The Case of the Crewes

Harvey and Jeannette Crewe.

Driving towards Pukekawa with my father, the irony that one of the victims fathers had been a suspect in the 1970 murders of Jeannette and Harvey Crewe at their Pukekawa farmhouse, wasn’t lost on me. A police roadblock prevented us going further along Highway 22 towards the farmhouse, so we continued on to take photos of the Waikato River where Harvey and Jeannette’s bodies were dumped after being shot by their killer. Jeannette’s body had been found on the 16th August 1970 at a place known as the Devils elbow, while Harvey’s body was found on the 16th of September near the Tuakau River Bridge.

A few days later I returned with a friend to look for the house were the murders occurred, unable to locate the farmhouse we stopped to take some more photos of the Waikato River.

Devils Elbow, Waikato River, New Zealand.
Waikato River near Tuakau River Bridge, New Zealand.

Returning a week and a half later with my father and little sister, again finding the former Crewe farm seemed elusive. I suggested we carry on further down the highway and just as it began to seem as if we were not going to locate the farmhouse, “That’s it!” my father cried out. Pulling over for closer inspection, the house matched a recent picture  from an online news article.

The former Crewe farmhouse sits about 100 meters from the road – relatively close for a rural property and is these days partially hidden by trees, but at the time of the murder was more open. A non descriptive small house, the average person driving past wouldn’t imagine the horrific events that occurred there one night in June, 1970.

Old Crewe farmhouse - 2014.
Former Crewe farmhouse, Pukekawa, New Zealand – 2014.
Old Crewe farmhouse - 2014
Former Crewe Farmhouse, Pukekawa, New Zealand – 2014.
Crewe farmhouse 1970’s.
Crewe farmhouse 1970’s.

It was a stormy night on the 17th June, 1970 (believed to have been when the murders occurred) when a bullet was fired into Harvey Crewe’s back and Jeannette Crewe was beaten about the face then shot at their small farmhouse on Highway 22, Pukekawa.

The couples toddler daughter Rochelle was found alive in her cot and it became a topic of some controversy if baby Rochelle had been fed during the five days since the Crewes were last seen by visitors and when her grandfather Len Demler discovered her alone in her cot, her parents vanished and puddles of blood on the floor. Sightings of a blonde woman and a toddler seen playing in the Crewe’s garden during those five days were reported, while the examining doctor stated the child appeared to have last been fed around 48 hours before she was found. Yet the mystery woman was never identified.

Len Demler, Jeannette Crewe’s father, was originally suspected by police for having killed his daughter and her husband to gain back the land he had sold to his wife Maisie to avoid tax fraud fines, who had left the land to Jeannette in her will. This theory was dis-proven, when it became clear that Len Demler stood to inherit nothing on his daughters death, with all inheritance of the property left to Jeannette and Harvey’s daughter Rochelle.

Police attention shifted to Arthur Allan Thomas whose only motive given by police was the fact he had attempted to court Jeannette years earlier. Arthur, at the time of the murders a happily married farmer, became a suspect after his rifle was found to be one of two rifles from roughly 60 in the district checked by police that could possibly have been used to shoot the Crewes.

With no other evidence other than an axle found on Harvey’s submerged body which was controversially claimed to be linked to Arthur Allan Thomas’s family’s farm, police infamously planted a rifle cartridge case from Arthur’s gun in a flower bed on the Crewe’s property. Arthur spent 9 years wrongfully imprisoned before being released and granted a Royal Pardon, thanks to the efforts of investigative journalist Pat Booth.

To date the killer of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe has not been discovered, possibly due to police focus on the wrong man, which may have denied their daughter Rochelle the answers she most rightfully deserves.

Sources of information:

Hunter, Keith. The case of the missing bloodstain. New Zealand: Keith Hunter. (2011)

Wishart, Ian.  Arther Allan Thomas: The inside story. New Zealand: Howling at the moon publishing. (2010)



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