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Email heavymetal@stuff.co.nz to get in touch with the Heavy Metal team.

Stuff's podcast Heavy Metal explores the murder of Christchurch scrap dealer John Reynolds two decades ago. Here, in this interactive feature series, we delve further into his story.

Written and researched by Martin van Beynen and Blair Ensor.

A family waits

Her younger brother Michael was on the phone.

"Are you sitting down?" he asked her gently.

Frances Muir thought something must have happened to one of his two children. She heard Michael, the quiet one in the family, breathing, hesitating.

"John's been assaulted. He's dead," Michael said.

"He's dead."

John was John Thomas Reynolds, their hardcase older brother. He was a 55-year-old Christchurch scrap metal dealer, who had been beaten to death in his yard only hours before.     

Michael had found his body around 6pm after John's anxious wife had called him to say he hadn’t come home as expected at 1pm. The scrap metal dealer was unfailingly reliable so she knew something was wrong.

By the time Michael got to the factory unit in Hazeldean Rd it was dark and he used a torch to make his way around the building, dodging drums and piles of scrap metal, looking for his brother.

It was April 28, 1996. In the industrial area just outside of Christchurch's main centre, it was quiet as a country churchyard.

As his torch beam swept around the yard, Michael was beginning to think his brother wasn't there. They had had coffee that morning in John's messy office but now he could be anywhere.

Then he saw him near the scales, not far from the entrance. He was lying face down in his work clothes with blood spreading from his head. His hard as nails brother, who would never back away from a fight, was dead, his head smashed in. Michael knelt beside him and put his hand on his back.

Frances, who was living on the West Coast in Kumara in a little green cottage when Michael called, had last seen her brother a few months before.

When she was in Christchurch she would often drop by the yard where John bought odds and ends of scrap metal from the public seven days a week.

"He was always there. He liked nothing better than to be at work,” she says.

"I would bring a packet of gingernuts with me because he was a bit tight with his money and all he offered was coffee."

He would sometimes send her out to the dairy to buy some cigars as he couldn't leave the scrap yard.

Frances knew the scrap metal business was rough and ready, or in her words "dodgy", and that her brother had some troubled customers. But the news of his death came like a blow.

"I was stunned. It was just such a shock. It's something you don't ever get over. If somebody is sick and they die you're expecting it but when someone is taken like that, it's such an absolute waste of a life."

She wondered if her brother had spoken out once too often.

"John was a bit of rough diamond. He was a straight shooter and could be very rude. He would just come out and say things."

John's ability to handle himself when things got physical had always given her confidence he would be all right in a tight situation.  

"He wasn't that big a guy. Probably only 5.10, 5.11, but he was very strong and would take anybody on . . . He had a certain presence that said ‘don't mess with me'."

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John was a year older than her and growing up in Bolton near Manchester, they were close, Frances, now 75, says.

"He was only 15 months older. He was a bit of a ratbag as a kid, even as an adult. He was always out doing. He wasn’t the kind to sit around and always had mates doing the things naughty boys do. But they were no worse than any other kids around the neighbourhood.

"He found school work hard. Just had trouble sitting still. His mind was always working but it wasn't on school work."

Sport didn't figure among his hobbies. Her brother, she says, loved collecting - bottles, stamps, coins, china, anything. Part of the attraction was finding a bargain and turning a find into cash.

Their parents, Mona and Tom, emigrated to Australia in 1960 when she and John were in their late teens. An older sister Marjorie, who was married, stayed behind in England.

It was sad leaving Marjorie behind and Frances recalls how John had once got in a fight to defend her.

"She had very poor eyesight and thick glasses which kids used to tease her about. She used to get very upset. I remember one kid was giving her a hard time and John sorted him out."

In Australia, John lived at home with his parents and went straight to work. One job was in a tannery where he earned good money for dirty, heavy work.

"He made lots of friends especially in the Greek and Italian community. He got on really well with them," Frances says.

Their mother Mona found Australia difficult because of the heat and the family moved to Gore where Tom got a job in the freezing works.

Frances and John both had jobs in Australia and stayed behind, at one point living together. His penchant for trouble continued.

