In an early chapter I said experts worldwide claim that crime comes down to–99 times out of a hundred–love, hate, or money. In the case of the Crewe murders, it was money and lots of it! The question is, “Did this crime come from within the family or was it from those who had outstanding amounts in arrears from the Chennells family trust?”
To deal first with the Crewes one has to go back to evidence given in court to obtain some idea of the dollar value of Jeannette’s inheritance.
The financial affairs of Harvey and Jeannette were questioned in depth when Len Demler faced cross-examination by Paul Temm. A verbatim transcript of the trial cross-examination was published in Yallop’s book Beyond Reasonable Doubt (pages 130 to 133) and it was clear that Demler was being deliberately evasive and to me his answers were quite shifty.
It was like trying to get blood out of a stone and with Paul Temm almost putting figures into Len’s mouth, Len was making him work very hard. Without going into a blow by blow account of what was said, my conclusion is that Len, like his deceased wife, knew exactly who had what down to the last dollar. After all, he had also been a trustee for Nellie Chennells.
Len also thought (incorrectly) that he stood to gain from Maisie’s shares in the Auckland Harbour Bridge and a Dairy Company as both were held in their joint names. I realise that jointly owned shares should have passed to him, but not shares in her sole name. He was entitled at least to the dividends on the shares.
It is also interesting to note what the pundits had discovered and published about the value of Jeannette’s inheritance plus what her bank accounts totalled. Page 35 of Beyond Reasonable Doubt (David Yallop 1978) says her estate was worth at least $150,000. In her three personal bank accounts were sums totalling $4,640, in a joint account with her husband was a further $1,667 (totalling $156,307). His two bank accounts totalled $34.
Page 22 of The Case of the Missing Bloodstain (Keith Hunter 2012) claims at her death she had $7000 cash in the bank and her estate was worth $70,000, excluding another $70,000 she was about to inherit from her mother, the total being $147,000. Harvey’s personal bank balance was still $34.
These figures are basically irrelevant as in reality, it was only the tip of the iceberg and, in my humble opinion, Harvey actually had far more potential than $34!
THE CRUNCH WAS COMING
Two days before the murders Len saw his lawyer and signed off the balance sheet of his wife’s supposed assets with an affidavit that, at the time, was accepted by the court as being true and correct. Needless to say the enquiry within the system mentions very little about the exact content of this document, but the crunch came earlier than planned.
Jeannette had visited her solicitor the day after her father and also received a detailed account of her mother’s estate. Both father and daughter had noted that the death duties were much higher than expected mainly due to a revaluation of Len’s farm.
According to page 52 of Keith Hunter’s book The Case of the Missing Bloodstain it was actually called a “document for death duties”–or to put it crudely, was it simply a document for death?
While Jeannette was pleasantly surprised at how much her mother’s estate was worth she clutched the paperwork and wasted little time returning home to give Harvey the good news.
Her father Len would have had a different reaction after he had visited his lawyer in Tuakau. His initial response would have been emotionally mixed. Apart from the shock of high death duties Len still saw himself and his daughter Heather dipping out by not receiving their perceived entitlements.
Heather could be seen as the biggest loser as she had been disinherited from her mother’s will and to be fair, Len had also got offside with his wife and now suffered the humility of losing badly, at this stage, all but half of his farm to Jeannette. Maisie’s probate confirmed she had no intention of giving Len back her share but she did allow him the use and occupation of the farm during his lifetime. Neither did she begrudge him the income or ability to have total control of the farm.
But if he decided to retire some time in the future and sell the farm then Maisie’s half would still go to Jeannette (as per her mother’s wishes). He would still have got the income off Maisie’s half of the farm proceeds.
It would be an understatement to say that Len was unhappy with Maisie’s instructions and in keeping with previous and future responses Len immediately changed his will, an action he would often repeat over the following 20 or so years.
REVOKING OF LEN’S WILLS
I’ve tried to find evidence of Len’s changes to his will and because I was too late arriving on the scene (six years after the murders) each so-called change had been deemed null and void during the process of revoking all previous wills.
If Len had applied a codicil (an addition or supplement that modifies an existing will) then those changes would have been recorded but it appears Len made a new will each time and according to my calculations he made five new wills between Maisie’s death in 1969 and his own in 1992.
I want to mention this as I believe some of the steps Len took could have left him wide open with a motive and on the other hand he might have been cunning enough to conceal his real intentions.
Len’s wills could prove, one way or other, whether he is guilty as most believe or was he just protecting his family’s interests by manipulating the process and perhaps he was only guilty of tidying up the loose ends from the mess other parties had left.
CHANGES TO HIS WILL
In taking an overview and without assuming the worse I will repeat again that Len was smarter than he looked and it was not what he said but what he didn’t publicly say that shows this.
When Maisie savagely cut Heather from her will, Len levelled the playing field by changing his will and according to Yallop (page 34) “[cut] Jeannette out and leaving his half of their property to Heather.” He goes on to say that once again the two sisters were to have a half-share each in a superb farm . . .”
