Jared Savage

Jared Savage is the New Zealand Herald's investigations editor.

Rochelle Crewe: Report clears my family's name

Exclusive - Crewes’ only child says police’s ‘myopic’ focus on her grandfather Len Demler as other prime suspect, and errors, may mean parents’ murder will never be solved.

Rochelle Crewe was just 18 months old when her parents were killed. File photo
Rochelle Crewe was just 18 months old when her parents were killed. File photo

The only child of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe says crucial mistakes and missed opportunities made by police in the original 1970 investigation mean her parents' murders may never be solved.

Watch: Crewe murders remains mystery

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But Rochelle Crewe is satisfied that the review of New Zealand's most notorious cold case, released yesterday more than 44 years after their deaths, has now "exhausted all avenues" of the available evidence.

Watch: Commissioner Mike Bush makes apology to Rochelle Crewe

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She is grateful the police have finally acknowledged the inquiry shortfalls and apologised for this and not re-investigating the case earlier.

"We as a family deserved that. The names of my grandfather and grandmother were always being dragged through the mud. Things were always being rehashed by journalists but never properly," said Rochelle, in her only interview following the release of the report.


Arthur Allan Thomas.

"And while we've always known they weren't involved, I hope that this chapter has closed once and for all now the police have publicly made that finding."

Nearly four years ago, Rochelle spoke to the Herald and asked the police to re-investigate her parents' murders in June 1970 as speculation had been allowed to "fester" since Arthur Allan Thomas was pardoned and a royal commission concluded that police planted evidence to frame him.

As the police "swept everything under the carpet" following the royal commission, Rochelle said, suspicion unfairly fell on her grandfather Len Demler as the other prime suspect.

The findings of the 328-page report by Detective Superintendent Andy Lovelock - and reviewed by David Jones, QC - categorically rule out his involvement.

A number of "missed investigative opportunities" are catalogued and Assistant Commissioner Grant Nicholls apologised to Rochelle for those mistakes, which left her with "enduring uncertainty over the death of her parents".

Rochelle says these mistakes may mean her parents' murder case will never be solved.

These include:

• Failing to corroborate the alibis of residents who claimed to be at three community events on the most likely night of the murders.

• Failing to follow up on vehicle sightings seen near or at the Crewe farm.

•Insufficient priority given to a previous burglary and fires on the Crewe farm.

• Failing to secure the crime scene, exhibits and forensic evidence including an oilskin coat visible in photographs but never recorded.

• Failing to investigate persons of interest who had access to the Thomas farm and the evidence linked to the property.

Said Mr Nicholls: "I've also apologised over the report's findings that police could have reviewed the investigation into her parents' murders earlier."

Rochelle said the intense scrutiny of her grandfather in the early stages of the original investigation meant police "turned a blind eye" to other evidence.

"I understand why he should have been investigated. But not to the detriment of investigating other leads, or persons of interest, which came up along the way.

"Because of this myopic approach and sloppiness, whoever killed my parents got away with it.

"I'm really grateful for the police review and independent review but it's a shame that it wasn't done earlier, ideally straight after the pardon in 1979, as at that point there still would have been people alive, or evidence wouldn't have been lost. The police may have been able to do something more with what's come to light.

"I'm grateful the outcome of clearing my family, and again the fact of where the evidence still lies. But in all that, it is a real shame it's taken this long for that to happen. That aside, justice has never been done because of those missed opportunities and how nothing happened after the pardon."

However, she was very grateful for the Crewe review and had personally thanked Mr Lovelock and his team for their hard work and efforts.

The report found that significant physical evidence linked the Thomas farm with the murders, including wire around Mr Crewe's body, an axle previously fitted to Mr Thomas' trailer and a .22 firearm that ballistic experts believe most probably fired the fatal bullets.

Mr Nicholls said many people had access to the property and police failed to properly investigate most of them. "That opportunity is now long gone." However, for the first time, the police have conceded there was "a distinct possibility" the brass .22 cartridge case used to implicate Mr Thomas may have been planted and if so, it was likely that a police officer was responsible.

The Queen's Counsel appointed to supervise the review, David Jones, went a step further to say the shell case was "fabricated evidence" and criminal charges could have been laid against Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton.

His opinion is at odds with the legal advice of Paul Neazor, QC - the Solicitor-General of the 1980s - who said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Mr Hutton, the officer in charge of the case, who died last year. The decision not to lay charges against Mr Hutton was one of the main reasons Rochelle wanted the case reopened, and she was pleased with the findings of Mr Jones.

"I would have been happier if the police had come up with the same finding. But [Mr Jones] has looked at it with fresh eyes and it shows how important it was to bring in someone independent to oversee this."

In saying that, she has pointed out that the planting of the shell case does not detract from the evidence still linked to the Thomas farm.

However, Rochelle said the differing views between the police and Mr Jones in regards to the planting of the shell case highlights the need to have an independent body when reviewing aspects of corruption within the police.

While the Independent Police Conduct Authority is in place today to investigate police misconduct, it does not have the power to lay criminal charges or enforce its recommendations.

"I think we as New Zealanders need to look at having a better structure for police disciplinary processes following the recommendations of the IPCA.

"The justice system should look after the families of victims. But in my case, our family was failed on many counts," said Rochelle. "This has been a long process. First to get the review and then almost four years awaiting the outcome. But it has been worth it and I'm satisfied that now everything has been done. It has cleared my family's name, which should have been done a long time ago. And this brings closure."

Grim find starts saga

"A terrible bloody mess" was what Len Demler found in the Crewes' farmhouse in Pukekawa, south of Auckland, in June 1970. He also found Rochelle crying in her cot.

Police initially considered it a murder-suicide but soon switched attention to Mr Demler. The body of Jeannette, 30, was recovered from the Waikato River in August 1970, her jaw badly broken. Her husband, 28, was found in the river a month later, weighed down by an axle. Both had been shot.

After three months, police were under huge pressure to solve the crime and quickly found two pieces of evidence to implicate Arthur Allan Thomas, who lived on a farm 13km from the Crewes. Axle stubs hidden on his farm tip matched the axle that weighed down Harvey Crewe. Then police found in the Crewes' garden the case of a shell fired from his .22 rifle - despite having found nothing there before.

Mr Thomas was convicted of the murders and spent nearly 10 years in prison. He was pardoned in 1979.

A royal commission found detectives Bruce Hutton and Len Johnston had planted the shell case at the Crewe house to frame Mr Thomas, calling it "an unspeakable outrage".

But in his report to the police the following year, the Solicitor-General decided against charging Mr Johnston and Mr Hutton because he believed there was not enough evidence to justify a prosecution.

nzherald.co.nz
Read the full 328-page report on the Crewe murders at tinyurl.com/crewereport

- NZ Herald

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