THE TRUE CRIME COLLECTION
Howling At The Moon Publishing Ltd, Auckland
Copyright © 2016 by Ian Wishart
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission.
Howling At The Moon Publishing Ltd
PO Box 188
Book Layout © 2015 BookDesignTemplates.com
Haunted & Hunted/ Ian Wishart. -- 1st ed.
ONE MORE FREE DOWNLOAD…
Ian Wishart is a #1 bestselling author and award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been read by millions worldwide, specializing in the genres True Crime, Health, History, and Global Political Intrigue.
Get a heads-up on what’s happening by joining the author’s VIP briefing list and you’ll automatically receive a free ebook as our way of saying ‘welcome’.
“…a gripping legal thriller in the tradition of John Grisham’s The Firm – only this one is a true story.”
To take up your
Bohemian Rhapsody 1
The Vanishing of Valerie McDonald 11
The Fugitive 22
The Disappearance of Jennifer Beard 28
The Hunt 34
The Man Who Sold The World 47
The Year of the Sky Dragon 52
The Pitch 65
The Trap Snaps Shut 75
From Here To Eternity 85
In Hollywood, they say, every waitress is a movie star in the wings. Oregon-born Valerie McDonald was one of those waitresses, albeit she’d only made it as far south as a seedy, $3-a-night North Beach apartment building overlooking San Francisco Bay. It was a neighbourhood yet to be revitalised, but it danced to a student and arts beat, a bohemian rhapsody of sorts. Valerie, studying at the San Francisco Art Institute, initially enjoyed her time at the Tower Apartments. That was, until she crossed paths with the new building managers and her rhapsody hit some discordant notes.
Phillip Thompson, Michael Hennessey and John Gordon Abbott were ex-cons. Abbott, in fact, was on work release from a five years to life sentence at San Quentin prison, and he’d met his mates on the inside. Thompson, at 35 the oldest of the men, had been born at the tail end of World War II, and cut his teeth shipping drugs and intrigue for CIA black operations during the Vietnam War era. He’s listed as a driver on the Nixon presidential re-election team for 1972.
Thompson, however, had demons. Plenty of them. On June 18, 1971, then aged in his 20s, Thompson took a 21 year old mother named Betty Cloer into a field east of Sacramento, beat her, raped her then shot her three times before “bludgeoning her face beyond recognition”. Cloer’s nude corpse was found by two young girls horseriding the next day. She left behind a five year old son who was so traumatised that for the next five years he lived in denial that his mum was dead, telling his grandparents that his mum was only “hiding from bad men” and that she’d come back to look after him.
It wasn’t to be.
Nobody had connected Phillip Thompson to this unspeakable crime, and so he continued doing spook work for the CIA and sometimes the FBI, interspersed with prison time for armed robberies and violence. Just in passing, he was finally caught for this 1971 murder in 2003 after a DNA check on cold-cases located his DNA on Betty Cloer’s underwear. He was tried and convicted of murder in 2008 in a history-making California court case, 37 years after the killing.
Detective Rick Fitzgerald told jurors in the trial that Thompson had indeed been a CIA covert operative in the 70s and 80s:
“There is in fact some information that suggests he was an operative who was given a lot of leeway,” the police officer testified. Newspaper reports also confirmed Thompson was associated with terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, who’d blown up a Cuban passenger jet in 1976 killing 73 people on board.
But if young mother Betty Cloer was Thompson’s first known victim, she wasn’t the last. “There are at least eight to ten others that we know of,” Det. Rick Fitzgerald said outside the court.
Phillip Arthur Thompson
Which brings us back to that bohemian North Beach apartment building in San Francisco, November 1980. When Thompson, Hennessey and Abbott took over management, they began evicting some of the tenants and re-arranging rooms. Valerie McDonald feared for her safety. She told her friends she’d seen the men organise parties where “bowls of cocaine” were available, and that “Satanistic” activities had taken place.
“Val called me and told me she was frightened,” her mum Dee Dee Kouns told reporters later.
Dee Dee Kouns
But Valerie didn’t make it out. As Valerie and a couple of girlfriends were shifting furniture on 9 November 1980, they ran into Michael Hennessey.
Hennessey, the youngest of the three criminals at only 23, came from a good family by all accounts, but his world collapsed when he rushed his ill father to hospital one day, only to be told it was nothing serious and to go home. A short time later his beloved dad dropped dead from a heart attack in front of him, and Hennessey blamed himself, going to pieces. A drift into crime followed, and incarceration at San Quentin prison. Those who’ve met his family describe Hennessey as a basically good kid who fell in with a bad crowd, and who became Thompson and Abbott’s “flunky”.
Half Japanese and half Irish, Hennessey was big and muscular, and when on his own he had relatively good social skills. Valerie liked him, but she didn’t like his mates. Still, she was prepared to give him a couple of minutes.
The con eyed the strawberry-blonde up and down, and explained he was helping shoot a Dustin Hoffman movie that night. He told the girls he was supplying cocaine to the movie’s director, Dino de Laurentis, and that they wanted a blonde woman to play the part of a serial-killer’s victim in a couple of scenes.
The girls thought it sounded dodgy, but Hennessey offered Valerie $200, and the struggling young waitress and film student – based on her earlier friendship with the man – made what turned out to be a fatal choice. She was never seen alive again.
At some point, somehow, Valerie McDonald had made some kind of contact with a 23 year old German woman named Inez Sailer who’d also fallen into the orbit of Abbott, Thompson and Hennessey. We know this because police found a scrap of paper with Valerie’s name and phone number on it, in Sailer’s wallet. We don’t know why it was there because when police found it on New Year’s Day 1981, six weeks after Valerie had gone missing, the wallet was in Inez Sailer’s cold, dead hands. Whatever had happened, she was in no condition to tell.
Two women – one vanished, one shot five times – both connected. Police now believe Sailer had been drawn into a criminal operation being run by Thompson, Abbott and Hennessey out of their apartment block.
When dawn of November 10 broke and Valerie hadn’t returned home, her friends became worried but police brushed them off. By the time the San Francisco Police Department stopped chewing on doughnuts and turned to the task at hand, about six days after her disappearance, the trail had gone cold. Valerie was missing, and so were Phillip Thompson, John Gordon Abbott and Michael Hennessey.
Which brings us to John Gordon Abbott.
Born in England in the mid 1950s, his mother Ursula was an American university professor in Davis, California and his father a British diplomat working for the United Nations. The parents separated when Abbott was a teenager, and the boys, John and Michael, started to slip off the rails. John’s first major offence was robbery with violence at the age of 15, in Canada, while living with his grandparents.
John Gordon Abbott
He was sent back to live with his mother in the early 1970s, and studied Oriental Languages at UC Davis. Police files record he was a “straight-A student” with an “IQ of 180” – genius level – who by 1974 could fluently speak and write Japanese, and in 1975 he “travelled extensively throughout Japan”, the files note.
That file, a police intelligence briefing from June 1978, obtained by Investigate from US authorities, pre-dates the 1980 disappearance of Valerie McDonald, but it eerily foreshadows how events were to pan out. It was sent to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police by police in Davis, California, just after Abbott escaped from prison.
“I feel you should be aware of Mr Abbott” wrote Det. Sergeant John Persons. “It is my belief that Mr Abbott very likely will flee to British Columbia, Canada, and possibly attempt either to stay there or make arrangements to go to Japan.
“Secondly, it is my belief that Mr Abbott should be considered as very dangerous, and would kill without hesitation.”
John Gordon Abbott and his brother Michael, he said, had attempted to burgle a Davis City jewellery store in May 1976, but they triggered a silent alarm in the process. “Patrol units responded,” says the police file. “The first unit approaching to the front was immediately fired upon with a .22 rifle, the bullets going through the windshield narrowly missing the officers.
“A second unit responding to the rear of the business was fired upon with a .357 magnum. During the exchange of gunfire, Michael Abbott was killed, and John Abbott escaped. During the ensuing search for John Abbott, the police department [itself] was fired upon and a dispatcher and police officer were narrowly missed (slugs recovered were .38 calibre). A police helicopter was also fired upon.
“John Abbott was arrested approximately 18 hours later in a library at the University of California, Davis campus by non-uniformed officers. Abbott, at the time of arrest, was armed with a Charter Arms .38 calibre revolver and made the statement, ‘If I had known who you were there would have been a lot of dead cops’.
“Abbott also possessed passports for Canada and England.”
But the May 2, 1976 attempted murder of police that ended in his brother Michael’s death wasn’t the only such spree John Gordon Abbott had been on that year. Davis City Police say he was a prime suspect in an arson at premises part owned by his mother Ursula on January 14 that year – an arson that killed a visitor to the building. That is believed to have been Abbott’s first victim.
On Feb 14, the home of a gun instructor who’d been training Abbott in combat firearms use was burgled, and a .22 revolver taken. The instructor was away that weekend and his students knew that. Ten days later, an Asian American couple were confronted at their apartment door by a gunman matching John Abbott’s description. Both were pistol whipped and the male was shot in the head and the chest, while the gunman also held neighbours at bay with a .357 magnum and made his escape. He left behind a .22 revolver at the scene, later identified as the weapon taken in the burglary of his gun instructor.
Two days later, on Feb 26th, “Officer on patrol stops to check out subject in early morning hours behind a pizza parlour. Upon exiting vehicle, officer is immediately fired upon by subject with a .357 magnum. Officer returned fire; subject escaped. Subject matched John Abbott’s physical. When John Abbott was arrested on May 3, 1976, a crude drawing was found in his jacket of the pizza parlour and the complex in which it was located.”
There were other crimes in the weeks before he was caught – more arsons and burglaries – but you get the picture. “We have also located papers written in Japanese by Abbott, which, through interpretation, we determined he was conducting a stakeout,” remarks Det. Sgt. Persons in his report.
Abbott had also been using his time in early 1976 to brush up on military weapon techniques.
“We know that Abbott practiced on a firing range between January, 1976 and May, 1976 and fired in excess of 600 rounds, practicing combat shooting tactics with his .357 and .38 revolver. During the fall of 1975, Abbott took an R.O.T.C. firearms course and should be familiar with rifles.
“Upon interviewing an inmate at Nevada State Prison, who bunked together for a short period of time while in our county jail, I was told that Abbott bragged about the element of surprise and that he had trained himself to draw and fire upon immediate contact, if the situation warranted it.”
The final warning from Davis City Police to the Canadian Mounties in 1978 was this:
“Should any of your people come in contact…Abbott (in my opinion) would not hesitate to kill them. John Abbott should be considered armed and approached with extreme caution.”
It was a warning they should have paid attention to.
The Vanishing of Valerie McDonald
Twenty-six year old Valerie McDonald was last seen driving off with Michael Hennessey to what we now know was a non-existent movie audition. Her mother, Dee Dee Kouns of Oregon, has spent 31 long years on the case, trying to bring her daughter’s killers to justice. She remembers being contacted by Valerie’s friends on November 15, six days after her daughter had last been seen. She and her husband – Valerie’s step-dad Bob Kouns – flew into San Francisco on the morning of November 16.
“We got down there before the police station was even open,” recalls 82 year old Kouns, “and we got laughed at by a detective, Armond Pellisetti – he denies saying it now, but made fun of us that we were taking her disappearance so seriously. ‘You’re getting all excited about nothing’, he told us.
To the police, there was an assumption that the bohemian arts student had simply gone AWOL with a boyfriend, or had taken an impromptu trip to Vegas. The idea that 26 year old Valerie had been abducted seemed ridiculous.
Unbeknownst to Dee Dee and her husband while they were talking with police, 70km out of town John Gordon Abbott was having a run-in with an armed California Highway patrolman that underscored his capacity for brutality.
“He was stopped by a highway patrol officer,” explains Kouns. “Now, he’d gone to Japan as a boy and learned some kind of martial art where you kick and slash with your hands and make your body a lethal weapon. So he did that with one police officer, a state patrolman. He beat the hell out of that cop, jumped a fence and left the van behind. Inside were a whole bunch of stolen ID cards and papers,” says Kouns.
Abbott escaped. It was November 16, 1980.
Realising they weren’t getting anywhere with San Fran’s finest, Dee Dee and her husband hired top PI Sandra Sutherland to follow up leads, beginning with Valerie’s friends. Dee Dee already knew that her daughter had been frightened of John Gordon Abbott.
“My daughter had told me that she had moved out of the Tower Apartments because they had started filling it with San Quentin releasees. Phillip Thompson [the CIA informant and murderer] was actually allowed to be a sponsor of Abbott on his prison work release!
“Abbott one night was pounding on Val’s door so hard he broke a piece out. This was a very old building. Val actually left the next morning. She had screamed, and was screaming ‘rape, rape, rape’ because that’s she thought he was going to do, and she called the police and two officers came, but they never came up to see her. She called a friend to say she could see police downstairs when she looked out the window. We don’t know for certain what the men said to police but it’s believed they told the police she hadn’t paid her rent and they were just trying to get her out. So the police went away.”
As investigator Sandra Sutherland snooped around, it appears her inquiries, and Abbott’s “incident” with the CHiPs officer, convinced Thompson, Abbott and Hennessey that they needed to make themselves scarce.
Unbeknownst to the distraught parents, their daughter was still alive that day, being held captive in a San Francisco warehouse leased by Abbott, Thompson and Michael Hennessey. Dee Dee tells HIS/HERS she remains “haunted” to this day by the realisation Valerie was alive when they flew in to San Francisco.
Dee Dee says she only found out, a month or so later, where Valerie had been imprisoned. John Abbott had been recruiting two more criminals due for parole to come and work for him and Thompson.
“We later talked with these people,” explains Dee Dee. “We did it separately, and they both told us the same thing. They told us where Valerie had been held. They told us she had been a captive there for 10 days. They took us up there to see if we could find anything that had been Valerie’s.”
What they found in the old warehouse brings tears to a mother’s eyes and chokes her voice, even 30 years after the event.
“They had her chained and strapped, and on a mattress in the warehouse. I suspect during that ten days they probably did some very terrible things to her. I can’t tell you about that without really [the 82 year old takes a moment to compose herself]…She was probably raped many times.
“Beside the mattress, just a little ways, there were two bags that had two kinds of poison. One was tincture of mercury and the other was potassium cyanide. We hoped she was not tortured any more to death, but maybe had a quick death with one of those poisons. That’s what the two criminals told us had happened.”
These are hard things for a mother to witness, but even harder was the sight that awaited them in the warehouse: recently opened bags of quick-set cement and what appeared to be dry seaweed.
“They had put her feet into a bucket of cement,” Kouns explains. “There was an area, a hidden area, outside the warehouse where they’d been holding her. They’d obviously mixed up the cement there.”
But where had they taken Valerie? The first clue came 10 days after Valerie’s parents arrived in San Francisco.
On November 26, 1980, more than two weeks after waitress and wannabe film star Valerie McDonald had disappeared, John Gordon Abbott’s parked car was approached by a couple of Canadian Mounties in the town of Trail, British Columbia, and it turned into a fatal exchange of gunfire. As police moved towards the car Abbott was heard yelling at his companion Michael Hennessey, “Shoot them”. The nearest Mountie went down, shot in the leg, his partner returned fire, killing Michael Hennessey. When Abbott was handcuffed, officers found Hennessey had used Abbott’s gun. Abbott was charged with and later convicted of the attempted murder of two police officers.
In the boot of the car were a shotgun and rifle, and wirecutters. As they searched Abbott’s car, rented apartment and belongings, the Mounties quickly discovered he and Hennessey had been travelling with a third man, CIA spook and killer Phillip Thompson. But the trail at Trail was 24 hours cold – Thompson had flown back to America the day before. Detectives also found ID cards belonging to one Valerie McDonald, of whom there was so sign, and Abbott had the leather jacket she’d been wearing the day she disappeared from San Francisco – 1,300 kilometres south.
Hennessey, who had written love poems to Valerie McDonald at one point was, by the time of the shootout, almost catatonic. Witnesses reported him appearing as if in shock while he and Abbott moved around the city of Trail. “He never said anything, he was just like a statue,” one told Investigate magazine. Whatever Hennessey had witnessed up there, he took it with him to the grave when the Mountie’s bullet ripped through him.
To make matters murky, news quickly began to break back in the city by the bay, the city that never sleeps, of a CIA link to the crimes. In a story headlined, “The mystery of the disappearing actress deepens,” the San Francisco Chronicle’s Larry Maatz wrote: “CIA linked to bizarre case that already includes two killings and hints of devil worship and drugs.”
Maatz revealed Abbott and Phillip Thompson appeared to enjoy soft treatment from law enforcement agencies, despite the crimes they committed. After committing a number of bank robberies in 1978, for example, they were caught red-handed at Abbott’s apartment with $25,000 in stolen property and a haul of fully automatic weapons. Abbott’s wife of a year, Susan, coughed to an SFPD police inspector that the bank jobs were raising cash to buy weapons to exchange for cocaine with a CIA-assisted rebel group in El Salvador.
Instead of being charged with armed robbery at the time, the men were only charged with receiving stolen property and possession of weapons. SFPD’s Neil Jordan lamented to journalists the lack of a serious charge.
“That’s something that’s always puzzled me. We had a statement from Abbott acknowledging his and Thompson’s complicity in at least three of the robberies, and evidence to tie them into at least three others”. But no one, he said, would mount the prosecution.
To understand how this works requires a little history lesson. Like many government bureaucracies, spy agencies sometimes have ambitions bigger than their budgets. During the Vietnam War the CIA realised it could fund “off balance sheet” covert operations by helping ship drugs out of Asia and into the West. The spies rationalised their activities by claiming it was for the greater good, although they seriously underestimated the social impact. In New Zealand and Australia, the Mr Asia heroin drug ring was part financed by the Nugan Hand Merchant Bank in Sydney, set up by two former CIA spooks and whose board of advisors included a former Director of the CIA, William Colby.
The criminals got to move heroin from South East Asia and cocaine from South America in diplomatic bags or on CIA-affiliated transport networks, the Agency gained more sets of eyes and ears feeding them info, and the CIA got a cut of the drug money to finance operations that Congress could never know about. Britain’s MI6 was up to the same tricks, and was publicly embarrassed at one point when an MI6 agent was one of those caught robbing a bank in Ireland.
In that context, then, the claims by US police of some kind of spook involvement with Abbott and Thompson’s criminal endeavours starts to become a little more plausible. “Really, it’s the only thing that makes sense,” private investigator Sandra Sutherland – whose high-profile firm (they’ve also acted for Russell Crowe and tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand) handled the case for Valerie McDonald’s parents – told journalist Larry Maatz.
Supporting evidence of that is easy to find. How else could you explain how Phillip Thompson, for example, could be personally driven from Folsom Prison (famous for the Johnny Cash concerts) down to San Quentin, by the warden of Folsom Prison himself, only to end up back in a cell with John Abbott as a result of this special delivery? How many prisoners are driven by the warden? How many end up with the cellmate of their choice?
There are other hints. Phillip Thompson, for example, was a prime suspect in the disappearance of McDonald, and was arrested back in San Francisco on “multiple felony counts of grand theft, possession of stolen property, illegal weapons possession and narcotics violations”, reported the Chronicle. Yet despite being wanted by police for questioning on a possible homicide, the duty judge saw fit to release Thompson on bail. Angry police were soon able to re-arrest him when he was seen carrying a gun into a warehouse, and this time they got him held in custody, although not for long – a second judge said he could go free a few days later if the bank robber posted $5,000 bail – which he duly did.
