Rural mystery: 40-year trail of unsolved crimes under a full moon

Whether you believe in lunar madness or not, there is evidence to suggest the full moon has cast its spell over Ngapara in the past 40 years.

As inquiries continue into the slaughter of about 195 sheep on a Ngapara farm last weekend, so too do investigations into a 40-year trail of unsolved crimes in the area - most of them committed during a full moon, according to Oamaru police.

''[Farmers] all know that on a full moon [the offender(s)] plays up - full moon, watch out, keep everything locked up,'' Community Constable Bruce Dow, of Oamaru, said.

''They say: 'Full moon, [they'll] be out there tonight'.''

A sense of fear remained in the community and farmers had always been aware of suspicious activity, he said.

''This has been a bone of contention for that community for years and years and it's not stopped,'' he said.

''It's criminal behaviour by an individual or individuals and it's causing the community of Enfield, Ngapara and Georgetown a lot of concern.

''It hasn't been forgotten - if the offender out there thinks that he or she has got away with this, they are fooling themselves.''

Police can trace a series of fires and sabotage of vehicles and farm equipment back to 1975 in the Ngapara area, extended in some cases to Enfield and Georgetown.

Const Dow said the unsolved crimes were unlikely to be linked to the shootings of ewes and hoggets on the Stackhouse family farm last Friday and Saturday nights, but police were still appealing for information.

Historic crimes in the Ngapara area included theft of property from tractors, stock theft, arson of hay sheds, paddocks, forests and houses and serious damage to tractors, and machinery.

''Engines have been destroyed on tractors, headers and vehicles, we believe by the use of carborundum, a grinding paste,'' Const Dow said.

''Tyres have been punctured, wheel nuts have been loosened off tractors and cars. Sheep have been stolen and ear tags from one farm have been found down offal pits of another.''

Fences had been cut, electric fences tampered with and one farmer lost more than 2250 litres of diesel when the taps from a fuel tank were turned on.

The Stackhouse family farm was also targeted about 20 years ago, with farm machinery seriously damaged, Const Dow said.

In many cases, damage had been subtle, such as holes drilled in hydraulic hoses and nail holes poked into a tractor's air filter.

''Everything has been covertly done - they've been done under cover of darkness and a lot of them were done so they wouldn't be discovered until when the equipment was needed the most,'' he said.

''Old-timers ... will remember lots of these incidents and they will have a very firm opinion of who's caused it.''

Const Dow said police and many farmers believed the crimes were linked and virtually none of it had been solved.

The culprit still appeared to be active, with the most recent report being damage to a tractor last month.

Const Dow became involved in investigations 14 years ago and has interviewed 55 people in the past year.

''I would [like to] speak to anyone with information, as slight as it may be, or as irrelevant as it might seem,'' he said.

Anyone with information should call Const Dow on (03) 433-1400 or report anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555-111.

- rebecca.ryan@odt.co.nz

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