Case 11: Harvey and Jeannette Crewe (PROLOGUE)

PUKEKAWA. WAIKATO. Pukekawa is a small district in the Waikato, approx. 66km from central Auckland. In the early years of NZ, Pukekawa was used as a battleground for the early NZ wars. By the early 1900s, Pukekawa was known as a ‘rural Pakeha settlement’. The area was known to have fertile soil; over time it became a popular farming spot. 

By 1970, Pukekawa was a small, albeit affluent farming community. On the 22 June 1970, the small community of Pukekawa was shattered by one of New Zealand’s most infamous crimes.

Visit www.truecrimenz.com for additional information on this case. Including a transcript of this episode, with supporting pictures, sources, and credits.

Hosted by Jessica Rust
Written and edited by Sirius Rust

“Day of Chaos”, “Myst on the Moor”, “Nervous”, “Organic Meditations Three”, “Trio for Piano, Cello, and Clarinet”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

The podcast version is the intended way to consume this story but I make a transcript available for those that would rather read instead. This can be found below.

PART I: PROLOGUE

PUKEKAWA

PUKEKAWA. WAIKATO. Pukekawa is a small district in the Waikato, approx. 66km from central Auckland. In the early years of NZ, Pukekawa was used as a battleground for the early NZ wars. By the early 1900s, Pukekawa was known as a ‘rural Pakeha settlement’. The area was known to have fertile soil; over time it became a popular farming spot. 

On the night of August the 24th 1920, Pukekawa farmer Sydney Eyre was murdered, shot dead in his bedroom in front of his wife; the shooter fired through the bedroom window. The man accused of the murder was a former employee of Mr Eyre, Samuel Thorn. His motivation? He was in love with Mr Eyre’s wife. 

The trial was a national sensation. The Waikato Times covered the details as they came out during the trial, “The night of the murder was one of two nights when Thorn had been left alone in his whare. The evidence would show that while Sydney Eyre was away (serving during World War I), and after his return, Thorn had forced immoral relations on Mrs Eyre. Thorn had threatened Eyre’s life before witnesses, and had said to Mrs Eyre, “don’t you wish he was dead?” Eyre’s sons had heard Thorn sneaking into their mother’s room at night. The motive suggested was revenge for being discharged from a good position, and being deprived of the opportunity for continuing his relations, which were enforced on Mrs Eyre.”

Samuel Thorn was convicted in the Auckland Supreme Court and later hanged for the crime. Samuel protested his innocence to the day he died, his last words were, “I did not commit this crime and do not know who did.”

THE DEMLERS

In 1937, farmer Len Demler took control of a farm on the corner of Sharpe Road and State Highway 22 in Pukekawa. He married the daughter of the farm next to his, May Constance Chennells, known by friends as Maisie

On the centennial of Waitangi Day, the 6th of February 1940, Len, and the recently bestowed Maisie Demler had their first daughter, Jeannette Lenore Demler. Two years later, a second daughter joined the family – Heather Demler.

In 1950, Maisie’s brother Howard Chennells was killed by his own tractor. His farm in his will, the property next door to the Demlers, was passed to Jeannette and Heather, aged 10 and 8 respectively. Under the terms of Howard’s will, the farm would be managed by others until the Demler children turned 25; with all profits being retained in a trust on their behalf.

JEANNETTE AND ARTHUR

In 1951, Jeannette was attending Pukekawa School, she was 11. That year Jeannette Demler shared a classroom with another pupil, a boy who would weave in and out of her life for the next three decades, Arthur Allen Thomas.

Arthur Allen Thomas was born in Pukekohe on the 2nd of January 1938, one of nine children to Allen and Ivy Thomas. In 1951, Arthur was 13, he was resitting standard six, as had been held back the year before.

On Arthur’s 14th birthday, the 2nd of January 1952, his father, Allen Thomas pulled him out of school to start working on the family farm in Pukekawa. He would work unpaid on the family farm for five years.

In 1957, aged 19, Arthur began working on the Mercer Ferry, this job, as most jobs are, was financially motivated. Arthur’s goal was to make enough hay to buy some wheels. Arthur’s hard work paid off, quickly moving his way up to ‘Ferry Captain’.

