August 23, 2017
This week I’ll be unpacking the 1970 murder of Olive Walker, an 18 year old woman from Rotorua. But first, I have a couple of disclaimer My first disclaimer is that, I struggle to say Rotorua correctly. I find it really hard to roll the R on an initial sound, and it’s something that I’m working on and practicing. So, for this episode, I’m going to sound like a Pakeha when I say Rotorua. I, like everyone, am a work in progress. This episode does briefly mention a sexual assault. If that is something you’re not comfortable with, you may want to skip this episode. It is a brief, 1 sentence mention when I talk about the discovery of the body, and I won’t be going into detail. One thing that you will hear me say a lot today is “police were unable to”. And it might get frustrating. I had to keep reminding myself that in the 1970s the police were working with a lot less. Less technology, less resources. It was a different time, and I hope that they were doing their absolute best.
NZ in the 1970’s was a nation divided. When researching this case, I found very little in the papers. What I did find was a lot of articles about the 1970 All Black rugby tour of South Africa. The short version, because this isn’t a history podcast, is that South Africa did not allow Maori rugby players into South Africa to play against their team. Prior to 1970, the New Zealand Rugby team did not take Maori players however, in 1970 Maori players were finally allowed to go - as long as they were referred to as ‘honorary whites’. This was a hugely divisive issue. Some people couldn’t understand what the problem was, while others were outraged that NZ was contributing to apartheid by allowed Maori players to be referred to as honorary whites. I do have to wonder - if the issue surrounding the rugby tour was not happening, would Olive have gotten more media attention? Or would she have gotten the same. We will never know, but I do wonder.
Rotorua is a tourist town, located in the Bay of Plenty region near a lake of the same name. The full name of the town is Te Rotorua-nui-a-Kahu-mata-momoe. Rotorua is affectionately known as Roto-Vegas due to its many motels and neon lights. It is well known for its geothermal activity, which causes steam to rise from vents in the ground, and bubbling pools of hot mud to be dotted around the city. The whole area smells of sulphur, due to the geothermal activity.
Olive Walker was a shy, quiet, and kind young woman from a large Maori family. She had turned 18 only 6 days before she was murdered. Olive related much better to children than people her own age or older, and she was a regular babysitter for her nephews and nieces. Her sisters were grateful for her help with their children, and recount stories of children who would gravitate towards her and her gentle nature. Olive was not good with strangers, and if someone stopped their car at the end of her driveway she would run straight inside, whether the person was intending on coming to her house or not. She only spoke to people that she knew and trusted. Her family said that she had learning difficulties, which put her a couple of years behind her chronological age at school. She had social delays as well.
At 6:45 on Friday the15th of May 1970, Olive left her home on Leslie Avenue in Rotorua. She was going to her sister’s house on Malfroy Road to babysit her nieces and nephews. It was a cold night and she was bundled up in a jumper and her favourite duffle coat. It is not clear how she made her way towards her sister’s house. Her sister’s home was around 5km away, over an hours walk, so she may have caught the bus into central Rotorua, where she was later seen. But there were no reports of her being on a bus that night although witnesses said they saw he walking away from a bus stop. Although it was a large distance to cover on foot, overall people walked more, and an hours walk may have been something that Olive was used to. It’s impossible to know now how she got there, but Olive was seen in central Roto outside the now closed down Odeon movie theatre at 7:30pm by some former high school classmates. That was the last time anyone reported seeing her.
A short while later, there were reports of a woman screaming on Malfroy Rd. Malfroy Rd is a fairly long street, and the screams were heard at multiple houses along the road so it is thought the screams may have been coming from someone in a vehicle.
Olive’s sister, who was expecting Olive to arrive to babysit the children assumed the plans had changed, got on with her evening, and went to bed. Similar to the last episode where I talked about the disappearance of Mona Blades, this was a time before constant communication, so it’s not too unusual for her sister to have assumed Olive was doing something else instead. Olive also had a habit of being late, so her sister really didn’t think much of her not showing up.
