The Case of the Missing Bloodstain
Introduction & Reviews
The Crewe Case
There has been no more celebrated murder case in the history of New Zealand.
A farmhouse is discovered one winter’s morning in 1970 its lounge awash in blood, a baby lying in dirtied clothes in a dirtied cot, and the farmers, father and mother, absent perhaps dead.
Two months later the body of the mother is found in a nearby river with a bullet in the head. A month later the father’s body surfaces, tied to an old car axle and also with a bullet in the head.
Two months again and a local farmer is arrested, then tried, then convicted for the two murders.
Two High Court Trials, four hearings in the Court of Appeal - two of them after referrals from the Governor General – two Government-appointed investigations by senior legal figures, and ten years and several books later, the farmer is pardoned and released, pronounced innocent while a top policeman is found to have planted vital evidence against him.
Forty years later the killer remains not just unidentified. He's never been sought. Why not? Who killed the Crewes?
Nor has the accused policeman ever been brought to court. Why not? Did he really plant evidence?
For all the answers read The Case of The Missing Bloodstain, published on Monday 16 April 2012.
On 19 April 2012, four days after publication, The Case of the Missing Bloodstain was the subject of a full episode of TVNZ's former Media 7 current affairs series. An excerpt and also the full programme follow:
"Media 7" review comment (1'45") by AAThomas counsel Peter Williams QC:
Des Williams, Shearing Magazine, August 2012
Time to start reading
By Des Williams
This young bloke was enjoying a country sports day many years ago with his father, when they met an old timer who had spent his whole life on the land, converting bush to pasture and farming sheep.
The father greeted the old timer as good friends do, and then told him his son had recently written a book that he might be interested in reading. The latter’s response, somewhat unexpected, was that he had never read a book in his life, and he wasn’t about to start now!
Even if you, like that farmer, have never read a book in your life, it’s not too late to start and you could do worse than begin with a recent publication entitled The Case of the Missing Bloodstain. Especially if you are "old timer" enough to remember the Crewe murders at Pukekawa, during the winter of 1970.
You may well recall the bare facts: farming couple Jeannette and Harvey Crewe murdered in their own home, crime scene discovered five days later, 18-month-old child alive and well in cot, Jeannette’s father (Len Demler) the "popular suspect" for weeks until the two bodies were found, four weeks apart, floating in the Waikato River.
Within a short time of the second body discovery, the name Arthur Allan Thomas is added to New Zealand’s list of most infamous; two trials, many appeals, several books, Arthur nearly a decade behind bars until a Government-appointed Queen’s Counsel investigation resulted in a pardon for Thomas by the Robert Muldoon government in late 1979.
You may also recall that a subsequent Royal Commission of Inquiry found police officers involved in the investigation guilty of planting a .22 shell case in the Crewe garden, manufactured evidence used against Thomas even though his rifle was merely one that "could not be discounted" from the inquiry. Science later proved the shell had distinctions that meant it could not possibly have contained the lead found in the victims’ bodies.
No one else was ever brought to trial. So if Arthur didn’t do it, who did? Was it murder/suicide as many believed at first, with Len Demler responsible for removing and disposing of the bodies? Was it Len himself ? (He died in 1992.) Or was it maybe the neighbouring lad who had some history of wandering the countryside at night with a .22 rifle?
At least half a dozen well-researched books have been written about this, New Zealand’s major unsolved murder mystery. All have made sound arguments in one direction or another, but all have left questions remaining in the minds of discerning readers.
Until now. Auckland author Keith Hunter leaves no boxes unticked in The Case of the Missing Bloodstain, published in April 2012. He requires no surmising or false evidence to reach the conclusions in his book, instead relying on information that has been available right from the start of the police investigations that led them eventually, erroneously and in parts corruptly to the door of Arthur Allan Thomas.
The book reads in parts like a crime novel, but Hunter’s investigations and conclusions are compelling. The crime has finally been solved according to evidence that has always been available but incorrectly interpreted and truth really can be stranger than fiction.
