Once, a Feilding schoolboy named Ewen Macdonald gave a girl in his primary school class love letters filled with confetti and lollies. She opened her desk to find the thoughtful gift among her schoolbooks, and rewarded his devotion by watching him play cricket at lunchtimes.
Two decades later and Macdonald's life is in tatters, his marriage and reputation torn apart despite his acquittal for the murder of his brother-in-law, Scott Guy.
The jury considering whether Macdonald murdered his brother-in-law found him not guilty yesterday afternoon after nearly 11 hours of deliberation.
Although it was common knowledge that the two men clashed, it sent shockwaves through the community when Macdonald was arrested for murder.
The picture painted by those who knew him growing up in Feilding is of a normal, well-adjusted schoolboy, who came from a supportive family and grew into a well-respected family man.
That version of Macdonald – the happy-go-lucky, popular teenager – seems hard to reconcile with the man who has appeared on the nation's television screens in the past month.
During the trial, the only time he broke down in tears was when his wife, Anna, told a jury their life had never been more perfect than on the day before her brother was shot dead.
The farm they co-owned was performing well, they had been on holiday to Fiji, her husband was spending more time at home with their young children and, most importantly, he was beginning to mend the tattered working relationship with his brother-in-law. So how did he find himself in the dock?
At Feilding High School, the sun shines brightly. Pupils zoom down the long corridors, hang out nonchalantly on the concrete steps, fall over laughing outside the cafeteria.
The library is quiet, but there in the black-and-white pages of the school magazine, Sheaf, the past comes to life.
It's 1995, and Nikki Guy is the school president. Scott Guy is a house captain, playing league, rugby – his self-appointed nickname is "the hitman" – touch rugby, tennis, claybird shooting, hockey and skiing. Sister Anna, two years younger and in the fourth form (year 10), enjoys netball and acting.
Also a fourth former, Ewen Macdonald runs cross-country and plays rugby. His brother, Blair, now a Wellington detective, sits on the school council with Nikki.
"He just seemed normal at high school, he played in rugby teams and cricket. He was kind of in with the cool crowd, if you know what I mean," says a friend of Mr Guy and former friend of Macdonald's, who still lives in the community and does not want to be named.
"I would say he was outgoing, he wasn't shy or afraid to speak up. He just seemed like a decent sort, eh, like not a dickhead or anything."
He used to "pay people out" by teasing them and could be negative, but not in a bullying way, the friend says. Nor was he violent or aggressive. "You know rugby, how you have a punch-up every now and again – he would never pick a fight or get aggro during a game."
School friend Carrissa Hirst saw Macdonald every day at what was then called Feilding Agricultural High School. The pair were in the same classes for all their core subjects.
She had known Macdonald since Lytton Street School, when he asked her to "go around" with him and left love notes in her desk. "I remember Ewen as being relatively quiet in comparison to the other 10-year-old boys. He wasn't as boisterous, rowdy and mean as others that I can remember," she says.
At some point, a "baby romance" blossomed between them, which mainly consisted of her holding his jersey and watching him play sport at lunchtimes, Ms Hirst says.
"It also meant that on many occasions I would arrive at school and open my desk to find a surprise love letter from Ewen. I have no idea what the letters said but I've never forgotten how he used to put the letters into envelopes and then fill the envelopes with confetti and lollies. I've always thought that these were extremely thoughtful, sweet and unusual actions for a prepubescent boy."
The pair remained friends through high school, where they were in one of the top classes and had after-school jobs on the Feilding milk run.
"The whole time that I knew Ewen he was the same guy. He came out of his shell a bit more at high school, as we all did. But in general I perceived him as quite serious, considerate and friendly," she says.
Retired agriculture teacher Alan Ward remembers Macdonald as a model pupil who was quiet and attentive in class, always doing what was required of him. "He was not a standout person – pleasant enough but not overly academic, not overly nerdy."
And Lytton Street School principal Geoff Lovegrove says a staff member remembered Macdonald as a "nice little boy who just loved his labrador puppies".
"He was apparently mad about the outdoors and talked a lot about fishing and hunting – his dad's business. Otherwise he was generally a happy primary pupil who got along well with others, and just loved the outdoors."
But was there a side to Macdonald that no-one knew about, even back then? In the school magazine, there is a poem by Macdonald entitled, I am me, but no-one knows. It is awfully dark for a seemingly happy fourth former.
"Suddenly I was sick of explaining/what was the point?/No-one would believe me./They don't know what it's like/I'm trapped in a food chain/My mind thinks I should choose to stop eating. My stomach tries hard to keep the food down./But it has given up./It's taken to throwing up./I want to give up./My life is not worth living."
By 1996, when they were in the fifth form, Macdonald and his future wife, Anna Guy, were holding hands. That same year she landed one of the lead roles in the school play, swishing across the stage as the glamorous Tallulah in Bugsy Malone.
Macdonald was still playing rugby and cricket, and began working on the Guy farm in the school holidays. "The attraction was probably more Anna than the dairy farm, though," Bryan Guy admitted, in an interview at the time of Macdonald's arrest in April last year.
But soon after leaving school and starting fulltime work at the beginning of 1997, Macdonald became increasingly withdrawn and more interested in Anna and the farm than anything else, the friend says.
"He changed when he went on the farm, eh, he just never saw any of his mates. Pretty much when he picked up with Anna, he got rid of all his mates."
Four months before she married Macdonald in 2001, with Scott Guy as the best man, Anna, 20, won Miss Personality at the Miss Manawatu pageant in Palmerston North. In the Manawatu Standard, she was described as one of the "crowd-pleasing" acts.