Concurrently in 1957, Jeannette Demler applied and was accepted as a trainee teacher at Ardmore Teachers College, situated the rural locality of Ardmore – found 27km outside of Auckland. Jeannette graduated in 1958 at 18 years old.

1958 to 1960 Jeannette spent working at Pukekohe North School. She was then reposted at Mangatangi School, about a 30 minute drive from Pukekawa. During her time working in Mangatangi, Jeannette stayed in a teacher’s hostel in Maramarua.

Maramarua was the local village; where the locals would congregate to stock up and socialise. Occasionally Jeannette would spot her former classmate Arthur Thomas around the village. Cordial hellos or waves usually followed.

In 1961, Arthur Allen Thomas decided he wanted to ask his old classmate out on a date. When he looked into the whereabouts of Jeannette Demler, Arthur found out she was overseas on her big O.E.

Arthur decided to write Jeannette a letter anyway; along with a gift of beads and stockings. He sent the package to her last known London address. A couple of months later in December, Jeannette replied, “Dear Arthur, what a surprise to find a present of beads and stocking at the O.V.C. (Overseas Visitors Club, a hostel in London) Thank you very much. The beads were lovely and you were a good guess with the size of the stockings… Life is still just as hectic as ever over here. I am stopping work to go for a skiing holiday in Austria early next year. Yours sincerely, Jeannette.”

The next Christmas, in 1962. Arthur sent Jeannette a Christmas gift, a brush and comb set. Jeannette replied this time explaining she had a boyfriend. Jeannette returned home to NZ a short time later.

1962 for Jeannette’s father, was not so good; he got pinged for tax evasion. To cover the £9,540 fine, equivalent to about $416,000 in 2019, Len Demler was forced to sell half his farm to his wife Maisie.

HARVEY CREWE AND VIVIEN CARTER

When Jeannette returned from England, she took a few relief teacher jobs before deciding she wanted to stay with her old school friend in Wanganui. During her three year stay in the small city in the Manawatu, Jeannette met a man named Harvey.

David Harvey Crewe was born on the 20th October 1941, as David grew he became known by his middle name – Harvey. Coming from a family of farmers, Harvey took up the family business. Sometime during Jeannette’s extended stay in Wanganui, she crossed paths with Harvey; and on the 18th of June 1966, they married in Epsom, a suburb of Auckland. 

Fig 1. Harvey and Jeannette Crewe on their wedding day.

In 1966, Harvey was 24 years old, Jeannette was 26 – she was old enough to take control of her Uncle Howard’s farm. Harvey took out a £30,000 loan to buy out Jeannette’s sister ownership of the farm, equivalent to about 1.2 million dollars today. 

In case you were wondering, as I was, 1966 was the last year ‘the pound’ was used in NZ. The next year, on ‘Decimal Currency Day’, 10th July 1967; the country was introduced to the NZ dollar.

The newly bestowed ‘The Crewes’ on the day of their wedding moved in to the Pukekawa farm; with Jeannette’s mother, Maisie and father, Len still working the farm next door. The Crewes were described by friends as a “very happy couple”

Fig 2. The Crewe farmhouse

In 1961, Arthur Allen Thomas left his job working on the Mecer Ferry and picked up a job working for the Barr Brothers Aerial Topdressing. Aerial topdressing is the act of applying fertiliser for pasture or crops via the sky by small aircraft. 

Arthur wasn’t flying the planes, but he was loading them. This work took him all over the North Island. In January 1964, Arthur was doing some topdressing work in Wellsford, a small town about 77km north of Auckland. There, he met 21 year old Vivien Carter.

Vivien Carter was on her big O.E., hailing from the town of Farnham in Surrey, England. Arthur explains those early days with Viven, “I didn’t have a car up at Wellsford there, so I just used to go and meet up and socialise with her. Yeah, she was good to me”.

Ten months later, Vivien Carter became Vivien Thomas when she married Arthur in the Wellsford’s Presbyterian Church. The Thomas’ bounced around a couple of different farms before accepting the offer of Allen Thomas, Arthur’s father, to lease the family farm off him. 

Fig 3. Arthur and Viven on their wedding day.