While Thompson walked free, the Chronicle’s Larry Maatz published this story:
“Police have uncovered evidence of what they believe was a scheme by three ex-convicts to stage lucrative robberies, use the loot to purchase automatic weapons and ship them to Latin America, then trade the guns for cocaine to be smuggled back to this country.
“They also have evidence that these men had obtained such sensitive information about the transport of money by banks and other institutions that their robberies could have netted them millions of dollars.”
Police told the newspaper they’d found Thompson, Abbott and Hennessey were on the verge of getting a federal licence to deal in automatic weapons, via the assistance of a federal prison guard.
“At least one weapons transaction had been discussed in detail by the principals, law enforcement officials have been informed,” reported the newspaper. “A $200,000 cache of M-16 automatic rifles, leftovers from the Vietnam War and currently in storage in Hong Kong, was to be obtained and shipped to South America…The guard has been questioned by authorities but is facing no criminal charge.”
Police were reportedly stunned at the level of detail the men had amassed about bank armoured car shipments. “Some of the information found in those notes is known to only four or five persons within the bank,” one agent told the paper. Just one robbery the men were planning would have netted up to $6 million in 1980 money, but the scheme fell apart when John Gordon Abbott was pulled over for speeding near San Jose in that “incident” with the highway patrol, and fled the vehicle. That, you’ll recall, was November 16, 1980 – a week after Valerie’s disappearance and ten days before the shootout with the Mounties in Canada.
Dee Dee Kouns, who went on to become a victims’ rights advocated in Oregon, has put the jigsaw together many times and is confident Abbott returned to the San Francisco warehouse after escaping from the patrolman, and convinced his colleagues they needed to take Valerie McDonald and go. Kouns believes Valerie was murdered in the warehouse.
“We’re pretty certain that when Thompson drove her up to Canada she was already dead, in the trunk.”
Sure enough, when John Abbott was arrested in British Columbia after the shootout, the Mounties found he was still carrying the receipt for a hardware store purchase: a hoe, two bags of quick-set cement, and a bucket.
But that wasn’t all the Mounties found.
If they needed proof of an elaborate criminal enterprise, they found it in spades in Abbott’s rented apartment in Rossland, British Columbia. Searching it after the shootout, the Mounties located nearly two dozen filing boxes full of the names of bank staff, delivery routes, armoured car drivers, the works, across a number of major banks and armoured car companies. It “included the names of dispatchers, drivers, home addresses, the names of their children, social security numbers, driver’s licence numbers and their daily schedules.”
“Ominously,” reported the Chronicle, “it also included the ages of the children and where they went to school.”
Someone, somewhere, had gone to a lot of trouble to provide Abbott and his men with a blistering array of information capable of being used to threaten key bank personnel.
The Mounties described the unit to the Chronicle as “the headquarters of an international crime conglomerate headed by erratic genius John Gordon Abbott.” They also found blonde strands of Valerie McDonald’s hair in Abbott’s car.
Had McDonald been murdered because she stumbled across the gang’s plans? No one knew; no body had been found.
Phillip Thompson, from behind bars in San Francisco while on remand in January 1981, told a journalist he had nothing to do with the disappearance of Valerie McDonald. “She was just the face of the girl in room 24…If I had the slightest idea where she was I would persuade her to turn herself in or call someone. If you’re looking for Valerie McDonald, I haven’t the foggiest,” lied Thompson, adding that someone else in the building had seen Valerie “packing up her stuff” the day after she supposedly went missing.
We now know this wasn’t true.
With Thompson on remand, but later released and never charged with Valerie’s murder because there was no body, and Hennessey dead after the Mounties shootout, there was bucketloads of evidence linking John Abbott to the crime, but he was in a Canadian jail serving seven years for attempted murder.
He was released in 1988 and deported back to his native United Kingdom, and from there Abbott fled to New Zealand.
Investigate magazine has established that a John Gordon Abbott, listed as a “lecturer” in official documents, purchased a house at 45 Nile Street in the New Zealand provincial riverside city of Wanganui in mid 1993 for $113,500. He paid cash, with no mortgage. Abbott swiftly followed that up with the purchase of 15 Ikitara Road in Wanganui in August 1994, for $146,000. Again, he paid in folding stuff, no mortgage was taken against the property.
Abbott is listed as the current owner of these homes and 14 other properties that we know of, as well as several forest blocks scattered between Wanganui in the south and Taranaki in the north. All of the properties appear to have been purchased for cash.
He gained a little bit of local publicity a year or two back after stumping up the cash to buy old heritage buildings like the Waverley Post Office and the Town Hall. His picture was taken by the Wanganui Chronicle’s Stuart Munro, while Abbott sanded a window frame on one of the buildings in late 2009.
It is the only known photo of Abbott published anywhere in the world since the early 1980s, and it is perhaps apt that the photo captures John Gordon Abbott “red handed”, so to speak.
John Abbott in New Zealand, 2009. Copyright Wanganui Chronicle
To locals in Wanganui, Waverley and Patea, John G. Abbott is the prickly landlord with a soft Canadian/mid-Atlantic accent, who rubs people up the wrong way. They know he is fluent in Asian languages and that he teaches in Japan, because he’s told them that’s where he goes when he’s not here in New Zealand. When people argue with him, he’s been known to remind them how high his IQ is, and to get into quite a temper.
Sometimes he has brought his three young daughters from Japan over to stay in the town of Waverley, where Abbott bases himself on a rural property just out of town. He’s believed to be friendly with one of the locals, Laraine Sole, who is understood to look after the keys to some of his NZ properties while he’s overseas.
He’s also in some kind of business deals with Wanganui builder Dean Butler, and a couple of other locals named Nigel Pinn and Kerry Nixon – the names of Abbott and the three kiwis appear on city council records together. Abbott must have a good friend at the Wanganui District Council – property sales records show the council purchased a property at 52 Mosston Road in Wanganui for $45,000 in 1998, then sold it to John Gordon Abbott in October 2005, at the height of the property boom, for only $30,500. Wanganui ratepayers took an almost $15,000 hit as the property was sold for 33% less than the council paid for it at a time when values had risen substantially.
At the request of US law enforcement officials, Investigate magazine made no attempt to contact Abbott or his New Zealand colleagues for comment on this special investigation, although we can tell you we provided US and NZ law enforcement agencies with a three week head-start to take action against Abbott.
For the sake of clarification, however, there is no suggestion that any of Abbott’s New Zealand friends or contacts have done anything wrong, nor that they have a clue who he really is. What we do know is that Abbott spent the 1990s a long, long way away from the scene of the crime.
In 1991, hunters in a remote part of Washington state, just south of the Canadian border, stumbled across a human skull wedged under a log in the Kettle River floodplain. Investigators soon found a woman’s upper torso as well, but no legs. The badly decomposed remains gave up few clues, and detectives could only enter the dental records into the system and hope for a match.
They didn’t get one.
For nine years Valerie McDonald’s bones languished in a storage box labelled “Jane Doe”, while killer John Abbott was beginning his new life in New Zealand.
The body find fell within the jurisdiction of Ferry County sheriff Pete Warner, an ex-pat Australian who’s been head of law enforcement in these parts since the early 1990s. His West Coast twang is rudely offset by an Ocker “Maaate” as he takes the phone call from New Zealand. “I’m a transplanted Aussie here mate,” he insists. The mystery in his patch had always grated with him, and he was as surprised as anyone else when his department received a call in 2000 to say CAPMI – California’s state autopsy records system – had finally delivered a real name for Jane Doe: Valerie McDonald. It had been 20 years since her disappearance.
“We found the remains, but it took years to get an ID,” recalls Sheriff Warner. The reason for the delay? A computer operator at the state database had mis-keyed dental record information. But why didn’t searchers ever find Valerie’s lower body?
Mother Dee Dee Kouns believes she knows the answer.
“Now at this river up in Ferry County where Valerie’s body was dumped, when the snow melts every year they have raging floods. It’s just a little calm creek normally, but when it’s flooding down from the mountains it is raging. Everybody – the Mounties and everybody who talked to us – believed they’d placed Valerie in the river with her feet in the cement tub, and then she was there from November until the floods in early spring. Her body eventually tore loose from her legs and was swept out onto that flood plain.
“Then it was all in pieces. Her skull was intact. She had not been shot or had her skull smashed, but there were pieces of her hands, her arms, her upper arms, her ribs, her pelvic bones, but everything of her hips down were gone. Not any part of them there. And I believe they’re still up there in that river,” she says quietly.
One thing she does know is that John Gordon Abbott, property developer of Wanganui, Waverley and Patea, is the man who disposed of Valerie’s body. Dee Dee knows this because the Mounties gave her 24 hours’ access to the documents they’d seized from Abbott’s apartment in British Columbia.
“Abbott had kept a diary that matched up with many of the crimes in this information. It also mentioned him laying my daughter in the river. He wrote about throwing her in, calling her ‘The Ice Maiden…she was dead cold’.”
Dee Dee Kouns has a copy of that diary. In fact, she says, she and her husband came away from their visit to the Mounties with “three suitcases full of copies of documents” belonging to Abbott.
“The Canadian Mounties did not get one single moment of help or attention to anything they were trying to tell the US. The Mounties tried to let California know they had all these documents, but no one wanted it.”
It appears the involvement of Thompson and Abbott in some kind of master plot to steal millions from major banks and then use the money in a weapons for drugs deal with Contra rebels in Central America threatened to become an international incident. Far better to dump it in Canada’s lap and run as far away as possible.
Proof that this was probably the case came when Dee Dee and her husband tracked a lead back to an FBI agent. “He looked really flustered when we confronted him,” she says, “ushering us into his office and then he sat in the guest chair while Bob sat in his chair. He told us probably more than he should have, that they had used Phillip Thompson on inquiries in the past.
“The next thing we know Frank McCoy [the head of the San Francisco Police Department investigation into Valerie’s disappearance] is publicly screaming at us in the streets of San Francisco, he was so angry at us for having visited the FBI because apparently he got blamed for leaking details of their involvement with Thompson, but he hadn’t – we’d got it from another source.”
For the FBI to have been furious that their involvement with a murderer had been exposed, and to blame the SFPD, clearly shows the SFPD knew about Thompson’s black ops for the CIA and FBI and may explain why the police dragged their heels on investigating Valerie’s murder.
There was more evidence of this when Detective Armond Pellisetti – the cop who’d originally been reluctant to investigate Valerie’s disappearance – told Dee Dee on another occasion she was compromising a bigger investigation:
“You’re screwing up something that a guy’s been working on for three years! Just get out, and go home!”
When Investigate suggests to Dee Dee Kouns that her daughter’s murder investigation appears to have fallen through the cracks, she snorts derisively.
“Fallen between the cracks? That’s putting it mildly. May I remind you that Abbott was cellmates on two different occasions, a long time partner, of Phillip Arthur Thompson – who the FBI and CIA were using as an informant. His codename within the FBI was ‘JASON SMITH’ and there was actually an effort to hinder Val’s murder investigation rather than help it. The Canadian police were stonewalled when they tried to get information on these men. It wasn’t just the usual ‘slip between the cracks’.”
So when we break the news that Investigate magazine has located Abbott in New Zealand, where he’s been since at least 1993, Dee Dee’s reaction is “Wow. 1993? Wow.”
“Last we heard he was living in Japan,” adds Sheriff Pete Warner in Washington state, his ears pricking up when we offer to email through a recent photo of Abbott.
“I’m just bringing up the picture you sent now. Yeah, that looks like him alright. There’s a few years of age on him now. The photo I’m looking at from 1979, he has a beard and long hair from those days. That’s him though, there’s no doubt in my mind. What amazes me though is how the hell he was allowed to live in NZ. The New Zealand government, don’t they do background checks?”
It’s a fair question, but the answer appears to be simple. Abbott held dual passports. He was a convicted felon in the US. Served jail time in Canada for shooting a cop, but was deported to England where he had no criminal record. Apart from the New Zealand Immigration card that all passengers fill out, there was no other way in the early 1990s of knowing about his background. He clearly lied on his card, and any background check with British authorities would have turned up nothing. Back then, Google, and indeed the internet as we now know it, did not exist.
One South Taranaki woman who’s dealt with Abbott in New Zealand says she isn’t surprised to hear he’s a killer.
“My staff, on more than one occasion, have told me they find him ‘creepy’, and that they felt his girls [daughters] were, how should I put it…they felt he had a very unusual relationship with his girls. They were very cowed down, even for girls coming from Japan. They seemed terrified to be too close to him but terrified to get too far away from him because of his reaction. My staff were deeply uncomfortable for those girls.”
In a cruel twist of fate, just after we conducted this interview, the area of Japan where Abbott’s family are based – Ibaraki prefecture – was devastated by the tsunami and earthquake. Abbott himself was in Australia at the time of the quake.
“He’s a professor at a university north of Tokyo,” confirms one of Portland, Oregon’s Deputy District Attorneys, Norm Frink, “or he was. I can’t remember off the top of my head but its name began with a ‘T’.” In fact, Abbott still is a lecturer there – documents online show him teaching American History and Japanese History at Tsukuba University in Ibaraki prefecture as recently as 2009, about an hour’s drive north of Tokyo. But how did he manage to settle in Japan?
“We had some contact with the authorities in Japan, through the FBI, and my recollection was – because we were wondering the same thing about his immigration status there – and my recollection was that the authorities advised us he was in compliance with the law there. He was married to a Japanese national and had children there with her,” says Frink.
“So although we became aware that he was in Japan and that he had property in New Zealand, that was the end of it because there was not the ability to criminally prosecute him,” says Frink. That’s because the District Attorney’s office in Oregon state could not prove that any part of the murder or disposal of the body had definitely taken place in Oregon. In short, they lacked jurisdiction.
With San Francisco Police Department unwilling to go after Abbott despite the murder probably taking place in their city, and Ferry County law enforcement in Washington state not having the budget for an international murder inquiry despite the body being found there, it’s difficult to see Abbott ever serving time for Valerie McDonald’s murder.
There is still an opportunity for justice however. Abbott could be arrested under New Zealand law and charged with making a false immigration declaration. The maximum penalty, if a judge chooses to apply it to a would-be cop killer, convicted armed robber and suspected double-murderer who slunk into this country under false pretences, is seven years’ jail and a $100,000 fine. It’s nowhere near the possible death penalty John Abbott would have faced if he’d been brought to trial in California, but for Dee Dee Kouns seeing NZ take action against the killer in their midst would be something.
Her biggest wish is that the FBI, after 30 years, might be prepared to step in and seek Abbott’s extradition from New Zealand:
“I would like John Abbott charged with my daughter’s murder. He’s culpable. He was involved in everything from the kidnap to disposing of her body. Under United States law that would make him responsible for murder, not just abuse of a corpse.”
As news of Abbott’s real identity broke in New Zealand, where his millions of dollars worth of properties are based, Abbott was stuck in nearby Australia – where he’s being hunted by federal police for entering that country illegally. He’d travelled to Australia from NZ on business, and didn’t return to Japan to check on his wife and family after the earthquake and tsunami struck. It’s known that Abbott’s home was in Ibaraki prefecture and was affected by the disaster, but Abbott told friends by email before the story broke that his family were safe and he was remaining in Australia for a while longer.
Now, he can’t get out, not unless he turns himself in at one of Australia’s airports. Thirty-one years after the murder of California actress Valerie McDonald, John Gordon Abbott is finally running out of places to hide.
POSTSCRIPT: Abbott managed to leave Australia for his native England. He remains on the run.
The Disappearance of Jennifer Beard
In the words of the Bryan Adams song, it was the summer of ’69. Astronaut Neil Armstrong had just walked on the moon, and on the rugged West Coast of New Zealand an Australian schoolteacher was entering the final 24 hours of her life. Tuesday, December 30, 1969 had brought her to the foot of New Zealand’s southern alps. Tomorrow would be New Year’s Eve, 1970 was just over the horizon, and the attractive blonde in what witnesses described as “tight shorts” was preparing her pack for another day of hitch-hiking the following morning.
25 year old Jennifer Beard – born in England but working in Tasmania – had just checked into the Franz Josef Motor Camp. Around her, the sounds of children playing as other carloads of families checked in for the evening.
But there are two others who arrived in tiny Franz Josef that evening whose movements would come to dominate the later police investigation. One was the man later admitted to be the prime suspect in Jennifer Beard’s murder, a Timaru man named Gordon Bray. The other was an itinerant worker known only as “Dave”.
Bray, at almost six foot tall with “a powerful build in the mould of a wrestler or a circus strongman”, according to journalist and author Mark Price in his book Getting Away With Murder, was a truck driver by trade and reasonably well known on the West Coast routes. This particular Christmas, his Austin A40 car had broken down at Tekapo and he’d been forced to abandon it along with some of his camping gear and clothes. Returning to Timaru, he purchased a 1954 Vauxhall Velox, blue in colour, and started his summer holiday drive all over again on December 29.
Arriving on the West Coast, Bray did not stop at the Franz itself, choosing instead to camp in the grounds of his regular haunt, a hotel named “The Forks” 18km north of the settlement. In other words, he didn’t spend the night at the same motel, or even the same town, as Jennifer Beard.
“Dave”, on the other hand, was a different kettle of fish. Close to the Franz Josef Motor Camp was a hostel run by Fay Percy, and catering mostly for workers employed by the Papanui Sawmill Company. On the afternoon of December 30, a rough looking, possibly drunk, character calling himself “Dave” was knocking on the door of the sawmillers’ hostel, looking for a room for the night.
“His speech tended to be a little slurred and I thought he had difficulty standing up,” Percy later told police. “He was about 5 foot 6 inches in height and tended to be fat. His stomach protruded well over the top of his trousers.
“He was bald on top of his head with his hair receding at the sides. His hair was dark coloured with grey streaks. It was greased down to the sides of his head. It was not curly.”
In her police statement, Percy described Dave’s face as “roundish” and “weather-beaten”. There are a couple of other crucial pieces of evidence in Percy’s statement however. One is that “Dave” was driving a 1950s Vauxhall, coloured green.
“A dull green, cabbage green would best describe it. It was covered in dust … I can’t really recall anything else about the car except to sum it up as an old `bomb’, you know the sort of car you would expect young louts to run around in.”
Jennifer Beard was last seen alive in a green, 1950s Vauxhall Velox.
The second piece of evidence is that “Dave” had spent time in Invercargill, or so he said. Fay Percy detailed her conversations with him for police:
“He then went on to talk about his having been camping but I can’t remember what exactly he said.
Man: I’m buggered. It seems that I have been driving for days and days. I’ve come up one coast and down the other. How long have you been here?
Me: A couple of months.
Man: Where do you come from?
Me: My parents live in Bluff and we have a house in Invercargill. Man: I have worked and lived around Invercargill for a few years.
“I am not sure whether he said for years or for a few years,” Percy said in an aside to police. She added that he appeared to be looking for work in a sawmill, and she told him about a mill further south, in Haast. He replied that he’d worked in sawmills since he was 11.
