Jane Furlong was just seventeen when she disappeared off Auckland's Karangahape Road in 1993. She was the mother of a young baby, a friend, a daughter - and a sex worker. Her disappearance generated a media frenzy. Nineteen years after she vanished, her body was found by a woman walking her dog along a beach south of Auckland. Journalist Kelly Dennett explores Jane's life, her disappearance and the mystery of her killer in a new book out today: 'The Short Life and Mysterious Death of Jane Furlong'.
The beast of Karangahape Road
Warning: This extract contains material that may be upsetting to some people.
Karangahape Road takes its name from Te Ara o Karangahape, the path to Manukau Harbour used by early Māori. It’s one of the few streets in central Auckland with a Māori name. There was once talk of changing it to something more “modern” and European. At one point Elizabeth Street was suggested. But Karangahape stuck.
In the 1990s the street was notorious as the epicentre of Auckland’s sex business. Soliciting was illegal but the trade was rife. Auckland wasn’t the only city with a red-light district. Wellington had Vivian Street and Christchurch had High Street, but somehow K Road became synonymous with prostitution. Even if you didn’t live in Auckland you knew about K Road.
The strip runs from west to east with a slight curve in the middle. The western corner begins where Great North Road and Ponsonby Road collide. If you turn into Ponsonby Road you’ll soon find yourself in a gentrified world of cafés, cocktail bars, designer stores and perfumeries. Continue down Great North Road instead and you’ll hit the fringe of Grey Lynn, a mix of shabby shopping blocks, state houses, and the one-time Talofa Motel, now the Surrey Hotel.
At the eastern end of K Road you’ll hit Symonds Street, where you may almost catch a glimpse of Auckland Hospital over the bridge. On the right is a cemetery, shrouded by dark trees. It’s here that young alcoholics laze in the sun on weekday afternoons.
K Road has changed a bit in the last two decades. There’s still the occasional op shop and underground music venue, but by and large the proximity of trendy Ponsonby and the legalisation of prostitution in 2003 have combined to take away the edginess and hint of danger. Instead of dimly lit bars there are Turkish restaurants and shisha shops. Once you could buy ribs at McDonalds for a couple of cents. Now you can choose Mexican tacos or Italian pizza or eat at a top-rated restaurant. Where once the community was dominated by prostitutes and pimps, today most of the people you pass are office workers, shop assistants, tourists and apartment-dwellers, although you will see women standing on the street soliciting, even in the middle of the day.
On K Road in the 1990s you could buy sex at the so-called massage parlours. Business carried on long into the night and the police were frequent visitors, checking on sex workers and ensuring places had licences to operate. If a prostitute was unfortunate enough to get a conviction for soliciting, she’d be barred from working in the parlours and forced on to the street.
Working on the street was something else. You no longer had the security of knowing how much work you’d get that night and having somewhere to shower, change and be warm in the colder months. At the same time there was a kind of safety in numbers, and sometimes the women would huddle together for a gossip. Rumours flew like wildfire. Everybody knew everybody. It was acknowledged that the transgenders were the best to talk to – they had a sense of humour. Sometimes “blue lines” of schoolgirls would walk down the street taunting the sex workers, who’d quickly duck into doorways and around corners.
While working on the street could be competitive and confronting, some of the women would later remember the community spirit. Some parlour owners took on a mother-hen role with the young women on the street, offering them work in the parlours when they could, and reminding them where to get free condoms and health checks. In 1987 the New Zealand Prostitutes’ Collective had been formed, spurred on by similar groups in England.
By the beginning of 1992 Jane Furlong, just sixteen, was adept at working on K Road. If she had any concerns about the way she was making money she didn’t show it. Her diaries simply tallied her income and the various trips she took to her doctor for check-ups.
On February 4 she headed for her usual spot, arriving at nine, just as the streets were starting to get busy. Although summer was ending the night was still warm. Ten minutes later she had her first customer. A ute pulled up. A man called through the window and asked her about prices. “Fifty dollars for oral, forty for a hand job,” Jane said. “But nothing else. I’ve got my period.”
The man agreed and she jumped into the car. Jane was smart. If things didn’t feel right she wouldn’t take the risk. This man seemed okay. He was reasonably well dressed, more put together than the usual person who trawled the streets for sex. She decided he must be familiar with the area when he instantly rejected her suggestion to make a left turn and instead went right. They drove along Pitt Street, and there was an awkward moment when he appeared not to realise that Hobson Street was one-way. Unfazed, he continued on to Nelson Street near the waterfront. Jane would remember seeing a sign that said Beaumont Street.
The man stopped the car by a wall in front of an abandoned brick building. The place was illuminated only by the faint glow of street lights a few metres away. There was no one around. To Jane’s annoyance he immediately began making advances. She reminded him he had to pay first, which was normal practice. “I guarantee you’ll get your money if you do exactly what I say,” he barked, and slapped her sharply across the face.
Frightened, Jane tried to defend herself, pushing hard against him. The man got out of the car, walked around to the passenger door and wrenched it open. He pushed her down on the seat and then swivelled her body so her legs hung outside the door, facing him. Jane again mentioned her period. He responded by pulling up her dress, tearing down her underpants, and biting her labia.
She screamed. The pain was excruciating.
“Shut up! Stop being such a baby!” the man shouted.
Now thoroughly petrified, Jane attempted to soothe things over.
“Sorry, but that hurt,” she said.
The man showed no signs of slowing down. While Jane begged him to stop he continued to violate her. Jane would recall the attack must have gone on for five to ten minutes. Suddenly he decided he’d had enough. Grabbing Jane’s jacket and purse, he threw them at the wall and told her to go and sit with them. Then he got into the ute and sped away.
Jane ran after him in an unsuccessful attempt to get the number of the licence plate, then started walking down the road towards the harbour. A man and woman who passed her on the footpath noticed she had smears of blood on her face and asked if she needed help. Jane told them she lived in Mount Eden and they offered to drive her there.
Once back home, Jane wrote down everything that had happened and then had a bath. She would later be unable to find the pad she wrote on. Her best friend Amanda, who also worked on the street, arrived and Jane told her what had happened. Jane’s face was sore from being slapped. She had bruises on her wrists and hands where the man had gripped her. There was a finger-shaped bruise on her chest where he had tried to pick her up by her breasts. There was a large bite mark on her labia.
Despite these injuries she didn’t see a doctor or report the attack to the police. “I didn’t complain because I was young and working as a prostitute, and so people would be biased and not believe me,” she later explained. “I was affected mentally by what happened, but I recovered by trying not to think about it and just getting on with things. I am quite sure I didn’t make an Ugly Mug sheet regarding this matter.” Ugly Mugs was a system run by the Prostitutes’ Collective where sex workers could report men with whom they’d had dangerous encounters.
When Jane was finally interviewed by the police in December, ten months later, she was given a photomontage of potential suspects by the officer, Detective Constable Steve Haszard. She immediately pointed to one man. There was no doubt in her mind that he was her attacker.
She continued working on K Road but after this she began to carry a pocketknife.
EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT FOR NOTED FROM THE SHORT LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DEATH OF JANE FURLONG BY KELLY DENNETT (AWA PRESS, $42)