The Thomas’ moved back to Pukekawa; this was in June 1966, coincidentally the same month the Crewes moved into their farm. They were technically neighbours but the two properties were about 15km apart; just to put that in perspective – 15km is approximately the distance from central Wellington to Lower Hutt; or from central Auckland to Ranui.

STRANGE OCCURRENCES

On the night of 26th July 1967, the Crewes were across the farm, having dinner next door at Jeannette’s parents, the Demlers. When they returned home to their farm, the couple discovered the property had been burgled. 

How the burglar entered the property wasn’t a mystery. Leaving your property unlocked was a relatively common custom in rural, 60s and 70s NZ. The interesting part was what was taken, jewelry was left behind but small seemingly inexpensive things were taken, including a brush and comb set.

In March of 1967, Jeannette discovered she was pregnant. Up to that point, life for the Crewes on the Pukekawa farm was mostly smooth sailing; other than the burglary. While the Crewes mostly kept to themselves, they were well liked in the district and would often have neighbours over for a ‘cuppa’. 

The couple had acclimated well to living in Pukekawa. They seemed happy with their new life. Edith Judge, a friend of the Crewes described the couple as, “They had a real appreciation of each other and a deep respect for each other… A well-suited, wonderfully happy, strong and mature couple, completely capable of working out life in a harmonious, positive manner. Both intelligent, witty, fun to be with if they knew you well, otherwise reserved, but not awkward… [they] could be described as a very private couple.”

In December 1968, Rochelle Crewe was born. While Jeannette was still in the hospital after having given birth. Harvey returned from dinner over at the Demlers to his farm property, he discovered it was on fire. The fire was eventually wrestled under control, still, twenty percent of the house was damaged. The cause of the fire was never discovered.

One year later, fire would reintroduce itself to the Crewes. On the 28th of May 1969, around 9pm, the Crewes discovered their barn filled with 800 bales of hay was on fire. Ultimately, the barn along with the hay was lost. The cause was again unknown.

MAISIE DEMLER’S DEATH

On the 26th of February 1970, Maisie Demler passed away, the result of a brain tumor. The fallout of her death would centre around her will and where her assets went.

Maisie had drafted a new will in July of the previous year, cutting her daughter, Heather out of her will. Apparently Maisie was not fond of Heather’s choice in men, disapproving of her new husband – a bankrupt, divorcee. This meant Jeanette Crewe technically owned 75% of the family farm.

In return Len Demler, Maisie’s surviving husband drafted a new will making Heather the primary beneficiary. There were also rumours that Harvey Crewe wanted to buy his father-in-law out.

Investigative journalist David Yallop explains in his 1979 book ‘Beyond Reasonable Doubt?’, how this fallout could have manifested in Len, “Maisie Demler’s will, which had only recently been probated, made it clear that not only had she cut Heather Demler off without a cent but she had also ensured that the entire farm would no longer be her husband’s. He would only retain a life interest in her half of the farm which would then pass to Jeannette. Her will stripped him of his mana, and it would ultimately strip him of half the land that he’d worked and owned since before the Second World War.

LAST DAYS

By mid 1970, Jeannette Crewe was 30 years old; Harvey was 28 and Rochelle was a toddler, 18 months old. On the evening of the 16th June 1970, the Crewes had dinner with Len Demler at the Crewe farm. 

This family dinner had become a tradition every Tuesday since the passing of Len’s wife Maisie in February earlier in the year. This week Len had cooked up some corned beef and onions. The food lay uneaten though, as conversation was overshadowed by debate over Maisie’s will, which still hadn’t been finalised.

Evidently, Jeannette had accidently inherited the Demler family’s car – a Morris 1100. According to Len Demler, Jeannette agreed to sell the car to cover the higher than expected death duties, also known as death tax, but better described as an inheritance tax. A now bygone law, abolished in 1993. This dinner was reportedly an acrimonious occasion.

17 JUNE 1970

17th of June 1970. 9.45am. On the eve of their four year wedding anniversary; the Crewes opened their day with a ‘cuppa’ with stock agent John Gracie. Harvey and John then left to go view a bull that was for sale.