However, Ian Wishart, author of Arthur Allan Thomas: The Inside Story, has a different version on page 26. He says Demler, “in an attempt to restore balance between the siblings, reduced Jeannette’s share of his own estate from half down to one third, leaving the rest to Heather.”
This doesn’t make sense as Jeannette is now in the box seat with her mother’s half share plus one third of her father’s half share.
Wishart has surely made a mistake, but he continues this version (page 30) nearly 12 months later when he outlines Demler’s response at his lawyer’s office when signing off Maisie’s balance sheet. He says Len drafted a new will of his own, apparently on the spot, “leaving two thirds of his share of the farm to Heather and one third to Jeannette.” The 2014 Police Review sides with Wishart’s take on the will proportions.
Another source says Demler returned to his solicitor’s office on Friday 19 June and signed the new will he had asked for four days previously (Final Chapter page 99). The word of author Chris Birt has to be taken as being the most accurate but it does raise some issues that could show whether Demler was involved in the actual murders.
The Crewes were last seen alive late on Wednesday 17 June which meant that if Len was at the scene of the double murder, he would already know that his daughter was dead and if, for some reason, he didn’t sign off his will, it would be paramount to admitting guilt because what’s the point of signing if the will was already out of date and needed changing again?
Whether he was guilty or innocent Len still had no choice but to sign off as the consequences were to prove, in hindsight, that Len could have easily lost control of Maisie’s estate. There are serious issues that Demler had to cunningly resolve with steady nerves.
WILL QUITE SEPARATE FROM TRUST
In returning to the assets of the Crewes and to clarify the detail of Maisie’s assets, the reader has to remember that her will was quite separate from the family trust. This meant that his lawyer would have explained to Len what he was legally required to do because of his role as Maisie’s executer and trustee of her total estate.
As executor of her will he (and Jeannette) were bound to pay death duties and any outstanding tax (out of the estate funds) and as trustee of her family trust he would have declared anything he held in trust in Maisie’s name.
Reports have said Len then drove to Hamilton to see his accountant about his tax obligations and to clarify future ownership of Maisie’s shareholding in other companies and organisations.
Len would have known, for example, that Maisie’s half share-holdings in the Harbour Bridge and Dairy Company were to be inherited by Jeannette as they were part of the balance of Maisie’s residuary estate. Not only was Jeannette in line to take Maisie’s share of his farm but she was also ending up with shares he thought he was entitled to. This would have been a bitter pill to swallow.
Loaded with this information Len joined his daughter and Harvey the following evening for his traditional Tuesday meal where undoubtedly the main topic of discussion was in agreeing to sign off Maisie’s probate. Len is reported as saying that the will was only mentioned briefly once and that was when he going out the door on his way home.
Len was lying through his teeth. Or do pigs really fly? One would have to be completely daft to believe Len’s version. Without a doubt Len would have continued his pleadings and while Jeannette had turned off her ears, Len had no intention of letting the matter rest.
To apply for probate, the executors sign an affidavit regarding the date of death, and that “this is the will” and that “we are the executors”. The solicitor signs an application, and these are filed in court along with the undated probate. The court grants the application; puts in a date on the probate; signs and seals it and releases it to the solicitor.
I think that Jeannette’s refusal to co-operate in signing the affidavit (a standard uncontentious legal form) so that probate could be applied for, was probably the actual trigger for the murders the following evening.
LEN WAS PREPARED TO SIGN
Len knew positively one day before Jeannette what his wife’s assets were which meant he would have also known what was listed on the inventory demanded by Maisie’s will. He also knew, as a trustee, the details of the Chennell Family Trust and who was going to benefit the most.
Len was prepared to sign but it was quickly dawning on Len that Jeannette was not going to sign until the items she knew were hers to inherit were included. In other words Len was trying to minimize his wife’s assets to his advantage. While he still had ownership issues, he also knew that shareholders of the Chennells Trust were getting quite tense and jumpy.
From the minute Maisie’s probate was signed Jeannette and Harvey Crewe had the right to disclaim or dispute all or any part of it, to alter, add to, or claim accordingly should there be any misrepresentation by the trustees over a long period of time.
The troublesome period over the past nine years, 1961 to 1970, and with Alf’s death would have given Maisie as sole investor in that family a better margin of control over the trusts in operation. These trusts were in fact owned by a ‘switched on’ mother and a daughter groomed to follow in her footsteps.
What it boiled down to, over a period of 30 years, mother and daughter through fate and good management became the two major ‘investor shareholders’ in a company that was deemed by law to be settled in another name–a family trust “as long as the law allows”.
The death of an investor or end of a period of a trust is final as to total settlement of all assets and property held in trust or company leaving Jeannette as the sole owner.
This is the position of control that Jeannette found herself in and not realising the danger she had placed herself in would have been telling her father that she would be abiding by the contents of the will and to the other parties she would have made it clear that she would be calling in all outstanding debt.
Len Demler would have left the Crewe house on Tuesday night in utter defeat and pondering the few options left.