Milner joins New Zealand's roll of shame

19:58, Dec 21 2013

Not even Helen Milner's mother could find a nice word to say about her.

In more than two weeks of evidence at her Christchurch murder trial this month, no-one came to Milner's defence.

Accused of poisoning her husband, Philip James Nisbet, 47, Milner sat at the back of the court, taking notes, only showing emotion when she was found guilty by a jury.

New Zealand has a long history of female murderers - Minnie Dean, accused of infanticide and the only woman hanged in NZ; Parker-Hulme matricide, documented in the movie Heavenly Creatures; and the "body-in-the-garden" poisoning case where Christchurch woman Gay Oakes killed her husband and buried him in the back yard.

Detectives spoken to about other cold-blooded killers said they could remember none similar to Milner.

One detective brought up the case of Carol Elsie Jones, who also killed her husband and tried to cover it up as suicide. However, it later turned out Jones was a former partner of serial sex offender Stewart Murray Wilson, the "Beast of Blenheim", and a victim herself.


Other killers also suffered what experts term "battered women syndrome" - including Oakes, who was later released when the Parole Board recognised the syndrome as a defence.

Author Lynley Hood said some, like Minnie Dean - the subject of one of her books - were simply scapegoats, but not Milner. "The evidence against her seems pretty compelling."

She noted Christchurch was infamous for "bizarre" cases - but that didn't offer an explanation for Milner's behaviour.

Canterbury University criminologist Greg Newbold, said Milner was "certainly the worst female killer I've ever heard of".

"I've never heard of anybody like Helen Milner. She just stands out," he said.

What set Milner apart was the fact she acted alone without the influence of another, or a man, like other female criminals.

No-one had spoken in her defence, which was also unusual, Newbold said.

"She doesn't appear to have a friend in the world."


1954 Pauline Parker and Juliet Hulme: Found guilty of bludgeoning Parker's mother Honora to death after luring her to a secluded park in Christchurch.

1984 Lise Turner: Convicted of killing 8-month-old Michael Tinnion while she was babysitting him. She also killed her own two babies by smothering them – Megan in 1980 and Cheney in 1982, and was sentenced for attempting to murder two other babies in her care.

1993 Gay Oakes: Murdered her partner Douglas Stuart Gardner by giving him a cup of coffee laced with drugs and then while he was sleepy gave him more drugs that resulted in an overdose. She then buried him in her garden in Christchurch.

2002 Renee O'Brien: The 14-year-old used a hammer to hit Waitara truck driver Kenneth Pigott at least seven times on the head in order to steal his vehicle. Her two friends Puti Irene Heather Maxwell and Kararaina te Rauna were also jailed for their part in the killing. 

Sunday Star Times