Stanley Graham's murderous rampage haunts West Coast 75 years later

Kowhitirangi today. A memorial at the site of Stan Graham's house is in the foreground. Photo / Hokitika Museum
Kowhitirangi today. A memorial at the site of Stan Graham's house is in the foreground. Photo / Hokitika Museum

On day 12 of a manhunt in a tranquil West Coast valley, Constable Quirke rests his .303 rifle against an old birch stump, watching and waiting. He can see fugitive Koiterangi dairy farmer Stanley Graham making his way slowly in the background, his gun slung across his back. Quirke fires, and so brings an end to the terrifying spring of 1941. In the first of a two-part feature marking the 75th anniversary of the 'Koiterangi tragedy', LAURA MILLS of the Greymouth Star revisits the history books on one of New Zealand's worst mass shootings that put four Hokitika policemen and three civilians in their graves.

Thursday, October 9, 1941. Day two of the manhunt.
It is a cold night. A figure approaches Stan Graham's house, which is occupied by members of the Kaniere Home Guard, Greg Hutchison, Macko Hager and Colin Howat.
Stan's dog appears to be following the shadowy figure. The three men suspect it is just another guardsman.

There is almost no way of knowing for sure in those early, confused days of the manhunt.

There isn't even a police roadblock at the entry to Koiterangi (spelling corrected to Kowhitirangi in the 1950s). No one has yet thought to cut down the bush around the Graham home, where four men had been fatally wounded just a day earlier.

They call for the password.

"What's your bloody game? Can't a man go to his own house?" comes the reply.

A body is found. Photo / Hokitika Museum
A body is found. Photo / Hokitika Museum

Silhouetted in the front doorway is a stocky man in a long overcoat. Hutchison raises his rifle. Again, he demands the password.

"Stan Graham," he replies before firing his rifle.

Hutchison is hit first, declaring "he's got me, Mac!". Graham moves position, shooting through the window into the living room. The men inside, staring out at the inky darkness, now have no idea where he is.

Neighbouring farmer Maxie Coulson comes to assist. Between the road and the house is an exposed 30m path. Somewhere out there is Graham, with a Cooper's .32 Colt automatic pistol, a .22 Winchester rifle, and his .405 Winchester repeater rifle.

Coulson makes it to the house before Graham fires at him; he bleeds to death in minutes.

In the confusion a car drives past, but Graham ignores it.

Hokitika Home Guard commander Amuri King makes it to the house and spots Graham crouching outside. He fires and the bullet grazes Graham's shoulder blade. Over the next 11 days it will develop into a hideous, infected wound. Still, Graham hunts, King now in his sights.

Two more cars pass, one with two Press reporters. A journalist leans on the gate and lights a cigarette, oblivious to what has just unfolded.

Graham slips away.

Down the road at the Koiterangi Post Office, also under guard, his wife Dorothy listens to the entire gunfight.

Eric Stanley Graham
Eric Stanley Graham

The mystery of Graham

Seven men shot in two days, a 12-day manhunt. And the mystery that is Stanley Graham, who shot only those on his private property, and returned home again and again. He lurked in the night, hid in the dense bush. He moved among them, guns in hand.

Locals in the wider Hokitika area cowered in their brick fireplaces, slept with guns loaded, while the children were evacuated. For those 12 long days Graham was thought to be everywhere, haunting them. Every noise was Graham.

Signs of trouble

Grahams had lived in Koiterangi for three generations. They built the Longford Hotel, at the end of long straight leading to the Kokatahi and Koiterangi crossroads. Stan, blue-eyed and balding, raised prized cattle, and he was a good shot. Some say he was an expert marksman. The 1979 book Manhunt, by H. A. Willis, describes him as an excellent shot, but others were better.

Then, in 1924, the first sign of trouble.

Kokatahi farmer Frederick Marshall, recuperating from a serious operation, heard two gunshots. Graham had hit the washhouse, where Marshall's two children were playing. Tempers flared.

Graham levelled the shotgun to within 60cm of Marshall's stomach. They eyeballed each other as the rain poured down. Graham left.

Stanley Graham married Dorothy McCoy, from Rakaia, who was working at the Longford Hotel, and they had two children. He borrowed money and built a house opposite the hall, school and church in the heart of Koiterangi, and was soon milking 90 cows.

Dorothy Graham was not well liked in the Hokitika Valley, and was blamed for feeding her husband's paranoia. Certainly there is evidence of her abusing neighbours and pointing rifles. But her story is lost - lost in her monosyllabic answers to the coroner, lost the day she took up a new identity and moved back to Rakaia.

Stan Graham had a reputation for having a hot temper, but neighbours reckoned they could handle him. The couple did not attend local dances or social events, even those in the hall right across the road.

The Depression came, and Graham's milking shed became unhygienic, his milk sometimes rejected by the new Westland Co-operative Dairy Company.

He decided to start cattle breeding but in April 1939, when mortgage agent Albert Oliver visited the farm, Graham fought him, diving for his legs. As Oliver left, Graham punched him through the car window.

He fell behind on his mortgage, and he thought the neighbours were jealous of his bull, and spreading stories that he was impotent.

