Harvey and Jeannette Crewe. Photo / Supplied
The only child of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe has broken her silence to ask the police to re-investigate the unsolved murders of her parents 40 years ago.
Rochelle Crewe – just 18 months old when found crying in her cot five days after the Crewes were last seen alive – has written to Police Commissioner Howard Broad to request that the case be reopened.
Speaking publicly for the first time since her parents’ murders in June 1970, Rochelle told the Herald that speculation had been allowed to “fester” since Arthur Allan Thomas was pardoned after spending nine years in prison.
She was critical of the decision of the Solicitor-General in the 1980s, Paul Neazor, QC, not to lay charges against two detectives after a royal commission of inquiry concluded they had planted evidence to frame Mr Thomas.
Justice Robert Taylor, Australian head of the 1980 commission, said it was “an unspeakable outrage” that Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton and Detective Len Johnston buried a shellcase from Mr Thomas’ rifle in the Crewes’ garden to link him to the crime.
But in his report to the police the following year, Mr Neazor decided against charging the pair because he believed there was not enough evidence to justify a prosecution.
Rochelle told the Herald that it “concerns me that the Solicitor-General unilaterally usurped the role of the court”.
“I would like to know why the police didn’t prosecute Hutton and Johnston on the commission’s findings that they had planted the cartridge case.
“The commission did have access to live witnesses and direct evidence and reached its conclusion that Hutton and Johnston did plant the cartridge case and fabricate evidence. At the very least, the Solicitor-General should have given a court the opportunity to reach a decision on the same basis.
“Instead, the Government’s failure to act allowed speculation to fester and harm our family and others.”
Rochelle said she had intended to approach the Police Commissioner for some time but the catalyst was reading Arthur Allan Thomas: The Inside Story.
Ian Wishart’s new book presents a different theory from the commonly held belief that if Mr Thomas was innocent, then Jeannette Crewe’s father, Len Demler, was the prime suspect.
Wishart claims the evidence points to Mr Johnston. Rochelle said an article in theWeekend Herald by Ross Meurant, a detective on the original murder inquiry, acknowledged this was a possibility.
She said the article highlighted a “pervasive corruption” exposed by the new book.
“This concerns me. Lastly, I just want to know who killed my Mum and Dad.”
The unsolved homicide is one of New Zealand’s greatest murder mysteries.
“A terrible bloody mess” was what Len Demler found in the Crewes’ farmhouse in Pukekawa, south of Auckland, in June 1970.
He also found Rochelle crying in her cot. Doctors who examined her said she could not have been abandoned for five full days since the murders, so someone must have fed her. Witnesses reported seeing a blonde at the house, but she was never identified.
The case gripped the nation for months. Police initially considered it a murder-suicide – a theory later pushed by investigative journalist Pat Booth, who campaigned for Mr Thomas to be freed – but soon switched attention to Mr Demler.
The body of Jeannette, 30, was recovered from the Waikato River in August 1970, her jaw badly broken. Her 28-year-old husband was found in the river a month later, weighed down by an axle. Both had been shot.
After three months, the police were under huge pressure to solve the crime and quickly found two pieces of evidence to implicate Mr Thomas, who lived on a farm 13km from the Crewes.
Axle stubs hidden on his farm tip apparently matched the axle that weighed down Harvey Crewe. Then police found in the Crewes’ garden the case of a shell fired from his .22 rifle – despite having found nothing there a few months before.
Mr Thomas was convicted of the murders and spent nearly 10 years in prison. But he was famously pardoned in 1979 after mounting public protest and the personal intervention of Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.
The royal commission set up to investigate the case found Mr Hutton and Mr Johnston had planted the shell case at the Crewe house to frame Mr Thomas.
Mr Johnston was also the detective who found the axle stubs on Mr Thomas’ farm. Mr Hutton retired from the police in 1976 and is living in South Auckland. Mr Johnston died in 1978.