In the first of a three-part series looking back at Taranaki’s longest unsolved police investigations, Deena Coster revisits the mysterious death of Lesley Calvert, whose decomposed body was found seven months after she went missing 40 years ago.
For 40 years, Lindsay Calvert has carried the burden of other people’s blame.
After his wife Lesley’s death in 1977, he says the finger was pointed at him as being the person responsible.
It’s an accusation he has denied at every turn and while he is sure he had nothing to do with his wife’s untimely end, he is no closer to finding out what happened to her. And neither are the police.
The death of Lesley Calvert is one of the longest running cold cases on the Taranaki police books.
It is one of the 143,096 active police investigations in New Zealand. Of those, 8116 are in the central district, which covers Taranaki.
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Earlier this month, police admitted its longest running case – the disappearance of Morrinsville toddler Betty Wharton – was unlikely to ever be solved.
Betty, who was three years old, went missing in 1964. Her mother – who had been suspected of being responsible for Betty’s death – died years ago, followed recently by her father. The case is now being prepared for the coroner.
Lindsay still holds out hope that his wife’s death can be solved and says to get closure on what happened to her would be immeasurable to him.
“I’m trying to find the words. I can’t explain what it would mean to me,” he says.
He says he has been labelled “trash” and scum” by strangers and has previously been critical of the police investigation, describing officers involved at the time of his wife’s disappearance as having tunnel vision and trying to pin the crime on him.
But despite his experiences, he still has hope someone will be held accountable for his wife’s death.
“I do believe in justice.”
On the morning of February 2, 1977, the Calverts – who lived on a farm in Waikawau, north of Awakino – had argued over the purchase of a new motor mower.
Lindsay left the house to help out a neighbour and when he returned about 10.50am, his wife was not there.
When she did not return home, he alerted the neighbours and they joined in a search for the 33-year-old which lasted into the early hours of the next day. Nothing was found.
The following day, up to 60 police officers scoured the farm property but also failed to find a body or any items of interest during their extensive three day search.
Lesley ‘s body was eventually found seven months later, high on a cleared ridge not far from the Calverts’ 640 hectare farm.
The badly decomposed body was found in manuka scrub along the farm’s boundary, the same area searchers had passed dozens of times in the preceding months.
A coroner later delivered an open verdict regarding Lesley’s death.
To date, no-one has been charged in the case.
In 2010, Lindsay turned to the producers of television show Sensing Murder in a bid to clear his name and find out what happened to his wife.
Psychics on the programme said Lesley had been murdered, but not by her husband.
After the programme went to air, information was provided to police, but none of the leads resulted in any new evidence coming to the surface.
Lindsay says he thinks about his dead wife every day.
He remembers her as an “outgoing type of person who had a wicked sense of humour.”
“She cared a lot about people and was a wonderful mother to her children,” the Rahotu man says.
The couple have two daughters and a son, who also suffer, he says, and it is for their sake he hopes anyone with information will come forward.
“Please for the sake of justice and the sake of my children, please bring it out into the open.”
While not a religious man, Lindsay has resorted to asking for help from a higher power to find finality.
“I pray every night that we will get closure.”
However, Detective Sergeant Debbie Gower, of Taranaki CIB, says without any new leads, it is unlikely the case will go anywhere.
It’s not a feeling which sits well with her.
“No one likes to have something unsolved and from the point of view of the families you want to get answers for them,” she says.
While time can create complications in a case – memories fade or people with information might die – Gower says in some cases it creates the space people need to come forward.
“People who didn’t want to talk to police or couldn’t talk to police then, now may want to and they can still,” she says.
“If any information comes in, we’ll look into it.”
Do you know what happened to Lesley Calvert? If you do, ring the New Plymouth police station on 06 7595500 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.