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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Foxton Tragedy, 1931

Few crimes in New Zealand have had the shocking consequences of the shooting of a former Rongotea farmer, Thomas Wright, aged 47, at Himatangi, near Foxton, in May 1931. Whether by accident or design, the killing of one man involved the deaths of three other adults and three children. After the crime the lonely farmhouse was set on fire and all the occupants perished. The mystery has never been solved. When the gutted dwelling was examined after the fire, the charred bodies of four adults and three children were discovered in the ruins. It was also found that Wright had been shot in the back of the head with a shotgun. The victims, in addition to Wright, were Katherine Wright, his wife, aged 40, his three children, John Brown Westlake, aged 62, a well-known and wealthy farmer and Justice of the Peace from Pahiatua, and Samuel Hewitt Thompson, a 23-year-old farmhand. There could be no possibility of suicide with respect to the death of Thomas Wright, and the bodies of the deceased family were so nearly unidentifiable that the police had practically nothing to work on in their investigations. A man who had a long time before been guilty of a similar murder was suspected and questioned, but nothing could be ascertained to link him with the occurrence in any way. The entire Manawatu district was combed by the police in their efforts to solve the crime, and at the inquest the Coroner had a special word of commendation for the manner in which the police had handled the problem. He said, however, that he could not imagine how the answer to the riddle could ever be found.