In the early hours of New Year’s Day 1998, the calm waters of Waikawa Bay became a crime scene.
Two young New Zealanders, Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, boarded a stranger’s boat. They were never seen again.
Although their bodies were never found and there was little evidence a crime had been committed, a local man was charged, and later convicted, of their murders.
He has always maintained his innocence.
With a lack of evidence, an unlikely suspect, and rumours of a police conspiracy, the case is often referred to as New Zealand’s very own Making A Murderer.
On January 31, 1997, Ben, 21, and Olivia, 17, were bringing in the New Year at a party at Furneaux Lodge in the Marlborough Sounds. They then returned to the Tamarack, the boat they had planned to stay the night on.
As the New Zealand Herald reports, after discovering the Tamarack was overcrowded, the pair boarded a water taxi with the hope of finding alternative accommodation back on the mainland.
They would never make it back to shore.
The Mamamia Out Loud team deep-dive on the year that was true crime. Post continues.
Guy Wallace, the water taxi’s driver, said a mysterious stranger offered to let the pair stay on his vessel overnight.
They accepted the offer and Wallace dropped the three of them off at what he described as a two-masted ketch. That was the last time anyone ever saw Ben and Olivia.
On January 2, 1998, the pair’s parents reported them missing. The local police began looking into the case and interviewing witnesses.
Then on January 5, Detective Inspector Rob Pope, arrived from Christchurch to take over what was now known as Operation TAM.
During his interviews, Wallace told police about the mysterious man and his two-masted wooden ketch. He described him as being unshaven and having medium-length, wavy hair.
He also described the two-masted ketch as being 38-40 feet long.
Witnesses at a local bar also described the mysterious man as unshaven with long, wavy hair.
By Sunday January 11, Pope had narrowed in on a local man named Scott Watson as a person of interest.
Watson was clean shaven and had short hair on the night in question. He also owned a 26-foot single-masted steel sloop, not a two-masted wooden ketch.
According to Mike White at Noted, Pope said Watson began to “stick out like dogs’ balls” and had the “the right sort of agenda and pedigree” to commit the crime.
While Watson did have a police record from his teenage years, he hadn’t had a brush with the law in a long time.