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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Billy the Hunted One" has just been caught

First there were T-shirts, then came the song, and now New Zealand's favourite fugitive has inspired internet updates to track his police-dodging ways.

William Stewart is New Zealand's most wanted man, on the run now for 107 days across small towns of the South Island, popping up regularly to steal meat pies or trade up his stolen vehicle.

His antics have captivated the nation, with Kiwis apparently fascinated by the slippery crim who first hit headlines in March after stealing dinner from a farm kitchen and carving "thanks from Billy the Hunted One" into the table.

The cat-and-mouse game has rolled on since, with Stewart shifting from town to town at night, shotguns at his side, slipping through police cordons and thieving from shops to eat and support his methamphetamine addiction.

All the while, embarrassed police have warned Stewart is armed, dangerous and "a pain in the neck".

But the public can't seem to get enough of him, buying up scores of "Where's Billy" T-shirts sold online by an opportunistic property developer.

"It was never done to make money, but people just keep on buying them up," said Barry Toneycliffe, who gets as much as $60 each for the shirts.

A South Island freezer worker was also inspired by "Billy", penning a song in his name after hearing the tale at his small-town pub.

Now at least two Facebook pages have appeared to update his whereabouts and display the many police photos of a dishevelled long-haired Stewart, who has a history of theft and violence.

Many taunt the police for failing to catch him, urging on the fugitive with posts like: "Go for it, Billy!"

"The cops down here couldn't catch a cold, and as far as I am concerned, you are going to be a legend for a long time."

Police, for their part, say Stewart has just been lucky to date, "and his luck will run out", said Sergeant Stu Munro.

Stewart's escapades have seen him compared to New Zealand's legendary prison escapee George Wilder, who became a Kiwi folk hero after breaking out of prison three times in the 1960s.

On one occasion he was free for 172 days, during which time he travelled more than 2,500km and committed 40 crimes.