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SET FOUR HOUSES AFIRE, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 178, 30 July 1945
SET FOUR HOUSES AFIRE
'HAD OWN REASONS'
DAMAGE OVER £12,800
An admission that he deliberately started fires in four large houses, three in Victoria Avenue, Remuera, and one in Sarsfield Street, Heme Bay, was made in the Police Court this morning by Ronald Dempsey Crook, aged 33, a labourer.
"I don't know what was the cause of my doing these things, but I had my own reasons," said accused in the course of a lengthy statement. Crook also admitted stealing a number of articles from the houses which he set on fire.
Messrs G. N. Christian and R. G. May, J.P.'s presided. The charges against Crook, who was not represented by counsel, were:—
Committing arson in wilfully setting Are to (1) dwelling house at 20, victoria Avenue, Re.-iuera, the property of Ethel Arawa Dransfield, on June 20; (2) the dwelling house of Marjorie» Leila Rendell, at 17, Victoria Avenue, on June 23; (3) the dwelling of Mrs. Sarah Albert, at 54, Victoria Avenue, on June 30, and (4) the dwelling "of Annette May Whitten, at 53, Sarsfield Street, Heme Bay, on July 9,
Crook was further charged with breaking and entering Mrs. Dransfield's house and stealing silverware, cutlery, three ladies' watches and other articles of a total value of £54 3/6; breaking and entering the dwelling at 17, Victoria Avenue, and stealing jewellery valued at £26; breaking and entering the house at 55, Victoria Avenue, and stealing two watches, a travelling bag, an overcoat, sundry papers, a bottle of liquor and two fountain pens, of a total value of £28; and breaking and entering the dwelling at 53, Sarsfield Street, Heme Bay, and stealing a quantitv ,of jewellery, three half sovereigns, two cameras, binoculars, a quantity of liauor, two suit cases, cutlery, two fountain pens and a quantity of clothing, of a total value of £322 4/6. Accused was also charged that on July 4 he broke and entered the dwelling of Douglas Raymond Sheath, The Strand, Takapuna, and stealing an electric iron, fountain pen, a quantity •of wine, silver, cutlery, a camera, and clothing of a total value of £43 3/. Detective-Sergeant Fell led the prosecution. Assessors' Evidence Insurance assessors gave details of the insurances on the four houses and estimates of the damage done by fires, fires. The value of Mrs. Dransfield s The value of Mrs. Dransfield's house before the fire, it was stated, was £6000 and the cost of reinstating the house would be not less than £2833 10/. The contents had been damaged * to the extent of £2500. Mrs. Albert's house was valued at £6000 before the fire and the cost of reinstating it would be about £1400. Damage estimated at £800 was done to the contents. The cost of reinstating Mrs. Rendell's house was £2000. The contents were 'damaged to the extent of £740. Before the fire at Mrs. Whitten's home the contents were valued at £1200 and they were damaged to the extent of about £600, which included the loss of books valued at £120. Ernest Leonard Green, taxi driver, identified Crook as the man whom he picked up at the Kemuera Post Office shortly after 9 p.m. on June 20. Witness said he had received an order to take a passenger named "Allen" to the city. Accused came running towards the taxi from the corner of Victoria Avenue and Remuera Road, and had a torch in his hand. He said he had rung for the fire brigade. Accused had with him a heavy suitcase, and told witness to drive him to the railway station. "Going down Victoria Avenue, when we got to the fire, he asked me to stop and he got out and had a look at the fir?," continued Green. "We stayed about or four minutes, when I told him that 'if he wanted to catch the train we had better get going. I drove on, and on the way to the railway station he talked about leaving, kiddies alone in a house, and said he wouldn't like to leave his kiddies alone in a house on account of the danger of fire."' Arrest in Wellington Detective-Sergeant W. R. Fell said Crook was located in Wellington on July 16 while trying to dispose of a valuable camera. He was interviewed by Detective Knapp about his possession of the camera and a cine camera. The next day he was arrested, and he arrived in Auckland on July 19. "I told accused I was making inquiries about fires in Victoria Avenue and Sarsfield Street, and that we had recovered some of the property, stolen from the houses," continued Mr. Foil. "I showed him the propertv, whereupon Crook said: 'What I have done is against the law, I suppose, but I have my own ideas about, it!' "Crook then frankly told me what had happened. I took his story down on the typewriter. He read it through, said it was true and signed it. He later volunteered to show me the houses he had broken into. We went in a car and he pointed out to me the four houses which had been on fire." Two statements made by accused were produced by the detectivesergeant. In his first statement to the police, Crook said he was a cook by occupation and lately had "been living all over the place," including 111, Wellington Street. "1 am being questioned about fires in Victoria Avenue towards the end of June," said Crook. "I don't know what was the cause of my doing these things, but I had my own reasons and now want to explain it all and clear it up, because what I did was wrong in law. I've got my own views about these things. "I Had the Spike a Bit" "On June 20 I went t>y tram to Victoria AvenUt.-, intending to see a man' who lives there. On; the way down'the avenue I called in to No. 20. Mrs. Dransfield's place, to inquire where the man lived. There was no one at home, so I walked on down the avenue as far as the man's place and stood around outside. I had intended to return ten bob to
him that he had loaned me. Ther when I was standing outside I decided I wouldn't give him his ten bob back. I had the spike a bit and I went back and set fire to Mrs. Dransfield's place.
