Cold case mur­der leaves a chill

Franklin County News - - YOUR LOCAL NEWS - THOMAS MANCH

It was a cold case that left a chill in the town of Mara­marua. That was how then Se­nior Sergeant Tony Bouch­ier put it to re­porters 30 years ago af­ter the slay­ing of publican Chris Bush.

On Thurs­day, an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the fa­tal Red Fox Tav­ern hold-up was re­opened, be­gin­ning with a re-ex­am­i­na­tion of foren­sic ev­i­dence. As mem­o­ries fade, al­le­giances shift. There’s hope some­one will come for­ward.

Chris Bush was 43, a fa­ther of two, and a hard-work­ing man­ager of what was once the go-to stop on State High­way 2 be­tween Auck­land and Tau­ranga. A well-liked man who loved his race­horse, Dark Lace, Bush had been awarded a trip to Mel­bourne for his work build­ing the tav­ern’s pop­u­lar­ity over his four years there.

A night later, ‘‘the sense­less shot­gun slaugh­ter’’ put a stop to his Mel­bourne Cup plans. On Sat­ur­day, Oc­to­ber 24, 1987, Bush, two bar­maids and a bar­man were hav­ing a drink af­ter work when two men burst through the back door about 11:30pm, the

re­ported. Stand­ing up to pro­tect one of the bar­maids, Bush was im­me­di­ately fired at from close range with a dou­ble-bar­relled shot­gun.

Two of his co-work­ers were forced to lie along­side his body while one of the bar­maids was or­dered to search Bush’s body for the of­fice keys and open the safe. ‘‘Too hys­ter­i­cal’’ to be of use to the rob­bers, she was tied with the oth­ers to a post in the bar.

Po­lice later es­ti­mated the pair took $20,000 be­fore ran­sack­ing the bar. More than 50 of­fi­cers were as­signed to the case.

The brazen homi­cide left staff of nearby ho­tels fearful that the ‘‘bal­a­clava ban­dits’’ might strike again, a re­port from said. ‘‘If they’re mad enough to do that once, they’re quite likely to be so em­bold­ened they’ll have a sec­ond crack,’’ one pub staffer was quoted as say­ing.

Po­lice also feared a re­peat rob­bery, warn­ing a week later that any fu­ture vic­tims shouldn’t play hero.

There were many leads, but no ar­rests. The night be­fore the armed rob­bery, Bush closed the ho­tel af­ter a 50th birth­day cel­e­bra­tion and crossed the road to join his wife, Gay, at home.

He was wor­ried, Gay Bush said, as two cars were block­ing the ex­its. Bush ap­par­ently spoke to the oc­cu­pants, and they moved on with­out in­ci­dent.

‘‘Fac­tors such as the speed of their get­away from the im­me­di­ate area with the pro­ceeds of the rob­bery, which in­cluded $1200 in sil­ver coins, indi­cated the pres­ence of a nearby ve­hi­cle driven by a third per­son,’’ a news­pa­per re­port on Oc­to­ber 31 said.

At the year’s end, po­lice were in­ves­ti­gat­ing 70 peo­ple, in­clud­ing two Mt Eden es­capees and enough peo­ple to fill ‘‘three Thames mo­tels to do the ques­tion­ing in’’,

re­ported. Three days be­fore Christ­mas, a false tip­ster - Wil­liam Ray­mond Grigsby - was charged with per­vert­ing the course of jus­tice for claim­ing to have the money from the hold-up.

Po­lice whit­tled the muster down to 20 sus­pects in Fe­bru­ary the next year but, de­spite as­sur­ances the case was solv­able, no ar­rests were made. A Coro­nial in­quest was held two years later, largely to the fam­ily clo­sure.

In 1996, a ‘‘se­cret wit­ness’’ ap­peared on nam­ing the sup­posed killer as some­one al­ready serv­ing a life sen­tence.

When the Red Fox Tav­ern re­opened the Mon­day af­ter the fa­tal hold-up, about 25 reg­u­lars came to share their grief. Any­one with in­for­ma­tion can call Crimestop­pers on 0800 555 111.

Po­lice man­ning the cor­don out­side the tav­ern on Oc­to­ber 25, 1987.

Widow Gay Bush with daugh­ters Penny, left, and Jodie, at the Oc­to­ber 29, 1987 fu­neral for Chris Bush. PHO­TOS: AUCK­LAND STAR AR­CHIVE

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