Cold case murder leaves a chill
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