Police visit cancer-stricken former officer in charge to tell him of new leads in Red Fox Tavern cold case

Original officer-in-charge says breakthrough in Red Fox Tavern shooting gives him incentive to keep fighting cancer.

Police re-investigating the Red Fox Tavern cold case visited the original lead detective, who is now gravely ill, to let him they were close to making arrests in the infamous killing.

John Gott was the officer in charge of the investigation when publican Chris Bush was shot dead during an armed robbery of the Maramarua tavern just before midnight on a Saturday in October 1987.

The case remained unsolved for nearly 30 years until two men, aged 57 and 58, were charged with murder late last month.

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Now 77 and fighting cancer, Gott told the Weekend Herald the news of the two arrests was "very satisfying".

"It was one that always stuck in the back of my mind. We worked really hard on it, a lot of guys working long hours, spread out all over the country following different lines of inquiry," said Gott.

"Unfortunately it was one of a few cases we weren't so lucky on at the time. But the staff gathered a lot of information, a lot of evidence, for the day when things would change."

Earlier this year, Gott knew that day might be coming when Detective Inspector Gary Lendrum let him know the Red Fox Tavern case was being re-opened.

John Gott was the original officer-in-charge of the Red Fox Tavern inquiry. Photo/Supplied.
John Gott was the original officer-in-charge of the Red Fox Tavern inquiry. Photo/Supplied.

His good friend John Manning, a retired detective inspector who now works as the police liaison with ESR, also kept Gott in the loop.

"Since I've been sick, there have been a number of former colleagues who have visited and that's been quite brilliant. It gives you a little incentive to keep fighting," said Gott.

"When you've been involved in an unsolved case, and it's starting to look more positive, it gives you a little buzz that the [new investigation team] had enough trust in you to give you a little heads up."

In July, Lendrum then went public to say the police were investigating new leads and forensic material collected at the time was being re-examined.

"The men involved may have been intimidating 30 years ago," Lendrum said in a press release, "but they will now be middle aged or older and you may now feel comfortable contacting police."

Then in late August, two men were charged with murder.

The Red Fox Tavern near Maramarua where publican Chris Bush was murdered in 1987. Photo/Jason Oxenham.
The Red Fox Tavern near Maramarua where publican Chris Bush was murdered in 1987. Photo/Jason Oxenham.

"Thirty years on, the arrests are amazing," said Gott.

The news had buoyed his spirits during a difficult time with illness, with Gott describing his prospects of his return to full health as "not good".

"I've pretty much died twice and they got the family to gather around the bed. But I keep getting up, I gave them a hell of a surprise," said Gott, laughing.

"So I'm hanging in there, I'm doing better than many thought I would. I say it's my determination, my wife says it's being pigheaded."

Gott, who also led the investigation of serial rapist Joe Thompson, retired in 1995 and was awarded with the Queen's Police Medal for distinguished service.

Lendrum confirmed his visit to Gott but could not comment further as the case was now before the courts.

Both men charged with the murder of Bush and aggravated robbery are scheduled to appear in the High Court at Auckland next week.

Bush had been enjoying a drink with three other staff members after closing up the pub when two men entered the bar.

The two heavily disguised men, one carrying a double-barrelled shotgun and the other a baseball bat, allegedly entered the bar yelling, "this is a hold-up".

As Bush stood up, he was shot and killed. One of the men then allegedly ordered a female staff member to search Bush's pockets for the key to the safe.

The robbers fled with $25,000.