Around 11:30pm that night, a car pulled into a rest area a few kms south of Roto. The rest area was popular with young couples since it is raised up from the road and fairly private, so it's not out of the ordinary for a car to be there at a late hour. As the car pulled into the rest area, the headlights shone on something near the picnic table and this caught the eye of the people in the car. One of the occupants of the car got out to investigate, and discovered Olives body lying in the grass behind the picnic table. The car left to get the police, and by 1am police had arrived. The found Olive laying on her back. She was wearing the same clothes she was last seen in - red cotton pants, a red and green patterned jumper, a fawm duffle coat, and red socks. She was not wearing any shoes, although a pair of sandals were later found nearby, and they are believed to be Olives. The medical examiner determined that Olive had been killed by multiple blows to the head with a blunt object that had sharp protrusions, such as a spanner, a hammer, or a tyre iron. She had been killed between the hours of 9:30pm and 10:55pm The blows were so severe that her skull had broken into 7 pieces and her chin was punctured. There was no bruising or injuries found on any other part of her body. The medical examiner believes that Olive was sexually assaulted and semen was found in Olives underwear.
The next morning, when it was light, the area surrounding the picnic table were searched. A pair of shoes, believed to be Olives, were found in a bush. The police found a large pool of blood in the gravel parking lot, tyre tracks, shoe prints, and drag marks. They surmised that Olive had been killed in the parking lot, perhaps while getting out of the car and away from her attacker. She was then beaten about the head, causing bleeding and death. Olive was then dragged away from the car, and left near the picnic table. It doesn’t really make sense for Olive to be left out in the open, so the police wondered if the murderer was intending to drag Olive to the bushes, but may have been spooked by the headlights of another car or a noise and decided to leave her and get away. Or maybe the killer never intended to hide her body at all, and intended for her to be found quickly.
Olive had no ID on her, so the police had no idea who she was, or how to contact her next of kin. The media ran stories about the young woman found in the rest area on the local radio stations. The described her hair, eye, and skin colour, as well as what she was wearing. This is how Olive’s family found out about her death. Her sister called the police and said that the young woman could be her sister, and by Saturday afternoon it had been confirmed that the young woman was Olive.
The investigation into Olive’s death had already begun. Locals were questioned, Olive’s family all gave statements. The Walker family insisted then, and still insist now, the Olive was shy and she would not have willingly gotten into a car with a stranger. She was either picked up by someone that she knew, or she was forced into a car against her will. They also recounted the complaint that Olive had made 2 weeks prior. She told her family that she was being followed by a man driving a car that she believed was a Humber. Police questioned everyone that was connected with Olive in some way - family, extended whanau, school friends. All up 7000 people were questioned. The police made a photo mock-up of what Olive was wearing when she went missing, and superimposed a photo of olives face on the mock up. This was printed in newspapers and shown to locals in the hopes that it might jog someone’s memory. Police investigated men in the area who has criminal records for similar crimes, but that didn’t lead to anything concrete. They also looked into a family member, however he ended up having an alibi for the night of the murder and also didn’t own a car. The police were very interested in a man who was given a ride to Waipa by a young couple of Saturday morning. The couple picked him up around 2am on Amahou Street, which is one of the main roads in Rotorua. The couple picked him up because his car was out of petrol. He was in his 30’s and of european desent, and his car was a Hillman or a Humber in 2 shades of blue. The police were unable to locate this man, or his car which was one of the types of vehicle that they police were interested in.
The police investigated the tyre tracks found at the rest area and measured the turning circle of the car. They narrowed the vehicle down to only 7 makes of car - Hillman, Humber, Carrier van, standard 8 or 10, Singer Gazelle, Sunbeam Rapier, or a Bradford truck or van. 1800 cars in the area matched the description, and many were searched over the course of the investigation, however some were never found. Police were, of course, looking for any evidence of blood in the car since they believe that the attack started either in the car or directly outside it. The only lead the police ever got was from a shop assistant in Hamilton, around a 2 hour drive away from Roto. A few days after Olives murder, a man came into her shop and wanted to purchase something that would remove blood from car upholstery. The man was described as being in his 20’s with black hair and dark eyes, good looking, and possibly part Maori. The man then asked for directions to Auckland. This lead was followed up but the man was never found. There wouldn’t have been security cameras or traffic cameras, so once he left the shop it would have been impossible to find out where he went. And even if he did go to Auckland, it’s a big place and that wouldn’t have narrowed down the search area enough.
