Cold cases have always fascinated former Tauranga journalist Chris Birt.
His favourite television viewing in recent years has been the popular series of that name and he often reads of unsolved murders on the Net.
Former Tauranga journalist Chris Birt has been fascinated with cold cases for as long as he can remember.
So it’s natural that the former Tauranga Boys’ College old boy and journalist, who was educated and worked in the Bay for many years, has been involved in investigating and researching a cold case of his own.
The 1970 execution of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe in the lounge of their home at Pukekawa, south of Auckland, shocked New Zealand and stunned its people.
To have a young farming couple gunned down in this manner was a rarity itself, but the discovery that their infant daughter had been left in her cot, being fed and cared for by an unknown woman for five days until being ‘found’ by her grandfather added a bizarre new twist to this crime, says Chris.
Chris became ensnared in the Crewe case when he wrote a series of articles about the activities of Nick Gresson, a Mount Maunganui man who campaigned for the release of Arthur Thomas, the Pukekawa farmer fingered by police for the Crewe killings.
Gresson conducted a Walk for Justice throughout the North Island in March and April 1977 and Chris was there to record the progress of his campaign.
“I went to Australia to work in the media in late 1978, returning to Tauranga in 1983, but even while overseas, I continued to pursue the Crewe affair, albeit from the other side of the Tasman Sea,” says Chris.
“I still have a letter from Prime Minister Rob Muldoon relating to the Thomas affair to this day.”
On 17 December 1979, he was working at the Courier Mail newspaper as foreign news editor when the telex machines began to chatter out the news that Thomas had been pardoned and was being released immediately from the Hautu prison farm near Turangi, a free man and the promise of a Royal Commission of Inquiry under his belt.
The Crewe murders remain New Zealand’s ultimate cold case, Chris says.
“Because of they are unlike anything ever encountered by the police in this country, before or since.
“The fact that Rochelle Crewe, then 18 months, was left alone in that desolate blood-stained house and that the bodies of her parents had been carted to the Waikato River five kilometres away makes for a strange saga, and the police malpractice that followed in a bid to ‘solve’ two of the five murders on the books of detectives at that time, makes this affair one out of the box.”
Chris penned his first book on the Crewe case, The Final Chapter, in 2001, a record of the huge amount of evidence the police collected on their prime suspect for the first four months of that inquiry, Jeanette’s father Len Demler.
The former Tauranga researcher and writer says this was essentially the who-dunnit of the Crewe case.
But his new book, which has just been released, is certain to re-ignite the calls from people up and down the country for the Government to order a new independent inquiry into the case, he feels.
“All the Commissioner’s Men is the story of the police malpractice in the Crewe case,” Chris says.
“It’s a tale that will shock all fair-minded New Zealanders.
“The documents I have secured from the police under the Official Information Act, since it came into law in 1982, when added to those I have from civilian witnesses, adds up to malpractice from detectives on a scale never seen in this country before.”
Chris says many of the crucial eyewitness statements disclosed in this book were never seen by the two juries called on to decide the fate of Arthur Thomas, the judges, or the three wise men of the Thomas Royal Commission.
“It has taken 42 years to get them into the public arena.”
Chris says many of Tauranga’s older residents still have a keen interest in the Crewe case, as it captured their attention when the news broke in 1970 and remains an unsolved double homicide.
But he is sure it’s a case that will also increasingly become of interest to those of the younger generation and to that end he has also launched a new website www.crewemurders.com to act as a clearing house for information and to make sure that the public gets accurate information on the killing of the Pukekawa couple and the actions of detectives during their investigation of the original crimes.
All The Commissioner’s Men can be ordered from the website and is now available in local book stores also.