Mother saw Milner as 'spawn of Satan'

16:00, Dec 19 2013
Helen Milner
GUILTY: Helen Milner has been found guilty of murdering her husband Philip Nisbet.

The woman known as the "Black Widow" was cut from her mother's will and disowned after years of lies and deceit that tore her family apart.

Helen Milner, 50, was yesterday found guilty of the murder and attempted murder of her husband, Philip James Nisbet, 47, a truck driver. Nisbet was found dead in bed at the couple's home in Checketts Ave, Halswell, on May 4, 2009.

The Crown said Milner, a mother of two, likely mixed the drug Phenergan with her husband's dinner and then may have suffocated him once he was sedated.

She then manipulated the scene and fabricated a suicide cellphone text and suicide notes to cover her tracks.

The Crown case was that she was motivated by her husband's $250,000 life insurance policy.

It took a jury nearly eight hours of deliberations before they found Milner guilty of murder. She was acquitted on one charge of attempted murder.


The guilty verdict sparked emotional scenes in the packed gallery at the High Court in Christchurch. The victim's grieving family hugged and clapped as Milner was led from the dock in tears.

During the trial she was already a serving prisoner after she framed her son for a crime he did not commit.

Documents obtained by The Press show Milner was a troublesome teenager suspected of stealing from her schoolmates and family - including her invalid aunt - and went on to rip off businesses and insurance companies.

"I have at last faced the fact that my daughter is either mentally ill or, as my best friend says, 'is evil'," her mother, Anne Milner, now 82, wrote in a letter.

Milner wept in the dock as she learned her fate.

It was a rare display of emotion by the convicted killer whose demeanour was mainly placid during the three-week trial, where it emerged she had poisoned her husband.

One of the only other signs of emotion was when she wiped her eyes with a tissue when the 111 call, on the morning of her husband's death, was played to the jury.

However, for the rest of the trial she was at the back of the court, flanked by a security guard, sitting calmly. She would scribble notes and at times share a joke with her legal team.

Anne Milner told The Press she had no doubt her daughter had killed her husband.

"It was right there in black and white," she said.

"I have no desire to have her back in my life. I think she's evil."

The letter obtained by The Press was written by Anne Milner in 2006 and asks that her daughter be cut from her will, because she had received "more than her share" of money and other goods from her parents, including trips overseas to Hawaii, Fiji, America, Canada, Australia and Bali.

"I spent untold hours listening to her ranting and raving about everything - she was never in the wrong - everyone else was," Anne Milner wrote.

The document reveals that while Helen Milner was at Hillmorton High School she stole from her classmates and cleaned out her mother's bank account.

She was eventually removed from school and sent to Ritchie Secretarial College.

After graduating, Milner worked as a typist but was fired for forging a letter from the Ministry of Health to her employer about smoking in the staff room.

She then worked at United Building Society as a teller, where she took money from the till to buy an engagement ring for a man she had fallen in love with.

She was caught and fired, and never married the man.

Milner then shifted to Wellington with a fiance but the engagement was broken off and she came home to Christchurch.

She was also suspected of taking a large amount of money from her mother's invalid sister while cleaning her home.

An old acquaintance of Milner's said the convicted killer never got on with her mother, who "viewed her as the spawn of Satan". Nisbet's sister, Lee-Anne Cartier, 44, agreed with the description of Milner.

Cartier had carried her brother's ashes encased in a box inside a black bag into court for the verdict.

Outside court, Andrew Nisbet said the family was glad they finally had some justice for his brother and thanked Detective Inspector Greg Murton and his team.

Nisbet told The Press Milner was: "Cold, calculating and manipulative but also not very smart."

He hoped his brother's killer would be jailed for more than 20 years when she was sentenced on February 20 next year.

Cartier fought for months to expose her brother's killer after she realised a signature at the bottom of a "suicide note" shown to her by Milner was not his.

Cartier, who is highly critical of the initial police investigation, believes the fact her colleagues dubbed Milner "The Black Widow" is fitting.

"She's not insane - she's pure evil. Make her stay in jail until she dies," Cartier told The Press.

A member of Milner's defence team, April Kelland, said she had spoken to the convicted killer who was "understandably very upset" about the verdict.

Kasey Woodstock, who testified against Milner, said: "She deserves everything she got.

"Let her rot."

The Press