“I must say that by his general appearance I believed him,” Percy is quoted in Mark Price’s book, Getting Away With Murder. The book also records that “Dave” wanted directions to the nearest hotel, and stated a preference for Southland beer to West Coast beer.
That hotel was the “Franz Josef”, just opposite the motor camp where Jennifer Beard was staying. A man matching Dave’s description, with a “prominent” belly, was seen at the bar that evening, and Fay Percy positively identified him when she arrived to join her husband for a drink.
Dave had paid 60 cents for his room instead of the usual dollar, pleading poverty to Percy. So it was with an innkeeper’s cynical eye that she watched him slugging back drinks. It was the last she saw of him, however. When morning came, his car had gone.
That morning, New Year’s Eve, was to be the last day of Jennifer Beard’s life. At around 8.30am she was seen climbing into a car by Glenys Kindley, one of the women whose families had arrived at the motor camp the previous evening, and who had met Beard there.
“We’d had breakfast,” Kindley is quoted by Mark Price, “and we were all just going out of the camping ground gates and I saw her getting into this, I thought, green car, into a car. I saw her getting into the car with this guy and I said to [husband Don] ‘I don’t like the look of that guy. I don’t want her to get in that car’…It was an old car and I thought it was dark green. Sort of a green colour…It was just a feeling – ‘I don’t want her to get in that car’. And of course I started off on Don: ‘I don’t want her to get in there. I don’t want her to get in there. Look, she’s sitting in that old car over there, y’know. Don’t fancy that much’.”
Was it Dave’s green Vauxhall, the “old bomb” as Percy described it? We don’t know.
Many of the families were taking their kids to see the Fox Glacier, 24 k’s further south. At 10am, the McIlroy family, who’d also been at the camp, pulled into the Fox Glacier carpark. In front of them was what both Peter and Pauline McIlroy described to police as “a dark green” car having trouble starting, and Jennifer Beard was in it.
“I only noticed that it was a green coloured car and it was rough-looking,” Pauline McIlroy told police. McIlroy was also the only police witness to get a good look at the man driving the car, while he stood outside the vehicle.
“I only had a side view of him…His hair was dark and roughly combed. The hair was not short cut. I think that his hair was receding.”
Her statement to police guesstimated a height of 5’6” or 5’7”, and she added that the man had “a very large stomach. That is the thing that I remember most. It was that noticeable that it took my eye. He was not broad-shouldered. For a man with that size stomach I would have expected him to have broader shoulders.”
The McIlroys didn’t see the green car leave, but other families on the road south from the Franz Josef Motor Camp that day did catch up and overtake a green, mid 50s Vauxhall Velox with Jennifer Beard inside. Don Kindley described it as “mid green” with a dull finish and a 1954 Velox, when he saw it in the vicinity of Lake Paringa, halfway between Fox and Haast to the south. Pauline McIlroy, not far behind in the convoy, also caught up to the Velox there and made her last sighting of Jennifer Beard.
“She was sitting in the front seat of the car.”
The Vauxhall was only going around 40 mph (70 km/h) according to the witnesses, whose own vehicles were cruising at up to 70 mph (116 km/h). Both the McIlroys and the Kindleys overtook the Velox, but a few k’s further south they came across a minor car accident and stopped to assist. While they were helping, the Velox lumbered into view and stopped before reaching the accident scene after being waved down by two teenagers who’d been passengers in the car that crashed. Sixteen year old Pamela Wildbore told police “I knew that it was a Vauxhall because my old boyfriend owned one. The colour of the car was dark green. It was in rough condition.”
The other teen, 14 year old Stephen Bailey, also confirmed it was a green Vauxhall, and both claimed to have seen patches of primer paint on the car. Pamela Wildbore saw a man and woman in the car. The driver got out briefly and exchanged a few words, but drove off after hearing no one had been seriously hurt.
Both teens described him as around the 5’11 or six foot mark. Heights are a difficult thing to get right in witness statements, because the heights of the witnesses can add nuances to their own perceptions of other people.
As the Velox drove off, Glenys Kindley recognized Jennifer Beard in the front passenger seat. The Kindleys caught up with the Velox and overtook it further south at Lake Moeraki – the last time Beard was seen alive. Don Kindley told police the driver appeared to be chatting Beard up, and Glenys remembers Beard did not look impressed. She also remarked, again, on “how rough the car was”, and Don Kindley told police he remembered his wife turning to him and remarking, “What an evil looking bugger he is”.
That was the last any of the Franz Josef camp families saw of the Velox. The story is picked up by a family heading north, who came across the massive Haast River bridge at 1.30pm. When the Crossan family reached the northern end of the bridge (ie, the other side), they saw a green Vauxhall Velox parked in the rest area carpark with its bonnet up, and a man tinkering with the engine. Being good, honest kiwi folk in 1969, the Crossans stopped to offer help.
Bill Crossan’s police statement says the Vauxhall driver asked if he knew anything about gearboxes. Crossan replied that while he wasn’t a mechanic, he was familiar with cars. A spring in the gearbox linkage had broken and the car was having difficulty changing gears. Crossan and his teenage son Peter assisted, and eventually makeshift repairs were completed.
Another car, driven by the Wadsworth family, arrived on the scene just as the green Vauxhall Velox sped off in a hail of gravel.
Although neither family realized, Jennifer Beard’s body was just metres away from them, directly under the bridge. Both the Crossans and the Wadsworths continued heading north, while the Velox disappeared across the bridge heading south.
Another family stopped in the rest area a little later and their eight year old daughter went to relieve herself on the riverbank. She came back up and told her mum there was a woman lying on the gravel with “no clothes on” and she looked “asleep”. The child’s parents, fearing their daughter had interrupted a lover’s tryst, bundled their daughter into the car and drove off. Jennifer Beard spent New Year’s Eve mostly naked, alone and very dead on the riverbank below the Haast River bridge’s northern end. It would be three summer weeks before her decomposed body was discovered.
Although Jennifer Beard was reported missing on January 9 when she failed to rendezvous with her boyfriend in Milford Sound, her disappearance did not hit the media until Tuesday January 13, 1970. That was when Glenys Kindley picked up a paper, saw Beard’s photo, and contacted police. The hunt was on. Police collected separate statements from a number of the witnesses detailed above, and all talked about the green Vauxhall. For their own reasons, police initially chose not to release that information publicly. In turn, this means the initial witness reports are unlikely to have been tainted by later media reports.
Police widened their appeal for anybody who had been on the road between Wanaka in the south to Franz Josef in the north to come forward. One of those to respond to the plea was Timaru man Gordon Bray, who’d been holidaying at The Forks 18 km north of Franz Josef. Bray jumped in his blue Vauxhall Velox and drove to the Timaru police station. According to police records, the initial statement they took suggested he had not seen any hitchhikers on the coast side of the southern alps. When police search inquiry head Emmett Mitten read this it struck him as strange, given the number of hitchhikers on the road, and he flagged Bray as worthy of further attention.
As anyone who has ever given a police statement can testify, however, answers to questions can depend entirely on the direction the police officer is leading them, and how much the transcribing cop edits the answers. He might have asked whether Bray had seen any lone, blonde female hitchhikers, but recorded the question more generally. This indeed seems to have been the case because when asked to give a more detailed statement the following day, Bray wrote that he’d seen a number of hikers, either in couples or groups, “but I did not see a solitary girl hitchhiker. I gave two lots of hitchhikers a ride.”
Those two included Christchurch man Dave Viney, and a couple of young women. All reached their destinations safely with Bray.
Mitten’s attention was again drawn to Bray when police interviewed management at The Forks Hotel and discovered Bray had stayed there.
On January 19, the country’s newspapers confirmed for the first time that police were looking for a mid 1950s green Vauxhall Velox and its driver. It was that description that tweaked the memory of Bill Crossan and his efforts helping the driver of a green Vauxhall at the Haast river bridge three weeks earlier. He told police, who immediately dispatched a search team to the area. A short time later, the body of schoolteacher Jennifer Beard was found.
The following day, as part of routine inquiries, detectives spoke to mechanic Ian Milner at the Fox Glacier garage. Milner told them of a man driving a “dark blue” 1954 Vauxhall Velox who stopped in on New Year’s Eve at 3pm for repairs to his gear linkage. This was the first time anyone had talked about a “blue” Velox, but it was significant to police because Gordon Bray’s 1954 Velox was coloured blue.
However, Milner, like some of the earlier witnesses, recalls the car being in rough condition with patches of primer paint.
“I remember some aluminium colour being on the car somewhere. This could have been on the wheels or the bumper, or it could have been patches of K16 on the sides of the car.”
Another mechanic, at the Whataroa garage about 50 kilometres north of the Fox Glacier, and about 175 kms north of the Haast bridge, told police he recalled working on a 1955 Vauxhall Velox with patches of grey primer paint, and gear linkage problems. He couldn’t recall the car’s main colour, but gave a similar description of the driver to Milner’s: both men recalled he had fairish, greying hair, about 5’8 with a largish stomach.
When police seized Bray’s car for testing, however, they found no patches of primer paint, and no forensic evidence linking it to Jennifer Beard – no hairs, nothing.
As police murder inquiry head Emmett Mitten told journalist Mark Price:
“The car we had described to us was very dirty and rough…When we saw [Bray’s] car it was very clean and polished and shiny and certainly didn’t look like the type of car that had been described to us.”
When police paraded Bray’s Vauxhall in a lineup for the witnesses to choose from, no-one picked the blue Vauxhall as the car they had seen Jennifer Beard in, not even the Crossans who had worked on the mystery Vauxhall for 15 minutes at the Haast bridge.
“The car we saw at Timaru [at the identification parade] was definitely blue – almost a navy blue, royal blue, navy blue colour and the car we saw was definitely green,” eyewitness Peter Crossan told Mark Price for his book.
Could Bray have painted the car? Apparently not. Police found evidence that the Vauxhall had received a new blue paintjob shortly before Bray purchased it on Boxing Day 1969. Therefore it was blue throughout his West Coast trip, not green. And being a new paintjob, there were no primer patches.
But adding to the confusion is that Bray, by his own admission, did experience gear linkage problems with his Vauxhall. For the record, 1950s and 60’s Vauxhalls were notorious for strange mechanical faults – your humble scribe was a passenger in one Velox which suddenly lost one of its front wheels while driving past an Auckland police station in the 80s, and I owned another Vauxhall whose steering rod snapped in rush-hour traffic in downtown Auckland, bringing the car to a screeching halt with the front wheels pointing in different directions.
Is it possible that more than one 1950s Velox had gear linkage problems on the West Coast that summer? Indeed it may be so. Nearly 30,000 Vauxhall Veloxes were registered in NZ in 1969 from the relevant mid 1950s model run. Even a West Coast police officer owned a green Velox that had to be eliminated as a vehicle of interest. When Christchurch police put out a request for mid 50s Velox owners to come forward, more than 1,400 cars were lined up in streets around the Christchurch Central Police Station the next day!
Police put Gordon Bray himself in a lineup parade, but neither Pauline McIlroy or Glenys Kindley – the only two witnesses who definitely saw the suspect with Jennifer Beard – identified Bray as the driver of the green Velox. Nor were Bill or Peter Crossan, who’d been up close to the suspect when they helped fix his car, sure that Bray was the right man. They picked him based on his resemblance to the description, but not because he was definitely the man they remembered helping. For Peter Crossan, the clincher was Bray’s hairy back, because he remembered the man he helped also had a hairy lower back.
Police, after much agonizing, decided they did not have enough evidence to take Bray to trial.
And so the case has languished for the past 38 years. Gordon Bray, the prime suspect, died in 2003, while 2005 saw the publication of Mark Price’s wrap-up of the case against Bray, based on the police files.
But one of the reasons police did not charge Bray with the murder was the existence of the mysterious “Dave”. It was clear Bray and Dave could not be the same man, but police never located Dave. The likelihood of a good defence lawyer being able to punch holes in the prosecution of Bray by pointing to another suspect was a risk police simply were not prepared to take.
Now, however, Investigate has obtained fresh information that may shed light on the possible identity of “Dave” – information that former top cop Emmett Mitten is stunned he was not told about at the time – even though Westport police were advised.
Enter Gordon Watts. Now retired and living on the West Coast, back in the summer of 69 Watts was the manager of the Hardy and Thompson Sawmill at Westport. In 2005 there was a brief media flurry when Watts advised that one of his sawmill staff, a man identified only as “Ron” might have been Jennifer Beard’s killer. Today, we can take that story even further.
You’ll recall earlier in this article how “Dave” had turned up at a Franz Josef sawmillers’ hostel on December 30, 1969, driving a dusty, rough-looking green Vauxhall and claiming to be an experienced sawmiller. Dave’s description, including his potbelly, and his green car, more closely matched that of the man last seen with Jennifer Beard than Gordon Bray’s did.
In an interview with Investigate, Westport sawmill manager Gordon Watts says he’s personally convinced a sawmill worker now identified as “Ron Hunter” needs to be found and interviewed over his actions and movements around the time of Beard’s disappearance. Ron Hunter, he says, was a “broad, stocky chap, about 5’6 to 5’8, with receding hair at the front, and a pot belly”.
“I was the manager of Hardy and Thompsons Sawmill. He worked for me. I reported this to the police in Westport and they took no notice of me, they said, ‘oh no, it’s not him’. The next thing, the [identikit] photo came out and our mill was the first on the paper run. His photo was on the front page and the next thing he was gone.
“The paper came in, I saw him. You see, when I heard the mill close down in early in the afternoon I thought, ‘that’s bloody funny, what’s wrong?’ I thought maybe there’d been a power failure, so I went out to have a look.”
When he got to the machinery that Ron Hunter had been manning, other staff relayed the sequence of events.
“The guys told me ‘he’s gone, Gordon, he’s vanished!’”
According to the Westport News newspaper, the identikit photo that caused Ron Hunter to flee was published on January 30, 1970. Somebody else in town had evidently recognized Hunter and contacted police, because four police cars swooped on the mill within an hour of Hunter’s disappearance.
Ron Hunter had fled so fast he didn’t even bother collecting two weeks’ cash wages owed to him – a point mill manager made to Westport Police officers when they arrived. Investigate asked if Watts had rung the police himself on this occasion:
“No, they came looking for him. Because I’d told them a week earlier that he worked for me, so they knew where to find him.
“I told them they were too late, he’d gone. They asked ‘where?’
“ ‘Could be anywhere’, I said, because we had huts up in the bush in different areas, and I said, ‘he could have gone up there because he’s been up there before’, and I said, ‘he could see you coming. We’ve got clothes up there so he could dress up, walk down the road, catch a bloody bus and you’ll never know’.
“It was definitely him, that photo, yeah. And he never got paid his wages. He just buggered off.”
Gordon Watts is angry that police didn’t take him seriously when he first fingered Hunter as a possible suspect in Beard’s murder. This took place a week before the identikit was published, and it was sparked by the fact that Ron Hunter owned a green Vauxhall Velox, and he had earlier remarked [before anyone knew about Beard’s disappearance] about being in the Haast area over New Year.
“I reported him when he first started there,” says Watts, “because he told me at one point he’d been down the Haast, down that area, and we put two and two together, so my employee who’s just died recently went down to the Westport cop station and reported it, and they said, ‘Oh no, you’d be wrong, you’ve got the story wrong’. They said ‘no, it’s not him, this chap in Timaru is the suspect, not him’. So I just dropped it. They didn’t take a statement off us or anything.”
Instead, Gordon Watts and his second in command decided to do some snooping of their own.
“There’s a chappie, the one who’s dead now, one of my staff, but we went round and found him living on the beach a bit further along, and we saw the car parked in by the trees and we tried to get closer to get the number, but he had a bloody dog and the dog barked, and he yelled out, ‘If you buggers don’t eff off I’ll shoot ya!’
“So what do we do? We had to back off, back away.”
As an itinerant of no fixed abode, Hunter simply hut-hopped.
Surprisingly, there’s no record of these incidents in Mark Price’s book, nor is there any record that Westport Police alerted murder inquiry boss Emmett Mitten about the extremely suspicious behavior of a green Vauxhall Velox-driving itinerant sawmiller doing a runner when the identikit picture was published in January 1970.
“If what you are telling me is true,” Mitten told Investigate from his Christchurch home this month, “I would be stunned and disappointed that this information was investigated by local police but not passed on to me. This is the first I’ve heard of this incident. Ever.”
Of mill manager Gordon Watts’ positive identification of his new employee Ron Hunter as the man in the identikit picture, former Deputy Police Commissioner Emmett Mitten virtually explodes down the phone:
“That makes more than just a casual observation, that’s a valid observation!”
And the fact that the man owned a green Velox, had been down in Haast at the relevant time, had done a runner when the photo came out, had failed to collect a fortnight’s wages, and had threatened to shoot anyone who tried to see his car – how does Mitten react to that?
“Well I tell you what, if we were back in January 1970 and you phoned me and gave me that story, I’d be very, very excited. Like I said, if it’s true, then I’m hugely disappointed if these things happened and nothing was done about it.”
Such information should have come direct to him, immediately.
“With the way that inquiry went, anybody with a green Velox rated more than a cursory glance. Nine times out of ten it would end up close to me, with senior staff coming to talk to me about it. In virtually no case would a possible suspect who had a green Velox have been written off by the local cop without taking it any further.”
And yet, here in June 2008, this former top cop sounds shaken as the realization dawns that Westport Police may have had Jennifer Beard’s killer within their grasp, and failed to tell him or other senior staff about it because they assumed Gordon Bray was the main suspect.
“I’ve got absolutely no knowledge of any of the actors [Hunter or Watts] in this,” laments Mitten. “The hard part now is, who is Ron? There were something like 50,000 people interviewed for that inquiry.”
While the Westport News report in 2005 named the suspect only as “Ron”, former mill staff were quick to confirm his last name was “Hunter”.
“I had a staff of about 20 working for me, and they all knew Ron Hunter,” growls Gordon Watts. “I can say it was him alright! They saw him looking at the paper, looking at his photograph, bang, he was gone.”
According to Watts, Hunter is believed to have been born on the West Coast. Others we’ve spoken to claim he moved around the South Island taking seasonal work.
Investigate checked birth records for the 1930s. We found a “Ronald Hunter” born in Granity, near Westport, in 1936. We failed to locate him in the electoral rolls for the West Coast between 1956 and 1970, which could mean he was no longer living on the coast during that time, or alternatively that he didn’t bother registering to vote.
There is no evidence that this particular Ron Hunter is the one who worked at the mill, but if he is he would have been nearly 34 when Jennifer Beard was murdered. Although that places him five to 15 years younger than the age estimates of the eyewitnesses, it is entirely possible that a weatherbeaten West Coast outdoorsman could look a decade older. Additionally, many men have already begun to go grey at the temples in their thirties, let alone suffer receding hairlines.
Watts believes Ron Hunter, who would be 72 this year, may still be alive and living in Australia.
“I’ve heard he turned up in Australia.”
Murder inquiry head Emmett Mitten says the new lead should be passed to Dunedin Police (current custodians of the Jennifer Beard “cold case” file), and he urges detectives not to get hung up on Gordon Bray all over again.
In a confusing tangent to the original investigation, detectives had found a singlet and trousers folded in the bush not far from Beard’s body. When they eventually examined the pockets of the trousers, they found a receipt belonging to Gordon Bray.
