"The body in the garden case"
Parricide - Poisoner
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder:
Date of arrest:
Date of birth: 1962
Doug Gardner (her
Method of murder: Poisoning (a fatal dose of various
South Island, New Zealand
Sentenced to life imprisonment in September
1994. Released eight years
later when the Parole Board accepted battered women's syndrome
could be used as a defence
1993 Gay Oakes gave her partner Doug Gardner a drugs overdose, and
after his death the following morning, hid his body on her property at
14 Hutchison Street, Christchurch. Fourteen months later, she was
convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.
recently written a book while in prison Decline into Darkness in which
she describes a life of beatings and mental torture at the hands of
her de facto husband. She writes that Gardner stole money from her and
continued to harrass her even though she had left him. Oakes’s fears
of what he would do that night led her to drug his coffee with pills.
She writes she did not intend killing him, she just wanted to put him
to sleep to escape more abuse. After Gardner fell asleep, Oakes
dragged him into her bedroom and left him on the floor, out of sight
of her children so they would not be disturbed. She said Gardner was
still breathing when she got up in the morning, but later, when she
returned from shopping, he had died.
She wrote that
she panicked, and she and a friend buried Gardner under a lean-to
beside the garage on her property. Fourteen months later, after a
tip-off, police exhumed Gardner’s remains. Oakes was charged with
murder, was convicted and received the mandatory life imprisonment
sentence. She unsuccessfully appealed, blaming Battered Women’s
Syndrome for her actions. Lawyer Judith Ablett-Kerr is now acting for
her and an appeal to the Governor General for intervention is
efforts to avoid detection seem to have damaged her defence.
Commentators say had she reported the death immediately the courts are
likely to have treated her more kindly. However, her actions in
burying Gardner rather than reporting his death did not earn sympathy,
nor did her denial of any knowledge of Gardner’s whereabouts when
interviewed by police soon after his death. Gardner’s family have
participated in the media debate saying he was not the monster Oakes
made him out to be.
Infamous murderer finds love
By Barry Clarke - NZHerald.co.nz
June 27, 2010
Body in the garden" killer Gay Oakes has found new
love and has been planning to marry. Oakes is living with partner
Andrew McMurtrie on the outskirts of Christchurch.
The couple met while working at the Pathway Trust,
a Christian organisation which helps former inmates into work, and
have been together for four years, friends say.
Oakes is one of the country's most infamous killers
after lacing her de facto partner Doug Gardner's coffee with sleeping
pills. She buried his body in the back yard of their home in Sydenham,
Gardner was listed as a missing person until police
received a tip-off 14 months later and discovered his body.
Oakes, who has four children with Gardner, was
convicted of murder in September 1994 and sentenced to life
She was released eight years later when the Parole
Board accepted battered women's syndrome could be used as a defence.
Neither Oakes nor McMurtrie would speak to the Herald on Sunday about
"We just want to get on and live a quiet life,"
But it is understood the couple have placed their
marriage plans on hold.
One of Oakes' close friends, Doris Church, said she
and others were delighted Oakes had found happiness.
"We are very pleased for Gay and Andrew. We were
very happy when she found someone," Church said.
Oakes, who is believed to be in her 50s, met
BMW-driving McMurtrie while working as a receptionist at Pathway
She left the trust 18 months ago and now works for
the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society in Christchurch. Church
was unsure when Oakes was to marry.
Gardner's sister Wendy Johnston said yesterday the
family was still very angry.
She did not believe Oakes should be able to live a
normal life and get married.
"I don't want any murderer living a normal life.
She still should be in prison. Life's life," she said.
The family had not had contact with Oakes since she
was paroled in October 2002.
A condition of Oakes' parole is that she is unable
to publish or give media interviews about her relationship with
Gardner, or be critical of him or his family.
While in jail, Oakes wrote a detailed account of
her life with Gardner, called Decline into Darkness.
