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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.



Poverty Bay Murder, 1942

A savagely inexplicable murder in the Wairoa district of Poverty Bay in August 1942 presented the police with an exasperating problem. Two Salvation Army officers, elderly sisters, Rosamund Jane Smyth and Annie Smyth, aged 74 and 63 respectively, were found in the barracks-cum-dwelling in which they lived alone, brutally beaten to death. The weapons used were a household poker and an axe. They were widely known identities throughout the district, and by their uncompromisingly strict attitude towards human failing and peccadillo, they had made themselves very unpopular with certain sections in the community. Rosamund, the elder sister, in particular acted as a self-appointed guardian and critic of local morals. She was very strong physically for her age and was reputed to be afraid of no one. There was no suggestion of a robbery motive, but there was reason to believe that someone had disposed of the sisters in fear of disclosures they may have been able to make. With this in view, the police carefully questioned a number of local people who were known to be in Rosamund's book of judgment, but with no result. A Japanese angle was introduced, largely by means of rumour, because Rosamund Smyth was believed to be strongly sympathetic to the Japanese at that time. Many people were questioned who had had quarrels or disagreements with the two sisters, and the movements of a woman who had been convicted previously of a similar crime in Napier were thoroughly investigated. The semi-nakedness of both victims gave rise to stories of a rape motive, but the police were convinced, from the manner in which the bodies had been exposed, that this was merely an attempt to disguise the sex of the murderer, or perhaps to add a gratuitous insult to the persons of the two sisters. The case had many possibilities but infinitely more difficulties, and despite the greatest possible efforts by the police, with unusually well-organised public cooperation, the mystery has never been unravelled.