Slam dunk? Perhaps not. Firstly, the man with gearbox troubles on the Haast River bridge just minutes after Beard was murdered was definitely wearing trousers at the time, and when he later popped into service stations. Secondly, if you were the killer, would you leave your clothes behind at the scene with a receipt bearing your name?
Even Crown lawyers, when they reviewed the file for prosecution purposes, felt it was more likely that someone had nicked some of Bray’s clothes from his abandoned vehicle.
“Whoever looks at the Beard murder has to put the Bray thing to one side,” says Mitten. “There were, I think, about four men who we could never establish a) that they existed and b) where they were. The scenario you painted about someone taking some of Bray’s clothing – that’s a point he raised as well, that someone could have taken clothes from the car he abandoned at Tekapo.”
But there’s more on a character named “Ron”, and his possible involvement in Beard’s death. Former West Coast possum trapper Dick Stacey remembers a man named “Ron” who he reported to police as a possible suspect. Ron used to have a green Vauxhall Velox, but according to Stacey he got rid of it around the time of Beard’s disappearance, citing “gear change problems”. Stacey’s brother Rua has been quoted in a document provided to police on the case as recalling that this particular “Ron” talked about having problems with the Vauxhall down at Haast.
Dick Stacey says the surname “Hunter” doesn’t ring a bell with him, but the name “Ron” definitely does.
For Emmett Mitten, the testimony is tantalizing, but without a surname, not necessarily helpful.
“The other major problem you’re going to be confronted with here,” Mitten warns, “is so many of the witnesses have died. Even in the police, many of those who worked on the case have passed on.”
A case in point may be the Dick Stacey testimony. While Stacey clearly remembers tipping off police in the company of a fellow possum trapper, he can’t remember the precise identity of the hunting companion he did so with. One hunting buddy, “Boarhide” Templeton, is now deceased. The other, Vic Diack, wonders if Stacey is remembering another of their hunting buddies, Les Houghton from Invercargill, who was also in the Haast area in a green Vauxhall Velox around New Year 1970. Houghton was investigated and cleared by police.
“Les had a Vauxhall,” says Diack. “Les was just up there for the Christmas holidays, but I wasn’t with them when it happened.”
INVESTIGATE: So you didn’t go with Dick Stacey to make a statement to Invercargill police?
“No, no. Although the police did ring me. They wanted to know where Les Houghton was at the time. He had actually been at my house a couple of nights before he left to go up there, and they really questioned me where Houghton had been because it was a similar car to his. And I think Les did say to them, ‘If you want to find the body, look under the Haast Bridge’. It was just one of those things. We all thought that at the time.
“New Year’s Eve, I’m pretty sure Les spent with us down here at Invercargill. That’s what the police wanted to know.”
But there are differences in Diack and Stacey’s stories that suggest they may be talking about two different men. Stacey remembers “Ron” getting rid of his Vauxhall in strange circumstances and replacing it with an old Landrover. This was one of the things that made Stacey suspicious enough to walk into a police station. Diack, on the other hand, says his mate Les Houghton drove Vauxhalls until the bitter end.
“He never owned a Landrover, no.”
But Diack adds to the mystery by confirming he remembers the name Ron Hunter:
“I’ve heard the name, but I don’t really know the guy. I have heard that name, Ron Hunter. I couldn’t put a face to him, but I have heard the name.”
Diack, Stacey and Houghton all hailed from Invercargill where they had seasonal work at the Alliance Freezing Works. They travelled to the West Coast on the off-seasons.
Police witness Fay Percy – who told of a mystery Vauxhall driver named “Dave” – says her suspect was an experienced sawmiller who’d spent a lot of time around Invercargill. Gordon Watts, the Hardy and Thompson Sawmill manager, says the Ron Hunter he hired was an experienced sawmiller.
The task of locating Ron Hunter now falls with the current police force, but Emmett Mitten agrees it will be a tough job.
“If anybody’s looking at anyone, you’ve got to take 38 years off the person you’re looking at. And as you will well know from interviewing people, witnesses are notorious for having different versions.”
It’s important to remember that locating a Ron Hunter who was on the West Coast in December 1969/January 1970 does not prove that he is definitely involved in Beard’s death.
Nonetheless, finding the Ron Hunter who was the spitting image of the identikit photo, and who drove a green Velox, and who fled the area immediately, could be the breakthrough police have waited 38 years for.
The Man Who Sold The World
It is a plot that could have been lifted directly from a Robert Ludlum thriller: deep in the throes of World War II, a British government desperate for bullion to pay for its war effort seeks to buy gold from wealthy Chinese families, offering as payment a series of bearer bonds, or promissory notes, worth billions of pounds in today’s money. Throw in deep underground vaults in the Philippines full of gold bars, rumours of the lost treasure of the Japanese warlords, and a mighty typhoon that sucked four CIA aircraft – carrying billions of dollars in US bonds – out of the sky and into a Filipino jungle where locals ransacked the loot. If that’s not enough intrigue, factor in six anonymous figures known collectively as “The Family”, and dwell on the peculiarity that the members of “The Family” are aged between 100 and 116 and claim to be the direct witnesses to a historic event so secret it could shake the foundations of the modern world financial system. Then add in a British Police sting, the arrest of several people bearing £500,000 notes, and a New Zealand fugitive allegedly at the centre of a worldwide manhunt in a $75 billion plot to bring down the Bank of England.
Have I got your attention yet?
In late October 2007, newspapers around the world carried the story of the Southwark Six, five Asians and an Australian, going on trial on a charge of conspiring to defraud the Bank of England between 1 Dec 2006 and March 27 2007.
“A New Zealander remains on the run after British police allegations that he is part of a counterfeiting gang that tried to con the Bank of England out of NZ$75 billion,” noted the Dominion Post on 29 October. “Six people have been arrested. Their alleged Kiwi co-conspirator is believed to be in New Zealand…identified as Brian [sic] Archer.”
Investigate knew where to find him, however, because the “fugitive”, Bryan Archer, had been in touch with the magazine since September, offering to tell his side of the story. What follows, then, is a world exclusive, never-before-told. Make your own mind up as to the guilt or innocence of those involved:
IN THE BEGINNING:
With its rogue Buddhist monks, international intrigue and bizarre plot twists, this story could yet be a movie. Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Dumb springs to mind, although it might be a trifle unkind and a touch premature. You see, whilst prosecutors in a London courtroom have been keen to portray what follows as “quackery”, nagging doubts remain.
It is an investigation that strikes deep into the heart of decades-old conspiracy theories about hordes of lost Nazi, Japanese and Chinese gold, missing US and British bank documents and a worldwide official “cover-up” of the evidence – or so some are claiming.
Picture this: it is mid 1941, and your country, Britain, is at war. Locked in a death-struggle with Nazi Germany, which already has caused you heavy naval losses, and in the skies your airforce is so close to spent that if Hitler’s Luftwaffe keep up their relentless bombardment for just a few weeks more, Britain will fall to the Third Reich. As the Governor of the Bank of England, you have the unenviable task of finding money to keep the war machine going. The gold bullion reserves you amassed before the war have plummeted from US$2.5 billion worth just two years earlier, to a piddling $115 million today. In short, not only are you running out of planes and warships, you are rapidly running out of gold to keep the “bang” in the whole shebang.
So you do what every desperate treasurer of a major power has done throughout history. You beg, borrow and steal money. Who do you turn to? Someone who already trusts you, like China.
In the mid 1930s, China was invaded by Japan. The Chinese government of Chiang Kai Shek fled inland, and the country’s military and economy were propped up by the US, Britain and France – countries with substantial investments in China that they wanted to protect.
A lot of Chinese gold was sent to the US for safekeeping, but much remained in private hands. The currency problem suddenly turned into a Godsend for Britain at the end of 1935 however, when an assassination plus US manipulation of the silver market forced China to introduce its own paper currency, as Time magazine reported in November that year:
“Two days after three bullets put the Premier of China to bed, Acting Premier & Finance Minister Dr. H. H. Kung abruptly “Nationalized” the age-old basis of Chinese money, silver. Chinese could still hoard all the gold they pleased, but Dr. Kung made it treason for Chinese to hold silver which he ordered into the Government’s banks. To a nation that has never had any great confidence in paper, the Chinese Government decreed that its paper is legal tender and not redeemable in either silver or gold.
“Significance: As Dr. Kung warned Washington last spring, President Roosevelt’s jacking up of the world price of silver (TIME, April 22) could only disorganize the price structure of China and drive her off the silver standard. The question was last week whether Mr. Roosevelt had driven China into the fiscal arms of Britain.”
This is a key point – an opportunity for Britain.
“Sir Frederick Leith-Ross of the British Exchequer has been in China for some weeks. He is rumored to have made available £10,000,000 as a “monetary re-organization loan” to Nanking, with Chinese currency to be linked with the pound sterling. This last week could not be confirmed, but British support was immediately obvious in an Order in Council legalizing Chinese paper notes in all transactions with British subjects.”
This, then, set the scene for the events now spilling out in a London courtroom. But there’s a little more you still need to know. In May, 1939, Time magazine reported that most Chinese investors had managed to move their gold out of harm’s way prior to the Japanese invasion of mainland China:
“Wealthy Chinese as well as foreign traders in China have long realized that the safest haven for their transferable riches—jewels, antiques, gold and silver objects, foreign bonds, foreign money—was in the foreign-held concessions and International Settlements, where neither Chinese bandit nor Japanese invader could get at them. In their invasion of China the Japanese have found precious little loot with which to finance their war. Before they retreated the Chinese were careful to strip their cities of wealth, and what they could not take westward with them they hastily deposited in the foreign-controlled zones.”
This aspect is important to the story that follows, because it shows the Chinese had clear motive to swap their bullion for Bank of England paper money, not just warm fuzzies.
“The fullest deposit vaults are in the big International Settlement and the French Concession at Shanghai. There are only guesses as to how much wealth (foreign and Chinese) is on deposit there, but if Japan, already forced to tighten her belt to carry on the Chinese “incident,” could get her hands on these riches, they would help her in financing the rest of the war,” reported Time.
Which brings us back to the early 1940s.
In his voluminous history of the second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent a message to his Chancellor of the Exchequer:
“How much gold have we actually got left in this island?”
The Year of the Sky Dragon
To give you an idea of how much gold was actually floating around in the world at the time, Time magazine recorded in 1935 the total monetary supply of gold was worth US$22 billion at the time (or nearly US$1 trillion at today’s inflation-adjusted prices), of which one-third was stored in America. How much space would $22 billion worth of bullion take up?
“All the world’s monetary gold could be stored in a room 15m long, 7.5m wide, 6m high,” reported Time.
THE YEAR OF THE ‘SKY DRAGON’
There is one man who has seen some of that gold, and photographed it. Enter Bryan Archer, the New Zealander allegedly on the run from Scotland Yard for masterminding what the media have called one of the world’s biggest fraud attempts. Fifty-nine years old, silver-haired with calloused hands, Archer doesn’t come across as your traditional fraudster. Nor do his actions. Far from fleeing into the mist when his colleagues were arrested en masse in London on March 27 2007, Archer instead went into bat for them, making approaches to Scotland Yard directly through his lawyer, and even writing to British Conservative Party leader David Cameron and Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling.
“I’m not hiding out,” he scoffs when challenged. “I don’t quite know what the police are playing at, it’s not as if they don’t know where I live. I was just with the police two weeks ago giving them information about what I knew about the Tuhoe camps up there – I took photos of what was up there 20 years ago and gave them to the police in Rotorua, but they didn’t want to know about it back then.”
Archer is referring to those terror raids in mid October, and says what he saw were “French, Belgian and US weaponry”, including automatic weapons and grenade launchers.
In fact, so high-profile is he that on October 15 TV3 News interviewed Bryan Archer on camera about the training camps – although the network has apparently failed to subsequently make the link to the British fraud investigation.
So what is his link to the British case?
“Since 1983 I’ve been involved in charitable relief aid work, Operation Good Samaritan. I gathered up building materials and we built schools and hospitals in the Pacific Islands after natural disasters, and I’ve sought funding for that in different places.”
That funding has included “some substantial wealthy families in the US” as well as the US Government. “It was through those that I met ‘banking people’. One of them called me and said, ‘there’s this Chinese family that loaned gold to the British, when it was badly in need of gold to finance the war, and they were given notes as receipts which were redeemable’.
“So I started to help them and introduce them to my contacts.”
It was in China’s remote, northwestern frontier, beneath mist-covered mountains in July 2005, that Archer first met the patriarchs of ‘The Family’ – a group of six centenarians the oldest of whom is allegedly 116. Archer didn’t speak Mandarin; The Family didn’t speak English. The Family’s other representative, Chin ‘Daniel’ Lim, a 50 year old Malaysian businessman, was able to translate, however. Lim explained to his elders that Archer’s contacts could help realize their dream of cashing in the notes. It was then, in a traditional Buddhist ceremony at a nearby temple, that Bryan Archer was “adopted” as an honorary Chinese ‘son’ of the Family. He was given a new name, Lee Tian Long, meaning “Sky Dragon” and appointed a “Royal Voluntary Trustee” to transact the deal on The Family’s behalf.
Daniel Lim’s involvement follows an equally tortuous path. A millionaire businessman in his own right, with several companies in Malaysia including a joint venture with German conglomerate Schaefer Kalk, Lim was shoulder-tapped by The Family in 1996. Documents provided exclusively to Investigate detail what happened.
“The most senior person in The Family and the trusts, whose photo appears on the inheritance document, was a very close personal friend of my grandfather. This senior person had no living children or natural heirs,” Lim writes.
“In 1996 I was approached to help The Family in redeeming the various wealth they held. They approached me because of my international connections with the heads of State, business corporations etc due to my business, which involves industrial minerals (resources of countries).”
Lim says that because of his own businesses, and his prominent reputation in Malaysia, he was “very cautious” about taking up the offer to get involved. It took three years of cross-checking, researching and verifying what The Family were telling him before he made his choice, “whereby I was made the heir to the most senior person, and adopted by The Family, thereby becoming the heir to this vast wealth.”
But what “vast wealth” exactly?
As Archer tells it, The Family showed him special banknotes allegedly issued by the Bank of England during the war as receipts for gold borrowed from the Chinese. Specifically, he saw and handled 360 notes, each carrying a face value of £500,000. That’s £180 million pounds in 1943 currency.
“I had all 360 of these ones in New Zealand at one stage. And I actually had one of them digitally examined to make sure it wasn’t overprinted. It was enhanced to the point where you could see what was on the back coming through to the front, and he said ‘There’s nothing in between’.”
He also had a hundred £1000 notes.
Investigate asked the obvious question, did they feel and look like banknotes?
“Absolutely. I couldn’t tell it apart from other banknotes from the time.”
Weelll, yes and no. There are some discrepancies, and Archer is the first to admit it. Firstly, the Bank of England denies ever printing half-million pound notes, and secondly it claims only 63 of the £1000 notes remain outstanding from the war years.
Archer suspects both of these objections may simply be the Bank of England’s way of trying to make the problem go away.
“Now you’ve only got the bank’s word that there are only 63 outstanding. And you’ve really only got the bank’s word that they never issued these £500,000 documents and receipts.”
As he points out, would a forger really go to the effort of forging a note that never existed? Then there’s the issue of practicality. If you really were selling £180 million worth of gold bullion, you wouldn’t really be wanting to transport 180,000 one-thousand pounds sterling banknotes. Far easier to have 360 notes. And as Time magazine again shows in a 1935 report, wealthy Asians were selling gold.
“Since the autumn of 1931, when Britain quit the gold standard, India has exported no less than 29,300,000 oz.—more than the rest of the world has mined in any single year to date. But Indian gold was not mined; it was disgorged from fabulous private hoards. When pound sterling was hitched to gold, the metal was worth about 85 shillings per oz. Indian princes and potentates today receive 140 shillings (£7).
“All India’s gold, along with no inconsiderable portion of the recent output of newly-mined metal, went into hoarding in the Western World. It is estimated that nearly US$3,000,000,000 in coin and bullion is now hidden in countries other than India, China and Egypt, the three traditional sinkholes of precious metals. If world gold production had not increased, much of that hoarded gold would have been drained directly from monetary stocks, vastly aggravating the deflationary course of the Depression.”
Applying these figures to the transaction at hand is a double-edged sword, however. While it shows that gold transfers were indeed taking place thanks to wealthy “potentates”, the Chinese deal we are looking at would be almost equivalent to the total Indian gold sales for the four years from 1931 to 1935 – around 800 tonnes of gold. In today’s dollars, that’s equivalent to US$23 billion.
No ordinary family of Chinese peasants was ever going to have cash reserves like that. But then again, this was no ordinary family. It all has to do, apparently, with the events surrounding The Last Emperor.
When the Qing dynasty fell in 1911, Buddhist monks and temples stepped up to take control of local affairs in many areas until the new Republican government was fully operational.
“Unlike the old dynasties where you had one man in charge and his word was absolute law,” writes Archer in his briefing document, “under the new order of the Kuomintang [republican party] it is a democracy and therefore the ownership of this wealth is entrusted to a body of people (a Family). The Family, by agreement…hand the vast majority of it over to the Monks who can be trusted to keep it safe and not be corrupted by such vast riches.”
The Monks, as part of their agreement to hold the funds in trust, allegedly squirreled the gold away, especially when the Japanese invaded in 1937.
“Before Japan could get their hands on the majority of it these treasures were moved and hidden in caves and secret places known only to the monks themselves. Chiang Kai Shek was aware of the Japanese intentions and supported the monks by supplying trusted generals to assist them,” writes Archer.
This might explain a Time magazine report from this period revealing one of Kai Shek’s generals had managed to abscond to British Hong Kong with US$30 million in “small money”.
After World War II, Chiang Kai Shek’s problems worsened, with Mao Tse Tung’s Communist troops rapidly taking over China.
As historians record, Kai Shek tried to round up all the riches he could and ship them to Taiwan.
“Under the penalty of death all Chinese holding gold or silver would be required to surrender their wealth to the central bank in exchange for the new gold yuan [a paper note],” reports author Stella Dong in her book about the fall of Shanghai.
By the time the fall of Shanghai came, however, Kai Shek’s troops had managed to shift the final 14 tonnes of gold out of the Bank of China vaults and across to Taiwan.
As Archer tells the story, however, Kai Shek did not get away with as much as he had hoped for.
“The Most Senior Elder [of The Family] was Chiang Kai Shek’s treasurer. Being forced to flee the country in 1949 Chiang Kai Shek begins to move the treasures offshore to Formosa (Taiwan). The Elders of the Family did not leave China.
“The Most Senior Elder, being the Treasurer, was involved in overseeing the move. He, along with the other Elders of The Family are Nationalist, and while having no time for the communists don’t want to see the wealth of China go offshore and be lost forever. They move a vast portion of the treasures to protect them from Mao and the Chinese communist party, and from being taken offshore by Chiang Kai Shek.
“One hundred and eight people commit to move this treasure to secret locations and at the end of the task of moving it those 108 voluntarily give up their lives to protect the whereabouts of it.”
