Crewe murders: Police admit cartridge planted
MICHAEL FIELD AND RACHEL THOMAS
A review of the Jeanette and Harvey Crewe murder investigation offers titbits of information - but nothing to tell their daughter who killed them.
The Crewes were shot dead at their farmhouse in Pukekawa, northern Waikato, in June 1970.
In one of the most controversial and celebrated murder cases in New Zealand history, neighbour Arthur Allan Thomas was twice convicted of their murders, then pardoned after nine years in jail.
The Crewes' baby, Rochelle Crewe, was left alive - and four decades later it was her complaint that prompted the extensive review of the investigation.
Police said they still did not know who killed the Crewes, but they did conclude that a key piece of evidence - a rifle cartridge - was planted at the scene, likely by police.
They also said it was unlikely a "mystery person" fed baby Rochelle, who was found four days later in a neglected state. The suggestion became part of the case's folklore.
The pursuit of Jeannette Crewe's father, Len Demler, for the crime early in the investigation was wrong, today's report concluded.
Rochelle Crewe today said she was grateful to know her relatives were not implicated, but disappointed not to know who killed her parents.
The review, conducted by Detective Superintendent Andy Lovelock, found that "there is a distinct possibility that (a rifle cartridge found at the scene) may be fabricated evidence, and that if this is the case, that a member of police would have been responsible".
The police investigation was overseen by an independent counsel, David Jones, QC.
In his separate 28-page report he describes the "Police Exhibit 350" - the brass 22 cartridge case - as the most controversial. He said it was accepted that the cartridge never held a bullet that killed either of the couple.
"In my view the available material, when evaluated, leads to a clear finding of fabrication."
"[It was]... difficult to comprehend such a vital piece of evidence simply sitting in the garden unseen and unidentified for over four months".
Jones said the royal commission concluded Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton and Detective Len Johnston were responsible for planting it.
The fabrication against Thomas broke an impasse that had developed as a result of the physical evidence pointing toward the Thomas farm.
For four months Hutton had "openly pursued" Jeannette's father Len Demler and now that appeared to have been wrong.
"Detective Inspector Hutton needed a positive outcome to the investigation," Jones said.
"Without a definite link to Arthur Thomas' rifle (and thereby Thomas himself), that would not happen."
The Thomas family said they were "disgusted" at the police review.
They described it as a whitewash which failed to address what they claim is conclusive evidence that clears the Thomas name.
Police have said an axle used to weigh down Harvey Crewe's body was linked to the Thomas farm.
Thomas' brother, Des Thomas, said the axle had been removed from the farm five years prior to the murders.
"The evidence was not only corrupt, but it points to another suspect. And he's alive and well and living all his Christmases at home."
He said he sat down with police in 2012 and went through his evidence, collected independently, but they weren't interested.
Des Thomas said he had not confronted the suspect, but said it was a male who had not been fingerprinted.
"There are 25 unidentified fingerprints from the Crewe murders - let's start fingerprinting."
Des Thomas was today scratching his head, questioning who the family needs in order to clear their name.
"Why should we have to try and find someone else [to do a review]? Who do we need?"
Margaret Stuckey, sister of Arthur Allan Thomas, said her family has learnt to live with the stress of the long-running case.
"We're pretty disgusted. I think police have done this review to satisfy Rochelle [Crewe, daughter of the murdered couple] and so they can point the finger back at the Thomas family."
Des Thomas said he was "bloody disgusted" with the police review.
"What we need is some police officers with some guts to sort the corruption out."
PART OF THE REPORT 'NASTY'
Peter Williams QC, who defended Arthur Allan Thomas in court and who fought for his freedom for decades, said he was disappointed by today’s report.
“Thomas has not been entirely exonerated, there is still a possibility there. That is absolute rubbish.”
The report released today said there is “significant physical evidence” linking the Thomas farm with the murder but without new evidence “police are unable to advance this criminal investigation”.
Williams was damning of the comment.
"I find that just a little bit nasty," he told Stuff.
"Thomas spent nine years in prison, the very least the police could do is commiserate. He was an innocent man.
"To make a snide remark is quite disgraceful."
He said the investigation had cost $400,000 and it would have been better to give the money to the Crewe’s daughter, Rochelle, who prompted the inquiry.
"After 40-odd years there is no way the real perpetrators are going to be apprehended."
Deputy Commissioner Grant Nicholls said Lovelock had pulled no punches.
"However, despite the outstanding work by the review team, we still do not have an answer to certain key questions, particularly who killed the Crewes," Nicholls said.
Police had kept Rochelle Crew fully informed, he said.
"The report shows some aspects of the original investigation were done well, but there were shortfalls that led to missed investigative opportunities which have left her with the enduring uncertainty over the deaths of her parents.
"I have apologised to her for that and for the anguish caused to her and her family over the years."
CASE HANDLING CRITICISED
The report is damning of Hutton, who died in 2013. At his funeral Mike Bush, now the police commissioner, hailed him.
"The review findings add to my deep sense of regret at having agreed to speak at the funeral," Bush said today, while hailing the review as forthright and meticulous.
"[Hutton's] decision to call on Lenard Demler to visually identify the bodies of both his daughter and son-in-law after prolonged emersion in water lacked sensitivity and represents an unacceptable practice," the report said.
Demler was "prime suspect" when the bodies were recovered and Hutton's actions "may have been calculated to evoke some sort of admission".
His general persona pointed to that and his ill-will toward Jeannette as a result of his late wife May leaving her estate to her.
But focusing solely on him "significantly and negatively impacted the breadth of the investigation and led to a loss of objectivity on the part of the 1970 investigation team, specifically, Hutton".
Demler lived alone and had no alibi.
Nicholls said the intention throughout had been to provide Rochelle Crewe with as many answers as possible.
But he said the enduring question in the case, who killed her parents, "will remain without answers."
He said 1970 was a time of valve radios and black and white televisions.
"The past is a foreign country where they did things differently."
Natalie Walker, Rochelle Crewe's lawyer, said her client was disappointed not to know who killed her parents.
Rochelle was, however, grateful to know that her aunt and her grandparents "were not involved in any way".
She had been shown the evidence and had been in contact with the review team.
"Rochelle is disappointed there were shortfalls," she said, expressing gratitude for police acknowledging the shortfalls.
Walker said Rochelle in law was a victim but in life "she does not regard herself as one".
She thanked those who knew her true identity but had kept it private and she requested continued privacy, asking media not to approach her.