Len Demler was starting to show the pressure he was under and while he could see his future going down the gurgler for the hundredth time, he gathered his thoughts and figured out how he was going to gain the upper hand . . .
During his lifetime, Lenard William Demler had many setbacks but he had learnt how to deal with it over the years and above all he knew when to keep his mouth shut . . . but ultimately was he a murderer? People who knew him immediately suspected that he was the culprit.
Was Len a lot smarter than he looked? The short answer is yes! Len took most of his setbacks on the chin and while he seemed outwardly to have a bad and uncaring attitude when the odds were against him he would brush it off with a nervous chuckle. In the end he got some of his own back by being cunning and devious.
His first real disagreement was in 1936 when he told his father to ‘stick it’ (or words to that effect) and went his own way. He married Maisie Chennells and the following year (1937) leased the farm bordering the property of his in-laws at Opuatia.
In 1942 his mother-in-law Nellie Chennels signed off her Last Will and Testament by appointing Len as her trustee along with Len’s wife Maisie. After the death of Nellie in 1948 I believe that Len was to learn, probably more by observing, how delays in the process of probate both in New Zealand and England would, in the long run, benefit his wife in a way that could not be predicted but would become useful for him to copy some time in the distant future.
FAMILY FORTUNE WON BY DEFAULT
Right now Len was to get a practical lesson when a twist of fate would play out. A set of sad circumstances involving the untimely death of Maisie’s brother Howard in 1950 (during the tail end of the probate process) saw Maisie inherit the family fortune.
At the time I wondered if Maisie had actually won by default due to good luck rather than good management or did the fact that the unintentional time lag of Nellie’s probate being signed after Howard’s death help?
The fact will remain that Maisie, as the resulting sole survivor, was now in line to fully protect the family fortune.
Meanwhile, Len was watching from the sidelines and doing a bit of scheming of his own. He managed, in 1955, to wrangle a transfer of 27 acres that bordered his farm from the Chennells Estate and by the following year had accompanied his wife Maisie on a long overseas trip to England (via USA) where they both did more than enjoy a holiday.
Like a lot of events unfolding in this saga one has to continually speculate as desperately sought after facts have not always been forthcoming. Anyone with common sense would know that Maisie’s inheritance in England would have been near the top of their visits’ agenda.
Remember, Len and Maisie were trustees and executors of Nellie’s estate so both would have either wanted to or had to appear in person to sign off the legalities lodged in Somerset House.
Alternately nothing may have happened on their four or five month long “holiday” but only a fool would think they didn’t kill more than one bird with one stone! Perhaps the land in England was sold and everything was cashed up. Whatever went down was crucial to retaining control of the family jewels.
Len Demler, as trustee, would have retained knowledge of how things were done along with the ability to use it to his advantage much later on.
MORE STRIFE FOR LEN
Len was to face further demands and strife on returning to New Zealand so there is a need now to recap, intermingling new facts.
His first demand seemed to come from Charles Wheeler. On 26 August 1956 a land transfer involving the residue of Len’s farm (Section 2, 450 acres) was settled before the farm could legally carry the name of Lenard William Demler. There is no indication of what it cost Len to settle.
During the same period Len was beginning to be hassled by Inland Revenue Dept (IRD) but it was not until 1961 that he was actually formally accused of tax evasion. Meanwhile, on 26 February 1962, Len was on the receiving end of an action that was to have far reaching consequences.
Trustee Colin Sturrock found himself sole surviving trustee of the Chennells Estate after the death of fellow trustee Alf Hodgson. In his wisdom he appointed Len Demler to fill the position. Suddenly finding himself a trustee would have been like a gift from heaven with the added bonus of looking after the interests of his daughters who would be collecting their inheritances within a decade.
TAX OFFENCES HAD TO BE PAID
Wrong! Len was heading for more strife, this time with his wife Maisie. After the Court had handed down a bill for almost £10,000 for tax evasion, Len was struggling to find the money to pay IRD.
Remember that this shortfall was the value of a complete house and section at the time.
The commonly held view is that his wife Maisie gave Len £9,540 to settle his tax offences in August 1962 and in return she received, in October, an undivided half share of his 464 acre farm that included the 27 acres Len had acquired from the Chennells Estate.
However, Len’s version of events differ as he told the court that he had paid the tax from money in his own account and he had given Maisie a “free gift” of his land for tax purposes. Yeah right!
Basically, from Len’s point of view, settling the IRD bill had put him between a rock and a hard place. Len, as a trustee to the Chennells Estate, would have felt quite entitled in his own mind to draw down a loan against the equity he had in his farm and engineered circumstances to achieve his own ends.
As a beneficiary Maisie wouldn’t allow him to use trust funds so she quietly filed for half the farm and paid for it with her own money and as a result the pair become tenants in common. By owning an undivided half share in the estate of Section 2 she was able to lay down some conditions.
Maisie had Len where she wanted him but those conditions did not sink in immediately as Len was under the impression he would get his farm back on her death.