In assessing the veracity of all this, argues Archer – who’s tried to get to the bottom of it himself – you need to bear in mind that unlikely as it all seems, it remains possible. The leadership of the Kuomintang Party, for example, included many of the old warlords and nobles from Imperial times – extremely wealthy individuals in their own rights. As the Communist advance drew closer, some of these people for family or other reasons could not escape with Chiang Kai Shek to Taiwan. It is also doubtful that they would have complied with Kai Shek’s last ditch order for all citizens to turn in their gold to his government.
So we are still left with the possibility, however remote, that some of old China’s wealthiest individuals sold their gold to the Bank of England during one of the most turbulent periods in world history, and while England was begging for gold, in return for redeemable banknotes.
What about the contrary evidence? Well, that takes us back to the banknotes and those discrepancies we touched on earlier.
They contain spelling mistakes and strange, English-as-a-second-language sentence constructions. On the reverse of the £500,000 notes, for example is the phrase:
“This bank note only for the special use by the supply mortgaged with gold by the officers. The supply should be kept altered. Not for circulation. Five hundred thousand pounds to bearer.” [Investigate’s emphasis]
Several words are run together, one is misspelt.
According to The Family’s documentation, the mistakes were “deliberate” on the part of the Bank of England, so as to throw counterfeiters off the scent and to stop any old Joe from simply stealing a note and trying to cash it; part of an elaborate three-step security plan. It worked like this:
Having printed a half million pound banknote promising to “pay the Bearer on demand”, the BoE could not afford the risk of such notes being copied as is, especially after the Bernhard forgery scare during World War II when the Germans printed more than a hundred million pounds’ worth of top class forged British banknotes, in order to destabilize Britain financially.
By building mistakes into the note, so the conspiracy theory goes, the Bank created a hurdle that anyone presenting such a note would first have to eliminate before they could cash it: is the note genuine? In this way, if half million quid notes started springing up all over the place, of course most people would believe they were forgeries because of the errors.
But to give the Chinese comfort that they were not being duped, says Archer, the BoE created accompanying documentation that would have to be presented alongside the notes as a three-tier security plan. The second tier was an “Explanation” document bearing the alleged signature of BoE Chief Cashier, Jasper Hollum. It reads:
“Explanation of Secret – The Bank had specially set up the English letters by mistake as the drawing evidence for 500,000 pounds, which were the inside code of the Bank, in order to keep secret definitely inside the bank can’t open the code to the outside world. Hereby keeping secret proves.”
Ah yes, Grasshopper. The third tier of security was a gold triangular plate, bearing account codes, and a stipulation that this had to be presented with the notes and the explanation.
To add to the confusion, the half million pound notes had apparently been originally issued in 1943, recalled and reprinted in 1953, and the same again in 1963 – the final incarnation. Nor were pounds sterling the only currency. The Family had US notes, French Francs and Deutsche Marks.
All this was explained to Bryan Archer during his “adoption” into The Family in July 2005. By October, 2005, however, he was not a happy camper. Having set up a possible deal with US banking and political contacts – including the US Federal Reserve and representatives from the US, UK and French governments – the rug was pulled out from under Archer by a Family refusal to cooperate.
Part of the problem was The Family’s decision to drip-feed documentation to Archer and his contacts, rather than provide all the information necessary for verification.
“I am bitterly disappointed, disgusted and angry that The Family have used me and destroyed my credibility with Bob and the Trust,” excoriated Archer in a letter to his “brother” Daniel Lim. “But then, it could be said, why should I expect anything different from a family that I see has bitter internal fighting and greed as the basis of their relationships.
“You and The Family asked me to help them get this 180 package to the right people so this could be dealt with. I have done that, and all I get in return is stubborn, blind ignorance of the world’s political climate and a conceited arrogance from a bunch of old people that think they are in control of the world’s finances. It’s time they woke up and smelled the roses.
“For God’s sake, tell The Family to use a bit of common sense and logic…the cash samples are to prove to the Governments that The Family has the real stuff and that it is not like other stuff that has come out of China in the past…
“All you are being asked to do is agree to the following – sign the letter I gave you, which stipulates that you agree to supply samples of the US, UK, FF [francs] and DM [Deutsche Marks]. That means a generous sampling of each currency and a generous sampling of each denomination within the currencies. That includes all the different types of currencies you have from those four nations.”
There’s an important point that emerges from this letter. Whatever the merits of the Chinese claim, Bryan Archer clearly had confidence the notes were real, and indeed his next paragraph reinforces his belief that the notes will survive “forensic testing” by the US Federal Reserve.
“The samples are for forensic testing to prove to the three nations that the currency The Family holds is real. I say that as I recall once you saying something along the lines of, ‘The Family produced at least two sets of fake documents for every real set’. I may have got that wrong as I don’t understand the reason for that other than to mislead the rogue members of The Family. The Governments want to make sure they are dealing with the right people before they strike any deals.”
Again, this is an important paragraph. It shows there has been some kind of internal discussion within the organization about “fake documents”, albeit with the implication that genuine ones exist that they were copied from. It also shows some kind of internal discord so serious that different sides are willing to cheat each other with false documents. If correct, this also implies that somewhere, in the middle of this, might exist a kernel of truth – even if it was only one £500,000 note that has then been copied by forgers.
Archer’s next comment to Daniel Lim, however, shows The Family has had dealings with the Federal Reserve in the past:
“The US and the Fed’s history with The Family of 12 years ago tell them that The Family doesn’t honour their word – that while not being devious they tend to stall and play mind games which they somehow believe is part of the consultation and negotiation process. Nothing will change that image until The Family starts behaving in an honourable way. Whether The Family likes it or not, that rogue member of 12 years ago severely tarnished The Family’s image.”
In another letter, in December 2005, Archer again tells Daniel that The Family need to get their heads into the 21st century:
“To transact the Notes we have to deal with the four Governments of issue. It has already been established that the payout will be between 10-20 cents in the dollar.
“These four Governments are not waiting around for the family to bring this in. They are not sitting in their offices with open arms wishing it would all come in so the family can receive their inheritance.
“NO ONE is sitting out there losing a second’s sleep or wasting a moment’s thought on the fact that some Chinese families are being done out of their inheritance. THAT IS REALITY.
“The four Nations of issue don’t want to know about it and they are actively seeking it to destroy it without having to pay out a cent.
“The world has changed over the last 60 plus years, it has turned and it will never go back to being what it was or what the family members remember it as. Those who struck the deals with the family are either dead or retired and those that are still alive are under gag orders about what they did.
“The leaders of the day when the Notes were issued did some very foolish things for reasons unknown to those in the money power positions today.
“The Financiers, Chief cashiers, Treasurers, etc of the Governments the four Nations today have never seen this stuff and they have never seen the original documentation. There is not some board in the banks of those 4 Nations where the copies of the Notes are pinned to it with a “what to do check list if one turns up”.
“The world of finance today operates on who you know and what deals can be cut and “what in it for me”; it does not operate on the basis of right and fairness or any other nice feelings that the family may have about the bankers and banks and Head of State of the Nations who signed the agreements over 60 years ago.”
Archer sounds a warning in his letters that hauntingly foretells the eventual fate of the man he was writing to:
“I have spoken to enough people now who have also seen this asset in the past who also know it is real. But, all have said that getting the banks and the Governments to acknowledge that is another story. For any bank or Government to acknowledge it, it immediately upsets their balance sheet; and often the easiest way to solve the problem is to deny it, destroy their own internal documentation on it and plead ignorance (which amounts to saying The Family are fraudsters), or take an exceptional heavy-handed approach in an effort to intimidate The Family into another 60 years plus of sitting on it until it gets totally lost in the mists of time.”
Fast forward nearly a year, to September 2006. Another letter, and still a feeling from Bryan Archer that The Family were not being entirely straight with anyone they dealt with, this time over some of the US silver certificates.
“More recently there were the US silver certificates which, when I had them examined, raised serious questions about their validity. I forwarded you a sample of a real silver certificate that both Treasury and the Fed were willing to acknowledge, and was informed by you that The Family said the sample was one of their set!
“I have a direct link into the Fed…and asked for The Family to come forward with the real silver certificates or provide evidence that their silver certificates are real, and supply the supporting documentation to prove it. That was over six weeks ago and NOTHING has been said back to me – just silence, which makes me look bad in the eyes of those I am dealing with.”
One of those Archer was dealing with was Phinias Sichoongue, a bullion trader and banker whose contracts included work for the Bank of England and Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia. He warned Archer of the perils of being wrong about the notes:
“I would propose that Mr Daniel Lim comes here to London, give an immunity that whatever he is carrying, fake or genuine, has nothing to do with me, and I will take him to the Bank of England to meet the Treasury Department.
“Please note, the production of such an instrument or instruments – and if the instrument/s are deemed fake – will land you in jail for the rest of your life, including all entities and individuals that are part and parcel of the said instruments, so be cautious.”
Archer mused on it for a day, then passed the warning onto Daniel Lim. He advised Lim to accept the offer, saying the only way to sort the matter out once and for all was to ask the Bank of England whether they could verify the notes.
According to the correspondence, The Family claimed to have run some of their documentation past Professor Charles Goodheart, a banking expert and Emeritus Professor at the London School of Economics. Archer, through his own banking contacts, was dubious about the truth of this, but told Daniel Lim that if this was true and Goodheart had indeed given them cause for hope, then they should follow through and meet the Bank.
“What more can the family possibly want if they are genuine?” he asked at the end of his letter.
Unfortunately for Archer, one of his “contacts”, Ramona Forster, was about to enter the picture. Archer had met her through one of his charities, and she intimated she had contacts in the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England. She referred in documentation to a member of the House of Lords she named as “Sir Christopher” who was assisting her on The Family’s claim, and Archer later noted the name of the Lord was Sir Christopher Jones. It didn’t occur to anyone to check and see whether such an individual actually existed (he doesn’t).
“I am familiar with the historical currency for gold and other asset exchanges which took part in the early times of the last century between important Chinese families and the countries of USA, Great Britain, Germany and France. These situations are still unresolved and are significant,” stated Forster boldly.
Forster made a pitch to handle the deal and on November 17 last year sent an email to Bryan Archer asking him to send key documents and a power of attorney to her.
“I will be travelling France, London, etc in a round robin while I put things together. Sir Christopher sends his regards. He is very old and not very well but he is very interested in your case as well as is the bank.”
Over the next few weeks, documents were sent, meetings arranged, and according to Archer, Ramona Forster had already made contact with the Bank of England. In a diary note of their conversation on 17 December 2006, Forster is quoted as saying:
“The BoE has already authenticated the Notes, they were able to do it from the jpeg pictures we sent them. They could even read the magnetic lines in the Notes from the jpegs. The BoE is not interested in the [supporting] documents as they have already verified the Notes. It is a done deal. Tomorrow we will go to the bank.”
It was a Sunday night in London, and Forster was at dinner with Bryan Archer and several delegates from The Family, including Chan Kwok Kwong – later arrested as a conspirator. Archer says Chan was the illegitimate son of the Most Senior Elder heading The Family. The dinner became heated, however, when Ramona Forster allegedly argued with members of The Family about how much control of the deal she wanted.
The following day, says Archer, “she commented that this £180 million package was in fact more than 180 million, it was £1.8 billion. When I questioned her on this she was adamant…in the end she conceded she had got it wrong. I was concerned at the lack of study she had done on the notes and I wondered if she had in fact read all the information carefully.”
Forster also promised a visit to the Bank of England that day with an escrow officer – a commercial agent who specialises in the transporting of valuable documentation – Monday 18 December, but it didn’t eventuate.
“When I saw her in the morning [Tuesday 19th] and asked about what happened to the escrow officer yesterday, she informed me that she had been up during the night talking to her team who were in Australia.”
One of the “team” turned out to be Australian lawyer and escrow agent Ross Cowie – another one of those later arrested. Now Cowie is no slug. His business is so sensitive and security conscious that his company has contracts with the Australian Defence Force. In fact, the Defence website actually acknowledges this:
Additionally, Ross Cowie’s company, APPS Escrow Australia, leases office space on the second floor of the Reserve Bank of Australia’s note printing facility in Melbourne, Victoria. Explains Cowie: “NPA [the printing facility] carries out for Australia and 17 other countries, including New Zealand, the role undertaken for USA by both its Central Reserve and Fort Knox.”
With a security clearance to work from the very factory that prints banknotes for Australasia, you’d again have to ask the question: do the British police really believe Cowie formed criminal intent?
Forster, says Archer, “went on to say that ‘the escrow officer will be coming to the hotel to collect the Note and answer your questions’. I informed her that the Notes would not be handed over in a hotel room as The Family needed proof and identification of who was receiving the Notes and that the Bank of England was involved, ‘as to date we have not seen one scrap of evidence concerning the BoE, The Bank of New York, Sir Christopher Jones etc’.”
When Archer mentioned that someone from the Bank of England known to The Family might shake his hand when he entered the building, “she again raised her voice and said that if we went into the BoE and anyone came up to greet me they would be immediately arrested. That her team had checked and there was nobody in the BoE connected to The Family.”
As Wednesday 20 December rolled around and there was still no sign of an escrow officer or a Bank of England visit, Bryan Archer pressed Forster for an explanation. She explained that Australian Ross Cowie was arranging for a security firm to collect a banknote for forensic testing.
“This was…an ageing test to see if the paper was in fact that of 1963,” says Archer. “When I brought up the previous things she had said about the BoE having already authenticated and verified the Notes from the jpegs, she was unable to offer an explanation.”
It wasn’t the only porkie Ramona Forster allegedly told. The documents suggest she had not been upfront about her international travel movements in regard to the project, or about her financial status.
Ross Cowie, meanwhile, was spelling out a perfectly orthodox approach to the problem at hand, finding out whether the notes were genuine.
“We need to have the forensic people nominated by Bank of England to review one of the notes to establish authenticity. This is expected to take up to 14 days.”
Hardly the actions of someone trying to pull a fast one on the Bank of England, one would have thought. Bryan Archer’s concerns, however, were heightened by the possibility that Forster may have misled Cowie about the totality of the transactions.
“As far as I was ever concerned,” says Archer, “the deal was only for £180 million – the 360 half million pound redeemable notes and about a hundred thousand pounds in the £1000 bills. That’s it.”
In Cowie’s email traffic with Forster, however, it is clear Forster has raised the possibility of accrued “interest” on the old notes, which may have been the source of the mysterious reference to a £1.8 billion dollar deal with the BoE.
“Now,” responds Cowie to one of Forster’s offsiders, “on the matter of the outstanding interest owing to the consortium, I am happy to take that up with them, and an extra few days, considering the problem is over 40 years old, should not make any difference.
“I intend to come to London to settle all of the first stage, 180 and hopefully interest, in the first couple of weeks in January,” writes Cowie. “This will be immediately after we get acceptance by BoE that the sample note is approved by their scientific and forensic people.”
The documents given to Investigate suggest a sample £500,000 note was delivered to the Bank of England’s forensic team on 2 January this year by Brambles Security. Or at least, that’s what Forster said. In fact, the note remained in secure storage at Brambles and was not delivered to the Bank. Events moved relatively swiftly after that. Firstly, Ramona Forster was dumped by The Family. Ongoing doubts about her credibility and expertise led Archer and Daniel Lim to cancel her power of attorney in early January. Ross Cowie was invited to pick up the ball and run with it.
“For reasons she never explained to me, nor, I understand, to Mr Archer, Ms Forster instructed…me to present the £1000 notes along with the 180 package. At that stage, not having communicated with Mr Archer personally, I duly advised the Bank and forwarded them a jpeg scanned image of the 1000 note,” writes Cowie in a briefing to The Family dated 19 January 2007.
“The result was that the 1000 pound note and the 180 package have both been presented to the Bank but to different departments, and I am happy to report that the 1000 note has received a favourable report, The Bank has issued me the forms to fill out for its collection and subsequent payout following a visual sighting of the 1000 notes and the subsequent forensic testing.”
In a further email on 24 January, Cowie advised that the Bank of England was happy to see him in early February, “certainly on 1K issues and, with a little bit less confidence, to negotiate further on the 180 redemption. The hesitation on the 180 is not that they doubt the authenticity, but that they are dealing in a matter which has a long history, some of it lost in the mists of time, and nobody wants to be the person making the wrong decision, so are reluctant to make any decision: typical corporate behaviour.”
Cowie’s contact at the Bank of England appears to have been one Jamie Higgins, who describes himself as a “project analyst” with the Bank on a social website.
Higgins, without having seen a copy of the £500,000 note at all, appears to have kicked for touch, arranging for Cowie and representatives of The Family, including Archer, to meet Bank officials in mid February.
“I had a very interesting discussion with Bank of England last night,” writes Cowie to Archer on the morning of January 30 this year, “and they seem comfortable dealing with me, and with the transactions. They have agreed to meet with me, and, if you or Daniel wish it, with one or two members of The Family, on…13th and 14th February.”
Cowie’s email records that the first meeting would involve the Bank’s “legal counsel” and Cowie to set up “the procedures to effect the Exchange and to table the authority documents authorising me to represent The Family. This will take place at the BoE on the first morning.”
Following that, the second meeting would table “the 1K’s and several of the 500ks. “All persons attending Meeting 2 will need to be carrying identification, at least two items,” warns Cowie.
Curiously, he also records senior members of The Family expressing “their desire to be there, as the matter is reaching fruition, and naturally The Family wants to oversee the final steps in this half-century saga!!”
Regardless of whether Investigate or its readers suspects the notes are bogus, it would be strange for people who allegedly knew they were counterfeit to walk into the lion’s den clutching the cash.
In a second email late in the evening of the same day, Cowie reports the group’s first hiccup.
“I have had a further discussion with BoE, and the conversation was not too encouraging in relation to the 500K.”
According to Cowie, the bank officers told him, “We have some serious concerns as to whether the 500Ks are, in fact, genuine. We have no record of the Bank of England ever having issued notes of £500,000 denomination.”
Remember that statement, as it will shortly become crucial.
“While we understand your comment that these were a special issue,” said the Bank, “and that the notes are supported with documentation, we are not in a position to further discuss these notes until you arrive.”
Remarks Cowie: “They had no such reservations about the 1K notes.”
Cowie didn’t know it, but the men he was now scheduled to meet were not bank officials in the ordinary sense of the word. One of the two men claiming to be bank officials, “William Hickson”, was, in fact, an undercover police officer. The second, John Nelson, was a security consultant, not a bank historian.
This, in itself, is strange. One would have thought that before the Bank of England called in police it would first want to touch the money, check it out for themselves, hear the story. It didn’t. The Bank of England had no intention of discussing the notes with anyone.
Coincidentally, within minutes of the timing of Cowie’s email, the Bank’s Jamie Higgins fired through a request, “can I confirm that you will be bringing the appropriate ID on behalf of yourself (including the Power of Attorney) and of your clients visiting the Bank in two weeks’ time? I would also be grateful of all names of attendees prior to your visit if possible.”
Cowie responded with a confirmation, and added: “I am very concerned, too, that you have doubts as to their authenticity. However, the only way to check these notes is to present them, and we will proceed on that basis, if that’s OK.”
The ball was now in play, and it is at this point, notes still sight-unseen, that the police stepped in.
“Dear Mr Cowie. I am John Nelson, a Senior Security Officer at the Bank of England tasked with the role of dealing with customers wishing to redeem out of date or damaged currency. Mr Higgins has forwarded me all your correspondence.