This book should be compulsory reading for every New Zealander concerned with truth and justice. There is still one major strike for justice that could be made, even 42 years after the event. But I don’t want to spoil your own reading ...
By the way, if you are wondering if this book has anything to do with sheep, shearing and the wool industry, the connections are tenuous. The Crewes were sheep farmers and Hunter jokes that he has been known to wear woollen socks, but the main connection is this: The wool that has been pulled over the eyes of jurors, defence lawyers, Appeal judges and the New Zealand public for the past 42 years can finally be lifted away and the truth revealed.
(Reprinted with permission from Shearing magazine, Number 79, Vol 28, No 2, August 2012. ISSN 1179-9455 www.lastsidepublishing.co.nz )
It is difficult at this distance to convey the cultural and political weight that developed between 1970 and 1980 around the murders of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe and the framing of Arthur Allan Thomas for the crime.
It was not only the gothic murder mystery at the heart of the matter that commanded the public's interest, but the way in which the battle to clear Thomas's name became a struggle with an establishment that cared above all about preserving its own reputation.
Such were the stakes. And it wasn't easy. Auckland Star weekend deputy editor Terry Bell had to resign in order to publish his 1972 book Bitter Hill, after being told by his superiors that "it is not the role of the newspapers to attempt to try the courts". And yet it was his colleague, Pat Booth, who eventually did as much as anyone to secure justice for Thomas by tirelessly investigating the case. The role of the news media in general was crucial, in a way that perhaps would not have been possible a decade earlier. New Zealanders learned to question authority.
For nearly a decade, it was a pitched battle. Thomas was tried and convicted twice, but the campaign for him steamed on. There was even a pop song about the case. Eventually, Prime Minister Robert Muldoon -- and this, along with the establishment of the Official Information Act, is one of those things that confounds the familiar assessment of Muldoon -- ordered a Royal Commission of inquiry in the circumstances of Thomas's conviction.
Thomas had already been freed on the basis of proceedings by the time the Commission delivered its report early in 1980:
I picked up a copy of the report several years ago, as a cultural artefact. I had not even opened it until I read Keith Hunter's new book, The Case of the Missing Bloodstain (subtitle: Inside an incompetent and corrupt police inquiry: the truth of the Crewe murders). Taken together, the two are fascinating.
Hunter's book develops the work of another journalist, Chris Birt. He worked with Birt on developing a never-to-be-made TV documentary based on Birt's 2001 book The Final Chapter and has nurtured his theory about the case ever since. (Hunter's ready acknowledgement of Birt stands in contrast to his disdain for Ian Wishart, whose Arthur Allan Thomas: The Inside Story is the most recent of many books published about the case. You can't blame him: even Wishart admits he has no evidence for his contention that the killer was Detective Len Johnston, who he conjures as a kind of deus ex machina allowing the other suspects to be dismissed.)
As anyone who knows anything about the Commission will recall, Johnston features prominently in it: most notably in the conclusion on page 96 that:
(a) The shellcase exhibit 350 was planted in the Crewe garden by Detective Inspector [Bruce] Hutton and Detective Segeant Johnston.
(b) The shellcase of exhibit 343 was switched on two occasions, the first probably accidentally but the second deliberately.
(c) The destruction of some of the exhibits in the Whitford Tip was an improper action designed to prevent any further investigation of Exhibit 350. We also find that Detective Inspector Hutton improperly misled his superiors concerning the chances of recovering the exhibits from the tip.
That the officers were found to have planted a key piece of evidence -- a bullet shell casing they alleged to have been ejected from Thomas's rifle -- was enough to have Thomas freed on a Royal Pardon and compensated, on the Commission's recommendation, with a million dollars. Oddly, Thomas has never been cleared by a court, but let's just say it is unlikely in the extreme that he is the killer.
