Eric Stanley George Graham, known as Stan, was born at Kokatahi, Westland, on 12 November 1900, the son of John Graham, a farmer and proprietor of the Longford Hotel, and his wife, Mary Spring. Little is known of his early years, although he attended school in Kokatahi and was described as slightly reserved but fairly well behaved. By early manhood he was less than five feet six inches tall but of strong build, a non-smoker and light drinker who kept himself physically fit. His sporting interests included boxing, wood-chopping, shooting and later cock-fighting. He was a member of the Kokatahi gun club in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Graham met his wife, Dorothy McCoy, when she moved from Rakaia in the late 1920s to work at the Longford Hotel. They married in Christchurch on 22 December 1930, living there for six months before moving to a dairy property at Koiterangi (Kōwhitirangi) on the West Coast. They were to have two children.
Through the late 1930s Graham maintained reasonably good relations with neighbours although he and his wife took little part in the district’s social life. By 1940 the Graham family was under severe financial pressure, having had cream condemned by the Westland Co-operative Dairy Company and having incurred debt from a venture into cattle breeding. William Jamieson, a neighbour and member of the dairy company’s board of directors, was aware of the decline in Graham’s cream, and noted a corresponding deterioration in Graham. ‘In himself he was different. I thought he might be slipping mentally’. Graham thought he was being persecuted by the police for not surrendering a requisitioned rifle, and by his neighbours, some of whom he believed were poisoning his cows. His wife shared his suspicions.
Matters came to a head on 8 October 1941. Constable Edward Best was called to Koiterangi because of Graham’s threatening behaviour, which included aiming a rifle at a neighbour. Best visited Graham, recorded the complaints of his neighbours and went to Hokitika for assistance. He then returned to Graham’s house accompanied by Sergeant William Cooper, and Constables Percy Tulloch and Frederick Jordan. Graham met the policemen at his front door. The details of what followed are unknown, but Cooper, Jordan and Tulloch were shot dead; Best suffered grave wounds from which he later died. Also shot on arriving at the Graham house was an agricultural instructor, George Ridley, who died of his wounds in March 1943. Graham fled the property, returning the following evening. In an exchange of shots, home guardsmen Richard Coulson and Gregory Hutchison were hit. Coulson died immediately and Hutchison the following day. Graham was wounded but made his escape in the darkness.
The manhunt that followed was overseen by Commissioner of Police Denis Cummings and involved hundreds of police, soldiers, home guards and volunteers. On the evening of 20 October, after 12 nights’ hiding in forested hill country, Graham was sighted by Constable James Quirke, of Auckland, approaching the adjacent Growcott farm. The general instruction was that Graham, if armed, was to be shot on sight. Quirke later told the coroner: ‘I was quite satisfied as to his identity and the fact that he was carrying a rifle. I fired at him … and wounded him and subsequently found that he had a rifle and a .32 calibre automatic pistol’. According to Quirke, Graham told him, ‘I am done. I was going to chuck it tonight, I am done, I have paid in full’.
Graham died of his wounds in Westland Hospital in Hokitika the following day and was buried in the local cemetery. On the rim of the cement pad is one word: ‘Stanley’. The Graham home was burnt to the ground four days later and Dorothy Graham and her children left the area. There was some public feeling that Graham could have been captured without being fatally shot and he has been romanticised as a man alone against the world. Several novels, portraying him as a victim of society, and the 1981 film Bad blood, have been based on his story.