel, she went out, possibly to do some sightseeing. She was travelling on a budget, and it was unlikely that she had gone shopping. 

They recovered CCTV footage from the BNZ Tower and saw Kayo walking past by herself at 3:32pm. From there, one can only speculate as to where she went or what she did. 

The BNZ Tower is a short distance away from the hostel where Kayo had checked in. It is located on Auckland’s main shopping stretch, the street is always bustling with activity: cars, buses, pedestrians, and tourists. 

In the late 1990s, there was a Tourist Centre across the road from the hostel. Kayo possibly went there to get some maps and brochures. There was a food court in the basement of the BZN Tower, perhaps she headed there for a late lunch after a day of travelling. Or was she out to make some friends? Key Education, a Japanese language school, was located on the second floor of the Centrecourt Building, right next door to the BNZ Tower. There were many young Japanese students around, and it is possible that Kayo saw the sign on the street and decided to go up and say hi. Perhaps she was hoping to find someone who could go sightseeing with her.

But police could not find any evidence of Kayo’s movements after 3:32pm. Then, eleven days later, her body was discovered in the small room off the stairwell between BNZ Tower and Centrecourt Building. 

Police set up a task force, ‘Operation Net’, to investigate the murder. A post mortem examination was unable to determine Kayo’s cause and time of death because of the advanced stage of decomposition. However, they believed she was killed on the day she checked into the hostel, only hours after she’d arrived in Auckland.

Back in Christchurch, Naomi didn’t know what had happened to Kayo. She was concerned about her friend but thought that she wasn’t back yet, because she was enjoying her trip. Sadly, that wasn’t the case at all. Police found Naomi at work and took her to the police station where they told her the terrible news. 

Naomi said that she had not heard from Kayo since she left, which supported investigators’ theory that Kayo was killed on the day she arrived. Police knew that Kayo’s killer had to be a random person with no connection to her. That meant, he had to be connected to the place where she was found. 

Kayo did not know anybody in Auckland, but she was always open to meeting new people and was unreserved when she talked to strangers. Her flatmate Naomi said:

“She was the kind of person who would make friends with anyone. It wouldn’t be an issue for her to make friends at the backpackers and go out with people she just met. I think that this could be the reason all of this happened…”

Investigators considered the possibility that Kayo had met someone at the hostel, but seeing as she was alone on the CCTV footage, they concluded that it was unlikely.

They questioned students and teachers at the KEY Language school in the Centrecourt building, but no one had seen Kayo. One person associated with the school had an alibi that didn’t add up, however. Police were immediately suspicious, but after looking into the matter, they were able to determine that the person was mistaken, not untruthful.

Dennis Groves, the alarm technician, was also looked at, seeing as he had access to the building and even knew how to force his way into the room. His movements were monitored electronically as part of his job, giving him a solid alibi and thus ruled him out as a suspect. He was accounted for from the time Kayo arrived at the hostel until her body was found two weeks later.

She might have been snatched and forced onto the stairwell, but on a busy Friday afternoon, there were too many people around, and someone would have seen something. If not, the risk that someone would see was way too significant, even for a callous predator.

The exact location of the switch room was quite obscure. One could access it from the stairwell in between the BNZ Tower and the Centrecourt Building. The back entrance of the Centrecourt Building on Mills Lane provided access to a parking garage, via a rolling door. It was a designated parking lot, strictly for tenants of Centrecourt Building and BNZ Tower. One could only enter this way with a data entry key – all movements in and out of the building were recorded.

An elevator on one side of the parking garage lent access to the BNZ Towe. On the other side, there was an entrance to the stairwell that doubles up as a fire exit, serving the Centrecourt Building. It goes UP for nine storeys. To access the BNZ Tower stairwell from there, one had to go down one set of stairs, along a short hallway and through a door to the side. At the end of this hallway, was the switch room where Kaya’s body was left. 

It is a strange place, in a hidden corner of the labyrinth of stairs, with entrances from both buildings and the parking garage. From the door next to the switch room, one could enter the BNZ Tower stairwell. A short flight of stairs down would have brought you to a door that led out onto the bustling Queen Street. If you were to continue down another flight of stairs, you would reach a door leading into the food court in the basement of the BNZ Tower.

Because the stairwell doubles up as a fire escape, some doors leading into the stairwell only lock from the inside. No key is needed to enter the stairwell, only to exit. Other doors have no locks. From certain sports, like the BNZ food court, you can get in without a key, but not out. The stairwell with its many entrances, short hallways and landings is a place where someone could easily get lost and stuck if they didn’t know their way around it. 

Access to the switch room would have been through at least one door and wither up a flight of stairs from the BNZ Tower side or down from the parking garage. It would have been But challenging to do if you were carrying something heavy, like a body. Challenging, but not impossible.

The door to the switch room was a self-closing one, so a doorstop of sorts would have had to been used to keep it open for the killer to place Kayo’s boy inside. Also, the small room is very dark, and the light switch was in an unusual place. Kayo was placed and undressed, something that would have been difficult to do in the dark. Whoever did it, would have needed to know where the light switch was. Or perhaps he came prepared, knowing he’d need light and brought a torch. It would have been risky to keep the door open during the operation, as anyone could have entered. 