“When you and your party arrive at our main entrance in Threadneedle Street, security will direct you to the counter area. The counter staff will then contact me and I will come and collect you. Please confirm your approximate arrival time.”
When they did arrive on February 14, it was not exactly a friendly greeting.
“Neither of the two men [Hickson and Nelson] had business cards nor offered any form of identification when cards were being handed around the table at the start of the meeting,” remembers Archer.
Attendees included Archer and Cowie, along with Melbourne-based New Zealander Euan Ansley (Cowie’s 2IC) and London-based lawyer Kim Ming Teo. Teo had no connection with The Family or the fortune, except to the extent he’d been hired mid-December to act as legal counsel because 1) he lived in London, 2) he spoke fluent Mandarin and 3) he was Malaysian, like Daniel Lim.
Teo, the lawyer, stayed quiet, as did Ansley whose role was purely to take notes. According to Archer, however, bank “official” William Hickson claimed the spelling mistakes on the special-issue notes were not unusual: “We still do that today”.
“When I asked what they meant by that,” says Archer, Hickson replied, ‘The Bank of England covers [underwrites] the Bank of Scotland and rather than cover each denomination they issue special one million pound notes and incorporate mistakes, security measures and codes’.”
“This was a relief to me,” says Archer, because the spelling problem “was my only real concern” about the veracity of the notes.
In some respects, it almost makes sense. If the Bank of England really did print huge denomination bills, it would not want them being accepted at face value as genuine money. By incorporating glaring errors, it would certainly make them harder to cash, as The Family were finding.
Cowie re-confirmed – although he had already done so in writing prior – that the men were there to offer the notes for forensic examination to see if they were real, under the Bank of England’s stated policy on old banknotes, including possible forgeries:
“All old Bank of England bills remain exchangeable for current bills forever. Forgeries however will be retained and destroyed by the Bank (including Bernhard Bills), and it is not therefore advisable to send bills to the bank in order to confirm whether or not they are forgeries. Bills can either be taken in person to the Bank in London…or sent by post at the sender’s risk…”
Hickson responded by saying that if the notes turned out not to be real, the Bank would let the men know and ask them to hand over all stock for destruction. Archer says they all agreed with this course of action.
A wad of the half-million pound notes were tabled, and John Nelson took just one note for testing. A hundred of the thousand pound notes were tabled but the Bank did not want to take any of those for testing, choosing instead only to scan one and hand it back. Nelson allegedly told the men there was no problem with the authenticity of the thousand pound notes.
So far, so good, but nine days later Cowie sent an email to bank “official” and undercover cop William Hickson to start arranging the follow-up meeting. At the end of it he wrote something that appears to be at the core of the current trial in London:
“At this meeting, we propose to initiate the second transaction, being a small number (say 500 or so 1000 pound notes) of the Stg28 Billion holdings. That will no doubt prove interesting!”
You can imagine how interesting City of London Police found that email. It is fairly likely that “William Hickson” fell off his chair when he read it.
Where did the figure of £28 billion suddenly come from? For his part, Bryan Archer says he has no idea.
“Look, the deal on the table when I was working on it was the 360 half-million pound notes. Nobody was talking wild figures like £28 billion.”
Was this a result of Forster talking up the case, or had someone from The Family been in Cowie’s ear? Who’s to know? Either way, it was probably the clincher that set in stone the fates of those attending the next meeting, scheduled for March 27 2007, in London.
The Trap Snaps Shut
The Bank of England still had not reported back on the forensic testing of the one £500,000 note they had taken away, with Hickson telling Cowie, “This is a complex instrument, and there are many factors to the transaction. It is like a jigsaw puzzle. Until the whole puzzle is done, with every piece in place, we will not have achieved any success.”
Cowie, by all accounts, was really enjoying himself.
“It is truly the most interesting project I have ever been involved with,” he writes in an email near the end, ironically headed “Custody arrangements and the way forward”.
And the end, when it came, came swiftly.
On the morning of March 27, six men had been selected to meet the Bank of England for the next step in transacting “the deal”. They included 50 year old Daniel Lim; 55 year old Kwok Kwong Chan, an alleged son of the Senior Elder (codenamed ‘The Dragon’); Chan’s 53 year old interpreter Chi Kuen Chung – a Chinese businessman who’d been making enquiries about buying into a New Zealand biotechnology company called Aquaflow after seeing New Zealand’s Energy Minister David Parker endorsing it; 56 year old Pin Shuen Mak, representing the Senior Lady Elder (codenamed ‘The Phoenix’); 41 year old lawyer Kim Ming Teo; and of course 62 year old Australian Ross Cowie. It had been decided that New Zealander Bryan Archer and Australian-based Euan Ansley did not need to attend, although Archer did get himself placed on standby for an Air New Zealand flight to London just in case.
Archer’s last-ever conversation with Cowie was the night before the meeting.
“He informed me that the Bank of England (Mr William Hickson) had made arrangements for a Bank vehicle to take one of them to the safe deposit vault at the Bank where they had kept the items of the package as he didn’t want any chance of the Notes being stolen.”
The sequence of events that followed has been pieced together from news reports and Archer’s conversation with Cowie’s wife in Melbourne after the arrests.
On arrival at the Bank of England, the men were greeted by officials. After a couple of minutes, probably just long enough for all the banknotes and supporting documentation retrieved from the vault to be handed over, the men suddenly found themselves under arrest. The six were taken to different police stations and interviewed separately by detectives. The following morning all six appeared in the local Magistrates Court, charged with “Conspiracy to defraud the Bank of England”. Apart from Cowie, no one else was given bail.
A criminal charge like conspiracy to defraud requires a key element to succeed at trial: mens rea, or criminal intent. This means that not only must an action be illegal, but the participants must have formed the necessary criminal intent to break that law. Assuming the banknotes are indeed forged, the question is how many, if any, of the arrested men intended to defraud the bank whilst knowing the bills to be false? The Family’s lawyer, Teo, is unlikely to have met the mens rea threshold. He had been brought in late to handle any legal paperwork. Like any lawyer, he would only know as much as his clients told him. Then there’s Australian Ross Cowie, a lawyer by trade, working in document security with contracts to the Australian military and office space in the banknote printing facility of the Reserve Bank of Australia. Did he know whether the notes were definitely false? Did he try to hide that possibility from the Bank of England or was he open about it?
What about Bryan Archer and Daniel Lim – both ring-ins to help represent The Family because of their banking and business links. Would Lim, a relatively high-profile millionaire Malaysian industrialist with a number of companies and international joint ventures, really have walked into the Bank of England if he’d genuinely believed the notes were a fraud? Admittedly both he and Archer had been let down by The Family on a number of occasions, and both were aware The Family’s reputation had been sullied by a previous altercation with the US over redeemable bonds. Even so, the evidence suggests Archer was not knowingly trying to pass bad money but was relying on the Bank of England – the experts – to make the call one way or the other.
Sterling and Peggy Seagrave’s 2004 book, Gold Warriors, recounts at one point:
“A journalist at the Financial Times told us: ‘It has now reached a point where you can go into one of the big banks in New York, London or Zurich, give them half a metric ton of gold in return for a certificate of ownership, walk around the block for 10 minutes, re-enter the same bank, and they’ll deny ever seeing you before and have you arrested for presenting them with a counterfeit certificate’.”
What about the Bank of England. Its initial statements were that there had never been a £500,000 note, ever. Even prosecutor Martin Evans took this line in his opening address to the jury:
“It will not surprise you to know there never was a £500,000 note but that there was a £1,000 note – it was issued until 1943 when they were withdrawn,” he said.
Suddenly, at the trial in early November 2007, that story changed. The Bank of England’s John Keyworth, giving evidence on oath, admitted for the first time that the half-million pound notes did indeed exist.
“Mr Keyworth said the £500,000 notes had never been produced for public circulation in the history of the Bank of England, and were used as a way of banking Scottish and Irish-issue notes to avoid having to print large quantities of bills,” one newspaper has reported.
Look at that statement for a moment. They existed, and they were never produced for public circulation. Isn’t that exactly what The Family and Bryan Archer have consistently argued?
“What these notes were used for was purely accounting purposes,” Keyworth told the court. Asked if the huge denomination notes leave the bank under any circumstances, Keyworth replied: “No, they do not, they are carefully guarded.”
So guarded, in fact, that despite being around for decades their existence has only just been publicly revealed.
Another aspect to this that puts some of the outrageous numbers into perspective is the simple arithmetic that lies at the heart of modern fractional reserve banking. Ever since the 1930s, western banks have been allowed to lend out around 20 times more money than they have assets. That means, if a bank has $1 billion in gold or other reserves, it can make loans to the value of $20 billion. Thus, whatever the Bank of England was paying the Chinese for gold, the gold was really worth 20 times more to the Bank of England under western banking rules.
Prosecutor Martin Evans ridiculed the accused by saying that if the counterfeit notes had been genuine, they would have been worth almost 75% of the £39 billion now in use worldwide. At first glance it does seem ridiculous (and he undoubtedly wanted the jury to think that), until you realize that the amount of cash in circulation is only a total fraction of the total amount of money circulating in an economy. In New Zealand, for example, there is generally $4 billion or so of cash in use, yet our total economy is more than $100 billion.
It didn’t matter how much gold Britain and the US purchased, it was always going to generate vastly more income than it ever cost, under the rules of fractional reserve banking.
But what if Britain and the US simply used the turmoil of World War 2 and its aftermath to soak up as much foreign gold as possible, with no real intention of ever paying it back?
The mystery deepens when you join a few more dots together. Back in 1937, while Chinese leader Chiang Kai Shek was busy fighting the Japanese invasion and trying to move gold and treasure out of harm’s way, assistance came from the Americans in the form of General Claire Chennault. One of Chennault’s tasks was to set up an air transport service for Chiang Kai Shek. That airline eventually became Civil Air Transport (CAT), a front for the CIA and later renamed Air America. CAT would take on the risky missions that no other commercial airline would take, and its pilots and crew would be paid commensurately. This much is established, proven history.
As the Seagraves report in Gold Warriors, it became directly relevant in a British court case in 2003:
“Professor Richard Aldrich of Nottingham University, co-editor of the journal Intelligence and National Security, described the strategic situation in 1948 in testimony before a British court in 2003:
“As Chairman Mao’s forces advanced through China in 1948, Dr. Aldrich said, Britain and the US dreaded the prospect that one of the world’s largest stocks of gold – worth US$83-billion at current prices – would fall into communist hands. So it was decided to extract the gold reserves from China before the communists could seize them. The CIA provided the means for this bullion-rescue mission, flying in B-29 bombers disguised in the livery of its CAT [Civil Air Transport]… CAT flew numerous missions to bring huge shipments of gold out of Mainland China.”
As part of this operation, it is believed the US used redeemable notes of its own, called Federal Reserve Notes and Federal Reserve Bonds, with which to buy the gold.
“Where did the FRNs and FRBs fit in?,” ask the Seagraves. “Professor Aldrich said they may have been used “for persuading managers of major banks in the interior of China to part with their vast stocks of gold.”
“Printing FRNs and FRBs with a face value much greater than that of the gold they were to replace, he said, served to encourage the banks or wealthy individuals to swap their gold for the bonds and notes, which would be easier to hide and later smuggle out of China to be cashed in the West. As Aldrich said, the US almost certainly had no intention of honouring them, anyway.
“Professor Aldrich explained that the CIA was only emulating Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), which printed and circulated massive quantities of counterfeit currency and bonds during the war.
“Foreign Office files also show that the CIA was involved in other currency issues, including the movement of printing plates for Chinese currency,” Aldrich testified.
But why were such huge quantities of FRNs and FRBs flown out to China?
“Because of the possibility of operational loss,” Aldrich told the court, “surplus amounts of FRNs were required. Regional banks [in China] receiving FRNs in return for their gold were aware that the FRNs were likely to be redeemable for only a proportion of their face value. Therefore a much larger value in FRNs would have been required than the total value of the gold that the Americans and Chinese Nationalists were trying to extract from China.”
In other words, there’s good evidence that both Britain and the US were donkey-deep in printing anything they could that would transfer Asian gold into the West, and not necessarily with any intention of paying it back. Furthermore, if the value of the notes given to the Chinese far exceeded the actual value of the gold delivered, then that would explain something else: Aldrich’s figures – adjusted for gold pricing – suggest the total value of Chinese bullion in the mid 40s was around US$2 billion at the time. Under the banking system’s rules, that would be worth 20 times more to the Bank of England or US Federal Reserve, so even if they printed funny money bonds to the face value of $10 or even $20 billion in total back then, they would still be making on the deal from day one. A $2 billion gold base allowed the banks to create a further $38 billion in interest-generating credit. Assuming, just for ease of calculation, an interest rate of 5%, that means the banks are earning $1.9 billion a year in interest. Over 60 years, that’s a minimum of $120 billion worth of interest in 1940s dollars. Of course, gold prices have gone up massively since the 1940s when it was only $35 an ounce. It is now topping $800 an ounce, which is more than 20 times higher. As Professor Aldrich testified, the Chinese gold would be worth around US$83 billion today, and in the banking system that’s the asset-backing for nearly $2 trillion worth of lending. Suddenly the Chinese redeemable note figures don’t look as out of place as they did.
You need to remember the world had just lurched out of the Depression straight into World War II, and now desperately needed cash to rebuild shattered economies. Gold was crucial to that plan.
American airforce pilot Erik Shilling used to fly some of these gold missions for CAT, and told investigative journalists Sterling and Peggy Seagrave before he died in 2002 that he’d made numerous flights from Guam and the Philippines “ferrying FRNs and Nationalist secret agents as far into China as Chengtu in Sinkiang province, and flying boxes of gold out to Taiwan.
“The B-29 had a range suited to long round-trips, and Shilling was skilled at flying the aircraft at 30 or 40 feet [10 to 12 metres] above the ocean to enter and leave Chinese airspace without being picked up by radar.”
The Seagraves believe they have evidence that several CAT aircraft involved in this gold-recovery mission crashed in the Philippines carrying precious cargo.
“According to reliable sources who visited the wrecked aircraft and recovered the dogtags of the crew, the truth is as follows: In May 1948, four US Air Force planes on their way from California to Malaysian Borneo, refuelled at Clark just north of Manila, then continued on their way toward Borneo. A typhoon that had been brewing in the western Pacific moved directly into their flight path, and all four planes crashed into the mountains of Mindanao. In the doomed flight were two B-29 Superfortresses of the type that had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, plus a new modified version of the same plane called a B-50, and a much smaller twin-engined B-26. The lead B-29 had the serial number 7695132. Among the dead aboard were General Frank Reagan, Colonel John Reagan, and crewmen named Colling, Dalton, Johnrey, and Withor. The two B-29s were carrying thousands of Federal Reserve notes and bonds, in boxes from Chase Manhattan and Wells Fargo banks. The B-29s were wearing the livery of General Clair Chennault’s Civil Air Transport (CAT), partly owned by the CIA through a front in Delaware named Airdale Corporation.31 In 1948, the CIA was using CAT to fly four million tons of supplies each month to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek’s forces, which were rapidly losing all of China to the communists.
“These two CAT B-29s loaded with billions of dollars worth of FRNs and FRBs, were on their way to Malaysia on a roundabout route to southwestern China by way of Thailand and Burma.”
But it is the fate of the redeemable notes and bonds on board the plane that impacts this story. In 1948, when the planes crashed, they were not found. It was too dangerous for ground search parties because US forces were still fighting units from the Japanese Army in the area who did not believe World War 2 was over. According to Gold Warriors, the jungle quickly claimed the planes, and they didn’t resurface until the early 1980s, when the FRNs and FRBs recovered from the wrecks started appearing on the black financial markets.
Faced with every man and his dog across Asia waving Federal Reserve Notes worth millions of dollars marked “payable to bearer”, what would you do if you were the British or US banking institutions?
The US sent Secret Service agents down to Manila to assist in tracking the sources of the notes and help arrest anyone caught in possession of them. An Australian private investigator received a warning, quoted by the Seagraves: “If I persisted in pursuing these items, I would most likely receive a visit from some very unpleasant men whose job it is to secure the safety of the USA against any threats to the stability of its economy. I was informed that if I ever tried to redeem them, I would not see another birthday.”
Bearing in mind the book Gold Warriors was published in 2004, long after The Family first revealed its notes to Daniel Lim but long before the Bank of England had Lim and the others arrested, the following paragraph from the book is a lightning bolt:
“A fraud that had been used many times by banks all over the world [is that] when a gold certificate was issued in exchange for bullion placed on deposit, embedded codes were used including misspelled words, to ‘assure’ that the owner’s certificate matched the bank records exactly. These misspellings were later easily cited as ‘evidence’ of fraud.”
The practice had been fine-tuned by Japan’s Prime Minister Tanaka during the 1970s Lockheed bribery scandal, when he authorized the secret printing of promissory notes that looked completely different from ordinary Japanese bonds. These “57s” as he called them, were used to buy off support from key officials and politicians domestically and internationally, with the proviso being that the bonds were only worth anything if Tanaka remained in power, because their totally unusual design meant they could be cited as counterfeit otherwise.
According to the Seagraves, the Reagan administration responded to the FRN crisis unfolding in Asia as a result of the plane wrecks, by getting the CIA to print obviously fake Federal Reserve bonds and flood the market with them.
“A large number of Fed bonds and gold certificates were printed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, on the wrong type of paper, with a comic variety of deliberate errors. Many were engraved with the wrong faces, the wrong mottos, the wrong designs, the wrong signatures…this would be a hilarious disinformation campaign, flooding Asia with blatant forgeries, to make the whole idea ridiculous. It would cut the legal legs off anyone trying to redeem legitimate gold certificates or legitimate Fed bonds. They could be laughed out of court.”
Which brings us back to the fate of Australian Ross Cowie, “fugitive” New Zealander Bryan Archer, and the five Asian men arrested and on trial in Britain’s Southwark Criminal Court for conspiracy to defraud the Bank of England.
Are they the masterminds of an elaborate forgery? Victims of an elaborate forgery? Or are they perhaps the genuine representatives of a financial deal struck long ago when the whole world was at war and desperation was everywhere? Whatever the answer, it is doubtful the truth will emerge, as the case against the men mysteriously collapsed and all were set free.
No one, and I do mean no one, is talking.
From Here To Eternity
It is one of New Zealand’s most perplexing homicide investigations – the disappearance of two and a half year old Amber-Lee Cruickshank on the shores of Lake Wakatipu – scene of the TV drama mystery Top Of The Lake – in 1992. If Amber were still alive today  she’d have just completed her NCEA exams and be preparing for a long hot summer before tackling university or perhaps a job. Instead, she vanished without trace in October 1992, sparking a massive police and civilian search of the tiny settlement of Kingston, on the southern tip of the lake.
At least, that’s the official story. What you are about to read will shock you. If you thought a recent Sensing Murder episode on the case was disturbing, you haven’t heard the half of it. Investigate magazine is taking the unprecedented step of naming several potential suspects allegedly implicated in the disappearance of the little girl, in the hope that publicity will either clear the men we are naming, or alternatively solve the case once and for all.
