Officer who led Jennifer Beard murder inquiry dies

The man who spearheaded the manhunt for the murderer of hitch-hiker Jennifer Beard in Haast 50 years ago died in Timaru last week, aged 83.

Retired assistant police commissioner Emmett Mitten began the Jennifer Beard investigation on January 15, 1970, when she was first reported missing.

On Mr Mitten’s arrival to the West Coast, police were left to search 260km of State Highway 6 from Fox Glacier to Wanaka, as well as side roads and beaches.

He later described it as a ‘‘massive, massive area’’.

Soldiers just back from the Vietnam War were drafted in to help.

Trevor Joy, the police officer in charge of the search, recalled rain falling at the rate of an‘‘inch per hour’’.

Speaking in 2012, he said for 40 years, ‘‘the bloody news media, every year, would ring me up. There, it came back to luck, but this time, luck was against us’’.

‘‘I think the people of the West Coast took umbrage at the fact that a guest, as she was, in their part of the world had been murdered and that it appeared that the murderer came from outside of the Coast,’’ he told The Timaru Herald.

‘‘And it was also made quite clear by me that the girl was a pretty virtuous girl, of very good character, so it was an affront to the West Coast.’’

Evidence was found that pointed to a Timaru man, Gordon Bray.

He owned a car similar to the one that was seen and a rolled up receipt in his name from a Timaru garage was found.

‘‘When it was all boiled down, we had a large amount of circumstantial evidence, but we didn’t have enough to charge anyone.’’

A Requiem Mass was to be held in Timaru yesterday. 

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