Controversial Crime Stories

The Crewe murders marked New Zealand's first controversial court case to be played out in the television age. Since then other controversial cases have been the subject of high profile documentaries and dramas. This collection includes Relative Guilt, about the David Wayne Tamihere case, a spirited talk on the David Bain case, and Scott Watson documentary Murder on the Blade?. The latter was directed by Keith Hunter, a leading “miscarriage of justice” filmmaker. Plus watch an excerpt from Bloodlines, and go behind the scenes on film Beyond Reasonable Doubt.

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Ben and Olivia: The Search for Truth

Television, 2002 (Full Length)

In the early hours of 1 January 1998 Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, two young partygoers in the Marlborough Sounds, were in a water taxi looking for a place to crash. They vanished and were never seen again. The investigation transfixed the nation, and led to the conviction of Scott Watson for murder. Directed for TV3 by John Keir (Flight 901: The  Erebus Disaster), this 2002 documentary revisits the case from the perspective of two fathers — Gerald Hope and Chris Watson — and brings them together for the first time to talk about whether Scott Watson is guilty.

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Murder on the Blade?

Television, 2003 (Excerpts)

Subtitled A Journalist's View, this award-winning documentary makes the case that Scott Watson shouldn't have been imprisoned for murdering Ben Smart and Olivia Hope — because he couldn't have done it. Returning to Endeavour Inlet, veteran director Keith Hunter talks to witnesses, and argues the prosecution fumbled vital details of the murderer's yacht and description, then advanced a new theory without evidence to back it. Hunter went on to write 2007 book Trial by Trickery, further critiquing what he calls “New Zealand's most blatantly dishonest prosecution”.

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Relative Guilt

Television, 1999 (Excerpts)

When a young Swedish couple went missing on a camping holiday in New Zealand in 1989, the investigation into their disappearance attracted intense media interest. Months later David Wayne Tamihere was arrested and charged with their murders. The subsequent guilty verdict cast Tamihere's family into a nightmare. The Tamihere family were abused, ridiculed and scorned relentlessly by an outraged public, and an insatiable media. Ten years on, Pooley's documentary tells their story. The result won the 2000 Qantas Media Award for Best Documentary.

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Holmes - Joe Karam and James McNeish on David Bain

Television, 1997 (Full Length)

In May 1995, 22-year old David Bain was convicted of murdering five members of his family with a rifle in their Dunedin home. Bain would spend over a decade in prison before being acquitted on all charges. National debate around the 1995 verdict was galvanised by the release of two conflicting books on the case — Joe Karam’s David and Goliath and James McNeish’s The Mask of Sanity. The former All Black and the writer go head-to-head in this often testy Holmes debate from 1997. Ten years later, the Privy Council quashed Bain’s 1995 conviction; he was acquitted in a 2009 retrial.   

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Bloodlines

Television, 2010 (Excerpts)

This 2010 telefeature is based on the true crime story of South African-born Dr Colin Bouwer (played by Mark Mitchinson), who used his medical knowledge to poison and kill his wife Annette. A Dunedin doctor and policeman foiled his plot to get away with murder. Directed by Peter Burger (Until Proven Innocent), Bloodlines won gongs for actors Mitchinson and Craig Hall at the 2011 Aotearoa Film and Television Awards, and nominations for Burger's direction, Donna Malane and Paula Boock's script, and the work of actor Nathalie Boltt.

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The Confessions of Prisoner T

Television, 2013 (Excerpts)

In 1994, Teina Pora was found guilty of the rape and murder of Susan Burdett. He spent 22 years behind bars despite physical evidence implicating someone else, and concerns over the reliability of Pora's confession. In this Māori Television documentary, director Michael Bennett examines the case against Pora, and private investigator Tim McKinnel's belief in his innocence. This excerpt includes footage from Pora’s original police interview and a visit where he fails to identify Burdett’s house. In 2015 the Privy Council quashed Pora's conviction

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Kaleidoscope - Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Television, 1980 (Full Length)

TVNZ arts show Kaleidoscope visits the production of the 1980 feature film about “New Zealand’s greatest and most controversial murder” — the 1970 killings of Jeanette and Harvey Crewe at Pukekawa. As much a look at film making as the film itself, the documentary features extended visits to two locations. Interviewees include director John Laing, producer John Barnett and the recently freed Arthur Allan Thomas — who spent nine years in prison after being convicted of murdering the Crewes. Beyond Reasonable Doubt was based a book by David Yallop. 

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Until Proven Innocent

Television, 2009 (Trailer)

Until Proven Innocent is based on the case of David Dougherty, and the lawyer, scientist and journalist who concluded he had been wrongly convicted. In 1993 Dougherty was jailed for the rape and abduction of an 11-year-old girl. This dramatisation follows the campaign to prove his innocence: court appeals, journalism, and a key piece of DNA evidence. Chosen to open 2009's Sunday Theatre season the tele-movie was nominated for 10 Qantas Awards, and won five, including best drama and best actor (for Cohen Holloway's standout performance as Dougherty).

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Siege

Television, 2012 (Excerpts)

On 7 May 2009, police executing a search warrant in a Napier suburb were shot at by Jan Molenaar. Senior Constable Len Snee was killed, two officers and a neighbour injured; a 50 hour siege ensued. This adaptation of the events into a telefeature dominated the 2012 New Zealand Television Awards, winning Best One-off Drama, Script (John Banas), Performance (Mark Mitchinson as Molenaar), Supporting Actress (Miriama Smith), and Best Sound Design (Chris Burt). Hawke's Bay Today reviewer Roger Moroney said of the Mike Smith-directed drama: "They got it right".

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Beyond Reasonable Doubt

Film, 1980 (Trailer)

Beyond Reasonable Doubt reconstructs the events surrounding a notorious New Zealand miscarriage of justice. Farmer Arthur Allan Thomas was jailed for the murder of Harvey and Jeanette Crewe. Directed by John Laing, and starring Australian John Hargreaves (as Thomas) and Englishman David Hemmings (Blowup, Barbarella), the drama  benefitted from immense public interest in the case. Thomas was pardoned while the film was in pre-production, and he saw some scenes being made. It became New Zealand's most successful film until Goodbye Pork Pie in 1981.

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Queer Nation - Peter Ellis: A Question of Justice

Television, 2003 (Full Length)

The first part of this disturbing double documentary focuses on the man accused of molesting seven children in a Christchurch crèche in 1992. The programme is divided into seven chapters, in which Ellis talks about his accusation and arrest, the trial, his prison sentence, his two appeals and his eventual release in 2000. Ellis initially thought the accusation was so ridiculous that it would soon get sorted out. Instead, he was found guilty on 16 charges and convicted to 10 years imprisonment, despite the lack of any conclusive evidence.

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Queer Nation - Peter Ellis: A Queer Perspective

Television, 2003 (Full Length)

This is the second part of a Queer Nation special about Peter Ellis, who was accused of molesting children in a Christchurch crèche in 1992. It examines how Ellis's sexuality permeated the case and its coverage, and influenced public opinion. It also focuses on the gay community's lack of support, and proposes reasons. Interviewees include Lynley Hood, whose book A City Possessed argued the case had the hallmarks of a witch hunt, Gay NZ editor Jay Bennie, and lesbian psychologist Miriam Saphira, who helped set up the guidelines under which the children were interviewed.