Betty helped to catch a murderer

At home: Betty Bonniface, 90, moved in with her daughter, Elizabeth Connor, in Wairau Valley in June.
At home: Betty Bonniface, 90, moved in with her daughter, Elizabeth Connor, in Wairau Valley in June.

The 90-year-old daughter of former Picton mayor Walter Davies remembers pledging to avoid liquor and helping police catch an axe-murderer during her childhood.

Former Picton resident Betty Bonniface turned 90 on November 23 and had a party at her daughter Elizabeth Connor's home in Wairau Valley.

She was only about 10 years old when she nervously gave police a leather coin purse that once belonged to murder victim James Flood, so they could match the leather to his wallet found on Edward Tarrant, believed to have contained £1000.

Flood was killed in the cottage he rented from Bonniface's neighbour and friend, John Heberley, and she received the coin purse as a gift.

"I was so scared walking into the police station to give it to them."

The Crown believed Tarrant, a woodcutter, had the skill to cause the axe wound that killed 75-year-old Flood. The motive was to get his hands on the cash and solve his money problems.

Tarrant maintained his innocence but was hanged at Wellington Prison in 1933.

Bonniface grew up at 1 Hampden St, Picton, and returned to the section several decades later, though her family home was replaced with a kitset Lockwood home. She kept the same phone number which grew from 21 to 421, 36 421, and now 573 6421, before shifting to the Marina Cove Retirement Village because it overlooked the house.

She moved in with her daughter in Wairau Valley in June.

"Picton was a happy place to grow up in.

"We used to go to the domain and get knee deep in mud. It must've been the bane of mum's life."

She attended Picton School in the late 1920s and early 1930s and frequented the Picton Methodist Church, where she became a member of the Methodist temperance movement, Band of Hope, and signed a pledge to "abstain from all intoxicating liquors".

"We were only six or seven at the time - none of us knew what we would be doing later in life."

The only surviving member of seven siblings, her brothers fought in different army sections in World War II.

"But, at the same time, Woodbourne was full of lovely young pilots and they came through to Picton for dances."

The pilots and sailors were a hit with the young ladies but the dances always had adults to keep an eye on things and "nobody left the hall together".

Her father, Walter Davies, became mayor of the town in the 1950s.

"He was a handsome man. He was always trying to better himself. The books he had were all poetry and classics. I think he went to school until he was 12 but he never stopped learning."

Bonniface got engaged to a ship's officer but he returned to his first fiancee in Dunedin.

She began working as a pay clerk for the rail service at the Picton office and met her husband, Allan Bonniface, who moved to Marlborough from Christchurch when the main trunk line was being installed in 1944 and was completed in Kaikoura in 1945.

He was 29; she was 24, and they wed in the Picton Methodist Church in 1946. He died in the mid-1990s.

The Marlborough Express