When a human skull and an ancient woman's boot were unearthed in the basement of a Kingsland villa, they prompted speculation of an historic killing.

The skull was found with a human shoulder blade and a number of animal bones. The ankle boot was thought to date from the early 1900s, about when the house was built.

"Grisly find may mark old murder," the Herald wrote in August 1974 as detectives sifted the earth from under the Auckland house for clues.

The owner of the house at the time, a student teacher who had bought the property intending to renovate it, told the paper he had discovered the bones and boot when he prised boards off a basement wall to inspect for rot. He called the police.


The house on King St is on a steep slope. The first thing the student saw was the skull embedded in the bank behind the wall, although he wasn't shocked.

The bones were found behind the basement wall of a house in Kingsland. Photo / Martin Johnston
The bones were found behind the basement wall of a house in Kingsland. Photo / Martin Johnston

"I have seen lots of skulls, being an art student. Bones do not worry me," said the student, whose name was not published.

The police wouldn't comment at the time and referred the case to the coroner, Allan Copeland.

His findings were inconclusive. He ruled that an unknown person - an adult - had died at a date and of a cause that were unknown.

However, evidence presented to Copeland - obtained under the Official Information Act by the Herald - seems to indicate that the bones may have been part of a teaching collection.

Claude Walter Gooderham, who died in 1963, had owned the house from 1917 to 1937. He was a bootmaker and a St John ambulance officer.

"I remember he used to give lectures on first aid to members of the brigade," Stanley Aspinwall, who was also involved in St John, told the coroner.

"I recall that he used to carry a small leather bag in which he had a reconstruction of human bones of the hand and lower arm although these bones were not necessarily all from one particular skeleton.

"He also had some human vertebrae. These he used in his lectures. He may have had other human bones but these I did not see."

Aspinwall went on to describe two boxes housed at the headquarters of the St John Association's Auckland division.

"... one contained a reconstructed human skeleton and the other contained various bones from human skeletons. I never saw Mr Gooderham with a human skull but he could well have been in possession of one from the association."

Pathologist John Cairns said with certainty that the find included an adult human skull and right shoulder blade.

"It is probably a female skull but I cannot be certain about this."

"The appearance of these bones, i.e. the skull and the shoulder blade suggested a female of early middle age."

Cairns also commented on a group of around 250 fragments or complete bones, saying: "No human bones were identified in this collection ..."

"The teeth present did not show the appearances seen with pre-European Māori teeth, and there were no fillings."

Cairns was unable to estimate the date of death or state the cause.