Murdered policemen 'did not die in vain'

Last updated 05:00 04/02/2013
James Thomas Richardson
LAST CALLOUT: Constable James Thomas Richardson was shot dead on the job.
Bryan Leslie Schultz
LAST CALLOUT: Constable Bryan Leslie Schultz who was also killed.

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On a sunny February evening in 1963, two young policemen were shot dead on a quiet Lower Hutt street. The murders of Jim Richardson and Bryan Schultz 50 years ago yesterday still resonate. It was a catalyst for the creation of the armed offenders squad, and forever changed police procedures. Paul Easton reports.

Constables Bryan Schultz and Jim Richardson never knew what hit them. They had pulled up outside an unassuming villa in Herbert St, Lower Hutt, to investigate a report of a domestic disturbance.

It was about 4.40pm on February 3, 1963. Just eight metres away at a front window, Bruce Douglas McPhee crouched with a .303 rifle. He had been drinking and taking tranquillisers.

The three shots were fired so quickly that Constable Schultz, 21, was found slumped over the steering wheel, his hand still on the ignition. The engine of the black Holden sedan - car 505 - was still running.

Mr Schultz had been shot in the chest, by a bullet that went through the driver's seat.

Beside him in the passenger seat, Mr Richardson, 24, was also killed instantly, shot in the back of the head.

Both men were popular officers at Lower Hutt. It was a station of mates, picnics on days off, a strong social scene.

Bryan Schultz had been a constable for 2 years. He was the son of Les Schultz, a top Auckland detective. A keen sportsman and photographer, he had a reputation for getting on with anybody.

Jim Richardson was born in Petone, and spent his formative years in Masterton. A keen outdoorsman, he had been in the force for less than six months.

In charge of the shift that day was Tata Parata, later to become a Lower Hutt city councillor and Maori Council secretary.

The Lower Hutt station was running a skeleton staff, with some officers dispatched to Waitangi for a visit by the Queen. "It was a nice sunny day," Mr Parata recalls. "The call came in at about 20 to five. It was nothing unusual."

McPhee's wife had fled to a nearby dairy after their bust-up to call police.

Mr Richardson was in the station early for a 5pm start.

He agreed to go down with Mr Schultz. "Three or four minutes later we got a call saying there had been shots fired," Mr Parata says.

All available officers piled out of the station, grabbing the station rifle and an unloaded police revolver.

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"It was real Keystone Cops stuff. We'd never been to an event like that. We were given instructions to take the rifle and magazine separately - it just shows how inexperienced we were."

When they got to Herbert St, they found an ambulance officer already there. "He said, ‘Sorry mate, they're gone.' "

McPhee, a toolmaker, was being held by neighbours, and was arrested by Constable Doug Mawson.

He never offered an explanation for his actions. "The prisoner said, ‘I'm sorry boys.' That's all I ever heard him say," Mr Parata says.

"To be honest, it was out of character."

The dispute between McPhee and his wife was apparently over redecorating. "They had an argument over colour."

The atmosphere at Lower Hutt station that night was "surreal", he says. "What stuck with me was that everybody turned up. People came back from leave, back from the beaches. You'd never see that on a weekend."

Later that night, The Dominion newspaper spoke to 19-year-old Graham Knox, a boarder at the house.

"I was in the kitchen at the back of the house when I heard three shots," he told the reporter.

"A few seconds later a man came out of his bedroom and said what he had done. He told me to ring the police."

A crime scene photo shows the rifle propped up against some drawers, a flagon of beer and a glass on the floor. Out of the window, the police car's smashed windows can be clearly seen.

Detective Superintendent Ray van Beynen says the Herbert St shootings were one of two incidents that led to the creation of the armed offenders squad.

Just three weeks earlier, Detective Sergeant Neville Power and Detective Inspector Wally Chalmers had been shot dead by Victor George Wasmuth in West Auckland.

Auckland detective Bill Brien had already drawn up a report outlining the need for a specialist armed squad.

"That report was still sitting on the commissioner's desk when Schultz and Richardson were tragically killed," Mr van Beynen says.

"So that motivated the commissioner to form the team in 1964."

Also as a result of the Lower Hutt tragedy, police procedures for going to domestic incidents were changed, and remain in place to this day.

"If there's a report of a domestic dispute or any suspicious activity, the police will always park up the road," Mr van Beynen says.

"These two poor buggers, they pulled up outside, they probably weren't terribly clear what exactly was going on, whether his guy was armed.

"So now they will park away from the address, they will approach it cautiously, for safety reasons."

McPhee was found guilty of the murder of both constables. He was the first person to be convicted of the murder of a police officer in New Zealand. All previous cop-killers were shot, shot themselves, or were found not guilty on the grounds of insanity.

McPhee was given a life sentence, but served just 11 years for the killings.

He later moved to Australia, where he began a new life. He is still alive, and now lives in Auckland.

