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Historic Poverty Bay and the East Coast, N.I., N.Z.

Grave Crimes

Grave Crimes

At Waiapu in October, 1872, Wi Keiha killed some pigs (including one belonging to Paora Puku) which were disturbing his sheep. He notified Paora that he could either take it away or he would be paid for it. Paora replied that he would take payment at the mouth of a gun. His party had shot about 100 of Wi Keiha's sheep by the time Wi and his friends reached the scene. As Paora's band fled, Wi ordered his side to fire, and Taraka (one of the fugitives) was killed. Upon Mr. McLean's arrival a conference was held. Wi's gun went off as he got up to speak. Fortunately the bullet sped through the roof of the meeting-house. By way of “payment” for having occasioned alarm he surrendered the gun and two horses. His attack upon Paora was upheld by the other chiefs on the ground that he had merely followed native custom. The parties agreed to live at peace, but were compelled to give up their guns, which they had received from the Government for defence purposes.

What became known as the “Ruangarehu murder” caused a sensation in Poverty Bay in May, 1886. Edward Neave, who had a firewood contract, took in as a partner a half-caste named William Rowland. One morning, whilst Neave was preparing the breakfast, Rowland (according to Neave's dying testimony) fired a shot at him and then attacked him with an axe. Neave added that he forgave him. Rowland said that Neave had become worried over the contract; that he had attempted to use an axe on him; and that he had shot himself. On a second trial Rowland was found guilty, with a strong recommendation to mercy. The death sentence was commuted to imprisonment for life. Rowland was released in 1897 as an act of clemency on the occasion of the diamond jubilee in connection with Queen Victoria's reign.

A shocking crime occurred at Mataahu (E.C.) on 5 December, 1888. Frank Pook, a storekeeper, and his wife Jane were found murdered, and their child Bertie (aged four months) gravely injured. The adults' throats had been cut and the child's head battered. The infant was brought to Gisborne, but succumbed. Information given to the police by native neighbours led to the arrest of Haira te Piri and his brother, Hohepa te Piri. During the lower court proceedings Hohepa was discharged. Haira was convicted at the Supreme Court in Gisborne, and the sentence of death was carried out at Napier. Robbery was the motive for the crime. Major Ropata told Colonel Porter that Haira was a descendant of Tamatoi (supra).

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In July, 1888, William Turei slew his wife Mere at Tikitiki. Under Tuta Nihoniho over 100 Ngati-Porou assisted the police in the search for the husband. It was found that he had suicided.

When Robert Streeter was found to be missing from Te Hau-o-te-Atua station in June, 1890, his disappearance created not a little concern, even although his workmate, William Black, said that he supposed that he had gone off on a holiday. Some days later Rutene (a native employee) was puzzled when he came to a spot where a post hole had been dug along a new fence line and filled in again. A fire had been set alongside, apparently to enable a “billy” to be heated. He probed the disturbed earth with a stick and was shocked to find that Streeter's body had been inserted head first in the hole. Black, who was charged with murder, tried at Auckland, and defended by W. L. Rees, was acquitted.

On 19 December, 1894, Eria Mohawhau murdered his wife at Taiwha (twelve miles from Tolaga Bay) and then shot himself.

A brutal murder occurred near Motu on 21 July, 1898. The victim was James Kennedy Scott, a single man, who had migrated from Ireland and had taken up a block of 1,000 acres. On the day he was murdered he went to inspect some cattle which he had placed on a vacant property held by a Mr. McCullough. As he did not return that night, his nephew (Charles Jackson) came to the conclusion that he had decided to stay with Joseph Smith, who lived about a mile nearer McCullough's property. Next morning he found the body of his uncle, who had been shot in the face. Smith, whom he informed of the tragedy, went to Ormond to fetch the police. At the inquest Smith admitted that Scott had been on his property on the day of the crime and that they had discussed his right to run cattle on McCullough's property. A few days later the police found that Smith had suicided by taking poison. On the table in his whare lay a note stating: “I am innocent of J. K. Scott's murder. J. SMITH.”