DUTIES OF A TRUSTEE
Len knew from past experience as a trustee what his duties were under the 1956 Trustee Act (later reviewed in August 2013). The Act was a shadow of mystery–in fact many trustees had the idea that, as of right, they were untouchable.
The dishonest trustee could attempt a few slippery deals involving misrepresentation of funds or residue and quietly say nothing but today would be brought to justice along with any person or persons that were an accessory to the fact or even a partner in the crime.
The trustee should be aware of what his or her duties were at all times bearing in mind, because of some tragic events in this family, someone somewhere will seek the truth.
The right to question the actions of a trustee on any decision or ruling was always there but in this particular case, the media and Police held the limelight thereby smothering the truth, whether intentionally or not.
I believe the original trust deeds in this story would have told a different tale to the many so-called “enquiries” that failed to find the truth.
Len Demler, Colin Sturrock and other legal representatives on the other hand would have known full well what the law said about the management of trust deeds particularly in relation to information never recorded by register or private mortgage of contract.
THOSE IN THE KNOW
It is the knowledge of this information that has caused the strife. Lawyers and accountants hid it from general view because they were private affairs.
These people are amongst the ‘shareholders’ and there are a bunch of them. Not all of them were at the front line but most were aware of the trouble that was brewing since Alf Hodgson died.
Those most affected were smart enough to predict what could happen once the Demler daughters, Jeannette and Heather, had reached the age when the Chennells Estate would be legally divided between them–in 1966 for Jeannette and two years later for Heather.
It must be remembered that the die was cast on 24 November 1952 when the contents of the Last Will and Testament of Howard Chennells was read.
To recap again briefly, this is because Howard’s property (Section 7 of 364 acres) was to be divided equally between Jeannette and Heather, each upon reaching the age of 25 years. Until then, the land was held in trust with Alf Hodgson and Colin Sturrock as trustees. A new title was also issued changing it from Section 7 to Sections 13 & 14 plus other small allotments after realignment of the road.
In the following 18 years up to 1970 when the murders were committed, the Chennells Family Trust would multiply the value of its returns through the skills of its trustees, Hodgson and Sturrock. The investments had the potential to earn truckloads of income until greed raised its ugly head and an innocent couple were brutally murdered.
LEN’S FEAR OF THE FUTURE
Len Demler eventually found himself in the hot seat and with all the other ‘events’ happening in his life he was fearful of how the future would unfold.
Quite honestly, Len got to the stage where he couldn’t give a sh*t, he was callous to the truth, he just did not care and he had no conscience. I don’t believe that he was the one who pulled the trigger but this was the hard man that the public saw at the time.
I also needed to find out how Len ended up having so much control. I had to first look at the sequences of trusteeships and inheritances (common names are used for ease of reading):
1938: The beneficiaries on the death of Newman Chennells were his daughter, Maisie Demler and his son Howard (his wife Nellie was not mentioned). His general trustees were Maisie and Howard with a special trustee being Alf Hodgson.
1948: The will of Nellie Chennells named Len and Maisie Demler as trustees with the beneficiaries being her children Maisie and Howard.
1950: The accidental death of Howard Chennells saw the Chennells Estate family trust formed. The main beneficiaries were Jeannette and Heather Demler, the children of his sister Maisie. His will appointed Alf Hodgson and Colin Sturrock as trustees.
1961: On the death of Alf Hodgson, his estate went to his wife and stepsons with his trustees being named as his wife, Rose Amy, his stepson Geoffrey Gurney and solicitor Colin Sturrock.
1962: The death of Alf Hodgson also saw his trustee position on the Chennells Estate being filled by appointee, Len Demler although Alf’s wife, Rose Amy, had inherited the right to claim any residue owed to Alf by the Chennells Trust.
1970: Maisie Demler’s Last Will and Testament of July 1969, appointed her husband Len and her daughter Jeannette as joint trustees. The beneficiaries on her death were only to be Jeannette and granddaughter Rochelle Crewe.
1970: The contents of Jeannette Crewe’s 1967 will reveals that her husband Harvey was appointed sole trustee and if he failed to survive her then her father Len Demler and mother Maisie were to become trustees. As Maisie had already passed away, Len, through this so-called quirk of fate, became the sole trustee.
1992: Len Demler leaves one half of his estate to his second wife Norma and the other half to his daughter Heather Souter.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT
The implications from settling the estates of Maisie and Jeannette will be covered in a later chapter because the detail of how Len cleverly tidied up the loose ends is crucial to explaining why Len was definitely smarter than he looked.
Meanwhile think about whether Len did have enough reasons to murder. After all he seems to have had an obvious motive and in every sense he would have been quietly pleased (in a sick kind of way) that Jeannette was out of the way.
It was what Jeannette was going to do about the family fortune that was to see her brutally murdered. I believe though, that those at the front of the queue as the murderer did not include Len Demler.
There are definitely two sides to this coin!