The Bain murders can still start rancorous debates in New Zealand, 23 years after the bodies were discovered on that freezing morning of June 20, 1994.
The case divides families, friends and media personalities. It has spawned lobby groups for David Bain and his father Robin and made David an immediately recognisable figure.
Why should this be so? New Zealand has had other mass murders, yet it is the Bain shootings that are New Zealand’s most controversial and polarising.
As a starting point, there are some obvious answers why this should be so.
New Zealand is fortunate to be a country where murder is still big news but some killings capture the public’s attention more than others.
Middle-class murders involving outwardly normal and functional people are always more interesting and intriguing than random acts of violence among the underclass.
The Bain saga is also clearly abnormal in its length and tortuous progress through the system. Not many New Zealand cases have had two major trials with different results, several books, bids for compensation and a raft of official and less official inquiries.
In addition, the case has featured strong personalities. Few cases have someone as determined as high profile former All Black Joe Karam working indefatigably to show the accused is innocent. His campaign adds another fascinating element.
The controversy over the case also goes to the heart of the New Zealand justice system including the police, juries, expert evidence, the adversarial format and the process for examining possible wrongful convictions. The case has highlighted problems with all facets of the system.
The case also stirs strong emotions. If the system has failed David Bain and prosecuted and jailed an innocent young man who came home to find his family dead, the injustice is extreme and guaranteed to arouse outrage. Equally, if Bain is guilty and is falsely claiming innocence, great affront is also justified.
Frustrating puzzles are at the heart of the saga and help stimulate endless debate. One of the most perplexing aspects is the question of what drove either Robin or David Bain to shoot their family.
Why would seemingly caring and kind people want to annihilate their family? How could outwardly normal, educated people cold-bloodedly murder their nearest and dearest?
The complex evidence invites the amateur detective in everyone to try to solve the crime.
In the Bain case, there are only two candidates and only one of them is alive. Seldom does a murder provide such a clear-cut yet complex mystery.
The evidence allows for many views and has something for every theory.
Killings like the Bain murders also challenge us to make sense of them because they shake the foundations of our beliefs.
Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo says murders “become symbols of other things - chaos, the fear that what we see as safe and solid civilisation really is just varnish.”
These things shouldn’t happen to families, the bedrock of every society. People feel the need to know how people can hide behind a mask and then turn sometimes overnight into a mass murderer, even if just for their own protection.
Then we have the figure of David Bain, who evokes a sympathetic response from many people. He is polite, boyish, middle class and sensitive. He is a blank page on which people can project their life view about authority and the unfairness of society.
To quote a line from the 1960 novel “To kill a Mockingbird”: “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.”
None of the criminal tendencies which make people suspicious of claims of innocence mar his brand.
All these aspects come together in the Bain case to produce a narrative that touches a chord with almost everyone.