Strong ties have existed between the Demler and Thomas family for some time. The siblings in the family married each other. Len’s sister Noelene married Norma’s brother Brian in 1952. In 1972, after being widowed, Len married Norma.
In “North & South” from July 2010, Birt describes the case through Vivien Harrison’s eyes. Vivien, the ex-wife of Arthur Allen Thomas, passed away in 2011. Vivien starts with her own life, her family and how she ended up in New Zealand. She describes the life on the farm and the dreams she shared with Arthur. Despite tight finances, the couple managed and had long-term goals. They were on their way of realizing them when disaster struck twice. The Crewe Murders upset the entire part of the country and dominated life. On top of that, Arthur, a man she knew was at home with her, got arrested for their murders.
Birt describes the Crewe family and zooms in on Jeannette’s family. Jeannette’s mother Maisie disinherited her daughter after Heather married a divorced man. After Maisie’s death, it turned out that she had left her share in the family farm to her daughter Jeannette instead of to her husband, Len. Len in turn, disinherited Jeannette. The picture that emerges is a family torn apart by money and of people not able to see beyond perceived notions of status. These dynamics should be kept in mind when reviewing the case. After Maisie’s death, Len remarried to Norma. Curiously, it seemed he lived separate from her until he sold the farm and only then joined her in the house where she still lives.
The story in the magazines shows you the hate mail Vivien received. It also shows how she almost got dragged into the case if one witness had not been steadfast in denying it was Vivien he saw in the Crewes’ yard. Remember that baby Rochelle was found alive and unharmed. Hungry and dirty but, alive. In the house, dirty diapers were found piled up on a refrigerator. This is an indicator that someone had been in the house to care however summarily for Rochelle. The baby was probable fed but maybe not regularly. Who did that?
Birt shows in his articles the many mistakes made and zooms in on the man who would not change his testimony. Bruce Roddick stated that the woman that he saw was not Vivien. He knew Vivien. He went to the police and then for him, the nightmare started. His testimony did not fit the theory that police was piecing together. Despite subtle and not so very subtle threats, this man stood by his statement and probably saved Vivien from the hell that Arthur was subjected to for many years.
The Crewe murders could have been solved. Police chose to select their suspect instead of really investigating the case. We cannot say with certainty why. The fact that they messed up is clear and undeniable. Former NZ police officer Ross Meurant was assigned to the Crewe case as crime scene detective. He stated that in those early days, Len Demler was on the radar as a suspect.
Norma, then Demler’s partner, was the woman Bruce Roddick saw in the Crewes’ yard. Being Demler’s partner, it would follow that she had helped him care however summarily for Rochelle. However, nothing points to her being a murderer and I do not believe she is responsible for the Crewe Murders. But she did know something and till this day, she is not talking. Len Demler knew much more than he told police. Whether he pulled the trigger on both Harvey and Jeannette, we will never know.
Read how everyone who contradicted the police got the nightmare treatment. Not just Roddick experienced this but also Graeme Hewson, Harvey’s best friend. After hearing about his best friend’s fate, he drove out to help police in any way he could. In 1970, he helped search the farm for evidence in the garden around the Crewes’ house. He went through dirt. He searched in and around flowerbeds near the back gate. He found nothing. However, in 1972, he browsed through a booklet by the New Zealand Herald about the Crewe Murders. In that booklet was a photograph of Detective Charles pointing to the spot where they found the cartridge that incriminated Arthur Allen Thomas. Hewson knew that if a cartridge had been in that flowerbed he would have found it. He had been that thorough and determined to help police find the killer of his best mate and his wife. So, he contacted Thomas’ lawyer. And that phone call unleashed the nightmare the Hewson family had to endure for the next decade.
It is always hard to believe that police can be corrupt. How could that be possible? Ross Meurant wrote an article about police culture and it is worth reading. After that, it will become clear to you how this case was doomed from the start and why we will never have a conviction in the case of the Crewe Murders.