Maisie Demler passed away on 26 February 1970 and less than five months later, on 17 June 1970, Jeannette and Harvey Crewe were last seen alive, the day before their 4th wedding anniversary . . .
Did Maisie Demler unwittingly sign the death warrant of her daughter Jeannette and her son-in-law, Harvey? Some will argue that she did while others put it down to a simple case of jealousy from a former admirer.
Unfortunately for the Crewes, the writing was already on the wall that trouble was brewing but not from the direction that the Police thought, although Len Demler was still in the firing line as the most likely suspect.
The events leading up to June 1970 hold the key but there too many threads in this tangled web of deceit to come up with a simple cut and dried answer. Some of these events came off the starting block more than a century ago and while disagreements and unhappiness within the family circle were starting to surface during the early 1960s, eventual greed or self interest was actually coming from more than one direction. Basically, there were two sides to the coin–those who had the money and those who borrowed it. That is probably an over simplification as it was really far more complex and devious than that.
THE TIMELINE TELLS THE STORY
Those who have managed to follow the ins and outs of everyone’s timeline so far will know that the underlying issues involved land and finance–lots of it in one form or another. The crunch is that some of the families finally woke up thinking they were going to lose the lot. Shareholders (I use this in a loose way here) also ended up getting suspicious then became too greedy.
To recap the big picture briefly we have a background of wealth that was carried from England and linked to New Zealand through the families of Chennells (Newman) and Louis (Nellie Chennells).
On the deaths of Newman in 1938 and Nellie in 1948 along with the accidental death of their son Howard in 1950, the foundations of greed had already been laid. Their daughter Maisie Demler, ended up as sole beneficiary, and now had control of the family jewels. Peace was basically kept while she was alive although she made some bad decisions that had far reaching consequences.
On the deaths of Alfred Hodgson in 1961 then Maisie Demler early in 1970, tight control had lost its grip and those with an axe to grind were finalising their plans as events were coming to a head.
THOSE WITHOUT THE MEANS
On the other side of the coin were the people who didn’t have the money or the means to dig themselves out of a hole. A surprising number of these people were within the family circle or were in some way related. There were a lot of fingers in the pie and I am sure that this is why nobody has let the cat out of the bag–there was too much to lose by opening your mouth or by ‘potting’ others.
It was not until I started to trace family genealogy and resulting land ownership that I realised there were quite a number of people who had something to lose but not all of them having a ‘do or die’ reason to murder.
Many had borrowed from the Chennells Estate, either for farm development or to survive during tough times when the traditional banking system was unable to take the risk thereby forcing, at the worst, eventual foreclosure.
Apart from making wise investments, the Chennells Estate family trust were basically acting as a bank by lending money with those wanting to borrow being faced with extra costs that somehow became unsustainable.
The killer, pardon the pun, was compound interest. Everyone knows it costs to borrow money and depending on the rate accepted, the debt quickly and relentlessly increases particularly if regular repayments are not made.
To give an example, using easy to understand figures, one soon realises that apart from having to pay capital back, the dilemma of being able to earn more from using somebody else’s money or losing the lot through digging a deeper hole was part of reality. The negative situation could force someone’s hand by committing murder, in fact, as we now know, a double murder! This is the big secret in the Pukekawa region–indebtedness to Maisie’s interests. This has never come out with all the focus on Arthur Allan Thomas and the Police investigation.
It sounds a bit extreme in normal circumstances but let’s try a simple calculation using simple figures to show how compound interest works. We may want to borrow say $10,000 over five years at an interest rate of 10%. With compounding interest, interest is worked out for the first period, then added to the principal. Then for the next period we calculate the interest on the new total and repeat this for the five year period.
The figures will look like this: $10,000 plus 10% interest rate equals $11,000 then another 10% on the new total equals $12,100, and so on when after five years the total has grown to $16,105.10. Apart from the total interest of $6,105.10 after five years, the interest for the last year was $1464.10 and not $1000 if had been taken out on simple flat-rate interest.
The power of compound interest also works in reverse and is then seen as a good investment (if the lending is ‘safe’). Because these figures are only hypothetical, the amounts will vary depending on the decade when it is taken out.
It was not only the issues of borrowing money but the terms of leases for property or certain Deeds of Family Arrangement & Mortgages–of which I believe numbered many more than the one mentioned in Howard Chennells will of 1941!
FINDING THE EVASIVE PROOF
I openly admit now that I have sadly failed to track down any absolute proof that other documents exist and I reserve the right to be wrong. The way I look at things this type of information has been jealously hidden in secret, half secret trusts or hard to understand legalese or simply not disclosed. The land in England is a perfect example of how to successfully hide assets.
Apart from the trustees, Maisie Demler was only person who knew the exact details regarding the state of finances. It has been said more than once that as the keeper of the books she knew “down to the last penny” but others within the family circle still had a pretty good idea of where everybody stood.
For whatever reason some in the chain were wanting agreements to be changed otherwise they would lose ‘big time’.
I feel strongly that the initial dissatisfactions came through Maisie dropping subtle hints, at first around the early 1960s, that trust debts were going to be called in as many leases and agreements had run well past their ‘due by’ date. This was the reason for the fires, burglaries and most likely other mischief that was never reported to the Police, and also Maisie’s efforts to keep it all quiet.
Although Maisie tried to be calm and retain peace while under siege from the wolf pack she was also coming under extreme pressure from Len to change her will and thereby protect his interests.
Chris Birt covers the drama very well in his book The Final Chapter and on page 39 writes that Maisie’s intention for her estate was openly disputed by Len. While she lay seriously ill at an Epsom home, Demler was “often seen remonstrating with his wife about cutting Heather from her estate.”
Page 174 continues along the same theme about Len’s constant hassling of his dying wife at the Epsom nursing home.
“The evidence points to a prolonged era of bitterness, resentment and anger towards the stoic Maisie Demler by a husband who clearly demonstrated his disdain for her proposed actions in bequeathing half of ‘his’ farm to his elder daughter, thus relegating his younger daughter to the ranks of also-rans.”
A ONCE-UNITED FAMILY
Birt goes on to say that Maisie clearly played a dominant role in the disintegration of a once-united family, and probably in the deaths of Jeannette and Harvey.
Len’s unhappiness with Maisie disinheriting Heather was almost the straw that broke the camel’s back. While Birt has come close to discovering a likely motive, either by Len or Heather as he seems to be suggesting, it is only when one learns what Len did with the wills and probates that the two-sided penny will drop.