Understanding the events of Pukekawa in June 1970 cannot be just limited to analysing bullets and working out who ‘made’ a couple of dead bodies. John’s criticism of the Police bias and failure to think laterally shows this well.
David Harvey Crewe and Jeannette Lenore Crewe (nee Demler) died in the context of inter-generational family feuding over land and money, going back for years.
Many of the region at the time knew of the true situation. Many gained from Jeannette’s death as the Crewes were in the process of cashing up, calling in loans and transferring their farming operations to the Wairarapa.
Some left the area because of the rifts within the community and others have taken their secrets to the grave. Most have been too scared to talk, or if they have talked then they’ve learned that the system is corrupt and it has worked against them for talking.
A huge chasm existed in the Demler family relating to the end beneficiaries of the Chennell estate. How Len and Heather ended up with the gold (when it was Maisie’s intent that Jeannette kept control) may never be fully known outside of the ones on the inside.
Oh my, if only those ashes could talk!
The exact method of Len Demler’s eventual gaining of control of the family wealth, most of it vested in Maisie’s family trust, has to be the biggest secret of the century! When you are the sole trustee, you have the means to do the deals and pay others off using the trust resources as it suits you. Len most certainly did that.
Professionals such as accountants and lawyers are generally viewed as trustworthy but it is inconceivable that with so much at stake, for so many people (in a rural community with families who variously fought and inter-married for generations), for these people not to know what was happening. Even more so when legal events would have been required for the misappropriations. One quickly gains the ire of an entire industry by questioning the integrity of the legal profession, but to preclude the active involvement of lawyers in these crimes of greed denies basic human nature and is naive.
A total approaching a million dollars (a huge amount in those days) was at stake, and the conspiracy of silence was by both agreement and achieved under duress. Those who are prepared to kill are usually feared. This conspiracy was both active (“Do this or else!”) and passive (the kind of street wisdom that says, “Just don’t go there!”) The seeds of dispute go back decades too. We are not talking about a simple crime of passion here, where somebody got killed because of another’s anger.
Applying simple skills of logic, observation and experience as a hunter, John’s investigation gave us some core explanations to the riddle that the Crewe murders became, but in the process he has also showed us some things that are not particularly savoury.
Most glaringly obvious was the corruption within the Police. Seriously exposed for the first time, the New Zealand public awoke to the ills of bureaucracy that they previously trusted.
Comments from the Police Review of 2014 relating to their sins are brief and short on detail. “Police Notes for 2 October 1970 are not part of the investigation file and cannot be found” is an accurate statement but so too are many other critical documents missing!
On missing evidence the comments too are brief and unexplored, “The failure to record the presence of a piece of material, possibly an oilskin coat . . . was negligent”. Oh dear! Is that all we can say about it? No possible reasons explored?
Then another key finding that, “A number of potentially significant witnesses were not interviewed [which] represents an investigative shortfall”. Oh dear, again!
JOHN INGLEY WAS UP AGAINST IT
Systemic defence exists within any authority but vested interests in these matters seemed to be far wider than just a couple of ‘crooked cops’ who planted evidence.
John really was up against it, and his file notes make this reality plain. It makes sobering reading when he reports actions that threatened his life and show me that Leslee had “friends in high places”.
From the early days, he says privately “I try to write a book on the subject. It turns into a nightmare, rotten. I do not have enough information on the subject. Besides I can see no motive. But the matter [for John] won’t rest.”
John quickly learned, after having fought with yet another bureaucratic obstruction, that the system within the system was protecting itself “first and foremost in all matters”, Police, politicians and judiciary.
He has also been ostracised for asking the ‘wrong’ questions and his resulting extreme frustration with negative experiences is totally understandable.
His belief was that should anything he had written be proven true then it would spell disaster for many people in high places. The defence of those against him was to label him the village idiot. His quiet response was simply “Then so be it, I’ve earned that title if only for my own welfare.”
THOMAS FAMILY EXPERIENCE
His experiences with visiting the Thomas family, namely Des, Richard and Ray, neither productive nor enjoyable. His notes reveal some of his thoughts: “Richard to me at a loss for words no answer. Either looked at the floor or out of the window, Said the truth will out. Ray was ever watchful. Didn’t say much but his eyes spoke volumes. Des was the mouthpiece. Jumping from subject to subject backwards and forwards. Discarding this or that the flick of the wrist. Trying to keep me on my toes.”
His interview resulted in deep disappointment. He received very little information in return and to top it all off was being secretly recorded after agreeing not to be. He noticed, on returning from the toilet, that the red indicator light on the radio tape recorder was on.