She wrote of Gardner's abusive, violent behaviour
and claimed he stole money from her. The book angered Gardner's family
and prompted debate over whether prisoners should be able to write
When she was released in 2002, the Parole Board
said Oakes had been an exemplary prisoner and did not pose a risk to
release for Gay Oakes
Oct 3, 2002
Christchurch murderer Gay Oakes is to be released from prison on
The family of
her victim say they were informed of the Parole Board's decision to
release Oakes who has served eight years of a life sentence after
being convicted of poisoning her partner Doug Gardner in 1994.
sentence normally carries a minimum non-parole period of 10 years.
Last year the
Parole Board said there should be flexibility in cases involving
battered women and last month Oakes made an application for early
sister Wendy Johnstone says she is hurt and angry about the decision.
She says life should mean life.
sister, Bunny Lowe, says her family is unclear whether Oakes can be
forced to leave the country, but they are looking into it. Oakes is
originally from Britain, but met Gardner in Australia.
First's law and order spokesman says the early release is an insult to
the victim's family.
serve at least 10 years," said Ron Mark.
unbelievable that she is to be released after just eight years because
of her contribution to prison life. Her actions have ruined countless
lives, including those of her six children."
Oakes killed someone and then sought to conceal the crime. Her claim
that she was a battered woman was not upheld by the court, he said.
And he said
the decision goes against the wishes of 92% of New Zealanders who
signed the 1999 referendum calling for tougher sentencing.
penal reform group has welcomed the news.
of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Canterbury says the decision
indicates the board has taken submissions on battered women's syndrome
this brings New Zealand into line with overseas jurisdictions where
the syndrome is recognised as a significant factor in some offences by
What Causes Crime?
By Theodore Dlrymple
The most prominent New Zealand
case now undergoing exculpatory reinterpretation is that of a woman
called Gay Oakes, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of
her common-law husband, Doug Garden, father of four of her six
children. She poisoned his coffee one day in 1994, and he died. She
buried him in her backyard: ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and Doug
Garden to dug garden, as it were.
The case has become a cause
célčbre because Doug Garden was by most (though not all) accounts
a very nasty man, who unmercifully battered and abused Gay Oakes for
the ten years of their liaison. Oakes has now written and published
her autobiography, to which is appended a brief essay by her lawyer,
one of the best-known advocates in New Zealand, Judith Ablett-Kerr.
The lawyer, who is fighting to
get her client's sentence reduced, argues that Oakes was suffering
from what she calls "battered-woman syndrome" and therefore could not
be held fully responsible for her acts, including poisoning. Women who
undergo abuse over so long a period, the argument goes, do not think
clearly or rationally and must therefore be held to a different
standard of conduct from the rest of us.
There is no doubt, of course,
that women abused over a long period are often in a confused state of
mind. At least one such woman consults me every working day of my
life. But the idea that a battered woman suffers from a syndrome that
excuses her conduct, no matter what, has a disastrous logical
consequence: that battering men also suffer from a syndrome and cannot
be held accountable for their actions. No one, then, is individually
responsible for what is done. This is no mere theoretical danger: I
have male patients who claim precisely this and ask for help in
overcoming their battering syndrome. Of the many indications that
their behavior is under voluntary control, one is that they ask for
help only when threatened with a court case or a separation, and
resume their destructive conduct once the danger has passed.
concept is uncompromising in its rejection of personal responsibility.
The truth is that most (though not all) battered women have
contributed to their unhappy situation by the way they have chosen to
live. Gay Oakes's autobiography clearly, if unwittingly, illustrates
her complicity in her fate, though she artlessly records the sordid
and largely self-provoked crises of her own life as though they had no
connection either with one another or with anything she has ever done
or omitted to do.
Even in prison, with a lot of
time at her disposal, she has proved incapable of reflection on the
meaning of her own past; she lives as she has always lived, in an
eternal, crisis-ridden, unutterably wretched present moment. Her life
story reads like a soap opera written by Ingmar Bergman. And the more
that people choose—and are financially enabled by the state—to live as
she has lived, the more violence of the kind she has experienced will
there be. The lessons to be drawn from her case are myriad, but they
are not those that the liberals draw.
Born in England, Oakes went to
live in Australia in early adolescence. Though not devoid of
intelligence, she chose to follow the crowd in not taking school
seriously, and she married thoughtlessly at the age of 16. The
marriage didn't last ("we weren't ready for it"), and by the age of 20
she had two children by different men. She claimed to love the second
of the men, but nevertheless alienated him by a casual affair with yet
another man: her whim was law. Then, still in Australia, she met her
future victim. One of her first experiences of him was watching him
smash up a bar in a drunken rage.
