The reason why the bodies of Jeannette and Harvey Crewe were moved from their house created a lot of discussion, speculation and head scratching but it was during the process of establishing who might be guilty that more questions were popping up for me than answers . . .
My initial thought was “Why move the bodies?” It would be easier to leave them where they fell, then quickly put some distance between yourself and the crime scene. I imagine that’s what any self respecting criminal would have done.
I can’t understand why anyone would want to stick around. As it turned out they had five days and nights to cover their tracks before the Crewes were reported missing. They did this easily as by Friday morning a mystery woman was brazenly allowing herself to be seen and to give the impression the murders had not yet occurred.
As we all know, including the mystery woman, the murders had already taken place two days previously which meant the bodies were gone by this stage and were already in the Waikato River.
When the bodies were discovered several months later– Jeannette on 16 August 1970 and Harvey on 16 September–there were few positive clues left to work from. Apart from the partial remains of two .22 bullets there was nothing else on the bodies to indicate who pulled the trigger, so why was it necessary to go to the bother of removing the bodies especially Harvey who was 15 stone (95 kg)?
What were they trying to hide? It seems obvious that the killer realised that the lead in their heads would be traceable sooner or later to a weapon so they had two options–leave the bodies and get rid of the firearm or hide the bodies and hope they are not found. The killer did take a gamble that the Waikato River would not divulge any secrets and then, to make doubly sure, why not throw a firearm into the river at least 10 miles above where the bodies were put in or bury it somewhere never to be found.
To the police, the remains of the bullets were the only clues left and all they had to do was match them up with a firearm. The police spent an incredible amount of time trying to put a gun in Demler’s hands and when they gave up on that theory almost succeeded in nobbling Arthur Thomas while the defence put in the same effort trying to disprove their fake logic.
If the blinkers had been taken off, there were actually plenty of other clues. Other leads needing follow-up were staring at them in the face.
OTHER POSSIBILITIES NOT FOLLOWED UP
As history has already shown, the weapon that fired the fatal shots has never been positively identified.
Every book published so far, including the extensive coverage in the Royal Commission Report, has covered the saga of the fatal bullets to the minutest detail so it is not my intention to repeat or rehash their detailed evidence but to add an avenue of thought that was never followed up although mentioned several times earlier as a possibility.
First, police records revealed that Jeannette’s wound showed signs of blackening which suggested being fired at close range or as a contact wound. What is not widely known though is that Harvey had similar injuries.
As a result police seized all .22 rifles or pistols from anyone living within a five mile radius of the Crewe farm plus suspects from a wider area. Len Demler was also questioned if he owned a .22 rifle and he should have been asked also if he had a pistol.
The key word here is “pistol”. In Wishart’s book is this paragraph on page 66: “It’s worth noting that forensic tests by the British Home Office on the Crewe bullets found a very high likelihood that the bullets were in fact fired by a pistol, not a rifle. Of 15 matches they achieved in their own weapon tests, 11 of the matching weapons were .22 handguns, only four were rifles.”
Soon after I came on the scene in 1976, I learned from Leslee, the lady who later told me she had fed the baby, of a .22 pistol in their family, an heirloom called a “Ladies Companion.” Leslee was related to families at the centre of this case. She described it to me as a very small pistol no more than five inches long with a whale bone or pearl handgrip. I’m told it also had the reputation of being the cheapest and most efficient handgun in the States to settle Mafia family disputes!
She added that it was easy to conceal but it had one or two faults. Sometimes it would misfire and I gathered from her that the breach block would jam. She asked me if I could fix it. I replied that misfiring could be caused by the age, or type of ammunition used and if an automatic it can be tricky at times if not kept clean.
She went on to tell me that, “There’s a story with this pistol” and when her grandchildren are old enough it should be told. Regretfully now, I never got to hear the story or had the opportunity to check the pistol’s faults, one of life’s big missed opportunities it seems!.
I gathered this pistol had, in fact, been in the family for some time. Apparently the previous owner, her grandmother (long since passed on), had moved out of her old house and while it was being pulled down, the pistol was found. As close as I could determine, the pistol was handed on or kept by Alf Hodgson, a very strong clue as to who pulled the trigger.
The guts of this discovery is that the pistol had a history of being in the Chennells family or with someone who had close connections.
It has been always been a distinct possibility that the fatal bullets had come from a withheld or undiscovered weapon and certainly one that had not even been tested. The fact that the lack of distinct rifling marks made it difficult to positively match up with tested firearms put the investigation on the back foot.
To make matters worse the police had suppressed the report of neighbour Julie Priest hearing gunshots between 8:15 and 8:45 pm on the night of 17 June. According to David Yallop this evidence was never heard by a jury at any of the court sittings. In fact, Mrs Priest was so sure that the shots had come from the direction of the Crewe farm that she prepared to swear in any courtroom of what she heard.
