Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder in the Peace Corps

The Murder

Deborah Gardner
Deborah Gardner

Deborah Gardner spent the last evening of her life learning something new.

Gardner, 23, was a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1970s in the South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga, on the other side of the world from her home near Tacoma, Wash.

She was assigned to teach science and home economics to high school students in the capital city, Nuku'alofa.

Gardner soaked up Tongan culture during her time there. She was learning to speak the language, and she was studying Tongan-style weaving.

For centuries, Tongan women have used the palm-like leaves of coconut and pandanus trees to create striking baskets, mats and fans.

Gardner was enchanted by the artistry of Tongan weaving, and on Oct. 14, 1976, she attended a weaving class. She had completed 10 months of her two-year Peace Corps commitment.

After class, Gardner rode her bicycle toward her bungalow, where she lived alone with a stray cat she had adopted.

Deborah's bungalow
Deborah's bungalow

Tonga's cool season was ebbing, and the air radiated the approach of the Southern Hemisphere summer as she peddled home along dirt roads where gently arching palm trees stood as sentries.

She paused along the way to chat with a Peace Corps friend. Arriving home, she donned a billowy white nightdress and prepared to tuck into bed early.

But sometime after 9:30, her neighbors were startled by chilling cries emanating from Gardner's home.

Several native boys ran toward her bungalow.

In the doorway they saw a brute of a man, a Caucasian, who was half-carrying and half-dragging Deborah Gardner, her nightdress colored crimson.

The man dropped the young woman and fled when he saw the boys.

The children ran for help, and Gardner was rushed to a hospital. It was no use. She had been clubbed with a pipe and stabbed 22 times.

As the life drained from her body, Gardner managed to speak a name: "Dennis."


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