Slain couple's daughter spurns connections with tragedy

By Andrew Laxon

Arthur Allan Thomas has supported defendants in other controversial cases such as David Bain's. Photo / Simon Baker
Arthur Allan Thomas has supported defendants in other controversial cases such as David Bain's. Photo / Simon Baker

Rochelle Crewe, the toddler who survived the brutal murder of her parents, is understood to be back living in New Zealand, with children of her own.

The 18-month-old was found alone in her cot five days after the double killing of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe in their Pukekawa farmhouse in June 1970. She was brought up in the United States by Jeanette's sister, Heather Souter.

Former detective sergeant Mike Charles said he and other police who worked on the case had heard progress reports of Rochelle as she grew up.

He had been told that the 41-year-old now lived in the South Island, had two children of her own and wanted nothing to do with the 40-year-old family tragedy.

Rochelle's grandfather, Len Demler, the man accused by some commentators of the crime, died in 1992. His first wife, Maisie, died four months before the murders and his second wife, Norma, lives in an Auckland rest home.

She declined a Weekend Herald request for an interview.

Arthur Thomas, the man once accused of killing Rochelle's parents, lives near Taupiri in the Waikato with his partner, Jenny Cresswell, on a 125ha farm, which he bought with his $950,000 compensation payment.

Apart from his love of farming and flying, the 72-year-old maintains a keen interest in court cases where he sees an injustice.

He campaigned for David Bain, who spent 13 years in jail for killing five members of his family but was acquitted in a retrial last year.

Lawyer Peter Williams, QC says Thomas came to Auckland a few weeks ago for a public meeting opposing the Government's three strikes bill on sentencing, which has since passed into law.

"I think he's a remarkable person to have survived that experience and to be so supportive of matters where he thinks there's an injustice. To me he's a great New Zealander."

Thomas could not be contacted by the Weekend Herald this month. The only reply from his farm was a cheerful answerphone greeting: "Hi, you've reached the Thomas household. Arthur's grubbing thistles and Jenny's having a bath, so leave a message."

But he has previously spoken of the scars the case has left on him and the rifts it has created in his family.

In 1990, on the 20th anniversary of the killings, he told the Herald that he still lay awake at night, haunted by the memories of his time in prison.

The ordeal cost him his marriage to his English wife, Vivien, who divorced him in 1975 soon after the Court of Appeal rejected his case for the final time. She moved to Auckland, worked night shifts as a computer operator and married John Harrison, a taxi driver. They later moved to Australia.

Simmering tensions in the Thomas family boiled over in 1998 at the winding-up function of his retrial committee, which fought for years to release him from prison.

His father reportedly accused him of not sharing his compensation or thanking the committee. Thomas told a reporter the next day, "Money is the root of all evil."

- NZ Herald

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