It was Yallop who had actually discovered the suppression when he interviewed Mrs Priest for his book in 1977. She had explained at that time, it was a few days after Jeannette’s body was discovered that she reported hearing gunshots to the police. In fairness to the police, they did carry out some tests of whether gunshots could be heard from Priest’s house. The police claimed that their tests could not be heard so came to ‘the conclusion’ that Mrs Priest was mistaken.
Again in fairness, the Royal Commission could not verify the times given by Mrs Priest so decided to fix the time to between 8:30 pm and 11:00 pm. They also added that it could not “be said definitely whether or not those shots related to the murders.”
Personally I believe what Mrs Priest recalled. Why should she come up with a time to suit other agendas? She had nothing to gain, she heard what she heard, end of discussion.
In light of how other witnesses were dealt with who didn’t agree with police views, I can also understand her reluctance to fix an accurate time. It’s nitpicking as common sense tells me that the time would have been closer to 8:30 than 11:00 pm.
At this stage, according to my timeline, the police were still trying hard to put a firearm into the hands of Demler so what Mrs Priest had to say was conveniently disregarded and pushed into the background as not being relevant.
LEN OUT–THOMAS IN
Around six weeks after her report, police investigators took off in a complete new direction when they gave Len up as a suspect. They said it was through insufficient evidence when in reality they had dreamed up a hare-brained case against Arthur Allan Thomas.
The idea was so half-baked that police resorted to planting a shell-case to strengthen their theory that Thomas was the killer. It was to be around two weeks before Thomas was arrested on 11 November that the Priests again heard rifle shots from the direction of the Crewe house consequently found by the Royal Commission to have been fired by Dectective Inspector Bruce Hutton and by Detective Len Johnston.
The point here is not a “whodunnit” but a “who heard it?” The police claimed they could not hear rifle shots during their tests after Mrs Priest’s original report but when their places were swapped six weeks later the Priests again heard two shots from the same distance. This begs the question whether the earlier shots, if fired inside the house, would have ever been heard?
By this time Priest’s report had been completely rubbished so again it was quite convenient for the police as her timing of shortly after 8:00pm would not have suited their agenda of wanting the murder to happen after TV had closed down at 11:00pm.
The truth of the matter was that the police could hardly admit to an earlier time as it would have given Thomas an alibi. Remember, they were in the process of setting up Arthur Thomas with a planted shell-case and it was far too late to turn back. Their ploy did shamefully backfire (pardon the pun) when the Royal Commission presented its findings in 1980 and found the shell-case had, in fact, been planted.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
If the police did make as many errors as found by others and did suppress so much evidence I am surely allowed to make some observations of what I think could have happened I am also convinced Leslee was the mystery lady seen by others on Friday and Saturday.
There were at least two others at the crime scene, both men, one of whom was the killer and the other was Len who helped to clean up to put in place events that would not only protect his interests but would, in the short term, keep the identity of the killer secret.
At this crucial stage, Len would not have wanted Jeannette’s body hidden forever, particularly weighted down in a river, as it was essential to minimize her estate before finalising Maisie’s probate. In other words I think he had to bend some rules and switch the order of the one who died first and make her second priority.
These events will become clear as the legal paperwork was being done but right now I want to put my beliefs forward as to what I think really happened on the Wednesday evening of 17 June 1970.
To me it is perfectly logical that Jeannette and Harvey had agreed to listen to the concerns of a blood-related couple who did not want the Crewes to call in all debt related to the Chennells Estate without first allowing them some latitude to make other arrangements.
One of them, a neighbour I believe, had torched Crewe’s hay barn previously as a final warning that they weren’t going to tolerate the tough actions being taken against them. It had been tit for tat for a number of years as Maisie’s health deteriorated and it had now come to a head as Jeannette was steadfastly applying her mother’s wishes.
Len was also mixed up in Maisie’s hard-nosed business dealings and to be fair to him, I do not believe he pulled the trigger. I do believe that Jeannette had invited her father for a meal prior to their visitors arriving so that he could mediate if events got out of hand.
Len may have left before the visitors arrived then missed the action when the discussion became heated or when tempers were on the verge of exploding. Who knows?
On the other extreme, the temperature of the evening was quite the opposite. It was cold and windy, the windows were closed, the fire was roaring and at one stage Harvey excused himself to get another load of firewood. It’s quite plausible that the one who had borrowed the pistol from the lady’s purse or the woman who had the pistol met Harvey at the gate, opened it for him and as he came through with both hands on the wheelbarrow, shot him point blank through the head.
The oilskin Harvey was likely wearing would have taken most of the gunpowder burns and while Mrs Priest heard two shots close together, one of them may have missed their target as only a few fragments were found in his skull, but the second shot is impossible to explain in retrospect without evidence.
These shots would have been heard from within the house and when Jeannette jumped up to see what was wrong she was grabbed and firmly held by the accomplice(s) which would explain the bruise found under her left arm.
Within moments the killer would have arrived from outside to deal with Jeannette, firing the third shot heard by Mrs Priest.