The Case of the Missing Bloodstain

A Brief History

In brief, it is commonly considered that:

  • On Monday 22 June 1970 Pukekawa (near Pukekohe, 50 kilometres south of Auckland), farmer Len Demler went to his daughter’s house on the farm next door and found the house empty but for his baby grand daughter in her cot. Harvey and Jeanette Crewe were missing and the floor and furniture in the lounge were awash in blood. The Crewes had last been seen five days earlier. 
  • Although the baby was dirty and had apparently been alone in the house for those five days, Demler left her in the cot and went home to telephone local stock agents to tell them not to deliver the sheep he knew were due to come that day. Then he picked up a neighbour and returned to the Crewe house. He took the baby away and called the police.
  • A police inquiry was established under the control of Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton.
  • The time of the murders was placed at Wednesday night, 17 June, on the evidence of the Crewes’ mailbox. Milk and newspapers in the box showed that it had not been cleared, and the Crewes had not been seen, since that day. Then there had  been a heavy storm at the time.
  • The surrounding area was searched and the nearby Waikato River scoured.
  • Early in the inquiry a man who had been working on the farm directly over the road from the Crewes told the police that he had seen a woman outside the Crewe house on the Friday morning two days after the murders had been committed. The Crewes’ car had been outside the house too. Several other people reported inexplicable sightings as well. The lounge curtains had been drawn on the same day, sparks had been seen shooting up from the chimney that night, and the baby had been seen outside the house the following afternoon, Saturday.
  • The police sought to answer two associated questions: who was the woman and who fed the baby? They never, publicly, succeeded. These two questions underscore the myth and mystique of the Crewe murders.
  • A sole suspect was established early in the inquiry. He was Len Demler, the missing pair’s father and father in law. It became widely known, especially amongst policemen and journalists, that Demler was the killer in the police view. Police documentation now to hand confirms that he was the prime and only suspect.
  • The police considered Demler’s motive for murder was connected with the will of his late wife Maisie. Maisie had died four months earlier, leaving her half of Demler’s farm to their daughter Jeanette.
  • In August Jeanette’s body was found in the Waikato River. It was wrapped in bedding and bound with wire. She had been shot with a .22 firearm and had also been severely bashed in the face. The bullet found in her head was stamped with the number ‘8’.
  • The police examined all .22 rifles within a five mile radius of the Crewe house, 64 in all. Two of these were considered incapable of exclusion as possible murder weapons. The two belonged to a local farmer, Arthur Allan Thomas, who had years earlier been an adolescent suitor of Jeanette Demler, and a local youth Mickey Eyre, a deaf man who had previously been reprimanded for indiscriminate shooting. Neither of these disturbed the police view that Demler was the killer and they sought to show that he had access to a rifle which had been in his wife’s family. They were never able to find this rifle.
  • A month  later Harvey Crewe’s body was found in the river. Beneath it divers found a car axle beam which Inspector Hutton said he had felt hanging down when he had reached out from his boat and under the body.
  • Weeks later the police discovered the axle beam’s two stub axles in a rubbish tip on the farm of Arthur Thomas. Broken welds on the two stubs exactly fitted the broken welds on the ends of the axle beam, showing that they all fitted together. Thomas’s father identified one of the stubs as belonging to a trailer that had been on the farm when he had lived there.
  • A week later the police discovered a cartridge case in a garden outside the kitchen of the Crewe house. The cartridge case was shown to have come from the rifle of Arthur Allan Thomas.
  • Thomas was arrested and the following year was convicted of two murders.
  • A popular movement arose which supported Thomas.
  • A second trial was held. Towards the end of it the defence received an envelope from a retired policeman in Dannevirke who had noticed in his collection of .22 bullets that the number ‘8’ engraved on the bullet found in Jeanette’s head was never found inside the type of cartridge case that had been found in the Crewes’ garden. Defence scientist Jim Sprott carried out a hurried survey of .22 bullets and found the same. He gave evidence of this.
  • At the same trial a friend of Harvey Crewe came forward and gave evidence that the garden in which the cartridge case had been found in October had been sieve-searched in August and nothing found there. He had himself helped the police to search that garden.
  • The four policemen who had conducted the search in August, including the policeman who had searched the specific garden, Detective Ross Meurant, testified that the friend had not been there, had not helped them and the garden had not been sieve-searched at all.
  • The police case won and Thomas was convicted a second time.
  • The popular movement grew stronger. The deputy editor of the Auckland Star, Pat Booth, joined with Sprott in researching the cartridge case/bullet issue.
  • In 1978 an English author, David Yallop wrote a book “Beyond Reasonable Doubt” in support of Thomas’s innocence. Booth and Sprott took their research to Prime Minister Muldoon. Muldoon commissioned an Auckland QC to provide a report on the case, focusing principally on the identity of the woman seen outside the Crewe house after the murders.
  • The QC widened his inquiry to include other matters. He found that the police case had not established the time of the murders beyond reasonable doubt.
  • On the basis of the QC’s report, in December 1979 Thomas was pardoned and released.
  • A Royal Commission of Inquiry was held in 1980, “to Inquire into the Circumstances of the Convictions of Arthur Allan Thomas . It. found that the fatal bullets could never have been packed inside the cartridge case found in the garden, that Inspector Hutton had lied repeatedly and that he had planted the cartridge case in the garden himself, with the help of another detective. It found that the Crown Scientist, from the DSIR (now the ESR), had falsified evidence and had never revealed that he had written “no match found” of the Thomas rifle at the very beginning. It found that Thomas should never have been arrested or prosecuted.
  • Thomas was awarded a million dollars in compensation.
  • Inspector Hutton was never tried for planting the cartridge case because the Commissioner of Police said that there was no valid evidence for the Royal Commission’s report. After making this announcement he sent the report to the Solicitor General to see if the Solicitor General agreed. A year later theSolicitor General agreed. Consequently, when the Commissioner of Police was asked on television in 1981 if the case would be re-opened, he said that the case could not be re-opened without new evidence.

This book responds to the Commissioner’s edict by showing that a review of the documentation available in 1981 makes new evidence an unnecessary requirement for the re-opening of the case.  The photographic record, together with the answer to a single question available to but not asked by the Royal Commission, demand re-opening.

The Case of The Missing Bloodstain was published on Monday 16 April 2012.