Len Demler certainly had his hands full. He had also started a family and was raising two daughters; Jeannette Lenore who was born on 6 February 1940 and two years later came the birth of Dianne Heather . . .
Their upbringing and schooling followed other rural Pukekawa families. Their small school was the hub of the community having been in existence since 1895. Both girls later attended St Cuthberts in Auckland, a college that their mother had also attended to become a young lady “of strong moral fibre.”
The life of Jeannette was fully covered by David Yallop in his 1973 book Beyond Reasonable Doubt? so it is not intended here to go into full detail of the years after leaving St Cuthberts.
Basically she embarked on a teaching career, first attending Ardmore Teachers’ College (1957/58) then Pukekohe North School and Mangatangi (1960) before going to Europe the following year. She returned to New Zealand 18 months later during November 1962.
While Jeannette was on her big OE, her father gained notoriety through a well-publicised case brought by Inland Revenue, but earlier wheeling and dealing had occurred where Len Demler was involved.
NEW TITLES ISSUED
First, to recap some details following Howard Chennells accidental death in 1950. Section 7 had been transferred into the names of the trustees, Alf Hodgson and Colin Sturrock, as instructed in Howard’s will and it will be remembered that the main beneficiaries were to be his nieces, Jeannette and Heather Demler when they respectively attained the ages of 25 in 1965 and 1967.
Meanwhile the paperwork for Chennells Estate was proceeding
and Section 7 largely became Section 13 in November 1955. Also
part of the title was the small area of Section 14 which was included
because of a number of other small adjustments to the boundary
(the Raglan County Council had realigned the road), it grew slightly
from 364.0.15 acres to 365.2.36 acres.
According to the Certificate of Title, there were also three
extensions to the terms of lease following the passing of Newman
Chennells in 1939 to the death of his son Howard in 1950. The
reasons for this are probably not as important as how Len Demler
managed to acquire land from the trustees, Hodgson and Sturrock,
27 acres from the top right corner of Section 13 that bounded on to
his neighbouring property (Section 2).
The transfer of Lot 1 went through on 9 November 1955 and because of the missing 27 acres, Section 13 was also given, 21 days later, another new Certificate of Title now containing a reduced area of 338.1.16 acres (remember Section 7 was to be, 15 years later, the site of the Crewe murders).
LEN ACQUIRES MORE LAND
The reason Demler wanted this particular corner of land, now
called Lot 1, is easy to see on an aerial photo (see next pages). There
was a series of gullies, shared by Demler’s Section 2 and Chennells’
Section 13 that, compared to the rest of both farms, was uneconomic
to develop. The dog leg piece that Demler acquired was separated
from Section 13 by the gully and logically was of more value to him
as its contour perfectly matched his adjoining paddock.
In speculation, Howard Chennells may have allowed Len to graze
the block earlier in his lifetime and in all probability Len would have
made numerous offers to purchase but it had remained in Howard’s
name and even after his death in the names of the trustees for the
benefit of Len’s two daughters, Jeannette and Heather.
Len must have done some scheming as it was not until five years
after Howard’s death that Len’s name did appear on the Certificate of
Title of Lot 1 but this small block of 27 acres was to have a chequered
history. Right from the beginning Len was not being totally honest
as his ownership status later turned out to be debatable.
LEN’S OWN FARM
Meanwhile, to keep events in their time sequence, the
ownership of Len’s own farm (Section 2) turned up a mild surprise
on his Certificate of Title. On 26 August 1956, barely 10 months after
acquiring Lot 1, a “transfer of the residue” occurred between Charles
Edward Wheeler and Lenard William Demler. This “transfer of the
residue” shows that Demler was still owing Wheeler the balance of
I can only repeat again the lack of clarity when Len actually
purchased his property. According to the Certificate of Title for
Section 2, Wheeler held the balance of payment until the date of
transfer to Len Demler (26 August 1956). The title shows Wheeler
having discharged his own mortgage on 14 April 1936 meaning
that Len had entered into an agreement with Wheeler.
Another line of thought can be considered as a result of Len’s
“paper trail” as it coincides with the time period when all New
Zealanders were suffering through the depressions of the 1920s and
1930s then on to the effects of the 2nd World War.
These extracts from the 2013 book, The Story of Te Kuiti, by
Russell Young will alert the reader to the hardships suffered by
those caught up with financial situations they had no control over.
HARD TIMES STRUCK WITH GREAT SEVERITY
“The tentacles of the Great Depression reached every corner
of the globe. Across New Zealand, bankruptcy and unemployment
persisted for much of the next decade.
“These hard times struck Te Kuiti with greater severity than
most other New Zealand towns. Nearby towns such as Cambridge
and Matamata, for example, surrounded by productive land already
developed and farmed for a couple of generations, were able to ride
out the Depression by old-fashioned belt-tightening.
“In the King Country the belt-tightening plumbed to new depths.
Banks and stock firms at first adopted a lenient approach believing that, if their farming clients could remain on the land, they would
ride out the Depression together. But when the expected recovery
did not eventuate, banks had no option but to foreclose.
“The pool of farms placed on auction far exceeded the number
of buyers. The Lands & Survey Department acted as a backstop at
auction, paying sufficient to clear the bank’s indebtedness, leaving
farmers to walk away with nothing more than their personal
“In some isolated instances, properties were purchased by a
neighbour who had additional, usually family, resources, or the
knocked-down values would allow a frugal farm worker with
savings an opportunity to buy into a farm.
“Where the Crown had purchased the property the Lands
& Survey Department and State Advances Corporation then
negotiated with farmers to re-settle them back on the land.”
CHANGING THE NAMES OF PLACES
The names of the towns mentioned above can rightly be
changed from Te Kuiti to Pukekawa; from Cambridge and Matamata
to Tuakau and Huntly; King Country to Raglan County and so on as
everyone was in a similar position, including Len Demler.
Russell Young continues: “In some cases, the same farmer was
assisted three times to settle on the same property: once on first
acquisition by ballot; again after the property had been abandoned
during the Depression; and again when the farmer returned from
service after the Second World War.
“In Te Kuiti, by agreement between various stock firms ‘stayed
in’; that is, they desisted from selling up any farmer, elected instead
to leave mortgages and current account advances as debts that
would some day be repaid. This built enormous goodwill which
lasted for following generations.”
TO BE PAID AT A LATER DATE
The question is, “Was Len Demler up to his eyeballs in debt or
was he too proud to admit that he was biting off more than he could
Remember he had just been wheeling and dealing with the
Chennells Estate trustees, Hodgson and Sturrock, for 27 acres off
their block of land (Section 13) in November 1955, then the following
year he was off on an overseas trip.
Len and Maisie took a trip overseas in 1955. It is presumed they
left together as the only reference against Maisie’s name was her
arrival in Southampton, England on 4 June 1956, the same day that
Len’s itinerary is recorded as leaving Auckland on the ship
Orion on 6 April 1956 and arriving in San Francisco on 27 April then
arrival in Southampton after departing from New York.
The reason for their visit and who paid is not known although
one could easily speculate that real estate matters could have been
on their list of important things to do.
If they had English wealth it is inconceivable to me that they
wouldn’t be there for some practical reason.
The Chennells Estate were in a position to provide private
finance for family members that could be re-paid at a later date.
One such arrangement has been previously mentioned (as recorded
in the 1940 will of Howard Chennells) of a “certain Deed of Family
Arrangement and Mortgage” between himself and his mother
Nellie. Surely Maisie would have taken the opportunity for similar
Other arrangements had also been made over the years and it
is my firm belief that Jeannette Crewe was intending to call these
in. As a result, a number of affected parties were clearly not happy.