The Murder of Deborah Gardner (Tonga)

The murder of Deborah Gardner in 1976 in Tonga still haunts the Peace Corps agency and particularly those who were in Tonga during this terrible time when the agency did not do justice to one of their own.

I have written about this murder several times over the years and Jan Worth Nelson (Tonga 1976-78) wrote the 2006 novel Night Blind based on the murder. She alerted me to the recent documentary. It is part of a series called “Passport to Murder” produced for Discovery ID TV. The  segment on Deborah Gardner was entitled “The Devil in Paradise.” It was aired on July 29, 2016.

Jan, who was interviewed for the segment wrote me after it aired, “I have come to believe there probably isn’t any closure to be had.  But unlike Emile Hons (Tonga 1974-76), I didn’t really know her AND, most importantly, I didn’t walk into that cursed hut to see all the blood, as he did.  Nor did I see her sliced-up dead body on the gurney, like he did.  He has had to find ways to cope with the effect of what he saw that terrible night.  Nonetheless, as you could see in the show, even now the emotion of all that still feels painfully fresh.  It doesn’t take much for me to cry even now at the thought of what happened.  Now, as a 66-year-old woman, I am struck anew by how young we all were, how basically innocent we all were, including and especially, of course, Debbie.  I think we all thought of ourselves as somewhat cosmopolitan to be there, having our worldly adventure. But really we were essentially young, eager, good-hearted middle-class American kids.  Nothing prepared us for what Dennis did. “

If you missed the documentaryit, here’s a link:

Photo by PCV Frank Bevacqua

Photo by PCV Frank Bevacqua


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  • This is a fine statement including the ending of how we were good-hearted kids who believed in the ‘core’ part of our youthful Peace Corps beliefs. And that is part of the never ending wound in our memories. And this might cover other tragedies and disappointments.
    But none of this belittles our loving commitments to help others. Here is a piece about our going on with our lives and not forgetting our source and how it necessarily must sour and how we bend and break.

    VERTIGO PIVOT: this November

    Childhood desire turns life’s wheels,
    these large hoops, propelling them with sticks
    under the tall park elm trees. Movement of wheels.
    Everyone there is here now within you and all of your
    kin and all of your kith are here now and it will take a lifetime to
    flower and to fly and to sail this sea of thickening light.

    Room-tone, mouth-feel, a reordering of parts, rationing of emotions. I hear voices:
    they live here now without forgetting the way back under
    a surface of consciousness, the bungled aspirations, with leprosy as a model, and grim ire as life pushes, photography wins over
    time, and over the mind a brown shale. Again this November we pass through our river of life
    In Dante Alighieri’s THE DIVINE COMEDY, the River Styx” borders life & death where the ferryman Charon takes our souls across and the Styx is for the
    greatest damned living their wrath cursing.
    Our mischances shape our apprenticeship-muscles.
    When you are young you don’t know what’s coming
    Life is not the same poetry now, just verse
    Our inner sanctums let joy become lost in Cairo
    and we grasp failure through our lengthy histories.

    Wanting to learn dying before severing life’s link
    welcome the far shores before you miss them
    notice the far one before you reach it’s pivot come November.
    © Copyright 2 August 2016 Edward Mycue

  • I watched the documentary and then reread the classic book about the murder: “American Taboo,” by Phillip Weiss. The documentary missed the most important part of the verdict rendered by the jury in
    Tongo. The documentary said that the killer was found “not guilty”, the actual verdict was “Not Guilty Because He Was Insane at the Time When He Did the Act,” according to a letter written by the judge and reported in Weiss’s book.

    “American Taboo” is an extremely well documented book. Weiss’s. exhaustive list of references, resources, and interviewees is a road map on how to do Peace Corps history. Among many others, he thanks Jan North and “the conservator of Peace Corps legend, John Coyne”.


    © COPYRIGHT Edward Mycue 12/VIII/2016

    Within me, an intruder who is not me,
    and is a part of me.
    We co-exist as I exist.
    He swallows, I drink,
    who’ll die when I die.
    Or so I think. My hair
    was severely brushed
    and my damp face looked pink,
    painted-over and blotched.
    I had a young, firm face
    then wide-eyed as if waiting
    to catch-it, whatever “it”
    was, to catch-it and take it
    apart to understand
    what the virus Life was presenting
    to me, me who couldn’t then have
    seen myself or my kind
    as a virus swarming out of our planet
    attempting to conquer, perhaps
    colonize stars. Last week
    early I sat at a window looking
    at the large, heavy cones attacked
    by huge awkward crows disturbing all
    other life on that tree. Recalling
    Grammy Delehant warning
    against following the crows before
    you die, the way rodents do
    who pick-up the crows’ leavings,
    I now see I became a kind of crow.
    Though part of a system, I begin
    to be conscious with a bad conscience.
    Sometimes I think I’ll never learn
    spelling, which is sorting surrendered
    henscratches called letters.
    Good law. Misspelling’s
    legal breakdown. Anarchy’s
    an alteration from a rule –
    breakdown and a change
    (transformation, mutation) –
    some sort of alteration seen
    both as reason and result —-
    pink burning to purple—-
    the Blade Runner’s girl Rachel who
    though biologically-engineered
    gets conscious —-or Pinocchio
    crying and becoming a “real live boy”:
    such transformations and misleadings
    are revolutions
    of accepted arrangements
    umlauting different drummers’
    dancings of “can’t” and “change”
    (as if missed spelling). Here
    then, there, remains, what I gave my heart to. © Copyright Edward Mycue 14 May 2013

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