[Some punctuation added to improve clarity; spelling and grammatical
errors left intact.]
The police took these letters very seriously. Garner's wife and young children
were moved out of town for their own protection.
After working the late shift on OCT-17, Garner drove home. On OCT-18 at
4.50 AM, the house exploded in flames and was destroyed. The police found
Garner cowering in the back yard. He was tied and gagged. His clothes
were saturated in gasoline; his back was a mass of cuts. He said
that he was attacked in his home and tortured by a stranger who talked
with a cultured voice. He had rolled out of a window just before the house
erupted in flames.
Police psychologist, Dr. Ian Miller, constructed a personality profile
of the attacker. He determined that Garner had been stalked by an unknown
person who seemed to be acting out a Satanic fantasy and considered himself
to be "an agent of the devil". Dr. Miller predicted that the stalker
was interested in the occult and in Satanism, was educated, well traveled
and might be from England.
Many reports appeared in the media about Satanic ritual abuse and secret,
underground, evil cults. The hysteria in the area built up quickly. The
Member of Parliament for Nelson, Nick Smith, called for the censoring of
violent scenes from movies. He noted that the attack on Detective Garner
closely resembled a scene from the movie Reservoir Dogs; the latter
involved a knife attack, gasoline, torture and killing. He was convinced
that there was a link between this movie and the New Zealand attack.
A massive investigation, code named Operation Venus, was organized. ("Venus" is Garner's nickname.)
It was led by Inspector Doug Brew. 2000 people
were interviewed; 1000 photos were taken. For the first time in New
Zealand, the police inquiry used the Internet. A home page was created
which gave details of the crime, a description and identikit picture of
the attacker, and press releases. One focus of the inquiry was whether the
offender belonged to an organized cult. The public was supportive; they
sent the family $11,000 NZ in cash and large quantities of gifts and toys.
The Hoax Unravels:
Detective Senior Sergeant, Grant Nicholls, second-in-command of Operation
Venus, had some doubts about the accuracy of Garner's statements. Three
weeks after the arson, Nicholls secretly launched Operation Mars
to determine whether Garner had organized a hoax. They found that he had
purchased duct tape, plastic ties, gasoline, gas containers, and a timer.
Garner had tied a surgeon's scalpel to a piece of wood to cut
long criss-cross patterns on his body. He spread gasoline throughout his
house, applied a gag, tied himself up, doused himself with gas and left
the house. On NOV-23, he confessed to the hoax.
He had fallen in love with another woman and planned to leave his wife.
By collecting on the house insurance, and giving all of the money to his
wife, he would leave her in a good financial position.
Police Commissioner Peter Doone described the hoax as an "aberration; a
one-in-a-century crime." Assistant Commissioner Colin Wilson said that the
case was "bizarre, unprecedented and truly extraordinary....He set up
this situation and he totally underestimated the commitment, the
rigor, and the focus of his profession to uncover what was a false
complaint, a contrivance, and a fabrication. On NOV-27, Garner pleaded
guilty in the Palmerston North District Court to eight charges relating to
the October 18 incident. The insurance company
is demanding repayment of $41,400 which it had paid for the loss of the house
contents. The police are asking for reparations for the cost of the investigation,
some $350,000. He was fired from his job.
After the trial, his wife, Sandra Garner, was "Embarrassed that they [the
donors] could be duped, but they're not the only ones. All his close friends
and family - people who loved and thought we knew him so well, were taken in
by this complete stranger - this evil man. He's just an evil, devious
man...He's not worth people's sympathy. He's not worth people's anything,
anger or anything." Police have determined that Garner's girlfriend
had no knowledge of the hoax.
He was sentenced with a total of 5 years in prison for arson, making a
false claim, sending threatening letters, wasting police time. He is
penniless, having signed his assets over to his wife.
In addition to the harm that he inflicted on his family, he has done
great damage to New Zealand society. The public was inundated with
speculation of evil, Satanic cults in their midst; many concluded that
they were living in a country filled with horrible violence. Some will
continue to believe that, even after the hoax is publicized.