Accounts of unsolved murder cases are wildly popular, not least because they give readers the chance to play at being detectives. As the flurry of commentary on the 40th anniversary of the Crewe murders has shown, this interest often persists long after the crime was committed.
Scott Bainbridge has rounded up 10 cold cases from the 1920s and 30s that include the killing of a middle-aged Pakeha farmer who married a Maori lass, a Christchurch publican shot in a crowded pub, and an Indian fruiterer found beaten to death in Hawera. Perhaps the most intriguing is the tale of 17-year-old Elsie Walker, whose body was found lying 13km from where her wealthy employer’s car was abandoned in Papatoetoe in 1928. Suspicion fell on her cousin Bill Bayly, who had recently decamped to Auckland, boy no one was ever charged. Public interest was so great, however, that hundreds of people filled the Auckland Town Hall a year later to demand the case be reopened.
Police files on cold cases are opened 70 years after the crime is committed and Bainbridge has made full use of the opportunity. He offers a lot of detail, which he relates clearly and concisely, and includes fascinating tidbits distinctive of the era. Elsie Walker’s father for instance, once found her masturbating and concluded she must be subnormal. A GP agreed she was “sensually inclined”- an opinion that led her to being sent away to become a servant in Papamoa and thus to her eventual death at the hands of an unknown killer.
Metro, Jan 2011