The Elsie Walker Mystery
The discovery on 5 October 1928 of the body of an attractive 16-year-old girl among scrub in a disused quarry at Tamaki, a suburb of Auckland, constitutes one of the most baffling problems the New Zealand police have ever had to cope with. Elsie Walker disappeared from the home of her uncle and aunt at Papamoa, near Tauranga, and was not seen again until her body was found five days later on the outskirts of Auckland, 200 miles away. When the body was discovered, it bore no visible signs of violence, though medical examination later showed the existence of a fractured skull. Pathologists, however, could point to no precise cause of death. They agreed that natural causes were emphatically ruled out, and they considered that the blow on the head which must have caused the fracture of the skull could have contributed to death. A significant conclusion reached by the medical experts, and incorporated in the coronial verdict, was that there was no evidence to show whether the blow on the head had been accidental or homicidal. Suicide was out of the question.
Public interest in the inquest, which dragged interminably over several months, was maintained at the highest pitch, mainly as a result of strong magisterial criticism of police efficiency and methods in the investigation, and the continual emergence of intriguing new, but entirely inconclusive, evidence. Public meetings were held to discuss aspects of the case and, when the inquest was concluded, a magisterial commission of inquiry was held into the police handling of the mystery. The Police Department was entirely exonerated of any inefficiency or impropriety. It was shown that the girl's disappearance coincided with that of a motorcar owned by her uncle and aunt with whom she was living. The car was recovered at Papatoetoe, 200 miles away, and 7 miles from where the body of the girl was found. This merely deepened the mystery as the girl was unable to drive a car and had never been known to attempt to do so. William Alfred Bayly, a 28-year-old farmer, and a cousin of the deceased girl, who five years later was to be hanged for the brutal murder of his farmer neighbours at Huntly, Samuel Pender Lakey and his wife, Notable), was one of the principal witnesses at the inquest and was regarded throughout by the police as the mystery man in the case. His movements at the time of the disappearance were exhaustively investigated, and for several months he was questioned and interviewed, but the final verdict was entirely inconclusive – neither the cause nor the circumstances of death have ever been determined.