11am. Jeannette hosted a family friend, Thyrle Pirret. Pirret’s three year old daughter had outgrown her favourite blue jacket, so she thought Jeannette and Rochelle could make some use of it. Jeannette asked Thyrle to stay and have some tea and biscuits.

Thyrle Pirret explains to author Ian Wishart about that day, “It was an awful day, as I remember, and we headed out about 11am… I had to be back at 1pm because my husband had to go to the chiropractor and have his back treated, and Jeannette had said, ‘oh, stay and have a cup of tea’, which I did. Then Harvey came in and we just talked for a little while. It was just before lunch and I think they were going out to the sale. I think one of the stock agents was going to be in after me, but I was there in the morning and I had no feeling of any bad atmosphere at all. It was a happy, welcoming morning tea. There didn’t seem to be any ill feeling or anything like that… Everything was neat and tidy. Harvey and Jeannette seemed a very happy couple. That was the only time I’d been out there – that particular day.” Thyrle Pirret left the Crewe house around midday.

12pm. The Crewes’ car is spotted by locals outside a vegetable stall.

12.45pm. The Crewes are seen at the local stock sale. The rain was heavy enough that Jeanette stayed in the car with Rochelle. Harvey spent a couple hours at the clearance sale, then left with his wife and child sometime after 3pm. They made the approx. 25 minute drive home.

4.45pm. A couple of local farmers spot Harvey’s car about 7km away from the farmhouse, they spot a man out in the distance herding some sheep. They presumed it was Harvey Crewe.

7pm. Local stock and station agent, Joseph Moore called the Crewe residence in regards to payment and delivery of his purchases from the stock sale. There was no answer. 

22 JUNE 1970

Five days later, June 22nd 1970. 6.55am. Stock agent Joseph Moore calls the Crewe property. The call was unanswered. He then immediately called Len, asking if Harvey and Jeannette were away. No, they are at home, Len reassured him.

8.45am. Joseph Moore visited the Crewe property, his knock on the door went unanswered. So he left. When he returned to town, he called Len once more asking if he knew where the Crewes had got to. Len did not.

Fig 4. The Crewe’s postbox

9.30am. The local delivery man, Emmett Shirley opened the Crewes’ delivery box, he had brought them their daily delivery of bread, milk and the New Zealand Herald. However, Emmett found the uncollected deliveries from the previous three days. Emmett then took the old bread and threw into a nearby paddock for the farm life. 

12.35pm. Ronald Wright, the Transport Foreman for Tuakau Transport Limited was scheduled to pick up some sheep from the Crewe farm. After trying to get Harvey on the phone for the next 25 minutes; he frustratedly called Len, he asked him to get around to the Crewe farm and tell Harvey to get his sheep ready for the collection.

1pm. Len Demler travelled over to the Crewe farm. He knocked on the door. No answer. Len walked around to the back entrance, there he found a key in the door’s outside lock. When Len turned the handle and entered the property he found, “stains of blood on the kitchen floor and then large stains of blood on the carpet in the lounge”. 

Fig 5. “… large stains of blood on the carpet in the lounge”

Len tried the master bedroom for any sign of his daughter and son-in-law, they weren’t there. Next logical place was the other bedroom, 18 month old Rochelle’s bedroom. There he found Rochelle in a “distressed condition”. Len noticed that Rochelle was unable to stand, she smelled terrible as well from wearing a full nappy.

Fig 6. Rochelle’s Room

Len then panicked. He had a thought that someone might be still lurking in the house. So he hurried out of the house and drove home; leaving 18 month old Rochelle behind at the Crewes.

Len got home. He called Ronald Wright to cancel the sheep pick up, although Ronald was out. Len waited until Ronald returned his call, they confirmed the cancellation of the pick up.

