The murder of British backpacker Grace Millane in New Zealand in 2018 was so callous that it caused outpourings of grief and vigils on both sides of the globe.
Her family and friends back home in Wickford, Essex, were distraught and in New Zealand there was almost a sense of shame that such a horrendous crime could happen in a relatively safe country.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made an emotional televised address, saying “I want to apologise to Grace’s family. Your daughter should have been safe here and she wasn’t and I am sorry for that.
Swipe, Match, Murder: The Disappearance of Grace Millane is a powerful two-part documentary which tells the tragic story of Grace, 21, who was killed on the eve of her 22nd birthday. There are clips from the reams of CCTV footage tracking both her and her murderer’s movements along with interviews with police, journalists and the killer’s younger brother.
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“On the day of Grace’s birthday, her family was not able to contact her and she had not contacted them, which was unusual because they are a very close-knit family,” says Detective Inspector Scott Beard, of Auckland City District Police, who lead the investigation.
Missing person reports are not that unusual. But there were a few red flags that came up in relation to Grace.
After graduating from university, Grace Millane set off in September 2018 to travel the world by herself.
Her first stop-off was South America before she headed to New Zealand. An avid user of social media, on Saturday, December 1, 2018 she met a man — 26-year-old Jesse Kempson — on the Tinder dating app.
She had told him it was her birthday the following day and he suggested going for a drink together.
They met, then she disappeared.
Three days later, after continuing silence, her family contacted New Zealand police.
As police stepped-up their investigation, they discovered that she had texted her friend back in England, to say how well the date was going and that she would let her know more the following day. Police also trawled through CCTV footage, from the many cameras in Auckland city centre, and were able to piece together events of that evening.
Footage shows Grace leaving her backpackers hostel, meeting Kempson and heading into the SkyCity building, having a couple of cocktails and then leaving for a Mexican restaurant before enjoying further drinks at a bar.
Police contacted Kempson and he agreed to come to the station to be interviewed by Detective Ewen Settle, who was working closely with Scott Beard.
“The first thing I saw was the three-piece suit with the little hanky puffing out of the pocket, which seemed a bit unusual for three o’clock on a Thursday,” Settle recalls of Kempson.
He was forthright, positive, and willing to talk. He kind of seemed over-polite.”
Kempson told Settle that the evening ended with a hug and a kiss on the cheek and they went their separate ways. He stated that he was drunk and pretty much passed out in bed in his hotel room and had awoken around 10am because he had checked the time on his phone.
During a break in the interview, Settle left the room to speak to a colleague who showed him CCTV footage contradicting Kempson’s account. Kempson was seen in his hotel lift the next morning at 8.14am with a suitcase. When confronted with this, Kempson’s demeanor changed. He became quiet and uneasy.
Further CCTV showed that Kempson did not leave Grace where he said he had. Instead they had gone back to his hotel.
After being brought back in for an interview he admitted he had killed Grace but claimed it was accidental after they had indulged in a sex act that she had cajoled him into, asking him to place his hands around her neck. Afterwards he had taken a shower, where he had fallen asleep, and had been shocked to find Grace dead.
Panicking he went out and bought a suitcase into which he put her body and drove to the Waitakere Ranges, 25km west of central Auckland city, where he buried her.
“In his interview it was all about what she wanted and nothing to do with him,” says Settle.
“His phone also shows he had arranged another Tinder date on that Sunday, with Grace being dead in his room,” says an incredulous Beard.
What sort of person would do that? This is not someone who has panicked. He’s cold, calculating, self-serving.”
On December 10, 2018, Kempson appeared in court charged with Grace’s murder.
He was later found guilty and sentenced to life, with a minimum term of 17 years without parole.
Swipe, Match, Murder: The Disappearance Of Grace Millane, TVNZ 1, Wednesday December 7.