“I didn’t mention it and gave no indication. I was put out and off balance. I had come in good faith and trust to help this family. Why the games?” John’s simple logic is that the family had something to hide. As with all involved in investigating the crimes, he found that they all knew much more than they let on!
SAME GAMES BEING PLAYED
John also believed author Chris Birt was playing the same games with him by wanting to know what he knew but gave nothing in exchange. “Chris hadn’t really made an effort to show or tell me anything. In true journalist style he would rather I did all the talking.”
On a later occasion John found him very devious as he kept changing his story. “When Chris disagreed over some of the remarks I made, I didn’t like what I was hearing. For every point I made Chris had an answer. Before my eyes all that I had told him was being pushed sideways.”
John realised that Chris had no intention of ever bringing other people into the ‘crime frame’ apart from those he had on his own agenda. “It had appeared to me before that Chris is very consistent in trying to shield some of the names I put before him–the very people I feel played a major part in this double murder.”
John wrote that he never under estimated Chris “for one moment” but his methods to gain information was not unlike the “many departments within the legal system.” This was a repeating pattern he experienced over decades of inquiry. The 2014 review comments support his conclusion.
JUSTICE WAS ELUSIVE
Ross Meurant said it well in his frequent condemnation of Police corporate culture and in a North & South article said, “Regrettably, this practice of placing the preservation of police above preservation of the rule of law has been condoned by successive governments.”
Peter Williams QC too noted that the Arthur Allan Thomas saga would “go down in history as an exemplar of absolute corruption by both the Police and DSIR.”
Noted defence lawyer Kevin Ryan too, in his book Justice, Without Fear or Favour, commented in regard to “The Royal Commission’s” independent approach: “I knew then this commission would not be tame but would search and sift for that elusive quality–justice” but it came too little far too late and has still not delivered justice.
Then there is the less than stellar conduct of the judiciary and the ‘justice’ system that protected itself first, ahead of obtaining justice. The same too with many other political leaders, particularly with the Arthur Allan Thomas circus.
This side-show must have been hilarious for the perpetrators to watch as dis-information held the public’s attention for years. The media frenzy that spawned a myriad of books, documentaries and articles was a multi-million dollar windfall for that industry.
Authors, investigators and others all chipped in to have their two cents worth. “She did it!” “He did it!” “They are the guilty ones!”
Following the money, asking the question, “Cui bono?” (translated from Latin “who benefits?”) shows that human nature in New Zealand in 1970 is the same as it always has been. Greed and self-interest is a universal characteristic, and justice can be elusive.
I’ve spent many hours pouring over John’s personal notes and comparing them with official documents. There are some huge take-homes from digesting his life’s work . . .
TOO HOT TO HANDLE
He paid a high price. It cost him his life as his health worsened, very likely because of the burden he had placed himself under.
I think of the struggle John faced working from the outside seemingly fighting against the system. His frustration is palpable. I can only imagine his pain at being mocked and used by other investigators–some with inside information that they deliberately kept from him, then pumped him for what he knew.
The rejection time after time from government departments, corrupted bureaucracy protecting those ‘higher up’ and the dead cert knowledge that anything to do with the Crewe murders was just too hot to handle.
He tried to put threats to and attempts on his life to one side, minimising them when he was being interviewed but you cannot ignore it all. When he was getting too close to the ones he was closing in on they made his life difficult, or dangerous.
He was affected all right. It’s just that he was a strong man–as equally strong as the guilty parties were (and are) morally weak.
THE PAIN OF FINDING OUT
Then there was Leslee–the woman that John loved, and the pain of finding out that she was living a huge lie. How he had walked into the centre of a high profile criminal case totally innocently, and his curiosity getting the better of him as he found out piece by piece what really happened. I think of the process, as he described it, a non-lineal awakening as it all started to make sense to him years after the events transpired.
I can feel the pain as he realised, revelation by revelation that not only had he been conned, and lied to, but that he actually had the keys to a major New Zealand cold case, and that seemingly nobody else wanted to know.
I am struck also (as he said in his own summary) by the significance of so many women with power and money that pop up in John’s research. French author Alexandre Dumas used a phrase in his works a hundred years ago, “Cherchez la femme, pardieu! Cherchez la femme!” which translates to, “Look for the woman, by God! Look for the woman!”
Doing this in John’s case brings forth a trail of femme fatales–aristocratic English money that has flowed through to the New Zealand offspring of which Jeanette Crewe was intended to be the next in line as one of the matriarchal inheritors.
STRUGGLE WITH DYSLEXIA
One of the things that I have a unique handle on as publisher, that has been concealed in the writing process, is John’s struggle with dyslexia.
