Veteran detective calls it quits after decades tackling crime

19:09, Dec 18 2012
Dave Evans
TAKING IT EASY: Wanaka detective Dave Evans hopes to spend more time relaxing in his garden after retiring from nearly four decades in the police force.

Detective Dave Evans has retired after 37 years in the police force - most of them in Invercargill. He has had bombs thrown at him, guns pointed at him, he has investigated some of the south's most violent crimes and he has lost mates and colleagues who were just doing their job.

"I am looking for another job but I have done my bit as a police officer."

Mr Evans' career, which included 14 years as a detective sergeant in Invercargill, goes as far back as the 1981 Springboks tour. He was in one of the riot squads and was the target of bombs made from cigarette packets, in Nelson.

"One blew my sergeant's helmet off and he is now deaf in one ear." Mr Evans' head was also stomped on and his jaw broken.

It angers him that, in his words, the history of the tour is being rewritten with some calling for the convictions that resulted from the violence to be quashed. He chooses not to read or watch these new versions of the events.

"I was there. I know what happened. We were up against gangs at the end. It became a chance for gangs to have a go at the police. You have got to learn from history. What it says to me is that we think we are a pretty civilised society, but we are capable of the worst. We can turn on each other."


A couple of years later Mr Evans was part of the team that investigated the biggest bank robbery in New Zealand's history. Two armed men held up the BNZ in Lumsden, getting away with about $106,000. It went pear-shaped, however, when one of the robbers, Gibson Grace, began "spending up big time and starting to talk" in Auckland. He ended up buried under a garage in Titirangi and his co-robber, Alistair Barr, and a friend of his, Richard Morgan, were jailed for murder.

In 1987, Mr Evans was assigned to investigate the murder of Maureen McKinnel in Arrowtown - a crime that would remain unsolved for 17 years. The file was reopened frequently by Mr Evans' partner, Detective Brian Hewett, as advances in using DNA were made. Finally, in 2004, Jarrod Mangels was convicted, with pieces of fingernail found at the scene the evidence.

The list of horrific murders Mr Evans has played a part in investigating goes on - 8-year-old Sarah Curry, found at the Invercargill dump after being sexually violated and murdered in 1992; Ben Smart, 21, and Olivia Hope, 17, who went missing in the Marlborough Sounds in 1998 and whose bodies have never been found.

Sarah Curry's murderer Peter Davis and Scott Watson, convicted for the Sounds murders, are in jail, but the person who in 1998 killed Kirsty Bentley, 15, - another case Mr Evans worked on - has not been found. When asked whether that unsolved murder plays on his mind, Mr Evans said: "If you got frustrated with every crime you didn't solve, you wouldn't last very long. You don't solve everything. You can't repair all the damage."

But it has to be a tough job, right? "I think over time there is a cumulative effect. The police are pretty good now but way back in those days, probably not so much. There is a lot of counselling available now and trauma debriefing. There is the bad part but then you deal with families who are the victims of these horrific crimes and you see the faith they are putting in you."

The killing that springs to his mind most often is that of his colleague and mate, Peter Murphy. He was one of several officers called to a burglary at a sports shop, which sold guns, in Invercargill in 1976. Mr Murphy was shot through the window by Harry Thompson, 18, who was jailed until 1986. Mr Evans was also a negotiator for the armed offenders squad for 17 years.

He and his wife, Sue, moved to Wanaka in 2007. Mr Evans was the town's sole detective until recently. Working in Wanaka has been very different to Invercargill - no dealing with gangs and the offenders called him "Sir" or "Dave" and still stop him in the street to say "gidday", he said

The Evanses are a real service family - Mrs Evans was also a police officer. She too served in a riot squad during the 1981 Springbok tour and spent many years as a police prosecutor in courts throughout the deep south.

The Southland Times