On his deathbed, Leo Silvester/Sylvester Hannan confessed to three murders. That brought his total to four, making him a serial murderer.
It’s unusual in New Zealand. We have a few mass murderers, like David Gray and Stephen Anderson, but we are mostly free of what are called serial killers overseas.
Red-haired blue eyed Leo Hannan who also called himself Herbert James Ross, was born on October 23, 1900. He was the last of eight children to Edmond Hannan, a carpenter, born in 1857 in County Cork, Ireland. Edmond immigrated to New Zealand in 1877 on the ship Oamaru and married Annie Bannor from Donegal, Ireland in 1881.
Not all that much is known about his childhood but he was considered of low intellect and somewhat abandoned by his family early.
Despite that he tried to make it as a bootmaker but most often was itinerant around the North Island.
He spent most of his life in and out of prison. He was in Rangipo prison for safe breaking in 1926 from which he escaped.
He wasn’t ever caught, instead he turned himself in and in 1931 was sentenced again in Waipukurau for burglary.
IN 1940 he went to jail for a large number of burglaries and then again in 1941.
In 1943 he skipped out on military service and was picked up by police and turned over to military police.
It was a murder in 1950 that put an end to Hannan’s freedom.
Frederick Andrew Stage, 54, was a tough ex-military man who worked as a night watchman at the Wellington Railway Station. His body was found about 1.30pm on August 10, lying face down, badly battered. He had been bashed with an iron bar.
Hannan was in custody before dawn broke. He had been found with blood on his face, hands and shoes.
Ironically it was Dr Lynch, the pathologist who had been called to the murder of the two sisters, who was called to examine him and noticed the blood.
Despite his denial he went to trial and was convicted and sentenced to life. He had a brief reprieve when he escaped while working in the prison quarry while in Auckland but was caught.
It was in 1962 that Hannan was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He spoke to his lawyer George Israel Joseph confessing that not only had he killed Stade, but also the two sisters Annie and Rosamund Symth in Wairoa in 1942 and that he was also responsible for the death of Herbert William Brunton on December 16, 1948.
Brunton, 69, a former railway guard who lived alone, was killed in his railway hut near the Wairoa Railway Station.
His neighbour went to visit him and found his body sitting propped against the bed in a pool of blood. He had been killed by blows to his head.
Brunton’s killing sparked a huge manhunt by police who took more than 5000 fingerprints from the men in the area.
Joseph included the story in a book he wrote, By a Person or Persons Unknown but did not use Hannan’s name.
It was not until many years later that a researcher for the television programme Epitaph asked Chief Inspector Sherwood Young, the grandson of the police officer in charge in Wairoa at the time of the killings who it was.
Young gave him Hannan’s name.
But by then Hannan had died aged 61, on October 9, 1962, only three months after his deathbed confession
He is buried in Waikumete Cemetery.