Mystery in the Marlborough Sounds

Waiting at the Picton wharf to board an early morning water taxi, on a tight two day trip schedule, as with the other cases, the victims were forefront on my mind. Ben Smart and Olivia Hope went missing on New Years 1998 after catching a water taxi from popular holiday spot Furneaux Lodge in the Endeavour Inlet, Marlborough Sounds. As I stood by the wharf I thought about how in pre-Facebook, MySpace and Twitter era, neither Ben or Olivia would have been posting pictures online or updating their media account statuses, as many people on holiday now do. I tried to remember if even digital cameras had been popular back then.

It almost seems a more innocent time, then you remember a man is controversially serving a 17 year non-parole life sentence for the murders of Ben and Olivia, whose bodies have never been found.

Olivia Hope and Ben Smart.
Olivia Hope and Ben Smart.

As a child watching reports on the news about the pair when they first went missing, their ages seemed irrelevant, but as an adult reading about the case, one of the most strikingly sad facts is the young age both Ben Smart, 21, and Olivia Hope, 17, were when they vanished. According to crime.co.nz, in a leaked police report Olivia was described as “spoilt, emotional, immature, a drinker and sexually active.” Yet how many teenage girls drink while on holiday away from their parents? It’s not as uncommon as some people may like to believe. This seems a bit of a harsh description of a girl who had just finished high school, and is in contrast to other reports at the time, which mentioned her as high achieving and talented.

Arriving at the Furneaux lodge jetty, the day was beautiful and sunny, clear blue waters surrounding the wooden walkway. Walking down the jetty, I noticed a man watching me. He was tall, maybe in his forties, with short to medium length brown hair. He watched me with a half smile, half smirk, as if he knew some kind of secret. Yet when he walked past me he ignored me, and when I turned around to take some more photos I noticed he was staring at me again from afar.

As I headed up to the lodge, tranquil music played and the area was peaceful, but as I entered the bar I felt a bit wound up and anxious. I bought a non alcoholic drink and listened to the playlist of late eighties and early nineties songs, that sounded as if it could easily have been the same type of music playing on the night Ben Smart and Olivia Hope disappeared. I wondered what kind of music Olivia had enjoyed listening to when spending time with her friends. I thought about the lady I met the previous evening who told me she knew the mother of Ben Smart and that his father had recently passed away.

I headed down towards the waters edge and looked out at the clear blue Marlborough Sounds. My mind wandered to thoughts of what might have happened to Olivia before she was killed. It was unpleasant to think about. I imagined Ben had probably been overpowered while he was asleep, hopefully it had been quick. With a water taxi due soon to take me back to Picton, I headed over to the jetty.

Furneaux Lodge - 2015.
Furneaux Lodge – 2015.
Endeavour Inlet - 2015.
Endeavour Inlet – 2015.
Endeavour Inlet - 2015.
Endeavour Inlet – 2015.

A man has been convicted for the murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope and is currently serving a prison sentence. There is some controversy if this man is the actual killer. A good looking pair, both young, intoxicated and vulnerable, one fact that hasn’t been argued against is that Olivia and Ben were dropped off together at a boat with a mystery man, after the berth Olivia had paid for on  a rented boat was found occupied. The Crown believes that this mystery man was Scott Watson.

Scott Watson is currently serving a 17 year non-parole life sentence in prison after being found guilty by the Crown for the murders of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. Scott Watson has never admitted to the crime and has maintained he is innocent, making applications to the Court of Appeals, the Privy Council and the Governor-General which to this date have all been rejected. The subject of Scott Watson’s possible innocence has been extensively documented by journalists such as Keith Hunter (who strongly believes in Scott Watson’s innocence and has campaigned on his behalf) and John Goulter (who believes Scott Watson is guilty.) Rather than theorize on here about Scott Watson’s supposed guilt or innocence, I am going to write two lists of common arguments for and against Scott Watson being the killer and let you decide what you think.

Evidence that may point away from Scott Watson being the killer:

– The police identikit drawings made from witness descriptions of the mystery man do not closely resemble Scott Watson.

Scott Watson.
Scott Watson, picture taken by the police on January 8th, 1998.
Original police identikit picture of mystery man.
Original police identikit of mystery man.

