The Graham Tragedy
When Eric Stanley Graham, a 40-year-old farmer, allowed his antipathy to his fellow men to take the form of threatening them with firearms, he attracted the attention of the police. A constable visited his farm, but received such a hostile welcome that he returned to headquarters for reinforcements. Three constables under Sergeant Cooper returned to the farmstead with the idea of taking Graham into the station for questioning. Graham reacted calmly enough at first and asked to be allowed to “go to the shed”. The next thing that happened was a rifle shot from a farm outhouse and Sergeant Cooper, the only armed member of the party, discovered he had been shot in the wrist. Graham was then seen to dash for the house, and within a few minutes a fusillade of shots rang out. The police rushed the house, but the man who was credited with being able to shoot a stag between the eyes at 500 paces accounted for all of them. He killed the sergeant and two constables outright and gravely wounded another man. Help arrived in the form of three local volunteers, one of them a 54-year-old agricultural inspector who carried a rifle. Graham turned his attention to this new attack, shot the armed leader, and drove off the other two. He then issued from the house and dispatched the wounded constable with a final shot.
From that moment the hunt was on, and before it was concluded more than 300 police, Army personnel, Home Guardsmen, and civilian volunteers had joined the search for Graham who, an expert woodsman, had taken refuge in the bush. When he left home the fugitive took with him firearms, 1,700 rounds of ammunition, and food. With the local Police Force practically wiped out, the manhunt paused momentarily until search parties could be re-formed. Police were flown in from all parts of New Zealand, troops were dispatched from Burnham Military Camp armed with machine guns and Tommy guns, and armed Home Guardsmen and civilians were also in the hunt. The tiny bush settlement of Kowhitirangi was completely besieged. Although Graham had taken to the bush, he never at any time moved far from his homestead, and in the first few days returned home on several occasions. His house was invested by police and Home Guardsmen, and on each occasion there were sharp shooting engagements, generally in the darkness. One Home Guardsman in the house was shot, and died in hospital the following morning, and another who rushed from the other side of the road to help was shot from ambush and killed instantly. This brought the death roll to six, with another man gravely wounded in hospital at Hokitika. The news of the second batch of killings raised local feeling to fever pitch and a virtual reign of terror began. Women and children were evacuated, and the Air Force flew in further reinforcements as well as a bomber. The order was “Get Graham, dead or alive”.
The searchers were never far behind Graham in his movement through the bush. He left many signs of his presence, including evidence that he had himself been wounded in the shooting exchanges. Finally, on the twelfth day of the hunt, Sergeant Quirke, of Auckland, by means of high-powered binoculars, discovered him a mile away. He stalked the fugitive carefully and then shot him at a range of 25 yards. Graham was not killed outright. He was captured and taken to hospital but died within 12 hours of admission. Thus ended the strangest and most tragic manhunt in New Zealand history.