Very few people report their own murder – but that’s exactly what Dave Davan did as he lay dying in hospital.
Two years on, friends and family still hope someone will be held to account for the death by poisoned port of the hard-case, hard-working Northland farmer.
In November 2021, Dave Davan found two bottles left anonymously in his letterbox, on remote Puhata Road in Herekino, a farming settlement south of Kaitāia.
He drank the first bottle then, a week or so later, opened the second as he was cooking dinner.
The 67-year-old had barely finished the glass when he fell to the floor and was violently ill.
It took until the following morning before he could drag himself to the phone and call his son, Conrad Davan, who farms further north at Awanui.
Conrad Davan said his father was convinced he had been poisoned.
He had noticed the metal seal on the second bottle was broken but didn’t think much of it.
He also noted a slight difference in taste, but assumed that was because the bottle had been unsealed.
His father seemed to come right initially but four days later was admitted to Kaitāia Hospital with kidney failure.
As his condition deteriorated, he was admitted to Whangārei Hospital before being flown to the intensive care unit at Auckland Hospital.
Before he lost consciousness, he was able to tell police and family what he believed had happened.
He also ensured police were able to test the remaining port.
Those tests revealed that the wine had been laced with the restricted, and deadly, herbicide paraquat.
Conrad Davan said he spent about a week at his father’s bedside in Auckland before he died on 9 December 2021.
He described his father as “the best fulla I knew” and a wonderful grandfather to his boy.
He was jack-of-all-trades who could shear a sheep, kill a pig or fix a truck – skills he had passed on to his sons.
He was also the life of the party, a joker, a man with many friends.
“He loved to socialise. Dad was humorous, a real funny guy. If you went to party you’d hear my dad, he was loud. He always had everyone laughing. He was the life of the party. It wasn’t the same without Dave Davan there.”
‘I just want someone held accountable’
Conrad Davan said he wanted his father’s killer brought to justice.
“You can’t go around doing things like this to people. I just want someone held accountable for what they did to my father,” he said.
Grant Davan, who lives just up the road from where his brother used to farm, said they grew up together and went out most weekends in their old Commer truck to go pig hunting, diving and fishing.
“I think about him a lot. I see his face in my head all the time. He was a hard case. He was always ringing up with a hard case thing to tell you or some story. He was a real humour fulla, especially after a couple of ales. He’d ring you up and give you a bit of cheek.”
Davan said paraquat was so deadly his brother didn’t stand a chance.
“They put him in a coma but the stuff that he drunk, it only takes a teaspoonful. It attacks every organ in your body. So there was no hope for him. Whoever did it knew what they were doing.”
Whoever did it also knew that port was Dave Davan’s favourite tipple – one he wouldn’t be able to resist.
It was proof, according to the family, the murderer knew him well.
In December last year, around the time of the first anniversary of his death, friends and family pulled together a $50,000 reward for information leading to a conviction.
No one had tried to claim it yet.
“I just want some closure. It seems it’s just going to be a mystery forever, like one of those cold cases. And police haven’t got anybody that they can round up yet. We’ve tried this reward but if someone’s done it then they’re not going to be wanting 50 grand. If they get done for it, they’ll be in jail for a little while,” Davan said.
Close friend Brett Evans was a city boy learning the ropes on a farm in Herekino when he met Dave Davan.
“I really miss him. He was a good mate. And we stayed in touch as we went our separate ways.
“He was a joker. He always had a nickname for everyone, an incredibly hard worker. He was a typical Northlander, he loved fishing, any kind of stock work, dogs … He was just a very generous guy,” he said.
Evans said Davan was acutely aware of what had happened to him, and made sure police and his family knew.
“David survived for a couple of weeks, but he was conscious for a couple of days after the poisoning and in hospital. He took steps to make sure the bottle and remnants were kept and given to the police. Dave knew that he’d been poisoned. He made a point of saying, ‘If I don’t make it, this is what’s happened’.”
While it was disappointing the reward had so far not led to an arrest, Evans said he had taken heart from the recent trial of David Benbow in Christchurch.
In that case, police managed to secure a conviction for a murder six years earlier with no body and only circumstantial evidence.
“I’d like to see the perpetrator locked up,” Evans said.
“People seem almost to regard it as just a death but it’s a murder. It’s an underhanded, well-thought-out, sneaky, low-life, serious crime. The intent was to kill. It’s hard to believe that someone would do this but they’re just walking around out there living the life of Riley, thinking that they’ve got away with it.”
Anyone with information about Dave Davan’s death should contact Northland police by calling 105 or Crime Stoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.