Fresh clue in Jennifer Beard murder mystery comes to light after 40 years

By Jarrod Booker

An almost 40-year-old unsolved murder is being re-examined after fresh information about a new potential suspect.

While police say it is interesting new information on the 1969 killing of Welsh hitch-hiker Jennifer Beard, they say they are still short of a breakthrough in the case.

Miss Beard, 25, was travelling in the South Island and due to meet her fiance, Reg Williams, to go tramping when she disappeared.

It is believed she was strangled in a sexually motivated attack on New Year's Eve. Her body was found under the Haast River Bridge, on the West Coast, 19 days later. A man widely believed to be the prime suspect in the killing, Timaru man Gordon Bray, died in 2003, and always maintained he had nothing to do with the murder.

A recent issue of Investigate magazine named another man, who it says suddenly left his job with money owed to him as police began circulating an identikit picture of a suspect in Miss Beard's murder. It was also claimed the new suspect had been in the same area as Miss Beard at the time of the murder.

Gordon Watts, who says he employed the man at a Westport sawmill, told the magazine he passed the information on to police at the time but felt it was not taken seriously.

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

Since the information came to light, Detective Mark Lodge said he had been in touch with Mr Watts, who he had no reason to doubt. He would look further into trying to trace the man, but "nothing ties him directly to the murder or scene".

"I have made a few inquiries with people on the West Coast who may be able to assist us."

Mr Lodge said even if a suspect was identified, taking a case to court would be very difficult because of the passage of time.

Many witnesses and police involved in the case had since died.

"At this stage, we virtually need a confession from someone and tangible evidence to corroborate it."

- NZ Herald

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