Before the Sensing Murder programme screened in October, both that show and Investigate magazine were approached by a South Island couple who claimed to have fresh, explosive information on the Amber-Lee Cruickshank case. The couple have lived in the tiny settlement of Wreys Bush, where Amber-Lee and her mother Nicky Cruickshank were staying, just before the tragic abduction.
Before we give you the new claims, however, first we will give you the official version of what happened. On October 17, 1992, the two and a half year old girl disappeared from a lakefront property at Kingston. Her mother Nicky and father James, both involved in drugs, had been pre-occupied with trying to extract the contents of some opium poppies in the garden, and each thought the other was watching Amber-Lee. Some time around 7pm that evening, as twilight fell over the lake, the couple realized that Amber had vanished. They and the others staying with them at the lake mounted a frantic search, assuming the toddler had perhaps wandered down to the shore or explored a cubby-hole under one of the local houses. Neighbours joined the search, police were called, but Amber had simply melted away into thin air.
Complicating matters was that the crib was straddled by roads at both its back and front entrances, so someone could wander in or out from either end of the property.
The search made national news headlines as the country held its breath, wondering whether Amber had simply drowned in the lake while her parents weren’t looking, or whether something more sinister had taken place. Over the past 15 years, every so often the case has been resurrected, but never with a result.
This time around, it’s different. Sleuthing by producers of the Sensing Murder TV programme concentrated on the obvious possibility that – with mother Nicky’s background in drugs and prostitution – perhaps Amber’s disappearance was not a random accident but a form of payback over a drug deal gone wrong. This was a theory the police had explored but somehow blindingly failed to nail down at the time. It was a theme the show’s “psychics” developed in their own approaches.
A few days before the Sensing Murder show aired, however, Investigate received this email:
“A guy called Paul Girvan in the early 1990s lived at Wreys Bush, Southland. At the time we thought that one local police officer was involved in the drug trade with him. Me and a lot of other neighbors in the district had a lot of trouble with him and his gang-related associates, mostly White Power boys.
“A woman at Otautau named Nicky Cruickshank, was living with a guy called James Gill. They got a loan from Social Welfare to buy a house in Otautau. She had two or three kids at the time. She was also a heroin addict and worked locally as a prostitute to pay for her drugs, mainly supplied by Paul Girvan and associates. Quite a few other younger women were also involved in the district, working as prostitutes for him to pay for their drugs. They traveled from this area mostly to Invercargill.
“It got to the stage where Nicky was not making enough to pay for her drugs, so Paul Girvan arranged for her to live in Kingston in a bus or camper van and rented her house out to a guy called Graeme Mulvihill (I’m unsure about spelling) and a woman called Shirley Trainor. Shirley was an Auntie of Nicky’s kids. Nicky also had a 6-year old boy, called Harley, who Paul Girvan kept at Wreys Bush while Nicky was living in Kingston and working as a prostitute in Queenstown, to make sure that Nicky didn’t shoot through and not pay for her drug bill. In this way he kept control of her.
“At the time we did not know how widespread the problem was among the hierarchy of the police or just how deeply involved Mr. Girvan was with the local police. For a couple of months, Nicky lived in Kingston with James Gills and tried to work in Queenstown to make enough money. Apparently, she was not making enough to pay the bills.
“Afterwards, we heard how the girl went missing.
“Apparently, there was a party at Lumsden arranged by Girvan and his associates. Allegedly, Paul Girvan took the little girl off Nicky at the party on the Thursday night at Lumsden. The story goes, that Nicky was told to wait until the following afternoon and to then report the child missing at the lake edge. This whole story was told [by us] to the local police two days after the child went missing. We were virtually told to mind our own business as it had nothing to do with us.
“It was then that we started to learn that there was something seriously wrong with a lot of the local police officers.
“But, getting back to the situation with what happened to the little girl. The facts are, as we know them, that Mr. Paul Girvan took the girl – the day before she was reported missing – through to Christchurch. On the way back from Christchurch, he stopped in to see a guy called Philip Tucker, just south of Christchurch. He arrived back in Southland about midnight of the day that the child was reported missing and while the police were still searching for her. How we know this is because a guy called Albert Dacony, who was a contract shearer at Ohai, was also a friend of mine. He told me the next day that something seemed wrong about the whole situation. At the time it was big news in Southland about the girl going missing.
“If anyone ran out of petrol at night in the district when the garages were closed, Albert used to sell them a bit of petrol to get them by. Albert told me personally, that Paul Girvan had been in the night before at about 1:00am. Paul said he had just got back from Christchurch and needed to go to Kingston to help look for the missing girl but did not have enough fuel. With no garages open on the way up there he had to get fuel before he could go. He said he was going up to Kingston to search for the little girl. In my opinion, it was just a cover.
“The next day, Shirley Trainor came up to our place – the woman who was renting Nicky’s house off of Paul Girvan and who was an Auntie of the little girl – and told us that Paul had sold the girl to pay for the drug bills. She was very upset and didn’t know who to talk to or what to do about it, because at that time she knew more about the Police being involved in local drug deals than we ever did. Paul Girvan seemed to have full immunity from prosecution for assaults, burglaries and other criminal activities that he was involved in, in the district.
We went to the local police again and told them that the girl was not in the lake but had been taken to Christchurch and sold. We were told to shut up and mind our own business. After a while, Nicky was given back her son and her house at Otautau.
Following that incident, a few months later, me and a few people in the district – farmers and other business people – petitioned John Banks, the Minister of Police at that time, to get rid of the local Police Officer, [name deleted for evidential reasons]. We still did not realize how bad the situation really was with very high-ranking people in this district and to this day they are still involved in the supply of drugs here.
“After we petitioned John Banks, in less than 10 days [the police officer] was removed from the district. The local paper printed a story – “Local constable unfit for duty in Ohai district”.
“If this information is relevant to any of the enquiries being carried out by your program please use it. But please do NOT notify the local Southland Police regarding this. Go to the proper authorities in the North Island and start a proper investigation…”
One of the reasons our informant contacted Investigate was because of our exposure of widespread police corruption in the South Island earlier this year. Not trusting South Island police, our source wants some kind of independent investigation into the case.
We also managed to corroborate the existence and locations of a number of people named in his report, by comparing against old Electoral Rolls, phone books and similar public information sources, as well as talking to a large number of locals.
Girvan’s father was a coalminer, and the younger Girvan grew up in the Nightcaps/Wreys Bush area of Southland. But Paul Ernest Girvan fell foul of the law in the late 1980s in the far-off bright lights of Christchurch. It wasn’t until a property came up for sale in 1990, courtesy of the McGregor family in Wreys Bush, that anyone realized Girvan was back.
“We bought this place here in 1989,” recalls a local resident Mike Chalklen. “Up the road was another five acres and a house going for $17,000. We went to see them about it but they said they’d just sold it. And a week later I saw Constable Brown from Ohai mowing the lawn, and I said, ‘Oh, the bloody police must have bought it!’
“Two weeks later a guy called Paul Girvan, who used to live in the district years ago – he moved into the house. And then we found out he’d just been released from Christchurch prison for beating up a young woman.”
Chalklen reckons Girvan had some kind of special relationship with the police, and that some of the house purchase money may even have come from police.
“I can tell you the house was sold, the local cops were mowing the lawns, and then this criminal shifts in. He’s in Christchurch now. He’s supposed to have sold this corner house here but the people who bought it off him bought it on time payment, when he left here, and he’s never actually signed it over from what I gather. The people have already paid him but they’ve never been able to get him to sign it over.”
Chalklen, or “Chalkie” as he’s known to friend and foe alike, is also one of those locals who believes Girvan or Girvan’s associates know more about Amber-Lee’s disappearance than they’re letting on.
He points to the commonly-known fact that Paul Girvan had Nicky’s six year old son living with him.
“Harley, he went to the local school, when he lived at Paul’s house – it’s all on the record – Takitimu School in Nightcaps. He was staying at Paul’s place because Paul moved Nicky out of her house at Otautau and put her in a bus at Kingston to work, to pay for her drugs.”
But doesn’t that fly in the face of the official line about a road trip to Kingston?
“That was all bullst!,” mutters Chalkie. “It was just a cover story. She was up there to work, live in Kingston in the thing there, and go to work as a prostitute. She couldn’t pay her bills, and Paul got a good offer for her kid.
“And you can’t tell me it doesn’t happen here in New Zealand as well as overseas. It happens all the bloody time. We had to put up with that st in the district and you don’t realize how bad it is, especially when they get immunity from prosecution.”
Chalklen says he was one of the ones who signed the petition to get the local police officer booted out of town, but he doesn’t want all police tarred with that brush.
“They’re not all bad. There are some bloody good police officers down here, but the bad ones outweigh the good, and the young ones that have come into the police force have to leave. They walk in here after three months and tell me – and I’ve met one or two – and they say ‘we can’t work with this st’. And I say, ‘what st, the drugs at Ohai?’, and they say, ‘No, the police we work with’.”
So what happened to Girvan, then, we asked?
“Last we heard of Paul Girvan he was living in Christchurch and his wife was working with Helen Clark’s husband, that guy Davis.”
Investigate cross-checked. Electoral records reveal Girvan’s wife was named Michelle Anne Girvan, and sure enough, we found a Michelle A. Girvan in the sociology unit at the University of Canterbury. Michelle Girvan even received a mention in dispatches from Davis in one of his sociology papers from 1996 at the Christchurch School of Medicine, where he wrote, “We would also like to acknowledge the contributions made by our summer student, Michelle Girvan, to Section 1. The project was supported by the Public Good Science Fund.” A 2001 paper by Girvan officially lists her mentor as “Supervisor Professor Peter Davis Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences.”
Through a process of elimination, the magazine tracked Girvan to Wellington where she now works as a policy analyst for the government in a building adjacent to Parliament. That trail also leads us to her husband, Paul.
“Ian Wishart?” he queries down the phone. “Ian Wishart? Did I go to school with you in Oamaru?” Pleasantries aside, we get down to the nitty gritty of some pretty serious allegations. Firstly, did he have Nicky working as a prostitute in the area?
“No, no that is not correct. I never had Nicky working at all at any stage as anything. Nicky did work as a parlour girl I believe at one stage but she never worked for me.”
Investigate pressed the point: “The locals down there are saying that she did work for you, and that you set her up on the bus in Kingston as a favour perhaps to help pay off her debts?”
“Well that’s an interesting one,” chuckles Girvan, “I haven’t heard that one before. But did the locals also tell you that I was responsible for Amber’s disappearance? Because I was supposed to have sold her to a bike gang to pay off a drug debt of mine.”
It seems the allegation sent to Investigate has a long pedigree.
“What’s the story behind it?” we ask.
As Girvan tells the unfolding story, he and Chalkie used to be “best mates”:
“I had a problem with a local man in the area, he lived for hunting, he lived to go pig hunting, this man. I used to spend a lot of time at his place, killing time, talking about our next hunting trip, we were that close friends that I could walk into his house without knocking, go and fill the jug up, and put the jug on and then while I was doing that calling out ‘Who’s having a cup of tea?’
“Because, like me, they were tea wives. Everything revolved around a cup of tea. Before you went out to start the car you had a cup of tea. Before you went out to feed the lamb or feed the calves, you had a cup of tea. When you’d fed the calves you come back in and have another cup of tea. So that’s the lifestyle we had.”
It all changed, claims Girvan over the phone, when allegations were made that Chalkie was a pedophile.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I stayed away for the next fortnight, three weeks,” says Girvan.
“Then I heard through two different friends of mine, whom I’d introduced to this man Chalkie, because they were a bit like me, wanting to do a bit of pig hunting etc. I wasn’t able to go when they were ready, but I said Chalkie would go hunting at the drop of a hat.
“ Anyway, they both came to me and said, “what the f*** have you done to Chalkie?” And I said I didn’t know, “why, what’s going on?”.
“Both of them, at different stages of the same weekend told me that he had said to them that the next time I came to his house upsetting his home he was going to run out the front door when I came to the back door, and he was going to have a piece of four by two, come up behind me and smash my head, then break a couple of windows, then ring the police and tell them that I had come down to smash him over.
“So I went to the local policeman in Otautau, an alcoholic whose name I can’t remember, and I told him I’d like him to come to Chalkie’s place to keep the peace so I could ask him what I’d done wrong, and rectify it and apologise if I had to.
“Time went by, and my friends and I were out hunting one night, my dog was running up the road and got hit by a car, and died. In the process of organizing my dog’s burial my friends and I happened to drive past Chalkie’s drive the next day, and we saw Chalkie up his drive. So I thought, OK, that’s cool, I’ve got a witness, and we drove up so I could have a talk to Chalkie about this problem.
“I got out of the car, and put my hands on the boot to show I had nothing. “What’s happened, can you tell me what I’ve done”.
“He didn’t say anything until he walked up to me, within striking distance, then he punched me in the head and said, ‘This’.
“He nearly knocked me over because I was so taken aback. Then he swung at me again, so I thought, whatever, if you’re going to fight me like that mate and you’re not going to talk, I’m not going to take a hiding from you.
“I would have knocked him to the ground at least six times with my fists, because I have been a fighter in the past of reasonable repute. And he was like a madman. Each time, I said to him, ‘Mike, what are we fighting for, tell me mate, what do you want to kill me for?’
“My mate was sitting in the car with the window down, watching with his eyes wide open. Then his wife appeared and tried to drag a waratah out of the ground, and my mate thought she might try and slug me from behind so he stepped out of the car and laid a hand on the waratah. His wife said she needed it to move the cattle, but my mate told her that perhaps it would be a good idea to move the cattle a little bit later. She raced up the drive and over to the house, which was probably a hundred and fifty metres from where we were, and dragged the rifle out. She made a big hoo-hoo of getting the rifle, loading it and cocking it so that we could see.
“My mate said , ‘She’s got a rifle man! Let’s get out of here man, she’s gonna shoot!’
“I said, ‘Well, you drive down the end of the driveway, she’s after me, not you!’
So I knelt down beside Chalkie, who was lying on the ground at that stage. I kept him between her and me, hoping that if she was going to shoot she might think twice in case she shot him. It worked. And I asked him again, what’s this about? He kicked me in the face and punched me in the balls, so then I booted him in the head. Somebody rang the police, and when they arrived at his place – we’d left by then – he told the policeman, and this is the policeman’s own words, ‘The man was standing there in a pool of his own blood, pouring from his head and face, and told us that ‘nothing’s happened, f*** off, get out of the road!’.
“So the policeman said, OK, there’s nothing I can do about that, but after that happened he wrote to the Minister and Commissioner of Police saying there had been a cover up and why wasn’t I brought up for assault?” Yet in the statement that he made, he said that fearing for his safety he attacked me. From then on in, this person had it in for me.”
As Girvan tells it, he was constantly being persecuted by Chalkie. He found himself being interrogated by police one day because Chalkie’s son had complained Girvan threatened him during a school fun run. Girvan denies it, and claims he never threatened anyone; that the charges were just trumped up.
“They were taking me into Invercargill for questioning, and as we passed Chalkie’s house that’s when the copper told me, don’t you know we’ve had information laid that you were responsible for Amber-Lee going missing – because I was in the past associated with Highway 61 in Christchurch – that I had to pay a drug debt off to the Highway 61 and I sold them the daughter.
“The copper said to me, ‘Calm down Paul, has anyone come to talk to you about that part of it?’ I said no, and he said, ‘We heard that weeks and weeks ago’. He said, ‘Just think about that. Think about it before you say anything more, or do anything’.”
According to Girvan, police never questioned him about the allegations then and have not to this day. But the police did tip him off that Chalkie was one of the sources. Why they did that remains unexplained.
On the face of it, then, we have an immense feud between two locals, Mike Chalklen and Paul Girvan. One calls the other a child abductor, whilst an allegation of pedophilia is flung back in return.
What then, is Girvan’s response to some of the specific allegations from locals, such as the suggestion that he had Nicky and other young women working as prostitutes?
“No, Nicky never ever – and this is as God is my witness, Ian – Nicky never ever worked for me in any aspect of sexuality, sex for sale. She never worked for me in any manner at all. She would have been working for herself. We knew each other, and that’s it.”
There is, however, a backstory. Nicky ventured into prostitution at the age of 16, and Girvan, who admits “I was old enough to be her dad” also admits sleeping with the teenager.
“I had known Nicky since before she got pregnant with Harley when she first came to Christchurch. Some people who I know and I had dealings with – as in trying to break their bloody heads because they were the ones who got Nicky onto the needle in the first place and I tried to get her off it, and the next thing Nicky was in working as a parlour girl. I said to her, ‘Nicky, I can cope with you being a parlour girl as my friend and maybe even as my girlfriend, but I cannot handle you being on the needle. I cannot cope with a relationship with that’. So we stopped our sexual relationship.”
Girvan says it was his relationship with another heroin-addicted prostitute that landed him in jail in the first place.
“I served the full amount of my sentence. I actually went up twice. I went up for marijuana for sale (251gm), and while that was happening, my girlfriend – the lady I was living with at the time – we had a problem and I ended up trying to control her. She went mental on me.
“As a child, growing up you go to the movies, you see the movies, and when a woman goes all hysterical and mental a man slaps her in the face and says ‘calm down lady, settle down!’ That’s what I did to my girlfriend. And then I grabbed her and held her really really tight to stop her from bouncing around the walls, because that girl was a needle merchant as well. And her reaction was to bounce around and go screaming off the walls, doors and ceiling when she got upset.
“So I grabbed her, not quite a bear hug but a big hug and we fell on the bed and I wrapped my legs around her to keep her still, tried to calm her and talk with her. And she said ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, you’ve broken my ribs!’. So I released her, and she said she was still really sore, so I called her an ambulance. They asked what happened and I told them.
“In all I did six months and two weeks jail, for the marijuana and the assault. Total, for my whole life.”
It is unfortunate but – Girvan says – entirely coincidental that two young women he was sleeping with both happened to be heroin addicts and prostitutes. He says the allegations from Chalkie and others are water off a duck’s back.
“I don’t care, I don’t care what they say, because I know in my heart, and I know as God is my witness may he strike me dead right now. I grew up as a Roman Catholic, and I went to St Kevin’s college in Oamaru for four years. You don’t make that kind of statement lightly. As God is my witness may he strike me dead if I’m telling a lie.”
“So as God is your witness did you put girls on the game?”
“No sir. I never put Nicky out there to work, I never organized for her to do that. I knew she was doing it and I knew where she was working, but I didn’t put her in there to do what she was doing.”
“And as God is your witness, did you put any other women in that position?”
“The woman I went to jail for, she asked me, because we were living together at that stage and she said she wanted to do it. I said I’d see if I could handle it. I did, until our relationship ended, but I didn’t put her on the game, as such. It was her choice, she wanted to do it. My finances were OK, I wasn’t rich but my finances suited me and I could live on my income that I was under at that stage. If they wanted to work on the game that was their choice and their decision. I was their partner, sure enough, but I never put them on the game or asked them to go on the game. That was their choice.”
In fact, says Girvan, he was so anti the heroin-traffickers who got Nicky hooked that he actually rescued her from a gunman at one point back when they both lived in Christchurch in the 1980s.
“This episode with these mutts that were going to shoot her with this cut-down 303 rifle – they’d got her hooked on the needle and they weren’t going to let her get away, and that’s why she was on the game.
