Magazine sparks Beard murder review

By Jarrod Booker

Police will consider whether to revisit a notorious 38-year-old unsolved murder after a magazine named a new potential suspect in the case.

The latest issue of Investigate magazine has named a man, Ron Hunter, who it says suddenly left his job with money owed to him as police began seeking the killer of Welsh hitch-hiker Jennifer Beard.

Miss Beard, 25, was found dead under the Haast River Bridge, on the South Island's West Coast, on January 19, 1970 - 10 days after she was reported missing. The high-profile killing continues to generate rumour and intrigue.

The man named as Ron Hunter is said to have been in the same area as Miss Beard at the time of the murder.

The now retired detective in charge of the case, Emmett Mitten, said Mr Hunter never came to his attention, but he would have been interested in following such information up.

"I find it quite extraordinary what has come out now," Mr Mitten told the Herald.

"If someone wants to do anything about it, they should go to the police."

A man widely considered to be the prime suspect in the killing, Gordon Bray, died in 2003, and always maintained he had nothing to do with the murder.

Mr Mitten said Mr Bray was never an official suspect "for a variety of reasons".

"The main one being that whilst there was evidence against him, we were always in the position that somebody else may come to light and then we were in a dreadful situation of having named somebody."

The man named as Ron Hunter had worked in a Westport sawmill, and his manager at the time, Gordon Watts, told Investigate Mr Hunter had been in Haast at the time of the killing.

He left his job soon after, when police began circulating an identikit picture of the alleged killer, leaving behind two weeks' wages owed to him.

Mr Watts said he passed the information to Westport police but was not taken seriously. Mr Mitten told the Herald he expected any information given to police would have been investigated.

It was unclear where Mr Hunter was now, but he may have moved to Australia.

The Herald understands police are still to look at the magazine article, and whether it contains anything of interest to them.

Detective Inspector Paul Kench, whose staff keep the murder case file, said police occasionally received information on unsolved cases.

In each case, it was assessed and police would "take whatever action is deemed appropriate."

Mr Mitten said the time since the murder and the limitations of technology then, would make following up such leads very difficult. Many of the police and witnesses had since died.

- NZ Herald

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