Police had to consider if more than one person was involved in the murder. They could not exclude the possibility, although they felt it was probably a sole offender. A person with access to either the BNZ Tower or the Centrecourt Building.

There was an alarm sensor on the BNZ stairwell monitoring all movement from the Queen Street entrance. So either the person who hid Kaya’s body knew how to turn it off, OR he came in from the Centrecourt Building stairwell. The only way to access the staircase from the garage was to use DKS – the Data Key System. Each person working in the building was given a data key with their personalized information. Every time a person used it, it registered to the computer system in a dedicated security room in the building.

The BNZ Tower used a similar system, Cardax, where access cards had to be swiped to gain access. Records of entries and exits were kept by the BNZ management office.

Investigators requested entry records from both buildings. Interestingly, all entry data on the weekend of Kaya’s disappearance was missing from the Centrecourt Building. When BNZ’s information was given to police, some pages of data were also missing. Significantly from the late afternoon of the 11th of September until Monday 14 September. Both building managers claimed that the gap in evidence was caused by a technical anomaly. Of course, that meant someone could have tampered with the evidence. But who would have had access to both systems? 

People who worked in the Centrecourt Building told police that someone accessed the stairwell without data keys or key cards, it was usually messy after weekends. A bar, QF Tavern, in the food court downstairs had access to the fire exit where people went to smoke. They habitually placed a stopper at the door to keep it from closing and locking. This information widened the net of suspects – the killer could have been a patron at the bar, which meant it could have been ANYONE. But then why was the data-key-evidence missing? If a card wasn’t used, no one could have been implicated. Also, if it had been someone from the bar, there must have been witnesses.

Police compiled a profile of Kayo’s murderer. He was a confident person who was deeply familiar with the area where her body was found. He was a seemingly trustworthy person, someone Kayo would have felt comfortable with. Forensically aware, perhaps someone who had done it before. 

Remember, the murder took place in the late 90s, before everyone and their cat knew about forensic science thanks to popular true-crime TV shows. Yet, Kayo’s killer knew to remove her clothing and ring – items that could have retained forensic evidence. Besides gaining access to two systems, he also knew how to delete the relevant entry-key information in both buildings. He was calculating and thorough. 

Investigators felt that the killer was most likely someone who worked in either the BNZ Tower or the Centrecourt Building who knew the stairwell and the switch room. This person must have had after-hours access. He also needed a means of breaking into the switch room – a key or something like a knife or a screwdriver. When Dennis Groves found Kayo’s body, the door was locked, and he used a screwdriver to jimmy it open. 

It was also significant that Kayo’s daypack was found in a trash can outside of the BNZ Tower. It is on a busy corner, and there aren’t many parking spots, so the person who had dumped it was most probably a pedestrian. The trash cans are emptied up to three times a day, which meant the items were disposed of on the day it was found, five days after Kayo was last seen. 

The killer was mulling around town, only metres away from where he had left his victim. He was harbouring a dark secret, walking among shoppers, retailers, tourists, students… 

Because of the advanced stage of decomposition of Kayo’s body, it was not possible to pinpoint an exact time of death. Was it possible that the murderer had kept her somewhere else and took her body to the switch room after he had killed her? Kayo was only 5ft tall and weighed around 110lbs – her body would have been small enough to transport in a suitcase. 

Investigators firmly believed that, whenever Kayo’s life ended, the person who was responsible lived or worked near the spot where her body was found. 

One man came onto police radar early-on in the investigation. Originally from Ukraine, he did not have a permanent home in Auckland and was known to be a long-time resident at the hostel where Kayo checked in. He suffered from mental health issues and was known for his strange and paranoid behaviour.

Eyewitnesses said they saw an older, dishevelled man walking with a young Asian woman along Queen Street on Friday afternoon, the 11th of September... The witness confirmed that the Asian woman was Kayo when she was shown a photo. Police wanted to question backpacker resident. But the man, who was a second-hand jewellery dealer, had left New Zealand on the very same day that Kayo’s body was found. Police were able to trace his movements and learnt that he had pawned items in Australia, as soon as he touched down. The description of two things matched the description of jewellery Kayo always wore: a gold ring with a small pink stone, as well as crescent-shaped gold earrings.

Auckland investigators travelled to Sydney to follow up, but the items were not Kayo’s. They tried to find the Ukrainian man, but he was long gone. It was a promising lead, but there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that he had anything to do with Kayo’s death. 

Two years later, New Zealand authorities were informed that the man had been located, squatting at an airport in France. He was extradited to Auckland and questioned for two straight days. At the end of the interrogation, police were confident that he was not their guy.

A second suspect came to light, two years after Kayo’s murder. Royal Navy Petty Officer Alan Michael Grimson was facing two murder charges in the UK, for killing two young men. He was a British national who was based at the Devonport Naval Base in Auckland where he worked as a fire trainer, at the time of Kayo’s murder. When he returned to the UK, he was charged for the crimes he committed there.

