It’s the case of the missing real estate signs, a retired Justice of the Peace, and a knife which may or may not be used for cheese, writes HAYLEY GASTMEIER.
On March 30, 2017, police officer Lloyd McKay hid himself in a bush on Greytown’s Main St.
The weather was dry and there was no wind.
A police dog handler, Senior Constable McKay had his dog beside him, and the pair were stationed across the road from a property sporting two Harcourts “sold” signs on the fence.
Their mission? To try and catch whoever had been making off with real estate signs in the town.
According to Mr McKay, giving evidence at Masterton District Court yesterday, after spending 90 minutes hidden in the bush, he thought he had found his man.
And that man was 73-year-old retired justice of the peace Allan George Wasmuth, who came cycling along the street, wearing his helmet and hi-vis vest.
Mr McKay said Wasmuth stopped and leaned his bike against the fence, before taking hold of the sign, pulling it “in a downward direction”, and walking it over to place next to his bike.
With his dog, Mr McKay emerged from his hidden position, and arrested Wasmuth.
Wasmuth, representing himself, is denying the charge of attempted theft that night, as well as another on November 6, 2016, plus two theft charges from between July, 2016, and March, 2017.
All relate to real estate signs.
The judge-alone trial before Judge Ian Mill started yesterday and was expected to last just a day, but will now continue next week.
At the end of the first day, Judge Mill withdrew the attempted theft charge from November 2016, citing insufficient evidence.
Giving evidence, Mr McKay said Wasmuth “grabbed hold of his bike and started to walk off” as he advised the defendant that he was now the primary suspect for other real estate sign thefts, and that he was to be arrested for attempted theft.
Wasmuth told Mr McKay that he “might have a flat tyre” and proceeded to get a pump out of his bag, the police officer said.
He also said he “must have dislodged the sign” after leaning his bike against the fence.
Wasmuth did not object to being searched by police, who found no knives or tools that could be used for damaging or stealing signs.
That night, police searched Wasmuth’s Greytown home, where they found real estate signs, both intact and others that had been cut up.
Wasmuth emphasised the fact that no effort had been made on his part to conceal the signs, which he used for various reasons, including making bicycle mud guards and other bike parts, and for repairing shelving.
The defendant also said he was responsible for erecting, dismantling and disposing of National Party political signs, which, when cut up, could be mistaken for Harcourts signs.
Inside a vehicle parked in the garage, three “sharp knives” were found in the glove box.
In cross examination, Wasmuth asked Mr McKay whether the knives could easily be meant “for cutting up fruit in a road-side picnic?”.
“Would they be suitable for cutting up cheese at a road-side picnic?”
They could be, Mr McKay said.
Police prosecutor Anton Heyns called the next witness, Senior Constable Peter Sykes, who said on March 29, 2017, he was in Greytown, paying particular attention to real estate signs that had “Sold” stickers on them.
He observed two Property Brokers signs on East St as he drove past, which later “disappeared” that evening.
These signs were discovered in Wasmuth’s garage the following night during a police search, as well as others.
Wasmuth said he had found some of the signs, adding he had paid $120 for others.
Vaughn Evans told the court he caught a man on November 6, 2016, attempting to take down a real estate sign from his property that had recently sold.
The man, who was holding a knife, said he was from the South Wairarapa District Council, and was tasked with going around taking down ‘Sold’ signs as they were a bad look for the town.
The council has since confirmed that no staff member has this duty.
After reporting the incident, police asked Mr Evans to identify the offender from a montage featuring eight men, one of which was Wasmuth.
Mr Evans did not identify Wasmuth.
This was a determining factor that led to Judge Mill dropping the related charge of attempted theft.
Property Brokers Greytown agent, Vicki Eckford, said multiple signs belonging to the real estate branch had been stolen or “slashed” over the last few years.
“The signs have only been taken once the ‘Sold’ sign was put up.”
Ms Eckford said she had used wire to secure to a lamp post the two signs that disappeared from East St in March.
While cross-examining Ms Eckford, Wasmuth said once the property was sold, the sign was “a depreciated piece of plastic”.
Greytown Harcourts agent Janet Suisted said she was asked by the police if they could watch one of the properties that had been sold by her.
She agreed, and the Main St property, from which Wasmuth was apprehended by Mr McKay, was chosen.
She said the signs were not reused by agents but were given on request to kindergartens and bee keepers for use.
The former owner of the Main St property, Barry Coveny, said he had used a commercial staple gun to fix the signs to the fence.
Wasmuth argued that the staples may not have protruded into the wood far enough, meaning the signs could easily fall off.
Mr Coveny was adamant the signs were amply secured.
The hearing will continue this week.