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Christmas-time loss inspires giving

By Hayley Gastmeier

[email protected]

Ever since her two daughters were murdered, Christmas has been a dark time for Charlene Williams.

Sunday marks the 15th anniversary of the deaths of the sisters, who died at the hands of stepfather Bruce Howse.

The pair were stabbed to death in their beds, in the sleepout of their Masterton home on December 4, 2001.

Last year Mrs Williams scattered the ashes of Saliel and Olympia, who were 12 and 11 respectively when they were killed, finally “laying them to rest”.

After having felt “numb” at Christmas ever since the tragedy, she is determined to make this year different.

She is now on a mission to brighten up Christmas for other families by encouraging people to donate gifts to children less fortunate.

“The goal is to make a child smile on Christmas day, because my girls won’t.”

Mrs Williams, formerly Aplin, has been approaching local iwi, community trusts, health services, Wairarapa businesses, and even the police, asking them to donate gifts or vouchers to schools in the region.

“I want to put a challenge out there to everyone, on behalf of my girls, that out of negative a positive can be made.

“It doesn’t matter how much they can afford, a voucher from the supermarket, a toy shop or The Warehouse, people can donate it to a school of their picking.

“The principal of the school will know the students most in need.”

Although she was yet to approach principals, Mrs Williams hopes all Wairarapa schools will get on board, and encourages members of the public to take part too.

She said spending just $5 was enough to brighten a child’s day.

Saliel Aplin (left) and Olympia Jetson, who were murdered by their stepfather Bruce Howse. PHOTO/FILE
Saliel Aplin (left) and Olympia Jetson, who were murdered by their stepfather Bruce Howse. PHOTO/FILE

“Christmas time is hard on families.

“They have the kids at home for so long, some have financial issues and because of the earthquake some have lost jobs.

“We’ve even got people living on the streets, we shouldn’t have that. What’s wrong with giving something to someone, saying ‘here you go’, with no strings attached.”

Mrs Williams said everyone was “quick to jump on the bandwagon” when a child died, and “it shouldn’t take a tragedy” for people to get out and make a difference.

Yesterday, the mother of seven and grandmother of five, reminisced on happier times – when she still had Saliel and Olympia with her.

“Christmas was always a big thing for myself and my children, it was always about my kids.

“Food fights, water fights – Christmas was about having fun.”

In December 2002 Howse, 40 at the time, was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of the girls, with a non-parole period of 28 years – this being the country’s longest imposed sentence since the abolition of the death penalty.

At the time the judge said there had been no mitigating factors, and she unequivocally accepted Howse had been molesting the girls and that was his motive for the killings.

Mrs Williams said following the deaths of her children she received “amazing” support from the police and Victim Support.


  1. Christmas is a time to remember family so feel for this Mum, not having her children around anymore. I can remember the case. so very sad… I remember when my daughter left colllege, never heard from her for over 12 years… at least she finally made contact but for this Mum… its a very upsetting hard time of the year.. Good luck to her..

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Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland
Emily Ireland is Wairarapa’s Local Democracy Reporter, a Public Interest Journalism role funded through NZ On Air. Emily has worked at the Wairarapa Times-Age for seven years and has a keen interest in council decision-making and transparency.

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