Slaying of cabbie recalled at service

JAMES GREENLAND
Last updated 13:00 21/02/2013
Banham family
MARION VAN DIJK/Fairfax NZ
REMEMBERING DAD: Members of the Banham family with a picture of their father, Peter Banham, who was murdered in 1963.

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A murder mystery that "shook Nelson's foundations" 50 years ago has been remembered, with children of a murdered taxi driver paying tribute to their father.

About 50 people attended the service at St Mary's Catholic church yesterday for popular Nelson taxi driver Peter Carthew Banham.

Mr Banham was killed in Nelson on February 20, 1963, by Maurice Albert Davis for a meagre £27. His body was found the next morning in Hope.

It was a whodunit that caught the attention of the nation.

It especially shook Nelson folk, who at that time, and still now, were not used to such acts of violence in their community.

Tricia Pope (nee Banham) said: "Today was about moving on and survival. It was for Dad, but it was for us as well."

Mrs Pope, Mr Banham's only daughter, read a Bible passage, before his eldest son Bill Banham stood and reflected on his late father's character.

"Even though we only knew him for a short time it was a good time. He had a big impact on our lives," Bill said.

Bill, just 15 when his father was murdered, said his dad was a "devoted family member".

"No matter how busy he was, or tired after work, he was always ready to listen to his children."

Recalling the generosity of Nelson people and New Zealanders, Bill said one person, who still remains unknown, secretly sent the Banham family cooked meals each night for weeks after the murder.

That was just one example "of genuine kindness that [we] received from so many people at that time", Bill said.

Mr Banham's two other children, David and Peter, and his widow Bernadette [Small], also attended the service.

Mr Banham's funeral was held at St Mary's 50 years ago.

St Mary's parish priest Father Michael O'Dea said the family had "suffered a great blow, a great loss, on that day. But they felt the consolations of the whole community".

Mrs Pope (Tricia) would not forget the moment she learned of her father's fate, the morning his empty cab was found in town by police.

"I said to them, was there damage to the car?

"They said, ‘not on the outside'. They looked at each other and I knew that there was something really, really wrong. You're not stupid at 13, you know, you can cut through the thing to the nub of something at that age sometimes.

"I just knew something was terribly wrong."

She said there was not any counselling in those days and her friends at [Sacred Heart] school supported me.

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"I think the thing that affected my brothers and I the most is that we all left Nelson as soon as we could.

"Pete [the youngest child at just 8 in 1963] has coped incredibly well. We all did really. You had to in those days."

Nelson journalist and author Doug McGilvary covered the case and eventually wrote a book about it. He said it was the most extensive murder investigation in New Zealand history at that time.

"It shook Nelson to its foundations. Nelson was a very, very peaceful, quiet, sober kind of community and all of a sudden people started to lock their doors," he recalled.

"It skittled the whole community."

Fifty years on from "New Zealand's most extensive criminal investigation", Mr McGilvary yesterday revealed how he compiled his book Pursuit of Justice.

It's a tale reminiscent of the classic era of canny journalistic inquiry.

Davis, was tried in a Wellington court because judges said he could not receive a fair trial in Nelson.

Mr McGilvary, former Nelson Mail chief reporter, said the Wellington judge wouldn't let the Nelson Mail access copies of the evidence sheets or trial records.

"The Mail didn't send reporters hoofing around the country in those days."

He could not complete his book without the trial information, so took matters into his own hand.

"This is where it become a bit tricky. I actually pinched it, I got a copy. I stole it from the police," he said.

Mr McGilvary said he was on good terms with the police and on his daily visit to Nelson police station saw a court transcript on a desk.

"So I just dropped all my papers on top of it, went round the room having a conversation with them, then came over and swept it all up and walked out."

Mr McGilvary said Davis, who is now dead, had sent him threatening letters from Paparua prison in Christchurch.

"He said he didn't like my book."

TIMELINE February 20, 1963: Nelson man Peter Carthew Banham is murdered and his taxi is robbed between 9pm and 11pm. February 21, 1963: Mr Banham's body is discovered in Pugh's Rd, Hope, bound and gagged with extensive head and throat wounds. His taxi cab is found at the rear of a timberyard in Kerr St, Nelson. A police investigation that would become one of New Zealand's most intensive murder investigations begins. April 1963: Detectives finally get a lead, after two possum shooters in Tasman find a blood-stained coat in a stream. A female companion recognises the significance of their find and alerts police, who trace a drycleaning number from the inside of the coat to Christchurch, and eventually to the murderer, Maurice Albert Davis. February 1964: Davis is convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. He served 13 years. Davis is now dead. October 1965: Doug McGilvary, former Nelson Mail chief reporter, releases a book about the Banham murder, Pursuit of Justice.

- The Nelson Mail

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