But after that, her performances dried up. "[Ewen] was pretty controlling of Anna, he stopped her seeing any of her mates," the friend says. "That's what everyone thought, that he stopped her from doing things. She was all into her arts ... and that just stopped."
But Macdonald still seemed himself, he says. "When you were having a yarn to him he just seemed totally normal. The only thing that didn't seem normal was he became obsessed with farming."
He was good at it, too. Macdonald was a runner-up in the 2010 Farm Manager of the Year competition, and was described by farm consultant Simon Redmond during the trial as a "high achiever" who could have taken his talents anywhere.
He often went duck shooting with his dad, Kerry Macdonald, the director of Hunting & Fishing in Palmerston North.
Ewen Macdonald was also a Colyton School board of trustees member, and a Feilding Herald editorial during the week of his arrest said he was "a respected farmer, husband, father of four young children, and an active member of Colyton community".
"While rumours had spread through the town during the nine months since [Scott Guy's] death, it was commonly thought his killer would be someone outside our community – someone with a criminal background, a gangster, drug dealer or even a hitman," the editorial said.
"The news that police believe Ewen Macdonald is responsible for Scott's death has been met with disbelief and anguish. Both the Guy and Macdonald extended families are well respected and active members of our community."
But on the farm, all had not been perfect. When Scott Guy moved back with new wife Kylee in 2003, it was immediately clear the two men had their differences.
"I observed that Scott and Ewen had competition between each other," said Andrew Short, who went to school with both men and worked on the farm in 2000. "It seemed that one would get a tattoo and [the other] would get a tattoo, or one of the parties would get a new car and [the] other would get a new car."
The friend agrees. "I think it was more than just differences in business or on the farm. I don't think they really liked each other, from what I got from Scotty."
Macdonald would always try to one-up Scott, and pulled increasingly bizarre stunts to keep up with him. Sometimes, it was just funny – like when Macdonald bought a sunbed, so he could work on getting a tan in the farmhouse at home.
"Scotty was always brown, he always wore a singlet around and was really tanned," the friend says. "We joked around that he had got it because he wanted to be brown like Scotty."
With Scott back on the farm, Bryan Guy split the tasks, so Scott managed the cropping, drystock and beef operations and son-in-law Macdonald managed the dairy cows.
Their duties changed after a farm meeting in June 2008, when Macdonald complained that Mr Guy wasn't doing the same amount of hours. Mr Guy was included in the morning milking roster as a way of balancing things up.
But four months later, the old farmhouse where the Guys' dream home was to be built lay in ashes – razed by Macdonald's hand.
Police believed the fiery June meeting was the catalyst. Detective Laurie Howell put it squarely to Macdonald on the day of his arrest that he did it to "piss off" Scott Guy.
But throughout the four-hour interview – even when he knew police had him on the arson and vandalism charges – Macdonald never confessed any intense feelings of hatred towards either Scott or Kylee Guy.
The arson was just a bit of fun, he said. Putting an axe through every wall in their new home and plastering "f...... bitch slapper" and "f...... [w]hore" on the outside three months later was targeted at Scott and Kylee, yes, but there wasn't a great deal going through his head at the time. "I was just doing it," Macdonald told police.
"I still was holding a bit of a grudge. I was disappointed. It wasn't a fair partnership, just with the hours I had to work and I didn't get to spend as much time at home with the kids.
"Scott got to spend more time at home. To me, it just felt like I was working my arse off and it wasn't even."
To the suggestion that he had murdered his brother-in-law, he told Mr Howell: "I'm not that psycho."
In the months after Scott Guy was shot, the friend says Macdonald still acted the same. "He never went quiet or anything like that. I saw him just before he got arrested, and he was still cruisy and just seemed like a normal guy."
Kylee Guy's good friend, Joanne Moss, was called to give evidence at the trial, and is now looking after one of the labrador puppies from the litter on the Guy farm. Three puppies went missing at the same time as the murder, and have still not been found.
She doesn't have much time for the man who took an axe to her best friend's house.
"All I know is that he was a funny sort of guy to start with, really. He never used to speak much at all. Kylee never said anything bad about him, there was sort of a bit of conflict on the farm but that's like anywhere, you know. No family is perfect."
Farm workers said that Macdonald was difficult to get on with, and he used to skite about his poaching expeditions, she said. "They said he always hated anyone who started out new on the farm, like they had to prove themselves.
"He was a weird guy ... very controlling of Anna. He never drank alcohol ... maybe he thought if he did, he wouldn't be able to stay quiet."
Still, she never thought he would be capable of causing the family so much pain. "I always thought he was a bit oddball, but not as oddball as that."
Kylee and Scott had an amazing relationship, and son Hunter was the apple of Scott's eye, she said.
"It was an absolutely lovely relationship, he was such a wonderful husband and such a wonderful father. I've never seen someone who was such a good family man."
Detective Sergeant David Thompson of Palmerston North said they found nothing in Scott Guy's past to suggest he was anything other than a stand-up bloke.
"The only thing that was surfacing was the issues on the farm, specifically the issues between Scott and Ewen Macdonald."
It seems the darker side of Macdonald's psyche was not known to anyone other than his partner-in-crime Callum Boe before April 7 last year – the day that Macdonald was arrested for Mr Guy's murder.
During his closing address to the jury last week, Crown prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said out loud what had become painfully clear to Macdonald's friends and family during his 14 months in custody: "No-one knows the mind of the accused, we don't know what his real outlets for frustration are and we don't know how he deals with it.
"Regrettably, no-one really knows him."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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