When John was about 19 he was shot and although he later liked to show off his wounds and make up stories, the truth was more mundane.

"He and a mate went shooting in the bush and were fooling around. It was an accident and he got shot in the stomach. He was in hospital for two days and by the end of the week he was back to work," Frances says. "It would have floored anybody else."

Frances had a difficult marriage and at one point her brother had to intervene.

"My then husband, he was being a complete idiot so John kicked him out. He came back a couple of nights later and set the house on fire while we were all in bed. They found some torn up phone books and John said it must have been that arse I kicked out of here and sure enough it was."

In 1963 Frances moved to Christchurch to where her parents had moved from Gore. Tom worked as a maintenance engineer for a lift company. John joined the family two years later. His first job was as a gardener at the then Sunnyside mental health hospital in Hillmorton and after a couple of years he got a job at the railways workshop in Addington as a storeman.

Within two years he was married to a young Maori woman who was eight years younger and worked in a dairy John frequented for his banana-flavoured milk shakes.

The marriage produced two children and John liked to keep some distance between his rough and tumble work life and domesticity.

"After work he went home to his wife. He never went to the hotel. He wasn’t a drinker, he would go home," Frances says.

His collecting continued.

"He would drive you insane with his bottles. How much this one was worth and how old this one was. I would pretend to be interested."

Frances says if John had his own way the house would have been  "full of crap" but his wife kept the house immaculate.

"He wouldn't have been an easy person to live with. You couldn’t change John. It was just the way he was," Frances says.

"He was always doing something. He was a great gardener. He had a big walnut tree, potatoes, corn the rest of it. He would spend hours out there. One year he said 'I'm going to make some wine'. Oh my god, I think it was plum wine. It was absolutely hideous and we all had to sit around and drink it. He also made beer. He could never sit still, even as a young fella."

John was made redundant from his railways job in 1990 after which he went into the scrap metal industry.

It suited his collecting instincts and his bargaining skills.

Within a short time he had invested in a building and Garden City Scrap Co was born.

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After the killing, Frances got regular updates from police about the investigation into her brother's murder.

Initially she thought the killer or killers would be found quickly.

"Then it started to drag on and after a while you lose hope."

She fully supports any renewed effort to find John's killer and believes it wouldn't take much to solve the case.

"Nothing goes unseen. At the end of the day somebody else must know."

She thinks it was a violent robbery despite the fact John still had $2200 on him when he was found.

Her brother often carried several rolls of notes, she says. She believes the killer got some cash but didn't realise John had another wad of notes in his shirt pocket.

The shirt pocket cash was probably the money he used to pay suppliers, she says, and he may have had a separate stash of notes in another pocket, perhaps for the washing machine he and his wife were going to buy that afternoon.


Memories fade and 22 years is a long time but Frances keeps her brother’s memory alive in small ways.

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In her light blue address book she keeps several photos. One is of her mother putting out the washing at their Melbourne home. John also features in the photograph, reading a newspaper. 

"Probably looking for a bargain knowing John," Frances says.

Another photo shows John as a toddler. Frances thinks he looks like a pixie. While his killer remains undiscovered, the family can't put the matter to rest, she says.

Another member of the Reynolds family is also looking for an end to the matter.

This is John's sister Marjorie who stayed in Bolton when her family moved to Australia. She was already married when the family left.

She was the sister who John defended from bullying remarks from people who made fun of her thick glasses.

Only able to be contacted by letter, Marjorie wrote to Stuff saying she was grateful her brother's case hadn't been forgotten.

She is approaching her eighties and says she loved her brother and thinks about him often.

"It would be very good to have some kind of closure for my peace of mind while I am still alive," she writes.


listen to the podcast

HOW TO LISTEN

If you're using an iPhone, iPad or a Mac computer, sign up via iTunes here.

If you’re using an Android, sign up via Stitcher here.

You can also copy then paste the following URL into your podcast provider for the RSS feed: https://rss.whooshkaa.com/rss/podcast/id/2984

You can also listen on any desktop computer here.

What is a podcast? Read more here.


Email heavymetal@stuff.co.nz to get in touch with the Heavy Metal team.

Email heavymetal@stuff.co.nz to get in touch with the Heavy Metal team.