By and large you always think of New Zealand as being an outwardly friendly, people happy, tolerant, peaceful place. You would possibly describe it as such to foreigners, and not as a wild-west like country where crime is rampant. There are though some unsolved crimes that will forever be that, unsolved or unsolvable. This is one of those that still seems to be fresh and top of mind to many, and one that just won’t go away.
Cold case – Uncategorized – New Zealand Listener.
Why was Gordon Bray never charged with Jennifer Mary Beard’s murder in 1970?
The year 1970 was remarkable for investigations into three murders at a time when homicide was rare. The first victim was Jennifer Beard, an English schoolteacher, whose body was found in January under a bridge at Haast, deep in southern Westland.
The nation was first appalled by the young hitch-hiker’s death, then engrossed in the search for the Vauxhall car thought to have been driven by the murderer, then astonished by the lack of any result.
After all, the police had a suspect: Gordon Bray, a burly Timaru truck driver. Everyone knew that he was the prime suspect because Bray had announced it in the newspapers. He was a single man, he had been holidaying on the Coast, he was probably at the murder scene, he drove an old Vauxhall. Beyond one shadowy figure, never identified, no other suspect was ever turned up.
Beard, probably a virgin, was thought to have been relieving herself under the bridge on New Year’s Eve, 1969, when she was attacked. She had been seen with a man in a Vauxhall. She had probably been strangled, although her body was so decomposed that a cause of death could never be firmly established
Was Bray the man seen in the rest area at the bridge? Police had two eyewitnesses and a receipt belonging to Bray that was in a pocket of trousers found at the scene. Police thought the eyewitness evidence weak, especially as the most observant, a boy of 13, had described the Vauxhall he saw as “deep turquoise”.
One of the problems the police faced in their search for the Vauxhall – they checked almost all the 29,000 that were around 16 years old and still being driven in New Zealand in 1970 – was that witnesses described it in various shades of green with primer on its paintwork. Bray’s Vauxhall was dark blue, and the bodywork was in good condition. A jury, they concluded, would be doubtful.
Still, police were satisfied that they had enough evidence to place him at the murder scene. The lawyers remained dubious: “No more than suspicion, and very difficult to prove,” one said.
October 2005 – Two former West Coast men are calling for police to re-open the Jennifer Mary Beard murder case – 35 years after the Australian hitchhiker was found dead under the Haast River Bridge. She was last seen alive on December 31 in the company of a middle-aged man in a greeny-blue Vauxhall Velox. The identity of her killer has never been found.
But last month (September 2005) Christchurch businessman Wayne Williams – a former West Coaster who has followed the case for the past 18 years – went to police with information on another possible suspect. In documents supplied to police, Mr Williams describes a man known as Ron (surname unknown) as a possible suspect in the case.
Ron, who worked at the Hardy and Thompson sawmill in Westport at the time, had acted strangely after Beard’s death, Mr Williams said. Mr Watts said that when a police identikit picture appeared in the Westport News on January 30, 1970, Ron abruptly left his job and failed to collect two weeks’ wages.
The Police declined to follow up or entertain this information. The person in question is Ron Hunter, would be approx 72 years old today and could be living outside of NZ, possibly Australia. Who knows?
The man many think was responsible, Gordon Bray, died in Timaru in November 2003. He always maintained his innocence.