There were 11 shoe prints in the gravel near the tyre tracks and drag marks. The shoes were determined to be made by Kiwiflex footwear, and they were a size 6. Only 5% of Kiwiflex shoes were made in a size 6. The shoes were commonly issued to forestry or sawmill workers. The rest area where Olive was found backed onto the old Waipa Sawmill, which employed 200 men, many of whom lived at the nearby single man’s camp. The police made the assumption that since the shoe size was small, the killer may also be smaller in stature. The shoe prints also showed that the killer had a hip deformity, which caused an irregular gait, which is more prevalent in Maori and Pacific Island people.
This bit recorded separately and is in the drive
You’re probably thinking what I was at this point - Great, look at that information. Surely there weren’t that many Maori or Polynesian men who wear a size 6 kiwiflex shoe, have a hip deformity and irregular gait, and drove one of the 7 possible cars living in Rotorua in 1970. Well, the police spoke to the foremen at the saw mills, and they couldn’t help with a suspect. In fact, no one that the police looked at was a strong suspect. There was never enough evidence to rule someone in or out. There were rumours, and suspicions, but they don’t get hold up very well in court. When the case was looked into again years later, and the sawmill worker theory was explored again, police found that the staff records had not been kept, and they were unable to follow the line of inquiry any further. Again, the police were at a dead end.
The police looked into many theories, but never found the killer.
The theory that the killer was a local is a strong one. Firstly, the rest area where Olive was murdered was mainly known by locals. It was up and off the road, and the entrance was not easily seen if you were driving past. The killer would have needed some local knowledge to know where the rest area was, and to know that once there he wouldn’t be seen from the road. The rest area was popular with courting couples, however he may have taken his chances that no one would be there at that time. The rest area backed onto a sawmill, and the killer was wearing sawmill or forestry issued shoes. He could have worked at the Waipa sawmill, or even the sawmill close to Olives house. There is a possibility that the sighting of her in town in inaccurate, and that Olive was abducted close to home! The sawmill worker theory stays with me. It is possible that the weapon used to murder Olive was a pickeroon, which was a tool used in sawmills in the 1970’s.
Then there was a man the she saw following her 2 weeks before her murder. Could this be who killed her? It’s possible, especially since her being followed prior to the murder would also point to the killer being a local. He would have known where she was, and maybe the times that she was likely to be out by herself. He would have needed to work and live in the area. Olive maybe even knew who he was, but was too scared to tell her parents a name. Maybe they thought that being shy and quiet meant that she would go willingly?
A theory was that the killer was from out of town. He was passing through, saw Olive, and grabbed her in a crime of opportunity. I don’t think that theory is too likely. Although it would explain why they never caught the killer, it doesn’t explain other evidence, like how he knew about the rest area. The shoes he could have gotten from another sawmill or forestry job in another area, I suppose. I don’t know, i think too much evidence points to it being a local who knew what they are doing and that they were going to take Olive.
Olives case is still open, and is regularly reviewed. In 2006, the TV show Sensing Murder, which gets psychics to try and solve murder and missing persons cases, featured Olives murder on one of their episodes. I’m not saying anything about my personal beliefs or feelings on psychics because this isn’t the time nor the place. What I will say is the Olive's family welcomed any input from the show. It had been 36 since her murder when the show aired, and I think most families at that stage would try anything in the hopes of getting an answer. Olives family are also very spiritual, and they were open to anything that could possibly help. One thing the show did do is highlight Olives case and bring it back in front of the New Zealand public. No matter what your thoughts are on psychics, I hope you’ll agree that attention and publicity for Olive was a good thing.
Today, it has been 47 years since Olives murder. If she were alive today she would be 65 years old. He father passed away a few years after her death, at the age of 68 years old. Her mother was still alive at the time of filming in 2006, however I haven’t been able to find if she is still with us. Her siblings want answers, and they hold out hope that, one day, they will know what happened to Olive Oriwia Walker.
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