Real-life murder tale for small screen

MATT STEWART
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2013
Alf Benning
Alexander Turnbull Library
DAYS BEFORE: Alf Benning with two cages of captured cats not long before he murdered his wife.

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A TV movie about a bizarre and grisly murder set against the 1970s backdrop of the capital's colourful underground and its staid suburbia has been greenlit for production.

NZ on Air has earmarked nearly $3 million to make How To Murder Your Wife - a two-hour long black comedy based on the real life case of Alfred Benning who strangled his estranged, church-going wife Betty, 63, in 1977.

Mrs Benning's dismembered body parts were found by police neatly wrapped in newspaper and buried beneath an apple tree in the couple's Standen St, Karori garden.

Mr Benning had meticulously cleaned the blood out of the laundry after chopping up his wife with a meat cleaver, but detectives found faint traces of blood on the floorboards under the lino and later the irregular sod of upturned turf next to the apple tree.

Executive producer Philly de Lacey said the "complexly told" period piece would be filmed in Wellington and would focus on tension between the post-war generation and the baby boomers as they came of age in an era of political, social and sexual upheaval.

"Alf came very much from a suburban, middle-class New Zealand and was desperate to break free.

Betty was an upstanding lady involved with the Karori Presbyterian Church, but the marriage had turned ugly."

One of the ways Mr Benning broke free was to immerse himself in Vivian St's red-light district where he befriended infamous madame, transvestite and gay rights activist Carmen Rupe.

The era also ushered in a new wave of detectives and police technology

Wellington lawyer John Bowie was a junior prosecutor at Mr Benning's trial.

"It was a fairly bizarre case - he had a little ‘death lab' in the basement where he did some work for the SPCA euthanising stray and feral cats so he had some experience in killing."

Mr Bowie said Mr Benning was an unassuming if remorseless killer who never showed regret or despair for his wife's brutal murder.

After the murder he tried to empty his bank account and entertained prostitutes in the the couple's house.

"In his own way he was a reasonably personable individual. He was quite a cheerful little customer - the typical case of a person who looks like they wouldn't harm a fly."

Production company Screentime New Zealand made Siege and Underbelly NZ.

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- Fairfax Media

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