Woman nicknamed 'black widow' after poison questions

17:58, Dec 06 2013
Helen Milner
ACCUSED: Helen Milner listens to evidence while on trial for the murder of her husband.

A woman accused of murdering her husband was nicknamed "black widow" by colleagues because of her questions about poison.

On the third day of Helen Milner's trial for murder, the jury heard a summary of Black Widow, the film which came out in 1987. 

Theresa Russell starred as a ruthless young woman who seduces and marries rich men and then poisons them, inheriting their wealth.

On Wednesday morning, Brent Hazeldine, of Whangarei, summarised the plot of Black Widow for the High Court at Christchurch. It's "about the wife who was going around popping off all the husbands".

Hazeldine was appearing in court via video link, one of 70 witnesses the Crown is expected to call during Milner's trial. He sat at a table facing the camera, answering questions from lawyers in Christchurch.

The Crown's case is that in May 2009, Milner, now 50, killed her husband, truck driver Philip Nisbet, 47. It is alleged that Milner mixed the anti-histamine drug Phenergan into Nisbet's food and then smothered him as he lay unconscious in bed. The defence case is that Nisbet committed suicide.


Hazeldine's connection is that he worked with Milner at Ground Services Limited in Halswell.

The company does building, landscaping and weed spraying. Between Hazedline's evidence and that of another former co-worker, Greg Panting, now in Australia, a picture began to emerge.

Milner worked upstairs but would come down at least once a day, often to make personal calls.

They heard her complain about her work life, her home life, and her marriage.

Sometimes the conversations took strange turns but then Milner was typically "out there", according to Hazeldine. How out there? She would ask about poisons and ways to kill her husband.

They dubbed her the "black widow" and joked about whether poison had been slipped into the muffins.

The press bench was full but there were few spectators in the gallery. Later in the day, reporters observed that Milner cried when her 111 call was replayed.

Two police officers described for the court the scene at the house where they found Milner and her husband.

They said that when they arrived, an ambulance was already parked in the drive of the house in Checketts Ave, Halswell.

Milner had been sleeping on the couch and her husband was lying dead in the bedroom. In her statement, Milner said they had watched the forensic crime series Bones together the night before and then he went to bed an hour earlier than she did.

She got up in the night to take medication for her diabetes and opted to spend the rest of the night on the couch with her duvet and her cats. She said she woke at 5.45am and realised that her husband had not got up for work. She found him dead and phoned 111.

Defence counsel Margaret Sewell was keen to test Sergeant Christopher Barker's memory. What kind of dressing gown did Milner have on? Was she wearing bed socks? Could we be sure that he really remembered anything properly? His replies were abrupt. Four years is a long time. But why was his memory so crucial?

Because Barker is convinced that Milner's emotional responses that morning were "unnatural". A text appeared on her phone while the police officers were present. It was from her husband, a suicide note. "He's done it to himself," she said as she read it.

Constable Grant Cowan remembered that Milner was so hysterical she could barely speak. Barker also remembered Milner's "hysterical wailing" but he doubted it at the same time. Four years later, he still looked sceptical.

"I have never seen anything like it before," Barker told the court. "She was wailing.

"It was a prolonged wailing that just didn't add up."

The Court heard that inside the cold Halswell house on that dark morning, there was the sound and appearance of wailing but there did not seem to be any actual tears. No tears. He was sure he remembered.

The case is set to continue for at least another week.

Fairfax Media