Perpetrators’ families victims too – updated

The kidnapping of Gloria Kong in 1983 rocked North Otago.

A media blackout meant she was safely home before the crime became public knowledge but once the news broke the community rallied to support Gloria and her family and to help police.

It didn’t take long for the police to arrest suspects who were subsequently convicted.

The kidnapping and trial were big news at the time but were soon superseded by other events for most of us.

However, it wasn’t the end of the story for the family of the main culprit.

The first victims of crime are the targets but families of those convicted also face difficulties, usually through no fault of their own.

One of those, Verna McFelin, the wife of the man found guilty of the kidnapping, used her experience to help others in similar circumstances and was awarded an Order of Merit in the New Year Honours list for her efforts.

When her husband was arrested, her youngest child was just a baby.

Contemplating leaving Paul, she decided to work to save her marriage and family.

It did not take Verna long to realise, once Paul was arrested, that there was little help and support for the families and children of prisoners. She met other families at prison visiting time and worked to set up support groups. The community organisation Pillars was formed in 1988 to provide a more formal structure.

Pillars has always been an innovative organisation, running a range of group, residential and children’s services over the years. It has held contracts with CYF and Corrections, for support of families, reintegration and other services. Current programmes include intensive social care for families, a mentoring programme for children and a programme teaching senior school students to work effectively with primary school children who have a parent or sibling in prison.

You can read more about the kidnapping at

It would be much more difficult to maintain a media blackout in similar circumstances now but at the time the media accepted police fears that publicity could endanger Gloria’s life.


A friend just phoned with a related story:

Several farmers had noticed that nitrogen levels weren’t responding after applying fertiliser. They contacted MAF which did tests and found the fertiliser wasn’t up to standard.

They were going public at a Federated Farmers meeting and were thrilled when there was a big media contingent at it. However, before they got to that item on the agenda, someone came in with a message for the reporters who immediately left. The message must have been about the kidnapping which got all the headlines and the fertiliser story went unreported.

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