Before long, by her own account,
he was habitually drunk, jealous, and violent toward her. He
repeatedly cheated her of her money so that he could gamble, told
outrageous and transparent lies, and was lazy even as a petty
criminal. He broke his promises to reform time out of number.
Nevertheless, the question did not occur to her (nor has it yet
occurred to her, to judge from her memoirs) whether such a man was a
suitable father for her children.
Four years into their
relationship, by which time she had had two of his children, he
abandoned her for his native New Zealand. Some time later, he wrote to
say that he had abjured alcohol and to acknowledge that he had treated
her very badly. Would she now rejoin him in New Zealand?
Although she had received
innumerable such promises before, although he had abundantly proved
himself to be worthless, lazy, unreliable, dishonest, and cruel—if her
own account of him is to be believed—she nevertheless entertained his
proposal. "All this time, Doug had blamed me for his behaviour and his
admission that he was responsible for his own actions had me fooled,"
she wrote. "I still loved him and I really believed he had finally
realised that the way he had treated me was wrong. I struggled with
myself over whether to go to New Zealand. . . . In the end, I had to
admit to myself that I missed Doug and wanted to be with him."
Having poisoned her loved one
six years and two children later, she found he was too heavy to bury
without help from a friend. Halfway through the burial (which she
revealed to no one else, until the police found the body 14 months
later), she feared that she and her friend might be caught in
flagrante and was seized with misgivings. "I was terribly sorry that I
had got Jo [her friend] involved," she recalled. "I had thought we
should be just pushing him over a cliff somewhere."
This is the woman whom we (and the
New Zealand courts) are seriously invited to believe is a helpless
victim, a woman who, though not mentally deficient, seems never once
in her life to have thought more than ten minutes ahead, even about
such matters as bringing a child into the world. And in this, of
course, she was a true child of modern culture, with its worship of
spontaneity and authenticity and its insistence that the forswearing
of instant gratification is unnecessary, even an evil to be avoided.
In this sense—and in this sense alone—was she a victim.
As I See It:
New Zealand Battered
Wife Trial Stirs
By Joan Shields
May 15, 1995
CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand - Gay
Oakes, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last September for
murdering her husband, Doug Gardner, lost her appeal against the
conviction in April.
The Gay Oakes
case attracted national media attention as "the body in the garden
case" - so-called because Oakes, with the help of several staff
members at a local shelter for battered women, buried Gardner's body
in her back garden. It was discovered more than a year after his
death. Oakes admitted lacing Gardner's coffee with sleeping pills.
There has been considerable controversy about the case.
lawyers argued that the trial judge had understated the defense case
as it related to battered women's syndrome and the history of violence
in the relationship. This had led the jury to reject a finding of
self-defense in favor of murder.
Court of Appeal's decision April 12, the judge declared, "It hardly
needs to be said that a battered woman has no more right to kill or
injure than any other person, man or woman, and so the fact that a
woman suffers from the syndrome is not in itself a defense; the
syndrome in itself is not a justification for the commission of a
About a dozen
women picketed the Christchurch High Court April 13 to protest the
ruling. A spokesperson described it as a blow against all battered
women. "It's saying the law is not prepared to consider or accommodate
a battered woman's reality," she said.
trial, Oakes described a horrific catalogue of physical abuse by
Gardner, spanning the majority of their 11- year relationship. The
court also heard that Gardner had sexually assaulted his stepdaughter,
the oldest of Oakes's six children.
lawyers argued that Oakes was a victim of "battered women's syndrome"
and had therefore acted with diminished responsibility. They also said
that she acted in self-defense, fearing for her life.
prosecution contended that Gardner's death was premeditated murder,
pointing to forensic evidence that Gardner had 45-70 sleeping pills in
his system-more than could have been slipped into one cup of coffee.
trial, Oakes's eldest daughter and the family doctor testified that
Oakes was frequently beaten. A police witness said the police had
records of this.