Then Len visited a neighbour, Owen Priest. Priest explains events that unfolded next to David Yallop, “I was working in my paddock between my house and the hatchery. Heard a car pull up on the road. When I got to the gate I recognised it as Len’s red Cortina. He asked me to go up to the Crewe farm with him and said, ‘I don’t know what the hells happened up there. But there’s a terrible bloody mess.’ With that Len turned and walked back to his car. On the way up Len turned to me and said, ‘They’re not there. I wonder where the bloody hell they’ve gone to’. He made no mention of any bloodstains. Then when I went in and saw all this blood, it stopped me stone dead. Len was behind me. I recall him saying, ‘I want to know what’s happened. But I don’t want to find them… I moved forward to search not knowing what to expect. I comforted myself with the thought that if there was any funny business going on, Len was right there behind me. Although I was pretty composed and my mind was working clearly I was nevertheless apprehensive. I found Rochelle and then continued to explore the house. When I got to the bathroom and toilet I looked around to make some comment to Len. He was standing by the back door! I realised that I had gone over the entire house on my own. With perhaps some joker waiting to attack me. That rocked me a bit. Initially when we entered the house Len kept saying, ‘The bugger’s killed her and done himself in. I tell you Harvey’s killed her’. It began to play on my nerves after he’d come out with this two or three times. I turned to him. ‘Look Len, we don’t know what’s happened. It could have been a third party’. He was silent after that.”

Fig 7. “stains of blood on the kitchen floor

After an extensive search of the farmhouse, the twosome checked the haybarn to no luck. Thinking Harvey might be out on the tractor, they checked the barn; the tractor was there. After searching for about 20 minutes, the twosome split up, Len Demler retrieved Rochelle, he then took her over to the residence of a family friend, Barbara Willis

Owen Priest returned to his property, and called the Tuakau Police Station to report the disappearance of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe. An hour and twenty minutes after Len Demler originally discovered the blood and the ‘distressed’ Rochelle.

SOURCES

Internet Articles
Otago Daily Times, Crewe murders: Thomases ‘feel cheated’, https://www.odt.co.nz/news/national/crewe-murders-thomases-feel-cheated
Newshub, Thomas family want Crewe murders reinvestigated, https://www.newshub.co.nz/nznews/thomas-family-want-crewe-murders-reinvestigated-2014080615
Folksong, Mist on the Waikato, http://folksong.org.nz/arthur_allan_thomas/index.html
Wikipedia, Arthur Allan Thomas, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arthur_Allan_Thomas
Wikipedia, Murder of Harvey and Jeannette Crewe, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murder_of_Harvey_and_Jeannette_Crewe
Stuff.co.nz, Apologise: Still no closure for Arthur Allan Thomas’ family, https://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/news/110834905/apologise-still-no-closure-for-thomas-family
NZ Herald, Rochelle Crewe now a mother, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10682701
Stuff.co.nz, Professor surprised her expert advice in Crewe case was ignored, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/stuff-circuit/109111618/professor-surprised-her-expert-advice-in-crewe-case-was-ignored
NZ Herald, Rochelle Crewe: Report clears my family’s name, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/crewe-case/news/article.cfm?c_id=&objectid=11301680
Stuff.co.nz, Crewe cold case double murder: ‘This case is solvable’, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/stuff-circuit/109105536/crewe-cold-case-double-murder-this-case-is-solvable
NZ Herald, Campaigner disputes Crewe murders theory, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=215484
Stuff.co.nz, Crewe murder case: what happened to the mystery gun seized by police?, https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/stuff-circuit/109107879/crewe-murder-case-what-happened-to-the-mystery-gun-seized-by-police
Investigate Daily, Suspect in Crewe murders made two attempts to kill, https://investigatemagazine.co.nz/2920/suspect-in-crewe-murders-made-two-attempts-to-kill/
Papers Past, The Pukekawa Murder, https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/WT19201014.2.23?query=Eyre%20murder&page=5&start_date=01-01-1920&end_date=31-12-1925&snippet=true
Wikipedia, Pukekawa, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pukekawa
Smith and Partners, Death and Taxes – Estate Taxes in New Zealand, http://www.smithpartners.co.nz/library/articles/deceased-estate-administration/death-and-taxes-estate-taxes-in-new-zealand/
Healthline, What Causes Sunken Eyes?, https://www.healthline.com/health/sunken-eyes

Books
David Yallop, Beyond Reasonable Doubt?, 1979
Ian Wishart, Arthur Allan Thomas: The Inside Story, 2010

Audio
New Zealand Folk Song, Mist on the Waikato – Arthur Allan Thomas, http://folksong.org.nz/arthur_allan_thomas/index.html

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