Page 1: Biography
Aplin, Frank Norman
This biography, written by Sherwood Young, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 2000.
Frank Norman Aplin was born at Crofton, Wellington, on 17 September 1901, the son of local farmer William Aplin and his wife, Edith Mary Woodhouse. He worked as a shepherd and farm labourer on Brancepeth station, near Masterton, before joining the New Zealand Police Force on 9 May 1921. Initially posted to Auckland, he transferred to Hamilton in June 1924. He was married there in the Catholic church on 9 February 1927 to Alma Violet Hill.
In July 1934 Aplin transferred back to Auckland, where he joined the criminal investigation branch. He was appointed detective in March 1937, and detective sergeant in April 1938. He was to remain in the Auckland criminal investigation branch for 21 years, becoming detective senior sergeant in November 1945, sub-inspector in January 1951 and detective inspector in March 1953. During this time he was involved in a number of investigations into serious crime. One was an arson inquiry in 1939 that resulted in two offenders being convicted of desecrating a grave. The two had attempted to defraud an insurance company after taking a body from its grave and burning it in a seaside bach at Piha.
As the officer in charge of the Auckland CIB, which included the Whāngārei area, Frank Aplin supervised the murder inquiries that led to the convictions and subsequent executions of the four men hanged in New Zealand in 1955. In one of these, involving the disappearance of John Hughes from the Makarewa freezing works near Invercargill, Aplin was sent south to lead an investigation involving staff from around the country. The inquiry resulted in the conviction and later execution at Mount Eden prison of Harvey Allwood.
On 12 September 1955 Aplin was promoted to detective superintendent. On 1 October he commenced duty at police headquarters in Wellington as the first national head of the criminal investigation branch. In this position he worked with the newly appointed controller general of police, S. T. Barnett (who was also secretary for justice), to raise the efficiency and morale of the police after the early retirement that year of Commissioner E. H. Compton.
A major case Aplin oversaw in his new position was the inquiry into the poisoning near Wanganui of Beatrice Bolton. After a long and detailed investigation, in which Aplin was personally involved, her husband, Walter James Bolton, was convicted by a Wanganui jury in December 1956. His hanging at Mount Eden prison on 18 February 1957 was the last carried out in New Zealand.
On 18 September 1958 Aplin became a chief superintendent, remaining in charge of the CIB. In the Queen’s Birthday honours list the following year he was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for Distinguished Service for his ‘outstanding success in crime detection, particularly homicide, and for his contribution to the reduction of serious crime in New Zealand’.
In his capacity as national head of the criminal investigation branch, Aplin was responsible for administering the branch in line with overseas developments. These included the institution of qualification courses for detectives, refresher courses, and in-service training. He also inaugurated a homicide course and created a squad of 19 detectives, drawn from around the country, who could be assigned to augment local staff for difficult homicide investigations.
In October 1959 his wife, Alma, committed suicide. On 4 June 1960 Aplin married his typist, Judith Alison Dixon, in New Plymouth. He retired on 11 March 1962, after almost 41 years’ service, and he and his family shifted to New Plymouth. He died there on 18 February 1965, coincidentally eight years to the day since Bolton had died on the scaffold in Auckland. Aplin was survived by his wife and their daughter, and by a son of his first marriage.
Frank Aplin was a dedicated, hard-working and determined investigator, who was renowned for his interrogation skills. He enjoyed the challenge of undertaking difficult inquiries, which he pursued resolutely to a conclusion with every legal means at his disposal.