Common with those with autism, or other conditions on the Asperger’s/ASD scale, John had unique giftings but he also struggled in other areas. He left school early for the practical world and had a unique way of phonetic spelling. He had to write and rewrite his pages often more than once in order to get it right.
Writing a book for John was a huge uphill battle–perhaps even an impossibly high mountain–for which he needed a lot of help. Even the title of this book caused him endless grief; The Plot Thickens; Legacy of Silence; Legacy of Greed and finally I Fed the Baby. Easy for some . . . not so for John.
An example (below) of one of John’s hundreds of research pages shows frequent spelling errors, including detailed rewrites and corrections. This sample page will have started with multiple handwritten scripts, then moved into this capitalised handwritten version then a typed version done by a local lady, then numbered in preparation for passing on to his editor.
He would also pop in to answer myriads of questions, sometimes up to three or four hours a visit, while his family would have to wait outside in their car. His work was a major struggle and commitment.
A LIST OF ‘IFS’
The flip side of this uniqueness though was that he had a natural capacity for lateral thinking–thinking outside of the box.
If Leslee confessed to being there at the time of the murders and there was violence sufficient to knock out half a dozen of Jeannette’s front teeth, could this be the same event that knocked out Leslee’s teeth too, especially seeing as Leslee wouldn’t talk about how she lost them?
If the Police had motive to gain a conviction at any cost (even to the point of perjury and planting of evidence) then wouldn’t they ignore or minimise meaningful information for others that wanted to follow the evidence and find the ‘real’ truth?
If Len Demler and his second wife Norma never lived together and if she got paid out, and if the laws back then gave spousal privilege (meaning that she could never [have] been forced to provide evidence against him) then perhaps this was a marriage of convenience and yet another indicator pointing to foul play?
If the Demlers had access to Sections 67 & 68 (incidentally never discussed in the Mainstream media nor mentioned as possibilities in the hoopla surrounding the crime) then wouldn’t it be natural for them to dispose of the bodies in the river from there, where their presence would not be questioned?
If Leslee was retrieving a Ladies Companion pistol from Chennell’s old house and the UK report said that there was a greater probability that the bullets that killed the Crewes were fired from a pistol then perhaps . . .
You get the picture. These were the kinds of questions that John would ask–logical to him, yet only obvious to others when their attention is drawn to it.
FEEL FOR MATTERS OF TRUTH
As a Private Investigator myself, I know how you can get a feel for matters of truth when you are on a case. Truth has a distinctive aroma. Sometimes it is not what is said that catches our attention, it is more what is not said that speaks volumes.
Other times it is the way something is spoken–a specific word used, or a turn of phrase, or (when in person) with body language, eye contact, or lack of. In writing it can be a false signature, or a word rewritten; perhaps a whole paragraph crossed out, corrected and even rewritten as knowledge increases or as events occurring over time change things.
I have a lot of time for John’s research and deductive skills. In doing preparation work for this book, I would analyse his corrections and additions to his notes for clues not only on what he said, but understanding the ‘why’ of the changes he made.
I found a high level of credibility in his investigative work, coming to the conclusion that he was indeed one of those rare breed that humbled themselves sufficiently to show a deep and genuine respect for the truth.
This is not to say however that he got everything right. His legal understanding wasn’t high being ‘uneducated’ in this regard, but he wasn’t a fool and could most certainly smell a rat.
DID LEN BEND THE TRUTH?
At the time of writing I’m still undecided about John’s take that Len Demler manipulated the order of probate to his (and Heather’s) benefit and to remove Jeannette’s entitlement to what his wife Maisie had intended.
My understanding is that a probate simply authenticates a will legally. The order of deaths is the key factor in determining gifting. It seems to me that John over emphasises the importance of the date of probate, but most definitely the granting of estate executor-ship to Len (as a result of Jeannette’s murder) opened the door to his ultimate control and misappropriation.
The point though is that the end results of the skulduggery that occurred shows that something untoward must have happened. Maisie’s intent was clearly circumvented. That Jeannette was killed is the proof of this.
I Fed the Baby was never intended to be an encyclopedic documentary of a cold case crime from 1970. It was also never intended to become an answer to all the questions that remain. One would need a lifetime and substantial resources to achieve that.
John’s work though has provided three answers, first, a revelation of the identity of a key player in the crimes (Leslee); secondly it revealed the murder weapon (a Ladies Companion, .22 ‘pepperbox’ pistol); and thirdly it detailed the motive for the crime (a family feud over substantial misappropriated inheritance money).
For that we all owe John Ingley and all those who helped him along the way, a huge debt of gratitude.
Dennis A Smith
Abundant Past Ltd, Q2, 2019