Investigative crime writer Scott Bainbridge will be spending a couple of months in Raglan writing his next book about a series of New Zealand murder mysteries from the 1920s.
Scott says while the actual subject matter of his fifth book is still under wraps, the new book relates to a television project. Some of it relates to the unsolved murder cases from the 1920s and ‘30s that are in his third book, Shot In the Dark.
Based in Hamilton with wife and two children, Scott will take a couple of months off from his job at the New Zealand Transport Agency’s certification office and “the hullaballoo” of his life in Hamilton to write at his parent’s bach in Raglan.
He finds the town is a good place to gather his thoughts. “As soon as you drive into Raglan you feel that peace,” he says.
Scott’s first two books, Without Trace and Still Missing, are about missing persons and his investigative work led to several cold cases being reopened. The books also inspired the TVNZ series, The Missing.
While in Raglan he is also keen to find out more about a local missing person case from the 1950s or 60s. All he knows is that it was quite a controversial case at the time and concerned a woman who disappeared from Raglan, possibly over property.
“The little bit I know, it sounded quite intriguing,” Scott says. “I like those older cases. It’s more open to getting that information, rather than more recent cases.”
It is a time-consuming business though, investigating unsolved crimes, he says. But the older the crime, the easier it is to get material and the more willing people are to talk about the cases, as often those responsible are “well and truly dead” by then.
“Most of the cases I look at, particularly the older ones, I found with 99 percent of them, most of the people were very open,” he says. “ People were more willing to talk about the circumstances or the victim.”
He accesses old police files at Archives New Zealand, but with the paper in some of the old files being so flimsy and not able to be photocopied, he has to hand-write many of his notes.
He also travels the country talking to families of victims, witnesses and suspected perpetrators to gather his material, trying not to get anyone’s hopes up or get too emotionally involved himself.
“One of the first things I do is tell them not to get their hopes up.”
These families have usually accepted that their loved one is dead – many may even have an idea of who is responsible – but for most of them, the main concern is to get the body back.
His investigations are different from those of the police, and he can sometimes have more success because he is not from the constabulary: “People are reluctant to talk to the police because they’re police, whereas I’m coming from a different angle and people are more willing to open up.”
He has learned never to make assumptions about a case. Sometimes missing people turn up years later or people fake their own deaths.
“Nothing surprises me – you never can predict what the outcome will be with a lot of the cases,” Scott explains.
Scott has always been fascinated in unsolved crime and missing person mysteries. He grew up in the 1970s, “the era of the motorised offender”, when women and girls started being abducted in cars – a marked change from the tranquil New Zealand of the 1960s when women could still hitchhike without fear.
“Back in the 1970s, a murder or an abduction made the news for weeks.”
As an adult he worked as a fraud investigator for several government departments, before doing a writing course and publishing his first missing person book, Without Trace in 2005.
He sometimes needs a break after completing a project: “It can be quite emotionally draining. You do get emotionally attached”.
But there are still a lot more cases out there to pique his interest.
“New Zealand has certainly more than enough missing person cases. There are certainly enough for another book or two,” Scott says.
If you have any information about the woman who went missing from Raglan during the 1950s or 1960s, you can email Scott at: firstname.lastname@example.org