This is the fourth and final part of my in-depth look at the Crewe murders, if you haven't already, read part 1, part 2 and part 3 first.
In 2012, author and documentary film-maker, Bryan Bruce, revealed the contents of letters written by Jeanette Crewe in the weeks before her death. These letters showed that the family was living in almost constant fear. The strange incidents that had occurred over the last two years, the unsolved burglary of the couple's home and arson attacks on both their home and haybarn, had begun to take their toll on Jeanette in particular. The young mother was too afraid to stay in the farmhouse alone, so she and the couple's baby daughter would accompany Harvey throughout the day as he carried out work around the farm, only returning to the farmhouse in the evenings.
Jeanette wrote to her sister, telling her that the family were “barely living, just existing” due to the fear they felt after the unexplained attacks on their property. But the question of who was responsible for the attacks on the Crewe property, and likely also responsible for the murders, has never been answered.
Who were the Crewe's being targeted by? It certainly wasn't Arthur Allan Thomas, he'd been exonerated and subsequant reviews of the evidence in the case has backed up that exoneration. So if Arthur Allan Thomas didn't kill the Crewe's, who did?
1. Len Demler killed his own daughter and her husband
Before the police shifted the focus of their investigation to Thomas, they'd begun building a case against Len Demler, and it was based on a change that May Demler, Jeanette's mother, had made to her will shortly before she died. In 1961, Len Demler was in serious financial trouble over unpaid taxes, which forced him to sell half of his farm to his wife May, who was independently wealthy. May's original will had left equal share of her half of the Demler farm to Jeanette and her sister Heather, with Lenard retaining the use of the farm for the remainder of his life. But Heather had married a divorced man, a marriage May had disapproved of, and which led to her cutting Heather out of her will, and out of her share of the farm.
Was this enough of a motive for Len to murder his own daughter? For police, the theory was made more plausible by Len's strange behaviour in the days following Jeanette and Harvey's disappearance. Remember that Len left his baby granddaughter alone for a further hour after finding her crying in distress in the farmhouse. He went home, called the trucking company to cancel the collection of some sheep, drove to the home of his neighbour, Owen Priest, to pick him up and only then returned to the Crewe farm.
|Len Demler during the search|
Investigators saw first-hand this strange reluctance of Len's to engage with what was happening, when they arrived on scene and the first searches began. While police and some locals started searching the property for any signs of Jeanette and Harvey, Len Demler went home to draft some sheep. In the following days, as the search area was extended, Len Demler would track parties of searchers from horseback but would never actually join them. Police found this behaviour unusual and downright suspicious. But they were never able to connect Len to any of the physical evidence. Len didn't own a .22 rifle and while two witnesses claimed he may have inheritied a modified shotgun which could have shot .22 bullets, police never found the weapon. They also couldn't connect him to the axle weighing down Harvey's body.
There are other problems too. To believe that Len killed the Crewe's you also have to believe that he was responsible for the burglary and the arsons. But those crimes all took place before May Demler passed away, so what was Len's motive? Furthermore, Jeanette and Harvey were having dinner with Len and May, at the Demler's farm when one of the arsons occurred. So unless Len was able to be in two places at once, he couldn't have set that fire.
Finally, Len Demler was 60 when his daughter was murdered, he had arthritis in one knee and while he would have been capable of shooting the couple, it's very unlikely that he could have moved both bodies on his own and dumped them in the Waikato River. Harvey Crewe was not a small man, he was very tall and weighed around 100kgs, and it would have been very difficult for Len to move his body, weigh it down with an axle that was also very heavy, then dump both in the river.
Another popular theory is that Jeanette killed Harvey during an argument and disposed of his body, possibly with help from her father. Then, three days later, took her own life, and was dumped in the Waikato River by Len, in an attempt to cover up what she'd done. This would explain the sightings of a woman on the Crewe farm in the five days before the crime was discovered. However, when Jeanette's body was recovered, the autopsy revealed too important things that really undermine this theory.
First of all, the coroner found evidence that Jeanette had been struck with a blow to the side of her face, and was probably lying on the floor, unconcious, when she was shot. The angle of the shot to Jeanette's head is also completely wrong for a suicide, in fact it's almost impossible to hold a .22 rifle in such a way as to cause the same injuries that Jeanette had. Although, some have suggested that Len may have shot Jeanette, possibly at her request, sometime after she killed Harvey. But I find this highly implausible. Why would Len agree to help his own daughter commit suicide? Ask any parents whether they'd prefer their child to be dead or in jail, and most if not all will probably choose jail. It would explain Len's odd reluctance to join searchers however, if he already knew Jeanette and Harvey were dead, and didn't really want their bodies to be found.
3. The mysterious Farmhand
The defense attourney for Arthur Allan Thomas at his second trial came up with a unique theory of the crime. He alleged that a farmhand who worked for the Crewe's, was responsible for the burglary, the arsons and the murders. The basis for this theory being that the farmhand would have had access to Harvey's .22 rifle, that that rifle was the murder weapon, and probably disposed of in the Waikato River, just as the bodies were, which is why it's never been found. If you're waiting for me to provide a name or more details about this farmhand, I can't, because this one paragraph contains all the information I have about this mysterious suspect. The police certainly never investigated him, they were too busy convicting an innocent man.
4. Detective Len Johnston
In Ian Wishart's book on the Crewe murders, he goes into all-out conspiracy mode and points the finger at Detective Len Johnston, the man who was in charge of the investigation, and was most likely responsible for the planted evidence that helped convict Arthur Allan Thomas. Wishart claims that Johnston had a bad reputation, both in the police force and elsewhere, as a violent and intimidating man that other officers called 'The Fitter” for obvious reasons.
Wishart speculates that Johnston may have been having an affair with Jeanette, or was possibly blackmailing them over the burglary, which he investigated back in 1967. Wishart says that Johnston may have concluded the burglary was an insurance scam and used that to blackmail Harvey and Jeanette. Perhaps the Crewe's threatened to expose him, or just refused to keep paying, so Johnston killed them, using the axle which he'd found on the side of the road where it was dumped, to weigh down Harvey's body. Later, as lead detective in the murder case, Johnston plants the axle stubs in the Thomas rubbish dump to make it look as if Arthur is responsible for the murders. It's a great story, but there's not a shred of evidence to support it, just speculation and theory.
Sadly, every year that passes makes it that much more unlikely that the murders of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe will ever by solved. Rochelle has pleaded with police to reopen the case, and urgently. People age, memories fade, and some of those involved have already passed away. Len Demler died in 1992, Detective Inspector Bruce Hutton died in 2013, and Vivian Thomas, Arthur Allan Thomas's ex-wife, passed away in 2011. Arthur is convinced that his wrongful conviction is what ultimately killed his former spouse, and their marriage as well. I am skeptical that this case is responsible for Vivian's death from cancer, especially as it occurred years later, but I think Arthur's probably right on the money about it ruining his marriage.
The most tragic thing about this entire case though is that Rochelle, who has waited all these years to find out who killed her parents, may never get justice.