Two former West Coast men are calling for police to re-open the Jennifer Mary Beard murder case - 35 years after the Australian hitchhiker was found dead under the Haast River Bridge.

Beard, a 25-year-old schoolteacher from Tasmania, was found dead on January 19, 1970.

She was last seen alive on December 31 in the company of a middle-aged man in a greeny-blue Vauxhall Velox. The identity of her killer has never been found.

The prime suspect in the case, Timaru man Gordon Bray, was never prosecuted and died in 2003. He had always maintained his innocence.

But last month Christchurch businessman Wayne Williams - a former West Coaster who has followed the case for the past 18 years - went to police with information on another possible suspect.

In documents supplied to police, Mr Williams describes a man known as Ron (surname unknown) as a possible suspect in the case.

Ron, who worked at the Hardy and Thompson sawmill in Westport at the time, had acted strangely after Beard's death, Mr Williams said.

Former mill manager Gordon Watts, now of Christchurch, said yesterday that he also believed Ron was a possible suspect.

Mr Watts said that when a police identikit picture appeared in the Westport News on January 30, 1970, Ron abruptly left his job and failed to collect two weeks' wages.

"The photograph that was in the Westport News, that was the man who worked for us and he never got paid," he said.

"As soon as the bloody photo came out, bang, he was gone."

Ron had also owned a green Vauxhall Velox before the murder but the vehicle was not sighted again after December 31, 1969, Mr Watts said.

He had reported Ron's suspicious behaviour to police at the time, but no action was taken.

"When I told them they said, 'Oh no, it's not him'. So what do you do? I just left it."

Mr Watts approached Mr Williams with the information this year when he learned of Mr Williams' interest in the case.

The men were now trying to trace old pay account records to find Ron's surname.

"So until we get that information I'm stuffed, but we're on to a good lead," Mr Watts said.

Detective Sergeant Bob Scott, of Christchurch, said there were no plans to re-open the case at this stage. He had worked on the case since 1970 and confirmed that he had received the new information from Mr Williams.

But there was one immediate discrepancy in the latest theory, Mr Scott said. The man last seen with Beard would now be in his 80s, whereas Ron, if he were still alive, would only be about 65.

Most avenues in the overall inquiry had led to Bray, he said.

However, a number of people were still coming forward with information, which was evaluated but it was often difficult to act on because the case was so old.

"Even at the time it was difficult trying to track down things then when it was actually reasonably fresh in people's minds.

"Another 35 years on and it's virtually impossible," Mr Scott said.

"It's one of those awkward sort of things but we certainly don't want to discourage people coming up with information."



* Two former West Coasters say a man with the same car disappeared abruptly when a police identikit picture that looked like him was published in a local newspaper.


* Police say the man would be at least 15 years too young to match the killer's description.