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"The body in the garden case"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Poisoner
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 1993
Date of arrest: March 1994
Date of birth: 1962
Victim profile: Doug Gardner (her abusive partner)
Method of murder: Poisoning (a fatal dose of various prescription drugs)
Location: Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand
Status: 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

Gay Oakes

In January 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.

Oakes has 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 proceeding.

Oakes’s 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 -

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, Christchurch.

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 imprisonment.

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 their relationship.

"We just want to get on and live a quiet life," McMurtrie said.

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 Trust.

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 books.

When she was released in 2002, the Parole Board said Oakes had been an exemplary prisoner and did not pose a risk to the community.


Early release for Gay Oakes

Oct 3, 2002

Convicted Christchurch murderer Gay Oakes is to be released from prison on Monday.

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.

A life 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 parole.

Doug Gardner's sister Wendy Johnstone says she is hurt and angry about the decision. She says life should mean life.

Another 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.

New Zealand First's law and order spokesman says the early release is an insult to the victim's family.

"She should serve at least 10 years," said Ron Mark.

"It is 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."

Mark said 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.

However, a penal reform group has welcomed the news.

Kathy Dunstall of the Howard League for Penal Reform in Canterbury says the decision indicates the board has taken submissions on battered women's syndrome into account.

Dunstall says this brings New Zealand into line with overseas jurisdictions where the syndrome is recognised as a significant factor in some offences by women.


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.

The battered-woman-syndrome 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 Controversy

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.

Oakes's 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.

Announcing the 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 crime."

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.

During her 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.

Defense 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.

The 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.

During the 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.

The publicity 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.

But fewer 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.

Violence 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.

This changed 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.

Supporters of 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.

They also point to the way the police and legal system failed to protect Oakes and her children from Gardner's violence.

During a 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.

However, some arguments used to defend Oakes are reactionary and do damage to the fight against women's oppression.

Some backers 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.

Doris Church, 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.

The working 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 day.

As capitalist 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 us.

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.

The entire 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.

Joan Shields 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 syndrome.




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