Mystery of missing daughter ‘just didn’t add up’ for Kiwi officer
The perseverance of Dunedin Police staff paid off in a murder case that captured the public’s attention on both sides of the Tasman.
John Sharpe murdered his pregnant New Zealand wife Anna Kemp and their daughter Gracie with a spear gun in Melbourne in March 2004. Anna’s body was dismembered and dumped along with Gracie’s at a Melbourne tip.
Constable John Woodhouse and Detective Senior Sergeant Kallum Croudis played an important role in bringing Sharpe to justice and providing closure for Anna’s family in Dunedin.
John became involved after he spoke to Anna’s mother, Lili, who hadn’t heard from Anna for a while. The pair had a good relationship and would phone each other at least weekly.
John made the usual preliminary enquiries. “Initially I wasn’t too concerned – it’s not unusual not to hear from someone in a week. A few days later Lili contacted me saying she had an email from Anna and not to worry,” says John.
However, that wasn’t the end of it. Lili contacted John three weeks later concerned that she hadn’t had verbal contact with Anna – only emails – despite leaving repeated phone messages. In a phone conversation with Sharpe she was told Anna had left him for another man.
“It just didn’t add up,” says John. “Anna was a first time mother working from home – where would she get the opportunity to meet another man outside the home and disappear?”
On 8 May Lili received flowers from Anna to mark Mother’s Day and her birthday on 18 June. The words in the accompanying note rang alarm bells. “Lili said it used language that Anna wouldn’t use and she didn’t believe Anna would acknowledge her birthday so early.”
John read through Anna’s emails and talked to her friends who knew nothing of another man. He went to the library to get an idea of the geography of where she lived and even traced her midwife who confirmed that Anna had missed appointments without explanation. “A whole lot of things got my interest up.”
John didn’t hesitate to refer the file to CIB and from there it went to the Victoria Police via NZ Police Liaison Officer in Canberra, Detective Inspector Chris Kelley. Within a short time Victoria Police were interviewing Sharpe who eventually confessed to the murders and told them where he had disposed of the bodies.
John believes Sharpe was always going to get caught. “People like Anna and Gracie just don’t disappear – he would have cracked. However, I think the staff handling of the file made a difference enabling the bodies of Anna and Gracie to be located so quickly, which was a big thing for the family.”
While John was at the forefront in the preliminary investigation he
is quick to point out the amount of teamwork involved. “I just
started the ball rolling – others picked it up and ran with it.
“A case like this helps establish a relationship between staff and jurisdictions. It shows how we can work together to solve a crime. Everyone worked brilliantly to bring the guy down.”John received a District Commander’s award for his work on the case.