Im really sorry: Notorious Christchurch child killer apologises to family 35 years after callous crime

A prolific child sex offender jailed for life after he kidnapped and murdered a Christchurch schoolgirl has apologised to her family more than 35 years after the “callous” crime.

Louisa Damodran was kidnapped as she walked home from school in October 1986.

The little girl, who would have turned 7 just days later, was only 150m from her family home.

Her body was found on a beach in North Canterbury several weeks later.

Peter Joseph Holdem was convicted of her murder.

He had recently been released from prison after serving time for sexually assaulting another little girl he approached on a Christchurch street.

Holdem snatched Louisa and drove her to the Waimakariri River in North Canterbury.

There police said he molested her, gagged her, throttled her to death and threw her body in the swift current.

The case has been revisited by senior journalist Anna Leask in this month’s episode of Herald podcast A Moment In Crime.

Soon after Louisa vanished Holdem was charged with murder.

He confessed to policebefore Louisa’s body was found, even taking detectives to the scene of the murder – described at his trial as “callous” – to reconstruct his actions.

Holdem is serving a life sentence and has been refused parole repeatedly since 1997.

He has also been subject to a number of postponement orders meaning instead of appearing before the board on an annual cycle, his hearings were delayed for three, four or five years.

Holdem’s most recent parole hearing was last month and for the first time since he savagely ended Louisa’s life, he showed remorse and apologised to her family.

At the hearing Holdem was told that the board had met members of Louisa’s family who had questions they wanted “put squarely” to the killer.

“In particular, she wanted to know whether Mr Holdem was sorry, and she expressed her inability to understand why he would hurt a child,” said Parole Board panel convenor Judge Anthony Ellis.

“She was concerned that he had not successfully completed a child sex offender programme and her view was that he should not be released until such a programme was successfully completed.”

Judge Ellis said Holdem “reflected carefully” before responding.

“He told the board that he could not begin to express how he feels about what he did to that little girl,” said the judge in the parole decision provided to the Herald.

“He said that he is really sorry and that he cannot explain why he chose to take out his
anger on that child.”

Holdem, now 65, is far from ready for parole and still considered to be a high risk of reoffending and a danger to the community.

The recidivist child sex offender began targeting little girls in the 1970s and his crimes escalated in the 80s and he spent stints in prison.

In 1980 Holdem abducted a 10-year-old girl in Christchurch’s Hagley Park, bound her, attacked her and left her for dead.

If not for a member of the public coming and freeing her, she would have died.

He was also known to lure girls to secluded areas by telling them his pet rabbits or guinea pigs had escaped and he needed help to catch them.

He would then sexually abuse the children.

While in prison for Louisa’s murder, Holdem has not completed any significant rehabilitation programmes to address his child sex offending.

He has done some programmes but had made “little progress” in the 35 years he’d been locked up.

Judge Ellis said there were “numerous” psychological reports on Holdem’s file including an “exhaustive review” of all relevant material.

At Holdem’s last hearing in 2020 the board was provided with two recent psychological reports but there were differences between the experts as to the way forward for the sexual deviant.

The board suggested that the psychologists “get together to map a way forward” that would address Holdem’s risk.

Judge Ellis said the most recent psych report stated that reintegration for Holdem “will require a slow step-wise path with multidisciplinary supervision and input”.

It was also recommended that Holdem complete a special treatment programme for child sex offenders “before re-integrative work commences”.

“Mr Holdem is currently assessed at a high risk of sexual offending and a medium risk of violent offending,” said Judge Ellis.

“Mr Holdem is currently wait listed for that [child sex offender] programme to commence in January 2022.”

Holdem was initially “reluctant to commit” to that programme but agreed to complete it after speaking to the board.

Holdem’s lawyer told the board he was not seeking parole but for the first time, had a “goal to prepare himself properly through a process of reintegration for a safe return to the community”.

He is said to be doing “exceptionally well in prison”.

“He is currently in self care and is committed to working on a careful reintegration pathway,” said Judge Ellis.

“The principal corrections officer said that he is doing very well, he is keeping himself occupied, particularly in the nursery and that there are no complaints about his conduct.”

Judge Ellis expected Holdem to take up to a year to complete the specialist rehab programme.

After that he asked for a new report to be provided to the board about Holdem’s situation including a ” further assessment of risk and recommendations as to the way forward”.

Until then, Holdem is “considered still to pose an undue risk”.

“For today, parole is declined,” said Judge Ellis.

“The board will see him again at a time when the [programme] is likely to have been
completed and reports will be available.

“It is unrealistic to expect that he would be ready for release at that time but it will be appropriate for the board to catch up with him to discuss the outcome of that programme and what is to be set before him on his reintegration path.”


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