On the other key piece of evidence the police presented in their case -- the linking of an axle apparently used to weigh down Harvey Crewe's body in the Waikato River - the Commission said:
We consider that the evidence as to the two stub axles and the axle beam is a morass of inconsistencies, unexplained discrepancies, and alternative possibilities … we make no findings of fact as to the axle whatsoever. Nor are we in a position to find any impropriety on on the part of the Police in relation to the stub axles or in relation to Mr Thomas's book of cheque butts.
We do, find, however, that it would be quite unsafe to draw any inference connecting Mr A. A. Thomas with the axle found on Harvey Crewe's body, merely because of the two stub axles on his tip.
The meat of Hunter's book is the proceedings of a decade: transcripts of the police conferences (which stopped suddenly when the focus of the investigation switched to Thomas and away from Jeanette's father, Len Demler), the trials (including Justice Trevor Henry's simply outrageous summation for the jury in the first trial), the records of evidence and the hearings of the Commission, which are distinguished by the remarkable cross-examinations carried out by the Commission's chair, Australian jurist Robert Taylor.
From these, Hunter draws a picture of a system (Hunter always capitalises it "System") determined to protect itself, even at the expense of an innocent man. The role of two foreigners -- Taylor and the British writer David Yallop, author of Beyond Reaonsable Doubt? -- in rousing New Zealanders from their torpor was considerable.
Hunter also draws conclusions, which is where I must be careful. Johnston died in 1978, but Hutton, at the age of 84, is still alive. He has never been charged in connection with the investigation and the Weekend Herald yanked what was apparently to be a front-page story on Saturday after Hutton told a reporter he would sue if the paper referred to Hunter's key allegation against him.
Hunter's book is published today, but it has not been "legalled" and he never sought to speak with Hutton, or the Thomas family. This is presumably why Arthur Thomas himself has declared he has no interest in the book -- in sharp contrast to his vocal support for a re-opening of the Crewe murder case last year, after Wishart's book was published.
Media7 has also been in touch with Hutton, and although he did not specifically threaten action, he said he would consult his lawyer and consider action if the book was "a pack of lies". He also said in parting: "You just tell them I sleep well at night, put it that way."
In this week's Media7, I'll be talking to Hunter, Thomas's counsel at the Royal Commission, Peter Williams QC and forensic scientist Anna Sandiford. I am sure we will find plenty to talk about -- not least Hunter's declaration, in the first line of the chapter he titles 'A Civil War', that Thomas's first trial "was the beginning of a battle which endures today."
Coverme book review
In this well researched and well written book, journalist Keith Hunter explores the 1970 murders of Jeannette and Harvey Crewe and the conviction of Aurthur Allan Thomas for the murders, a conviction that many, many New Zealanders were unhappy with and a conviction that lead to the end of the public`s trust and reliance on the Police and the Justice System to deliver justice when it was found that Thomas had been framed, a mistrust that has whittled away at our system to the point where few rely on it and most doubt its service of good.
The book is gripping and it is to the authors abilities that one can say it is understandable, even I who have struggled with the gun, wire and axle evidence could put it all together under Hunter`s tutelage although I confess it took more than one look at the body retrieval photos before I got it but I did!
There is really no surprise at whom he points the finger of guilt, suspicion has long rested there but Hunter paints his case in bold colours and lays it all out very clearly and really anyone who wanted to get to the heart of the case in 1970 could have done so, it wasn`t really rocket science. The evidence and motive as they stood were quite clear however truth and justice weren`t really what these upholders of the law were after, it was a conviction and a conviction alone that would suit their purposes and so when doubts crept in about the solidness of their case they were propelled to change tack and follow a different path... and from there it all turned to living hell for a farmer and his wife from Pukekawa.
Even with Arthur Thomas`s pardon, compensation and the Royal Commission, with all the books written, films and documentaries, justice still hasn`t been served and it isn`t too late. 1 person should be charged by my reckoning and one person should be made to answer the question in her own words of why she allowed herself to be seen?