There was a double tragedy at Tolaga Bay on 12 October, 1911. Ada Maud Reid, the laundress at the hotel, was found dead with a throat wound. Her husband, Walter Garland Reid, the stableman, committed suicide. Their child, aged two years, was in the bedroom in which the mother was found dead. In the case of the woman's death the jury found that there was no direct evidence to show by whom the wound had been inflicted.

On 10 June, 1917, a shocking domestic tragedy occurred in Fox Street, Gisborne. Abraham te Whero (formerly of Porangahau, H.B.) struck his wife on the head with an axe. J. S. Wauchop, a neighbour, went off for Dr. C. F. Scott. The injured woman died an hour later. Te Whero was arrested in a woolshed on Waikanae on the following afternoon. Just prior to the arrival of the police he had drunk from a bottle which he believed contained water, but which contained an irritant poison. That evening he died in hospital. As a part-owner of Waimarama (H.B.) he had received £13,000 upon the sale of the property to the Crown, but had lost the money in business ventures.

The residents of the East Coast were deeply stirred when it became known on 22 July, 1917, that two workers, Olaf Anderson and Harvey Bradley had been found dead from bullet wounds at a bush camp about twelve miles from Wairongomai station. It was at first believed that the men had quarrelled and that one had shot his mate and had then suicided. Prior to the arrival of a doctor the bodies had been removed to the station. There were four wounds—all inflicted from behind—in Anderson's body. Bradley, too, had been shot from behind; he had a wound in the head and another just below the heart. Photographs were found tightly clutched in Bradley's hand, and in Anderson's hand was a firmly- page 204 gripped towel. The breech of the camp rifle was found open, and in it was a cartridge which had not been pushed fully into position. Frank Inkster, alias Clayton, a youth who worked at the camp, disappeared on the day before the inquest. He was found in a cowshed on Pakihiroa station and charged with the murders. At his trial he was defended by L. T. Burnard and was acquitted.

An Assyrian hawker, Paul Zambucca, disappeared in the vicinity of the mouth of the Motu River in November, 1921. When his saddled horse was found wandering about the riverbed a further search was made, and his pack-horses were discovered with the packs intact. The body, which had been covered with scrub and driftwood, lay not far from a point on the track where there were traces of blood. Zambucca had been shot in the face at close quarters and robbed of some money. Rutene Topi was tried for the murder at Gisborne in March, 1922. Evidence was given that Zambucca had stayed at Maraenui with Topi's father for a few days and had done some business in the locality. Just before he had left to resume his beat, accused had gone with a gun in the direction of the river. The case against the accused was described for the Crown as “a long chain of small facts.” Topi's counsel (L. T. Burnard) submitted that the evidence failed to link accused with the murder; that no proceeds of the robbery had been found in his possession; and that he had not even been seen in the locality of the crime. A verdict of acquittal was returned.

When a little girl, Gwen Murray, failed to return to her home at Makaraka one night in January, 1924, a search revealed that she had been waylaid and murdered. A young man, Robert Henry Scott, was traced to Matawai and arrested. Upon being tried on 18 March, 1924, he was found guilty. He paid the supreme penalty at Auckland.

During a drinking bout at Torere on 1 December, 1926, John Sullivan (whose real name was James O'Keefe) struck and killed a camp mate named Jeremiah Williamson. Sullivan was tried at Gisborne on 9 March, 1927, on a charge of murder, but the jury returned a verdict of guilty of manslaughter. A sentence of seven years' imprisonment was imposed.

On 18 May, 1944, Mrs. Lois Rosamund Mill, wife of George Mill, was murdered at her home, “Bexhaven” station, about twenty-five miles from Tokomaru Bay. A lad named John Lawson informed Mr. Mill that a Maori boy, Taia Matu (aged fifteen years), who was also employed on the station, had confessed to him that he had grasped Mrs. Mill by the throat and asked her for some cartridges. Although she had told him where they were kept, he had strangled her. No mention was made by Matu that he had also inflicted head injuries, but he had said that, if the children had been about, he would have slain them also. Two days later a shot was heard in a bushclad gully about 300 yards from the homestead, and searchers found that Matu had also taken his own life.