Beware of seat mates and their baggage

Last updated 08:23 15/01/2014
Helen Milner
Helen Milner

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Derek Burrows

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In a few days' time I will be on an Air New Zealand flight and I'm a bit concerned about who might be sitting next to me.

No, I'm not worrying that my fellow passenger might be obese and thus sprawling halfway over my seat, or that they might have body odour. I'm just concerned I could be sitting cheek by jowl with a convicted murderer.

According to recent news reports maximum-security prisoners are being transferred between prisons on commercial flights.

I find this particularly bizarre when you think of all the security checks ordinary law-abiding passengers have to endure before boarding their planes.

After having our nail files or knitting needles confiscated (just to clarify, I, personally, don't knit), when we finally get aboard we could find ourselves sitting near Clayton Weatherstone, who killed his girlfriend by stabbing her 216 times.

You would have to hope that airport security screening detected any knife or scissors he had about his person before he got on board. Alternatively we might be sharing a flight with William Bell, who was convicted of the Panmure RSA murders in 2001.

Resentful because a period of work experience didn't work out, Bell returned to the RSA two months later and bludgeoned and shot three people to death. A few years earlier he had beaten a service station attendant to within an inch of his life with a stolen police baton.

He's just the sort of travel companion you want. Think of the amusing anecdotes he could share.

Perhaps even more likely and certainly more interesting would be to share a flight with the Black Widow - Helen Milner, recently convicted of the murder of her husband, Phil Nisbet. Milner crushed up antihistamine and sedative tablets and put them in her husband's dinner, which may have killed him outright, but it is thought she might have completed the task by suffocating him.

I'm sure Milner would be only too pleased to talk about the murder because she certainly seems to have discussed the preparations with plenty of people before she carried out the deed.

It would be fascinating to hear the inside story straight from the horse's (or should that be spider's) mouth.

I would, however, watch extremely carefully when she passed me the airline meal and I certainly wouldn't want to nod off afterwards and risk being suffocated with an Air New Zealand-supplied pillow.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley is claiming that transporting dangerous prisoners on public flights is nothing new and has been going on for decades.

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That being the case then in the past we may have been sharing flights with notorious killers such as Graeme Burton, who stabbed a man to death outside a Wellington nightclub in 1992 and 15 years later, shortly after being paroled, killed a quad biker and wounded three others in a drug-fuelled shooting spree in the hills above Wainuiomata.

He was shot by police and as a result had a leg amputated, so he probably qualifies for priority boarding on any flight. And it would have been even more exciting several decades ago to find yourself on the same flight as Bassett Road machine-gun murderers Ron Jorgensen and John Gillies, who, in December 1963, riddled a couple of Auckland sly-grog dealers with bullets. One of the victims was appropriately named Speight, by the way - but I'm sure there's no truth in the rumour that his sly-grog activities inspired a Dunedin brewery.

Actually it's just conceivable that today you could still share a flight with Jorgensen or Gillies, as they are now free men.

Both have served their time and their whereabouts are unknown.

Gillies is believed to be still living in New Zealand under an assumed name and Jorgensen disappeared 30 years ago after a faked car crash. One theory is that he staged his own death and fled to Australia.

So they may still be around - and certainly not handcuffed and under guard - so keep an eye out for any passenger stowing a violin case in the overhead locker.

- © Fairfax NZ News


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