NZ On Screen’s Zara Potts takes a look back at some of the true crime cases that have fascinated and horrified over the years.

New Zealanders have long been avid readers of crime novels, but unfortunately for us, we also have a fair amount of true crime stories that can rival even the most unsettling novel.

Pop into any good bookshop and you'll find rows and rows of books all devoted to the subject of true crime.

It's the same for television. A good Scandinavian whodunnit will have viewers turning on their screens in droves.

And no matter how ghastly the crime, it seems, we just can't avert our eyes.


One of the earliest, most shocking cases, was that of Minnie Dean. In 1895, Minnie Dean became the first, and only, woman to be hanged in New Zealand. She was charged with infanticide after the bodies of three children were found buried in her garden. But there were questions around her guilt, as infant mortality at the time was a significant issue. Regardless, she was found guilty and executed, and her name became the stuff of legend.

Watch Hanlon – In Defence of Minnie Dean here:

Female killers have long fascinated the public. In 1954 the Parker-Hulme murder trial was a sensation – with speculation about lesbianism and insanity. The two girls accused of "moidering mother" - Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme - were convicted and only narrowly escaped the death penalty because of their young ages. The case lived on in popular memory and became the subject of books, plays and movies – most famously, Peter Jackson's Heavenly Creatures.

Watch the trailer for Heavenly Creatures here:

The Parker-Hulme murders happened in the city of Christchurch - which has had its fair share of bizarre crimes. In the early 90s the city was divided over the case of former creche worker Peter Ellis who was on trial for offences against children at the Christchurch Civic Creche. He was found guilty on 16 charges and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment. Ellis has always maintained his innocence and has made several attempts to overturn his convictions and clear his name.

Watch Queer Nation – Peter Ellis: A Question of Justice here:

Further south of Christchurch, Dunedin has also had its headline-grabbing crime stories. Arguably the most infamous of these was that of David Bain. The 1994 case which saw Bain convicted of killing his parents and three siblings was controversial from the start. Intense lobbying from former All Black Joe Karam saw the eventual retrial of Bain who had his convictions overturned. The case still intrigues the public and regularly still makes the news.

Watch Holmes – Joe Karam and James McNeish on David Bain here:

Another case that was mired in controversy was that of Arthur Allan Thomas. Eventually he was granted a royal pardon and compensation for being wrongly convicted for the 1970 murders of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe, but not before serving nine years in prison for the crime. David Yallop, the British author, who wrote mainly about unsolved crime, took an interest in the case and wrote a book outlining the inconsistencies in the trial – the book eventually was made into a film, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, and was instrumental in helping bring public attention to the case.

Watch Kaleidoscope – Beyond Reasonable Doubt here:

In 1990, New Zealand was shocked when David Grey murdered 13 of his neighbours in the quiet seaside village of Aramoana, just outside of Dunedin. This was the first time Kiwis had experienced a mass shooting on such a scale and one that unfolded right before our eyes on television. The tragic events were captured 18 years later on film by director Robert Sarkies in a gut-wrenching re-enactment of that terrible day.

Watch the trailer of Out of the Blue here:

The Aramoana murders were not the first mass shootings, however. In 1941, West Coast man Stanley Graham shot and killed seven people before going bush. The ensuing manhunt was the largest in New Zealand history and he was eventually shot by police after evading capture for 12 days. The case drew interest again, after the British-New Zealand movie Bad Blood offered a new perspective on Graham's crime.

Watch an excerpt of Bad Blood here:

Of course, it's the role of police to try to stop crimes from hurting innocent people, but police are often caught up in events and harmed. So it was in the case of the 2009 siege in which Senior Constable Len Snee was killed by Jan Molenaar, while executing a search warrant in a house in a Napier suburb. The siege lasted 50 hours before the gunman was shot and killed. Three years later this docudrama dominated the New Zealand Television Awards, winning for Best One-Off Drama, Script, Performance, Supporting Actress and Sound.

Watch an excerpt of Siege here:

See more true crime stories in NZ On Screen's Controversial Crime Stories Collection here.