Greg Fleming reviews The Crewe Murders on Kete


Greg Fleming has reviewed The Crewe Murders: Inside New Zealand’s Most Infamous Cold Case by Kirsty Johnston and James Hollings on Kete:

The 1970 murder of young couple Harvey and Jeannette Crew on their Pukekawa farm has fascinated the nation for decades. Arthur Allan Thomas was convicted of the crimes in 1973 (a 1971 trial which also resulted in a conviction was overturned on appeal.) Thomas was later pardoned after serving nine years in prison - mainly due to the efforts of the late journalist Pat Booth.

The case has spawned many books as well as a feature film, Beyond Reasonable Doubt, in 1980; rock band Blam Blam Blam even wrote a song about it. Many may ask, ‘is there anything else left to say after all this time?’ Massey journalism professor James Hollings and renowned journalist Kirsty Johnston believe there is. They say they were drawn to the story because this was more than just a cold case and had ‘its roots deep in the subsoil of New Zealand society, in the latent class divisions of farm and city, of sheep farmer versus dairy farmer, landowner and leaseholder.’

Another key difference to other books on the case is that Johnston and Hollings went into the project without a specific suspect in mind. They set out to write ‘a history not a whodunnit’ of a case which has the distinction of being the only time the New Zealand government has bypassed the courts to set a convicted murderer free.

The opening chapter, for example, delves into the turbulent history of the Waikato and the fact that the Crewe’s farm was on land confiscated as a punishment by the government after a Māori rebellion (Pukekawa is sometimes translated as ‘the hill of bitter memories’). Indeed, the authors discover that the area played host to two previous contentious murders in the 1920s and 30s.

The murders of Harvey and Jeannette were also presaged by some disturbing incidents - relayed here in detail. The Crewe’s home was broken into and some of Jeannette’s jewelry stolen. The offender was never caught and only the most valuable jewelry was taken, leading Jeannette to suspect that the person responsible had known what she had owned. Jeanette became anxious about being at home alone and often accompanied her husband as he worked on the farm. Then - just six days after Jeannette gave birth to Rochelle - there was a fire in the room the couple had prepared for the baby. The mysterious incidents culminated in the couple’s hay barn burning down.’

Read the full review here.