surrounding this case has put a spotlight on the fact that brutality
toward women remains an all-too- common occurrence. For the year ended
June 1993, the police responded to 19,080 domestic disputes. In 1992,
women's refuges around New Zealand provided help to 7,221 women and
8,963 children. New Zealand's population is approximately 3.4 million.
women are willing to accept this violence today. And growing numbers
of working people - both male and female - reject any notion that a
man has a "right" to beat his wife or any other woman.
against women is a product of the workings of capitalism. The
oppression of women is one of the main tools the employing class uses
to keep working people divided and push down wages and working
conditions for all. Wife-beating is just one manifestation of women's
second-class status under capitalism. The fight for women's equality
is intertwined with, and an essential component of, the struggle of
the working class internationally to get rid of the capitalist system.
consciousness is a product of the fight for women's equality that has
been waged in the last few decades. Most of all, it reflects the
growing incorporation of women into the workforce. This gives women
new confidence and, most importantly, economic independence to leave
men who abuse them.
Gay Oakes have rightly pointed to the double standard that still
persists in the application of the law in cases where one person kills
their spouse. There have been a number of cases in New Zealand in
recent years where a man has killed his wife or girlfriend - often
with extreme violence - and been convicted only of manslaughter on the
grounds that he had been "provoked" by his partner leaving him or
becoming involved with another man.
point to the way the police and legal system failed to protect Oakes
and her children from Gardner's violence.
television interview last year following her trial, Oakes said that
she had taken out several non- molestation orders against Gardner
through the family court. But a protection order isn't much good if
the police don't respond, she noted.
"I believe I
wouldn't be in the situation I am today if I'd received help when I
asked for it," she told the television reporter.
arguments used to defend Oakes are reactionary and do damage to the
fight against women's oppression.
of Oakes imply that her actions should be supported because they sent
a warning to men who abuse women. One of the placards at the April 13
picket declared, "I support Lorena Bobbitt." In June 1993, in the
United States, Bobbitt severed her husband's penis with a kitchen
knife while he was sleeping. She alleged he had repeatedly raped and
beat her. Women for Justice for Women, a group set up in the wake of
the Oakes trial, is calling for changes in the law to allow a
"self-preservation" defense on murder charges.
described in the April 7 Christchurch Press as a spokeswoman for
victims and a battered women's advocate, has called for widening the
definition of "self-defense." Women are physically weaker than men,
she says. If the law took that into account, "self-defense" wouldn't
just cover actions taken to protect yourself while actually under
attack. A "preemptive strike" is a legitimate self-defense for women
held in life-threatening situations, she argues. Oakes's lawyers
expressed a similar view.
class cannot consider killing or mutilating someone as retribution for
abuse to be acceptable or sending a positive message. To do so would
drag us down to the moral level the bosses try to impose on us every
society decays, the big-business media, politicians, and other
ruling-class spokespeople constantly push toward the coarsening of
human relations. They don't want working people to think we can stand
on the moral high ground, and fight for solidarity. But it is only
through working-class unity and common struggle that we can combat
women's oppression and the other horrors that capitalism imposes on
It is true
that many women remain in violent relationships for long periods, as
Oakes did for years, and sometimes women blame themselves for the
violence. But it is also true that many women do leave, and demand
that their legal rights be upheld. The very real gains that women have
made in the fight for equality have come about because women stood up,
not as victims, but as fighters.
working class and labor movement have a huge stake in campaigning
against every manifestation of women's oppression and the economic and
social conditions that give rise to it. We need to insist that the
government end its double standard toward men who commit acts of
violence against women. And we should insist that the police uphold
the legal right of women to claim full protection from violence by
their partners at any time.
is a member of the Meat Workers Union in Christchurch.
Flanked by friends, Gay Oakes enters Christchurch
High Court during her 1994 trial for the murder of her partner, Doug
Gardner. She drugged him and buried his body in the garden. At the
trial her defence was that she was suffering fom 'battered woman
syndrome' following years of beatings and mental torture by Gardner.
The jury did not accept this and Oakes was sentenced to life
imprisonment, with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years.
However she was released early, in 2002, after the
Parole Board considered arguments about the impact of battered women's