18-year-old sailor, Nicholas Wright was last seen leaving a nightclub in Portsmouth with Grimson in December 1997. A year later, Simon Jenkins, 20, also disappeared. Grimson later confessed to both murders. He told police that he knew Nicholas Wright from the Navy and had given him a ride home when he was on shore leave. He met up with him at a nightclub, and they went home to Grimson’s flat where Grimson tried to kiss the 18-year-old. When he did not consent, Grimson beat him and slit his throat before dumping his body next to a road north of Portsmouth.

His second victim, Simon Jenkins, was an ex-Navy officer who worked as a barman in Portsmouth. After meeting up with Grimson in a nightclub, he agreed to go back to Grimson’s flat. Simon was forced to have sex with Grimson after he threatened him with violence. When he wanted to leave the next morning, Grimson attacked him, repeating what he had done to Nicholas Wright the year before.

Grimson was sentenced to 22 years minimum with the recommendation that he should never be released. 

Auckland police found it significant that Grimson was a fire trainer and that Kayo was found in a hidden switch room where technicians tested fire alarm. The managed to establish that Grimson knew Graham Osborne, the manager of the fire alarm company, Wormald, that maintained the alarms at the Centrecourt Building. They had to wonder if Osborne could have been the missing link. The two men met at the fire school on more than one occasion, but Osborne said that they only met briefly and there was no way Grimson could have made the link between him and the Centrecourt Building, they never spoke about it.

Grimson’s was also known to pick up his victims in nightclubs. Both were young men, not women. He also left the bodies out in the elements, not hidden like in Kayo’s case. So although police could not ignore the fact that a serial killer lived in Auckland at the time of Kayo’s death, they did not think he was a solid suspect.

Most likely course of events was that Kayo had met someone while sightseeing or grabbing a bite to eat at the BNZ food court. She had agreed to join him for a drink, and as she was minding her budget, she probably didn’t argue when he offered to buy her one. He then drugged her and lured her out of the pub to a secluded place where he killed her. 

Bank records show that a probable suspect used his bank card at an ATM at the BNZ building on the afternoon Kayo went missing. Information about this person was given to Auckland police by another police agency – where this agency is, has not been made public.

Kayo’s family has never given up hope that they would one day find out what happened to their life-loving daughter and sister. At the time of Kayo’s murder, her case did not receive a lot of media attention. She was not reported missing, because her friends in Christchurch and her family in Japan did not realise she was gone. After her body was discovered and her identity confirmed, her family was not in Auckland to support the police and push for answers. Her murder was in the year after the disappearance of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. Their story gripped the imagination of the country and dominated the media for the most part. Not a lot was done to appeal to the public – the only ones who could have helped – for information.

Fortunately, two documentaries have been released in recent years, making people aware of Kayo’s case. The Investigator follows veteran detective Bryan Bruce in the quest to find answers. Bruce feels the case is closer to being solved than ever. He believes that Kayo met up with fellow Japanese travellers, spend the late afternoon and Friday night with a group of people. In this theory, Kayo possibly met her killer while she was with a group. Bruce theorises that the person was a local man who worked either in the Centrecourt Building or the BNZ Tower and possessed the relevant security access key or card to access the stairwell. This person most likely took the bus to and from work, which explains why Kayo’s belongings were found in a specific trash can, next to a bus stop.

In the hypothesis that Kayo was with a group of Japanese tourists, Bruce believes they probably left Auckland without knowing Kayo was murdered. He reckons there is a slim chance that someone somewhere in Japan could possibly have a photograph from that day, a photo that could inadvertently unmask Kayo’s killer. If nothing else, it is worth distributing her picture in Japan and appealing to the public for help.

Although police agree that they cannot exclude any theories in a 20-year-old case, they do feel they would need more than speculation to catch the person who ended Kayo’s life.

Cold Case New Zealand, the second documentary, was produced with the full co-operation of Auckland police, hoping that it could lead to possible information. Vital information was disclosed in the Cold Case episode: DNA found under Kayo’s fingernails belonged to an unknown male. 

Over time, people may have had a change of heart or the remembered something, or they may have built up the courage to come forward. Police are offering a reward of $75,000 for any material information that could lead to the identity and conviction of the person or persons responsible for Kayo’s death.

As pieces are slowly but surely coming together, police are positive that they will solve Kayo’s murder. If you have any information regarding the case, contact Auckland police using the link in the show notes.  

If you’d like to read more about this case, have a look at the resources used for this episode in the show notes. 

Also visit and like our Facebook Page at” to see more about today’s case.

If you like our podcast, please subscribe in Apple Podcast or wherever you get your podcasts. We would also appreciate if you could review the episodes, as it gives us some street cred in the world of podcasting. 

This was The Evidence Locker. Thank you for listening!

©2020 Evidence Locker Podcast

All rights reserved. This podcast or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a podcast review.