Tuesday, 21 Sep 2021

Julia Hartley-Moore’s unconventional path to being one of our top private investigators

Julia Hartley-Moore, one of New Zealand’s most accomplished private investigators, is the one that wears the pants, so it’s rare to watch her being bossed around by her husband.

At their home in Auckland, Steve Butler, Hartley-Moore’s devoted fourth husband, busily rearranges the furniture while she prepares to pose for the Herald’s videographer.

Butler, a television producer, wrangles their three “fur babies” – Plum, Soggy, and Raisin – to be quiet. He reassures his wife of 12 years that she doesn’t have a hair out of place or lipstick on her teeth.

Elegantly dressed in a camel-coloured jumper, leggings and black thigh-high boots, Hartley -Moore, 67, seems relaxed about being shuffled around in a chair to catch the soft light on her impossibly wrinkle-free face.

The grandmother cuts and colours her own hair, her teeth are whiter than white, and her steely blue eyes remain steady even when she’s talking about her experiences as a teenage mother, being raped, or catching cheating partners, scams and fraudulent insurance claimants as a private investigator.

A tough nut who is refreshingly honest, Hartley-Moore begins the interview by declaring that she is not a man-hater. “How could I be?” she says. “I’ve been married four times.”

Hartley Moore’s path to becoming one of the country’s top private investigators was unconventional. She was raised in Glen Eden, in Auckland, the youngest of two children. Her English father owned his own business while her Scandinavian mother was the homemaker.

At school, she felt like a misfit. “I felt so thick,” she says. “I was in the lowest class at every school. I knew I wasn’t dumb, but I didn’t know how to show people I wasn’t.”

Hartley-Moore took ballet classes and deportment lessons to become a “lady” but loved to hunt and fish with her father. Her mother, Arneth, told her from a young age: “You can do anything, my girl”.

“I was a crack shot,” she says. “I started with a bow and arrow then gradually worked up to a BB gun, to a .22 to a .303 to a shotgun. We ate what we shot. We didn’t go to the beach in the summer, in autumn we would wait for the roar in the Ureweras and Taupō.”

Emma Peel, from the 60s television show The Avengers, was the teenage Hartley-Moore’s heroine. “She was strong, sexy, and kicked arse and had to be better than men,” she says. “I adored her.”

But she left Kelston High School at 14, disillusioned and unqualified.

Years later, in the late 1990s, when she was 40 – at around the time that she appeared in the TV show Private Investigators – Hartley-Moore was diagnosed with dyslexia. She describes it now as her “superpower”. She has difficulty identifying numbers and letters but, she says, she can sniff a liar in seconds.

“You learn to hone other skills,” she says. “I can sense things and narrow things down. I spend a lot of time on the phone and can tell if someone is telling lies by their tone and the way they speak. I recently discovered MI6 employs people with dyslexia because they have good visual awareness and can spot anomalies.”

Hartley-Moore became pregnant after becoming the victim of what she describes as date rape when she was just 15. The man invited her to his work Christmas party. He plied her with alcohol, she says, and then had sex with her. It was her first time.

“The last thing I remember was standing up, fading, unconscious and completely out of it,” she recalls. “I woke up and thought, ‘Oh no I’ve got my period how embarrassing’.”

Hartley-Moore says she had no idea she was pregnant until she went to see a doctor, under a false name. “When I told my mother she cried not because of what people would think but what was ahead of me. Then it dawned on me other kids who got pregnant were sent away but I couldn’t get rid of this thing.”

“Bless my parents, they stood by me,” she says. “I stayed in my pink bedroom in my single bed rubbing olive oil all over my stomach ’til I was due.”

Three months after the baby was born, Hartley-Moore fell pregnant again to her first husband.

“I nearly passed out when the doctor said, ‘It’s twins,'” she says. “I had three babies under a year old when I was 16.”

Hartley-Moore doesn’t regret a thing.

“If I had adopted [first child] Karoline out, I would be searching the world for her, I just couldn’t bear the thought of not knowing where she was. I wouldn’t change a thing I just wished that 15-year-old had been far more aware like this mother is now.”

She met her second husband, Ivan Pavlovich, a wealthy property developer and stud owner when Hartley-Moore was a secretary for the National party. It was a match of “survival”, she says.

“I wouldn’t have said he was a love match, but you have to remember I had three young kids,” she says. “We are still great friends and go on holidays together.”

After ending her marriage to Pavlovich, Hartley-Moore flew to London for a fresh start.

She landed a job in the perfumery department of Harrods, where she came across the likes of Rod Stewart, Rachel Hunter, Princess Diana, Pierce Brosnan and Nick Faldo. She was trained not to be obsequious around celebrities.

Mohamed al-Fayed, the businessman who owned Harrods at the time, took a shining to Hartley-Moore and called her “Miss New Zealand”.

“Mohamed liked my enthusiasm, we clicked,” she says. “I began in the perfumery section and stumbled across a theft ring. I ended up helping to catch shop assistants stealing perfume.”

A year and a half later, Hartley-Moore returned to New Zealand and worked for an insurance company as an investigator. She started her own company in 1996.

Earlier in her career, Hartley-Moore wanted to join the police force but was told she was “too feminine”. You won’t see Hartley-Moore skulking in the shadows or hiding in bushes. Like “M” the boss lady in James Bond movies, Hartley-Moore calls the shots from her home and gets “her boys” – former policemen – to do the grunt work.

“I don’t think you need to be ex-police to be a good investigator to detect things or nut things out. I am a woman who is curious and has life experience and wisdom. A lot of guys find it hard to talk about personal and emotional stuff that’s where I fit in.”

Hartley-Moore’s clients are typically well-heeled and reside in Parnell, Ponsonby, Remuera, St Heliers and Takapuna. They’re often wealthy women whose partners have had extramarital affairs with prostitutes.

Several months ago, Hartley-Moore received a phone call from a woman who she believes was later found dead.

Hartley-Moore says, “Most of my clients are high end and don’t reveal their names but this one was very sophisticated and very forthright. The thing that resonated is when she said, ‘I need your help. I know my husband is seeing prostitutes, but I am not worried about that, it’s someone closer to home.'”

“I kept telling her what we could gather but I felt her withdrawing. I think she was afraid I would get her too much information on him. ‘I kept thinking, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ She told me her husband had lost some money and he was depressed. When this lady withdrew, it bugged me.”

Hartley-Moore says she feels sad for women who feel trapped in a relationship and feel they have no options.

“Some women have been made to feel they are ‘helpless, useless and worthless’. They are worried about what other people might think. Their social standing and identity are way more important to them.

“The one thing to remember is if someone is prepared to betray you emotionally, they sure as f*** will betray you financially. I tell my clients ‘You will be a watchdog for the rest of your lives’. I don’t get it. The best power you have is what you can do for yourself.”

Today, Hartley-Moore says she has found security in her own life. She is the grandmother to three children and great-grandmother to four. Her fourth husband, Steve, is her “keeper” – she trusts him implicitly and says she’s never checked his mobile once.

“Steve adores me, I know he does,” she says. “Women who have husbands that play around think all men play around. I say the difference is when you know you have a good one, you know that person wouldn’t do anything to hurt you, I try to hammer that home to them. How do I know my husband is playing around? Well, you will know because you will feel it, but a lot of women don’t.”

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