In 2010, former Mr Asia criminal "Diamond" Jim Shepherd told The Dominion Post of meeting him in prison.

"Bruce was the most inoffensive guy you would ever meet, very quiet, a lovely bloke. But he shot two police officers in a car stone cold dead. You'd never pick that guy in 100 years."

A plaque in the Lower Hutt police station remembers the two men to this day.

Hutt Valley area commander Inspector Mike Hill says it's important to remember their sacrifice.

"Much has come from this incident, it was a catalyst. The AOS has saved countless lives. They did not die in vain."

POLICEMAN'S LAST WORDS TO WIFE 'A PREMONITION'

Marie Martin will never forget the last words her late husband Jim Richardson spoke to her before leaving for the Lower Hutt police station.

"His parting words were, 'Don't wait up, I think I might be late.' It's like he had a premonition," she said.

Forty minutes later he was dead.

The couple had been married for almost nine months. "He was a happy-go-lucky guy, a free spirit. He was a hunter, a tramper, a Scoutmaster. He loved the outdoors, he'd been involved in quite a few search and rescue operations."

Mr Richardson arrived early for his 5pm shift. But when a call came in about a nearby domestic disturbance, he volunteered to go.

"He said to the guy that should have gone, you don't want to be stuck here with paperwork, go home to your wife and kids."

Mr Richardson usually wore a good luck charm - a greenstone tiki, given to him by a Maori family after he saved their child from drowning.

"This was the only time he didn't wear it, because the chain broke, that particular afternoon," Mrs Martin, 71, said.

"We couldn't find it. I actually found it a few days later, it was in the grass by the front door. It made my hair stand on end, the fact that he wore this thing constantly, and the one time he didn't wear it . . . bingo."

The tiki had shattered. "I got rid of it. I thought that once it was broken, whatever good was in it was gone."

She and her first husband were childhood sweethearts. "I can remember him coming around to ask my parents if he could take me out. He was all bashful and shy, I can still see it."

At the time of their murders, Mr Richardson and Bryan Schultz were the 15th and 16th police officers killed by criminal action in the line of duty. Twenty-nine have now died.

"When I first saw the memorial wall at the police college, I thought I hope there are never any more names put up, but sadly there have been quite a few," Mrs Martin said.

Every time she hears of a police officer hurt or killed, the memories come flooding back. She won't allow guns anywhere near her home. "You never forget, it's like it's branded on your brain."

Fifty years ago she sat through an inquest and killer Bruce McPhee's court appearances.

"He did get up at the end. He said he was sorry that this all happened.

"He wasn't a big man, he was just a little guy, unremarkable, very quiet. In a way I felt a bit sorry for him. I don't think he was in his right mind."

Mr McPhee got a fresh start, while the families of the dead men were left to pick up the pieces, she said. "We weren't given that opportunity, it was just it's all over now, go away and get on with things. He got all the chances under the sun."

One question still burns for her. "I don't want to blow his ears off, I just want to ask him simply, why? Why did you do this?"

'ANYBODY CAN LOSE THEIR RAG AND ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN'

Fifty years after his awful crime, Bruce Douglas McPhee spoke to The Dominion Post to convey his remorse.

Initially reluctant to talk, out of respect for the victims' families, he became reflective when told of Marie Martin's comments.

"I feel for the widow. It was a terrible thing that happened but unfortunately it did happen," he said.

"I feel for her but you can't make amends for the past.

"My heart is broken and my mother died of a broken heart because of it.

"She was a lovely lady, she loved everybody."

McPhee spoke uneasily, in a quiet, clear voice. "I've been working hard all my life. I'm an old man now, I'm 77.

"I train every day; I'm still hanging in there."

He didn't want to discuss the "ins and outs" of what happened that Sunday afternoon in 1963.

"I can't explain it. It's a tragedy that should never have happened.

"It's caused a lot of heartache over the years, on both sides," he said.

"Anybody can lose their rag and anything can happen."

He said he still thought of the crime often. "You'd have to be pretty callous not to."

He was out of prison in 11 years - a light sentence by today's standards - but was under intense supervision for another decade.

"People like Garth McVicar want to lynch you from the nearest pole but the fact is the Justice Department did its job," he said.

"I spent 21 years before I was released from parole. I think it's unfair to say: oh they let him out after 11 years. They let me out because I was mentally strong."

A grandfather now, McPhee lives a quiet life in Auckland.

Back in 1963, he was "young and stupid", he said. "But I had some qualifications, as a toolmaker, and they served me well over the years."

MEMORIAL

On Friday last week, police commemorated the deaths of Detective Inspector Chalmers, Detective Sergeant Power, and Constables Richardson and Schultz with a parade and memorial service at the Royal New Zealand Police College. Lower Hutt police also opened the Schultz and Richardson Lounge at their station. The ceremony was attended by police, past officers, and relatives of the two men.

- The Dominion Post

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