“Nicky had started on the game before she got pregnant with Harley, because these f***ers had turned her on to the hard stuff. She came to me and said they were telling her she had to do this and that and they weren’t going to let her go.
“I went around and had this almighty blue on this particular day, and I ended up climbing through the toilet window, kicking the door in, belting him over the head with the bottle and taking the rifle off him.
“It was Nick Shirley who was the initial needle merchant who got her hooked. It was him that was going to squeeze the trigger. He actually did squeeze the trigger, but the recoil – he was holding it down so it wouldn’t go up over her shoulders, he was going to shoot her in the gut, so he pulled it down and it went off between her legs.
“The sound of the shot in this flat, the sound of the rifle shot, froze everybody for that split second. And that was when I knew, it’s now or never, I’ve got to do it quick, because it was a bolt action one. When I kicked the door in and came through, I had a ball and chain in one hand and an empty vodka bottle in the other, everybody was just frozen. That’s the time you’ve got to do it, straight after.”
According to Girvan, he disarmed the gunman and gave him a hiding. Nicky Cruickshank chuckles and remembers it slightly differently.
“It was actually a girlfriend of mine threw him [the gunman] up against the wall that did more than what Paul did. He just happened to be outside. That girlfriend was only 15. I was 16.”
When their sexual relationship ended, their friendship didn’t. Girvan remained on the scene when Harley was born in 1986, and claims some credit for shielding the child from some of his mother’s lifestyle.
“We’d always kept in touch with Nicky along the way, and Nicky during the school holidays was quite happy to send Harley down to stay with Michelle and I, because we had five acres. Harley. Harley’s a good kid, he’s a brilliant boy, and I regret that I couldn’t get Nicky off the needle. I could handle marijuana no problem, but the needle I couldn’t handle. I would have been happy to have stayed with Nicky, stayed with Nicky fullstop, but for the needle. I really had a good relationship with Harley, and I’d like to think, Ian, that because of my influence that was there with Harley I do believe he’s turned out not a bad boy. He may not ever be Prime Minister of New Zealand, but he’s not likely to do bad either.”
When we suggest that Girvan sounds like a diamond in the rough, he laughs, but the interview continues:
“The locals are saying you were involved in drug supply in Wreys Bush, your response to that?”
“No, I didn’t supply any drugs to anybody. I did purchase and consume. I will be honest, I have been guilty of purchase of marijuana and consumption of marijuana. The only other drugs I did get into was the alcohol. I drunk quite a bit of alcohol down there. I still do, when I’m not driving. I don’t get drunk every night, but I do have a few bourbons.”
In the early 90s, soon after Girvan moved back to Wreys Bush, Nicky and her new partner James Gill arrived in nearby Otautau, and began hanging out with Girvan and his mates, some of whom were drug dealers.
“Some of them would have been, yes,” admits Girvan. “Nicky’s life in that area was her own life. Hers and James’. They were both feeding each other on the needle scene and for that I didn’t overly like him – because of the kids as well – so we didn’t get on good. It was because of Nicky that I allowed James to be around, put it that way.”
So far, then, Paul Girvan has denied supplying drugs in the Wreys Bush/Nightcaps region, denied “As God is my witness” that Nicky was working as a prostitute for him, or that he had put any other young women on the game in the area.”
Nicky Cruickshank, for her part, is adamant she was not working for Girvan either.
“He’s been a good family friend over the years,” she tells Investigate over the phone. We ask her about the alleged Lumsden party, where it is suggested Amber may actually have been taken from her. She says she has no knowledge of a Lumsden party.
Girvan, on the other hand, believes there might have been one.
“I cannot say yes for sure. I believe there may have been a bit of a gathering but I wasn’t there. I seem to recall there was, but that would have come from overhearing Nicky or James talking about it, but I cannot say yes.”
The Sensing Murder show had focused in on a possible suspect involving the letter ‘K’ – this apparently resulting from a prediction Nicky had received way back in 1992 just before Amber disappeared. While Sensing Murder found one man with a ‘K’ in his name associated to Nicky, Investigate found three: Ken Barrett, Kevin Renton and Kevin Redhead.
As possible suspects, all are interesting characters but only two – Renton and Barrett – stand out. Ironically, both Mike Chalklen and Paul Girvan agree that Kevin Renton is a possible fit to the crime.
“He’s one of Girvan’s heavies that lived up here with him and also at Nightcaps,” growls Chalkie. He’s been in and out of jail for all sorts of st, but he does deals [with the police]. The last time a big P lab got done down here at Riverton, he got PD and all the rest got five years.”
The TV programme suggested the suspect would be a hunter, with a four wheel drive.
“Yeah, he does a bit of hunting, a bit of running around. He always runs around in a big Landcruiser. That’s all he ever drives around in,” agrees Chalkie.
It may sound convincing, until you realize that virtually every red-blooded male in Western Southland is into hunting and fishing and generally has access to a four wheel drive.
“He was working for Paul all the time,” remembers Chalkie. “He’s a big bugger and he acts like a heavy, but when somebody catches him by himself he squeals like a little girl. But he runs around like a heavy, and all that sort of BS.”
Girvan also calls Renton a “squealer”.
“He squeals like a girl alright. He squeals like a stuck pig, that’s what he’s like. He’s weak. He walks around when he’s got his things around him, his big four wheel drive, he comes across as being a big man, very confident of tackling anything in his way in life, but when the chips are down, as I say – this man who was half his size, he was a little fella, and I was there one afternoon talking to him and this fella came in and he was really really angry, and Kevin just ran out of the house, left his house and ran up the street. Any time anything went wrong he ducked under his mother’s apron strings, ran back to mum.”
Girvan admits he used to hang out with Renton.
“Renton lived only five miles away, and he was okay to hang out with for a while if you could get past the BS.”
He also admits Renton supplied drugs to both himself and Nicky.
“He was in the supply area, I don’t know who and how many that he may have supplied. He used to make out ‘I grow here and there, I’ve got my four wheel drive, I go hunting a lot and I find a lot’. Put it this way, if it weren’t for the drugs being supplied, Nicky wouldn’t have had anything to do with him. I don’t know what drugs were being supplied to whom or which way, because one might have swapped with the other.”
When we asked Nicky about Renton, initially she remembered little about him.
“Paul would have a better memory than me after the 15 years I’ve endured, or 25 really, but yeah.”
After a while, though, memories came back.
“It’s the first time I’ve heard his name in lots of years, but yeah, now bells are ringing in my head. He lived in Nightcaps if I remember rightly, but I can’t remember what the falling out was with him.”
According to Paul Girvan, however, Renton had the personality type to carry out such a heinous crime as the abduction of a child.
“I’ve actually called that son of a bitch mongrel bastard, ‘mate’ in the past. I used to get quite a bit [of marijuana] through him, I’ll be honest. He’s made comments that he’d like to go shooting people because then he doesn’t have to argue with them face to face, and he could get them from a distance. He always talked about that kind of stuff. A big boy but a big coward.
“I do believe Kevin was the man who picked up that little girl, because little girls don’t go to total strangers that easily and he was well known to Nicky and James and to the kids. I do believe that if he was the person, he would have picked that kid up thinking ‘I’ll make her pay’, especially if he thought they’d shafted him or ripped him off for drugs or whatever, because he was that kind of person.”
It is this aspect of the case that has baffled police. Amber-Lee did not just wander off and drown, because her body would have been found in the grid search of the lake bed by police. She has never turned up. Only abduction remains as a possibility. Yet the tiny back-blocks settlement of Kingston is not the place where a random stalking pedophile killer would hang out to abduct a child. The chances of Amber being spotted by a passing stranger and taken are slim to nil. Which then leaves only a targeted abduction as the most likely scenario. Was Amber sold to a bikie gang as a child sex toy at the age of two? Clearly Nicky Cruickshank wasn’t mentally prepared for the idea that her child was dead, because she accuses Sensing Murder of railroading her.
“They took me by surprise. I had no idea I was going to be told she was murdered, let alone have her neck broken, on national TV with the cameras rolling. That was a bit of a shock really, I wasn’t ready for that at all. I felt like I was being interrogated by them. And then to come home to no support, that was even worse.
“Over the years I’ve been wondering what happened to her, thinking she was alive actually. Right up until May (when Sensing Murder was filmed).”
So an abduction and sale of the child fits more with Nicky’s own expectations than hearing the news that Amber had probably been murdered.
Girvan is himself convinced that Renton did it, but says the man is hard to pin down.
“I don’t know his movements, he was a liar right from the start off, he would tell you he was in Invercargill when he might have been out the back of Te Anau. He would say he was visiting his brother when in fact he was seeing a mate of mine at Tuatapere.”
Although Nicky admits Renton is a possible suspect, he wasn’t the first that came to mind. Another man she was involved with was cannabis grower Ken Barrett, who just a few days earlier had accused Nicky and James of ripping off his cannabis plantation. Friends of Barrett’s recall “he was furious, making all sorts of threats, mouthing off”. If anybody had a motive to “make her pay”, Ken Barrett would be that man. With a strong tendency to violence, as well as drug use and a criminal history, Barrett disappeared the same day Amber did, and didn’t return for three days. He was later overheard saying “Nicky didn’t deserve her”, in reference to the missing Amber.
Could Barrett have followed the housebus up to Kingston and snatched Amber from the lakehouse? He was certainly well known to the child, which explains how he could have got close without raising an alarm. He also is a hunter and four wheel drive owner, although as we’ve already established that’s nothing unusual in the deep south. Could Barrett have pulled up somewhere on the highway 15km north of Kingston, where Lake Wakatipu reaches its deepest point of 378 metres (1240 feet), rowed out in a dinghy in the dead of night and dumped the child’s weighted body into a watery grave impossible for authorities to reach?
Neither Kevin Renton nor Ken Barrett are believed to have been interviewed by police investigating the original disappearance of Amber-Lee Cruickshank back in 1992. For a start, Nicky didn’t mention their names to police, or the fact that she’d just had a major falling out with at least one of them.
And to return to the original conspiracy theory, could either Renton or Barrett have been carrying out such a gruesome task on behalf of someone else, like Paul Girvan? Despite the vicious feud between Girvan and Chalkie, and the names they call each other, the magazine has found nothing to substantiate either the claim that Girvan got rid of Amber, or that Chalklen is remotely guilty of the counter-accusation of pedophilia.
Investigate has not been able to crack the essence of the relationship between Nicky and Girvan as it relates to Harley, but it is an interesting one.
“Harley’s 21 now, so I’ve known Paul as long as that,” Nicky tells Investigate. Girvan on the other hand is proud of his father figure role to the boy, and the fact that he had custody of Harley the very day Amber, Nicky and James left on the tragic roadtrip.
“Because as soon as – Amber left my place that morning, that night she disappeared – and Nicky left my place and turned her son over to myself and my wife, legally had turned her son over so we were his legal guardians.
“They left my place at Wreys Bush, from memory it was around 1030, 11, around about that time, late morning, before lunch. The tour was on its way, they were going to cruise around the island – they didn’t know for how long. But they had left Harley, the oldest child, with myself and my wife, to look after as our son and send him to school and look after him.”
It was later that evening, says Girvan, that Shirley Trainor – the relative who’s alleged to have implicated Girvan in the disappearance – knocked on his door.
“It was Shirley and another woman that came to my house in Wreys Bush on the Saturday night. They had heard that Amber-Lee – don’t ask me how – that Amber had gone missing and they wanted to come up and blather over Harley. They were half-pissed and I told them ‘Piss off, you’re not seeing the boy, he’s in bed, he’s asleep, he does not need to have this happen. Go away, and we’ll talk about it in the morning!’
“But that started the ball rolling for me once I heard that. But they were crying and drunk – I don’t know about totally drunk but they were under the influence anyway – and really upset and wanted to get there. They just wanted to upset the boy and he didn’t need to be upset.”
The commotion did eventually wake, Harley, however, and Girvan’s voice noticeably cracks as he describes grabbing his coat to join the search, and what he told the little boy.
‘We’ll come back when we find your wee sister, mate.”
“And I, I came back after a week after we’d been looking for her every day and I came back and it was the hardest thing I had to do, was tell him we couldn’t find his sister. “Even now it still catches me,” he says after a moment, “that I told him, ‘No worries mate, she’s gone and got herself lost, and me and Mario are going up there now, you stay here and keep an eye on the wee farm, you keep Michelle company and look after the dogs for me, because when we find her we’ll come back’.
“And I stayed up there for a week and we still didn’t find her.”
Girvan denies making a flying visit to Christchurch, and says he and his mate made a beeline to Kingston the moment they heard.
But out of the Girvan/Chalkie feud has come a list of possible suspects names, and for the first time ever a thorough backstory to the case.
The story of Amber-Lee’s disappearance is the story of a small town in rural New Zealand, where the dark side intersects with besuited, middle-class TV news reporters briefly providing a window into a largely unseen world before flitting off onto the next topic.
When we told one of the local Catholic nuns who used to provide social services in the Nightcaps area that Paul Girvan had put his hand on his heart with God as his witness that he hadn’t supplied drugs or put young girls into prostitution, Sister Anne snorted derisively.
“Oh, Lord, give us a break! He’s the biggest liar and sleazebag you could ever want to meet. No, he couldn’t be trusted as far as you could kick him. What rubbish!
“He did drugs coming out his ears. He was a supplier, he was a ringleader, he was the ringleader down there. Yeah, it was well known that he was the one to be feared, and any orders he gave to the young fellows around him, they did. But he was the one doing all the intimidation and stuff.”
What kind of intimidation?
“There was a lot of stealing from some local farmers, and then to stop them from telling anybody what was happening they would threaten them by going and shooting across the roofs of their houses and things like that. And they would make verbal threats to say, ‘We’ll get your kids and your wife’, a lot of intimidation and things like that. They would wait at the school busstop for kids to get on and off, and just being there, intimidating them.”
Sister Anne says the church received a range of complaints from many different families about a criminal gang led by Girvan.
“Oh yes, definitely. We had a situation where we were trying to remove a mother and two daughters away from Nightcaps. One of the daughters was involved with a young lad associated with Girvan, a teenage daughter, she was only 15. The day we were moving them this young fellow turned up and caused a scene, then he took off in a car to go and get reinforcements to come back [to prevent the family from leaving town]. Father Paul [Dijkmans] took off with the mother and the two children in the car, he took off to Dunedin. He said to me he’d ring me and let me know where they were when he got there, and I was left to lock the place up. And I’ll tell you what, my nerves have never been shaken so much in my life. I didn’t stick around to wait for them to turn up, although later on I did see the car cruising.”
“What was the point of intimidating the kids?”
“To get at the parents, to stop the parents from going to the police, mainly,” says Sister Anne.
The police, she adds, were either powerless or worse.
“In actual fact, I was pretty instrumental in going into Invercargill and complaining about the guy that was at Ohai because he seemed to be in league with them and people were not feeling very safe. And he was moved on.”
As to Girvan’s claim that he had nothing to do with prostitution:
“He was well known for drugs and prostitution in the area. That was the big fear, that their children would be taken into prostitution. The family that we moved, that was the deep down problem there, was the prostitution.”
“In the sense the girl was being groomed for it?”
“Yeah. And her mum was a single mother whose husband had died a few years before and being struggling to get on, she came to Nightcaps and ended up getting into trouble there.
“Because we were involved in the church, the parish community, we were the people they came to for help and support. They were really fearful, they were really frightened for their lives at one stage. Chalkie put up an electric fence on his gate to stop them and I had to tell him he wasn’t allowed to do that and better take it down.
“Girvan was intimidating Chalkie’s children all the time. Other children and the bus driver saw him there.”
As she helped lead the community revolt against Paul Girvan and his associates, the nun says even she became concerned for her own safety.
“At one stage I was fearful of Girvan, and the local people if I was going to Nightcaps for a meeting, one of the men would follow me halfway if not all the way home to Otautau if I was going back late at night. We were all fearful of what he would do and they were fearful that if I was out on my own that he would ambush my car because I was actually a threat to him, and he knew it. But I was not going to put up with his nonsense.”
Sister Anne says she does not regard Chalkie as a liar.
“Chalkie is an unfortunate poor old fellow, but he’s honest. He’ll tell you straight up as it is, I’d go on Chalkie’s word before I go on Girvan’s word, any day.”
Given the weight of the evidence in this story, several major questions emerge. Why did local Southland police refuse to interview either Girvan or apparently any of the potential suspects in the disappearance of Amber-Lee Cruickshank?
Why did police fail to act against a criminal gang that the local Catholic church leaders say had the entire town in thrall?
Why was Nicky apparently too afraid to name any potential suspects in the disappearance back then?
“I’m going to write to the Maori Party in the next week or so,” says Chalkie, “and ask them to set up a drug rehabilitation centre at Ohai for children between the ages of 12 and 15 on drugs. There’s 600 to 800 people at Ohai, 300 kids, and at least 150 are drugged out of their frigging brains from 10 and 12 year olds upwards.
“The cop shop’s one side of the road, and the drug dealer’s the other side. And he’s been operating for five years without any prosecutions. He has everything there! You can see the house from the frigging police station!”
As police re-examine the Cruickshank case, they now have the names of Kevin Renton and Ken Barrett to work with. But tough questions will be asked about the police inquiry back in 1992, and the whole case adds weight to the need for a Royal Commission into Police Corruption.
Ian Wishart is a #1 bestselling author and award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been read by millions worldwide, specializing in the genres True Crime, Health, History, and Global Political Intrigue.
Get a heads-up on what’s happening by joining the author’s VIP briefing list and you’ll automatically receive a free ebook as our way of saying ‘welcome’.
“…a gripping legal thriller in the tradition of John Grisham’s The Firm – only this one is a true story.”
To take up your
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ian Wishart is a multi-award winning investigative journalist and bestselling author of more than 20 books, who’s now in his fourth decade in the news business. His writing style has often been compared to John Grisham by reviewers.
He’s been a radio News Director, a Chief of Staff for TV3 News and a magazine editor. His work has featured in the Times of London, Daily Mail, New Zealand Herald and America’s massive Coast to Coast radio programme – to name a few. His books Totalitaria, Air Con and Vitamin D became Amazon bestsellers worldwide.
While writing his first book, The Paradise Conspiracy, Wishart’s TVNZ office was discovered to have been bugged, his home was broken into, the manuscript for the book stolen, and an attempt was made on his life. Needless to say, he survived to write the story.
The first four chapters of The Paradise Conspiracy inspired movie director Geoff Murphy (“Young Guns II”, “Under Siege 2”) to produce the movie “Spooked” starring Cliff Curtis (“Runaway Jury”, “Live Free or Die Hard”) in a loose portrayal of Wishart’s role as an investigative journalist.
He’s been shot at, tear-gassed and stalked, but Wishart says his motivation remains telling the stories that “need to be told”, whether its new leads on cold case murders, or government espionage..
On New Year's Eve 1969, backpacker Jennifer Beard disappeared on the ruggedly beautiful west coast of New Zealand. Eleven years later, on the equally beautiful rugged Californian coast in 1980, aspiring Hollywood actress Valerie McDonald vanished in a trail involving bank robbers, the CIA and a millionaire hiding in New Zealand. From the true crime files of #1 bestselling author and award-winning investigative journalist Ian Wishart, Haunted & Hunted is a collection of four mysteries that will keep you on the edge of your seat.