Warning: This story and related coverage of the trial contain graphic details that may be distressing for some readers.
Jesse Kempson is a liar.
He lied to Grace Millane. He lied to the women he dated. He lied to his flatmates. He lied to police.
“I’ve always thought that if it wasn’t Grace, it was going to be someone,” Detective Inspector Scott Beard told RNZ’s Checkpoint, after Kempson was sentenced in February to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years for Millane’s murder.
“I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t talk about psychological profile, but what we do know is he is a liar.
“A number of times we proved he lied. He lied to the police, he lied to others.”
The lies make it difficult to piece together Kempson’s past.
But he had a troubled upbringing.
A pre-sentence cultural report submitted to the High Court, cited by Justice Venning in November as he jailed Kempson for three-and-a-half years for rape, said Kempson’s parents split when he was three.
“Your father was at times violent towards you … your mother rejected you. That may go some way towards explaining your attitude towards women,” Justice Venning said.
“You have also had a disruptive childhood with a number of different carers.”
When he was first interviewed by police over Millane’s disappearance in December 2018 – an interview played to the jury during his three-week trial in the High Court in Auckland for Millane’s murder – Kempson said he’d just returned to New Zealand after seven years in Australia.
He told Detective Ewen Settle he was taking anxiety medication – and his anxiety related to the break-up of his parents at a young age.
Kempson told Settle both his parents had found new partners, and his mother had moved to Australia.
He said he had tried to re-establish contact with his mother, but it had not worked out.
“It was tough at the time, but through counselling, I got through it,” Kempson said.
“I think the fact I was able to talk about it with someone who is a professional counsellor was good for it.”
Kempson told Settle when he was on his date with Millane, the conversation turned at one point to his family.
“I said, look, they’re from Wellington, my dad lives in Wellington, my aunty lives in Wellington, my uncle lives in Wellington, my grandfather’s just moved from Taupō to Wellington, but my grandmother lives up here in Auckland,” Kempson said he told Millane.
When Millane asked Kempson about whether he had siblings, he said he told her he had a “pretty mix-match family”.
“It’s pretty complicated, I never see my mum’s side, I see my father’s side, but I’d love to see my full brother,” Kempson said he told Millane.
In his second police interview, also played to the court, Kempson said he only talked to his half-brother who lived with his father.
He had not talked to his father for over a year, Kempson said.
Kempson’s father was in court for much of his son’s trial for Millane’s murder.
It is known Kempson grew up in Wellington and played age group representative softball.
Kempson a ‘prolific liar’: former flatmate
A woman who shared a house with Kempson in Auckland in 2016 previously told RNZ she became uncomfortable around him, saying he changed when he drank and he seemed “troubled”, and was a “prolific liar”.
He told the woman he owned a $900,000 BMW and a $1.3 million house in Sydney, and that his family were successful restaurateurs in Australia and were looking to buy an Auckland restaurant.
The stories did not fit with the fact he rented a $170 room that was so small it could only fit a bed and a small closet. He also quibbled over paying bond for the flat, accusing the other flatmates of ripping him off.
“It didn’t take long to realise he was not who he said he was and that nothing he said was true,” the woman said.
The three flatmates became so disconcerted by his behaviour that none of them wanted to be in the house alone with him.
One night one of their flatmates did find herself alone with him.
“I was on a late shift and came home around 11pm. My flatmate messaged me when she heard me arrive home and asked me to come into her room. I went in and saw her and she had a knife in her bed. I asked what had happened. She told me that [he] had been drinking and that she felt uncomfortable around him.”
One evening when they thought Kempson was not home, the flatmates met in the living room to discuss how to get him to move out.
“We were talking about the situation and agreed that we were going to ask him to leave the next day. The thought was scary because we didn’t want to confront him or for him to get angry.”
But it turned out the man was home and in his room. He emerged with a bag slung over his shoulder and a sad look on his face and said his mum had just died and he had to urgently go to Sydney.
“The whole thing was awkward – we knew straight away he was full of s*** but were happy at the thought he would be gone for a few days.”
The next day when the woman came home she could smell aftershave and knew he had been there.
All his possessions were gone and the flatmates quickly had the locks changed.
What he told Grace Millane
Millane was messaging her university friend Ameena Ashcroft, who was in Dubai, while she was on her date with Kempson.
Ashcroft’s statement to the police was read to the court, during Kempson’s High Court trial for Millane’s murder.
Millane told Ashcroft that Kempson was the manager of an oil company.
“I was a bit concerned but I didn’t show Grace that I was,” Ashcroft said in her statement.
“I felt something was weird that she was on a date with the manager of an oil company.”
Despite that, Ashcroft expressed excitement that her friend was on a date with a businessman.
Millane told her friend the date was going ‘really good’ and that he lived in a hotel, the court heard.
Ashcroft said she could tell Millane was drunk because she was making typos and kept telling her how much she missed and loved her.
“Grace would send I love you messages sober but she wouldn’t express it to this degree unless she was tipsy or drunk.”
Millane also told Ashcroft that Kempson was planning on going to London in 2019.
“Literally I click with him so well,” Millane told Ashcroft.
Millane said she would let Ashcroft know what happened the next day.
What he told his next Tinder date
Kempson met another woman for a drink while Millane’s body was in a suitcase in his apartment.
The woman, who cannot be named, was called to give evidence in Kempson’s trial for Millane’s murder.
She told the court Kempson told her all his friends were police officers.
“I thought it was a bit odd,” she said.
Kempson told her he had been a sales manager at Woolworths in Australia and had just got a job at Fonterra, starting in a few weeks’ time.
The woman said she was surprised to hear of his jobs and moved the conversation on to what he had been doing that day.
“He said he’d been trying to find a really large duffle bag but he’d been struggling to find one big enough for sports gear.”
Kempson mentioned at one point that his best friend was coming here to be a Crown prosecutor and he was taking a big pay cut because he was coming from Sydney.
The woman said she told Kempson she’d attended a murder trial where a young man had been put away for murder; telling him it was sad to see him jailed and also sad to see the victim’s family in court.
“He said ‘it’s crazy how guys can make one wrong move and go to jail for the rest of their life’,” the witness said.
“He said he’d heard of, or knew of, a guy who had asked his girlfriend to have rough sex with him involving strangulation or suffocation.
“It had gone wrong and she’d died during the process and he’d tried to revive her but she couldn’t be revived and she died and he got done for manslaughter.”
The woman said she felt uncomfortable and changed the topic to travel in the South Island before Kempson talked more about his friends being police officers.
“He said that they’re [the police] having a really tough time right now, especially in the Waitākeres because a lot of bodies are going missing out there as it’s a large area.
“Police dogs can only smell bodies buried more than four feet under … so the police were having a tough time because lots of bodies were going missing in the Waitakeres,” she said.
What he told another woman
A key Crown witness in Kempson’s trial for Millane’s murder – a woman who said she was suffocated by the man during oral sex – told the court she feared for her life as she struggled to breathe.
She said she kicked against him with all her might to try and get him off her.
When Kempson finally did, she said he turned and asked in an accusing tone if she thought he had done it on purpose.
He then repeatedly accused her of not liking him and suggested he should kill himself, the woman said.
He then went to the bathroom and emerged saying he was in pain and that he had cancer.
That was when the woman was finally able to make her escape, telling him she was leaving to call an ambulance.
The woman said she found a lot of the things he told her weird – among them, he said he was related to an All Black and that he had gang connections.
Additional reporting by In Depth editor Veronica Schmidt.