"I broke the glass panel in the front door with my fist," continued the statement. "I cut my thumb doing it. I opened the lock by putting my hand through the broken pane arid went upstairs. I saw what a lot of nice things she had there and thought I would take some of them. I just took anything that was lying around that wouldn't burn. I found a brown imitation leather case, with wooden bands around it, on top of the wardrobe and gathered up some things and put them in the case—a box of fish knives and forks, dessert knives, a teapot, gold wristlet watch and other things.
'"I set fire to the house in two wardrobes upstairs. I lit a match and held it to a thin silk dress until it flared up and'l then went to the other room and lit some dresses in that wardrobe. I closed the doors of the wardrobe after lighting the fire, then went downstairs and packed the silver in the case and left the house, closing the front door. Went Back to Fire After detailing how he rang for a taxi and gave the fire alarm near the corner of Remuera Road and Victoria Avenue, accused continued: "I got .into the taxi and drove back to the house and got out and had a look at the fire. I then got back into the taxi and drove to the railway station. I was going to leave the bag there, but I decided to take it with me, and called another taxi and went to a boardinghouse in Hobson Street, where I stayed that night.
Accused then told how he disposed of articles he had. stolen.
"I had the same sort of idea in my head on the night of June 23," went on Crook. "Just after 9 o'clock I walked down Victoria Avenue and saw the house at No. 17 in darkness. I went in and knocked on the door to see if anyone was there. No one answered and I pushed in the glass near the lock, put my hand in and opened the door. I went inside and did just as I did at Mrs. Dransfield s place, finding an old attache case and taking some small pieces of jewellery. Just before I went out I started a fire in the wardrobe upstairs. I can't be sure whether I lit the fire in two sides or not. I just struck a match and set fire to dresses."
"I left the house by the front door and walked up to the corner of Victoria Avenue and Remuera Road. I did not see the fire going, so I went back to the house and was standing looking at it from the front gate when two ladies came along. 1 tola them I would go and have a look m the house and I asked them to ring the alarm. They left to go to a dairy or somewhere, and I followed behind, giving the alarm myself from a call box. I then got on a tram and came •to the city. "On Saturday, June 30, I had the same sort of idea, and walked down Victoria Avenue. I had sorted out a house at 55, Victoria Avenue because I had been looking up a directory and knew Cohen lived there. I don t like Jews, and I sorted him out because his name was Cohen. I went to this house just after 9 o clock aftei telephoning from the corner of the street and getting no answer. The house was in darkness, and I broke the glass panel in the front door with my hand. In the house I did the same thing again. "Burned £800 Bond" I took a case containing business papers and two bank books, and also a black overcoat from the downstairs hall. I also took a bottle of liquor from the cupboard where the bag was found. There was also an £800 war bond in the bag which I took. After taking the bag out of the cupboard upstairs I struck a match and set fire to some clothing hanging in a wardrobe, starting a fire on each, side of the wall. I then left the house and walked down to the train stop. When I got in the tram , the motorman told me they had given the alarm." After telling how he disposed of the overcoat accused said he burnt the £800 war bond and all the papers in the case, which he dumped, with some keys, in the hafbour.' "On July 9 I went to Heme Bay by tram to see a' man who lived in Shelly Beach Road. I got lost in the tram and went out too far. don't • remember calling at a house and inquiring for anyone, but 1 may have done so. I finally found myself in Sarsfield Street just after 9 o'clock, and 1 saw the house at 53 was in darkness. No one came to the door when I knocked and I broke the glass, put in my hand and opened it. I made a search of this house and put a number of things into my suitcase and an attache case, including two cameras, a pair ot binoculars and a ring. I also put two bottles of sherry and two bottles of wine in the attache case. Just before I left the house I lit a match and started a _fire among some dresses hanging in a wardrobe. The fire had a fair hold before I left _ I was so far away from the fire when the brigade arrived that I did not hear it." Concluding his statement, accused said that a number of articles stolen from this house were sold to a jeweller in Wellington. He also sold some of the stolen articles in Auckland. "I Decided Not to Burn It" In a further statement given by to Detective-Sergeant Fell on Tulv 26 accused said that when he broke into the house at 55, Victoria Avenue he took a lot of private oapers, some of which had the name 'Cohen" on them. Cohen s address was given as 21, The Strand, T.akapuna "I decided to pay this house i visit because they were Jews, said accused. "On July 4 I went to what I thought was Cohen's house and got there about 8 p.m. I got in the same way by breaking the glass in the front door. * There was no one at home and I put *£he lights on. • I found some' papers with the name of Sheath on them and I realised I was not in Cohen's house. I took a number of things. I had intended to set this house on fire had it been owned □y Cohen, but when I discovered it was Sheath's place I decided not to burn it."
The detective-sergeant, producing a carefully-prepared schedule, said the total damage by fire in the fourarson charges was estimated at 17 dad. The damage to the contents of the four homes was approximately £5432 18/8, making i total of £12,815 18/8. Accused admitted the theft of property to the value of £478 13/ from the five houses. Goods totalling £416 4/6 had been recovered, while goods valued at £60 876 had not been recovered. If restitution had to be paid to dealers -in respect of stolen property sold by accused it would total £96 10/3. Accused gave a number of fictitious names to various dealers when disposing of the stolen property, he added. «
Accused pleaded guilty to all charges and was committed to the Supreme Court for sentence.
SET FOUR HOUSES AFIRE, Auckland Star, Volume LXXVI, Issue 178, 30 July 1945
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