Did a cop murder the Crewes?

Jeanette and Harvey Crewe

Author Ian Wishart has named Detective Sergeant Len Johnston as suspect in the murders of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe. Johnston was a detective who played a pivotal role in the police investigation into their deaths. Johnston passed away in 1978.

The accusation has created an uproar amongst those who knew Johnston personally and professionally. It has also sparked a bitter attack on Wishart from Police Association president Greg O’Connor. Arthur Allan Thomas: The Inside Story hits bookshops tomorrow.

The Crewes disappeared from their blood-spattered Waikato New Zealand home in June 1970. Their daughter Rochelle, 2, was found crying in her cot five days after the Crewes were last seen. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was convicted of murder, but was pardoned in 1979 after mounting public protest and the personal intervention of Prime Minister Rob Muldoon. A Royal Commission set up to investigate the case found inquiry head Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton and Johnston had planted a rifle shell casing at the Crewe house to implicate Thomas.

The Herald on Sunday has obtained a copy of the book, in which Wishart claims Johnston was a “dirty cop” who was “physically violent and prone to making death threats”. Wishart claims that Johnston was known as “The Fitter” among colleagues for his ability to arrange evidence to suggest guilt. Other details cited as evidence by Wishart include the claim that Johnston was behind an arson at a police station with the intent of intimidating fellow officers. Wishart also said that Johnston matched the US Federal Bureau of Investigation profile of an “anti-social personality”.

One of the great mysteries of the Crewe murders was Rochelle Crewe, then aged 2, who was found crying in her cot when the bloodstained scene was discovered. Doctors who examined her at that time said that she could not have been abandoned for five full days since the murders. Witnesses reported seeing a woman at the house but she was never identified. Wishart said that Johnston would have had a “female criminal acquaintance over whom he exercised power”, possibly a prostitute. “She may ultimately have been killed by Johnston to maintain her silence.”

Arthur Allen Thomas

Journalist Pat Booth has a different solution. Mr Booth did his own investigation of the case and campaigned for Mr Thomas to be released. He was the first witness called by the Royal Commission of Inquiry and also wrote a book on the case. Mr Booth remained certain that it was murder-suicide, and that the woman seen at the Crewe house after Harvey Crewe was dead was his wife Jeannette, who supposedly had shot him after another fight.

In Booth’s scenario, Mr Crewe had punched his wife so heavily that he broke a bone in her face and knocked out some of her teeth. She shot him as he sat in his favourite chair in front of the fire. Jeanette and her father Len Demler then disposed of the body in the river. Jeannette nursed her injuries but then became desperate as she realised that she faced a murder charge.

A few days after the murder she supposedly shot herself, and her father put her body into the river, plus a rifle. Demler then staged discovering the house and called the police. He never joined the search, telling at the first trial: “I was worried about it, but there were plenty of others doing the searching. They were falling over each other.”

Police did say that Demler showed little emotion when he went to the morgue to identify Jeannette after she was found in the river. He supposedly also said at the first trial that when he went to the morgue again a month later, after Harvey was recovered, that he recognised him by the gumboots he was wearing. When he was challenged because Harvey’s body was not wearing gumboots, Demler said he had identified his son-in-law by hand-knitted socks.

Demler’s pointing to Thomas was his way of protecting his daughter and granddaughter. He had believed that police could never convict Mr Thomas, because he hadn’t done it.

Forty years after he was convicted of murder, Arthur Allan Thomas’ ex-wife Vivien has spoken out for the first time about New Zealand’s most baffling murder mystery. She has requested Justice Minister Simon Power to consider re-opening the 1970 cold case.

The case inspired the 1980 movie “Beyond Reasonable Doubt.” Author David Yallop also wrote a book about this case. I wonder if any evidence of the Crewe case is suitable for DNA testing. Should you read Wishart’s book, please let me have your thoughts. I will post mine later as well.


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