He threatened to kill Bill Jamieson from the dairy co-operative, accused Mrs Cropper at the Koiterangi Post Office of reading his mail and he often shouted at children who loitered on the road outside his house.

His sister, Mrs Webster, was turfed out of the property after delivering Christmas presents, the gifts left strewn on the road.

Eventually, Stan and Dorothy started having shooting practice at 4 o'clock in the morning.

In May 1941, the government announced that .303 rifles were to be collected by police for use by the Home Guard during the war. The fuse had been lit.

Police called

On October 3, Bert Cropper's car broke down outside Graham's house. Graham told him to shift and he managed to restart the car. But as he drove off, in the failing light, he thought he saw the Grahams return to their front gate holding rifles.

A cow died, probably because of neglect, but Graham accused his neighbours of poisoning it.

On October 8, Anker Madsen pedalled past the house and Graham pulled a rifle at him.
Bert Jamieson pulled up in his car and provided cover for Masden. The police were called.

Constable Edward Best drove out from the sole-charge Kaniere Police Station. Dorothy Graham poked a gun out the window at him and Stan Graham pointed a .44 Winchester. Best retreated, and so the Hokitika police drove out in force: Sergeant William Cooper and Constables Fred Jordan and Percy Tulloch.

We know what happened next only because Ted Best lived long enough to tell his story.

Graham shot Cooper first; Tulloch and Jordan were killed by the same bullet.

Dorothy Graham then forced a confession from Best, who was also shot. In his shaking hand, leaving bloodstained fingerprints, he wrote that he had tried to murder Stan Graham.

George Ridley, a visiting agriculture inspector with the Education Department, was across the road at the school when he saw Dorothy Graham and her children run out on to the road. He entered the property to see if he could help, and he was also shot.

Off Stan Graham went, into a patch of young totara bush. He did not re-emerge until the following night to take two more lives.

The police had not fired a single shot.

Body count rises

More police arrived on the scene, and armed guardsmen turned out in numbers to help. They assembled across the road at the hall that first night. Inside the Grahams' house, one guardsman sat all night atop a chair he placed on the table; another huddled in the fireplace.

The following afternoon there were only two senior police in the Hokitika Valley. By the evening, police and guardsmen were everywhere. In the darkness, no one knew who was with the Home Guard and who was Graham. The advantage was Graham's, so out of the bush he came, and two more died. The count by now was seven.

When dawn came on Friday morning, reinforcements were called in, and a spotter plane. That afternoon, Charlie Smith, who owned a hut at nearby Mt Camelback, noticed from a distance that the blinds appeared to be shut and someone had closed the door. Police did not get there until the next morning, by which time all they found was bloodstained clothing.

Army reinforcements came from Burnham Military Camp, and a communication system was wired up.

Sunday morning, 4.15am. Graham approached the hall and fired a shot. Sam Godfrey returned fire, wounding Graham's left hand. When daylight broke only an hour later, they found a trail of blood 200m long. But Graham had eluded them again.

Local women and children had been evacuated to Hokitika and by now more than 100 men were stationed around the valley. Dugouts were put in.

At Ross, relatively close to Koiterangi as the crow flies and connected by the old Kokatahi Track, the Home Guard checked empty buildings, nervous that he might come out the back way.

Then Graham was finally sighted at the Doughboy, behind his house. It was day six.
The next day six men set out for a hut on farmer Villumsen's land. The last 20m to the door of the hut had no cover at all. It is hard to imagine what the men must have been thinking as they rushed it.

He had been there all right, and nearby was a butchered calf. It was not until after his capture that his hideout was found: a big kahikatea stump, from where he could easily have picked off those hunting him.

At dawn on October 17 the Growcotts found their workers' hut on the Doughboy Creek side of the spur had been battered open with an axe. Two days later, at 6.35pm on the Monday, Bob Growcott saw Graham, more than a kilometre away. So men were positioned, waiting. It was one of the visiting policemen, James D'Arcy Quirke, who fired the shot that fell him.

"I'm done - you got me," Graham declared as they advanced on him, wounded.

They also found his rifle cocked, five rounds in the magazine. He showed no remorse. Stan Graham was carted off to Westland Hospital, in Hokitika, where he died before 5.30am, his wife at his side.

A week later, their house was burned down, without investigation. Three months later Dorothy Graham and the children were gone from the West Coast, adopting new identities.

The inquest

Three days before Christmas 1941, the inquest opened in Hokitika.

Dorothy Graham, victim or villain? Her curt replies give little away. Did she fire any shots? "No." Did she handle any of the rifles? "No." Her husband's mental condition? "Quite as usual." Did he have grievances against persons in the vicinity? "Yes."

On Christmas Eve, the coroner delivered his verdict, and Quirke was commended for the efficient manner in which he carried out his orders to shoot.

There was nothing in the action of the dead police officers to warrant the action taken by Graham, the coroner ruled.

So it ended. The valley Home Guard members were paid for their help. Life went on.

And, as one former Koiterangi man said recently, they just didn't talk about it.

Part two next week: did Dorothy Graham fire a shot, and was Stan Graham really about to surrender?

- Greymouth Star

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