– Scott Watson does not fit the physical description of the mystery man given to the police by witnesses. His hair length on the night of the disappearance, as seen in photos of him taken on the night, is shorter than the description given by witnesses. (Sunday Star Times, 2008) His height is also shorter than the mystery man described.

– Two of the witnesses who originally identified Scott Watson have both expressed that they now feel they identified the wrong man. Guy Wallace, the taxi driver who dropped off Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, has said he believes he identified the wrong man after being shown a photo in which Scott Watson’s eyes were half closed. (Sunday Star Tines, 2008)

– The boat Olivia and Ben were dropped off at with the mystery man was described by witness Guy Wallace as different to Scott Watson’s boat, the Blade. Blade, was a single-masted sloop while the mystery man’s boat was described as being a larger two-masted ketch. (crime.co.nz)

– Scott Watson was involved in an altercation at Furneaux lodge around 3am, January the 1st, 1998. Guy Wallace says he dropped Ben Smart, Olivia Hope and the mystery man off at around 3.30am – 4am. Another water taxi driver, Donald Anderson, has reported he may have dropped off Scott Watson at around 2am-4am, however he is unsure of the exact time. (crime.co.nz) The Crown believe that Scott Watson could have returned to his boat and made another trip to shore, returning later in the water taxi with Guy Wallace. Keith Hunter (2006) writes in his book that the Blade was beside two other boats, the Mina Cornelia and the Bianca. A women on one of these boats says she was awake at 2.45am and did not hear anything. Other people on the two boats reported that when Scott was dropped off, he caused a disturbance by clambering over the boats wanting to party, which means he would have returned after 2.45am. The noise woke up another women on one of the boats, who said she did not get back to sleep for about another hour and a half and did not hear Scott Watson return back to shore.

Evidence that may point towards Scott Watson being the killer:

– Two hairs found on Scott’s boat were found by forensic testing to belong to Olivia, the hairs were discovered on a rug on Scott’s boat and were initially overlooked by the forensic scientist at ESR in charge of testing hairs collected into a bag that were taken from Scott’s boat. The hairs belonging to Olivia were discovered by the scientist 7 weeks later. (Sunday Star Times, 2008)

– Scott Watson was heard by a witness saying he ‘wanted to kill all women’ a few days prior to Olivia and Ben’s disappearance. (Sunday Star Times, 2008)

– Scott Watson was reported by many people at Furneaux Lodge as harassing women with sexual advances that night, and for having behaved aggressively towards others, including being involved in a few physical altercations.

– Gerald Hope, the father of Olivia Hope, has publicly made an offer for Scott Watson to meet him and has said that if Scott Watson can prove to him that he is innocent then he will back him up. Scott Watson so far has not taken him up on this offer. Update: In 2016 Scott Watson met with Gerald Hope. Gerald Hope expressed he found Watson uncommunicative and unable to explain himself in regards to certain key points. 

– Scott Watson scrubbed his boat clean and wiped his tapes on New Year’s Day 1998, however Keith Hunter (2006) writes in his book that according to the police only 30% of the boats surfaces had been wiped.

– Scott Watson painted his boat within days after the disappearance. But he had told a friend prior to New Years he had been planning on doing this. (Hunter, 2006)

– According to crime.co.nz, 176 scratch marks determined to be made from fingernails were found on the foam lining on the underside of the forward hatch on Scott’s boat and a foam squab from the yacht had chunks cut out of it.

If Scott Watson is the true killer of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope then he has been rightfully jailed. However if he is innocent, then not only has an innocent man been sent to jail, a dangerous predator may still be out there and the chances of finding the actual killer may have been greatly reduced.

Sources of Information:

Crime.co.nz (Date not given) Operation Tam- Olivia Hope and Ben Smart. Retrieved from http://www.crime.co.nz/c-files.aspx?id=198

Hubbard, Anthony. (2008, February 17) Who killed Ben and Olivia. Sunday Star Times. Retrieved from http://www.stuff.co.nz/sunday-star-times/features/272881/Who-killed-Ben-and-Olivia

Hunter, Keith. Trial by Trickery. New Zealand: Hunter Productions. (2006)

NZ Herald. (2016, December 13) Hope’s Dad on killer: ‘Four things wrong’ NZ Herald. Retrived from:  http://m.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11766026

 

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