Hunter has done a masterful job, he has written an engaging true life thriller, a powerful plea for justice, if justice interests you or you like to read true crime and if you like to play detective, this is the book for you.
posted by Marion on 2:34 PM under Arthur Allen Thomas, dishonesty, evidence, justice, police
16 Jun 2012 The Southland Times
Crewe saga a sorry tale for police
The Case Of The Missing Bloodstain Inside An Incompetent and Corrupt Police Inquiry: The Truth Of The Crewe Murders By Keith Hunter (Hunter Productions) Reviewed by Chris Chilton In 1980, a royal commission of inquiry found two senior police officers in charge of the 1970 murder case against Arthur Allan Thomas falsified evidence in order to convict him of the murder of Jeannette and Harvey Crewe.
Thomas, who had spent nine years in prison, was released, pardoned and given nearly a million dollars in compensation.
He was never found innocent and the two police officers were never tried.
The disturbing events remain a festering, weeping sore in New Zealand’s history and, despite the honourable intentions and exhaustive research of Keith Hunter, they are likely to remain that way.
Many books and articles have been written about the Crewe case. Keith Hunter’s is a result of the investigative work he carried out when asked to produce a television documentary to accompany journalist Chris Birt’s 2001 book, The Final Chapter, in which Birt named Jeannette Crewe’s father, Len Demler, as the killer.
The documentary was never made, but Hunter pored over the evidence for a decade, coming to a series of startling conclusions that are the cornerstones of this gripping book.
His analysis of trial and commission transcripts, and sharp eye for detail in the photographic records, present the strongest case yet that:
Demler did kill his daughter and son-inlaw;
Inquiry head Detective Inspective Bruce Hutton believed all along that Demler did it;
Hutton was forced to find another suspect under intense pressure from police commissioner Bob Walton to solve the case quickly and on the advice of Crown prosecutor David Morris that the evidence wasn’t strong enough to convict Demler;
Hutton and Detective Len Johnston conspired to plant a .22 rifle cartridge case to frame Thomas;
They also conspired to alter and plant a trailer axle linking Thomas to the body of Harvey Crewe;
And that the evidence for all of this and more has been on the record for 40 years but has been overlooked until now.
It could have happened exactly as Hunter says it did. His theories make sense, and no suspension of disbelief is required to imagine that the evidence supports his arguments. It is there in black and white and,
Once pointed out, glaringly obvious.
If the two trial juries had heard and seen all of it, there is no way Thomas would have been convicted.
This should be enough to have Thomas not just pardoned, which still implies guilt, but exonerated. Regrettably, that is a forlorn hope.
As Hunter outlines with barely veiled contempt for the process, the pardon was a sop to public pressure by the Muldoon Government of the day. The establishment’s admission of police
Terse failure required the sacrifice of low-level scapegoats, no matter how corrupt and complicit they were in the perpetration of the injustice.
It did not address the complicity of the police hierarchy or the multiple failures of the judicial system as a whole and, because those faults have never been admitted, there is no desire by the system to address them now.
While Hutton bites his tongue and takes one for the team, the system sleeps easy. Leaving this case closed means never having to say you’re sorry.
To solve it, someone else’s guilt has to be proven beyond all doubt.
While Hunter’s logic is compelling, his narrative absorbing and his scenario likely, his case is not irrefutable.
Robbed of the possibility of a confession by the death of Len Demler or an extraordinary admission by Hutton, Hunter has to employ a good chunk of conjecture to make some key assumptions.
And so a nagging sliver of doubt remains, along with one incontrovertible truth.
The case of Jeannette and Harvey Crewe destroyed forever New Zealanders’ blind faith in their police and judiciary.
The nation’s age of innocence died soon after the Crewes did and it is gone forever.
The Southland Times (Queenstown and Central Otago) - Sat, 16 Jun 2012
A defamatory review was published in the Manawatu Standard on 5 May. It claimed the book is not my work but "the work of others". As it may well be the subject of litigation it is not republished here - KH .