Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder in the Peace Corps

Following Up

Philip Weiss
Philip Weiss

For 25 years, no one followed up on the whereabouts of Deborah Gardner's killernot his fellow Peace Corps volunteers, not Gardner's friends and family, not the media, not the U.S. government, and certainly not the Peace Corps.

Philip Weiss, a New York writer, finally did so.

Weiss first heard about the Gardner murder in 1978 during a trip to Samoa. The crime wore on his mind over time, and a few years ago he looked through archival Peace Corps material in Washington and found evidence that the agency had carefully orchestrated the aftermath of murder.

That led to a stunning discovery: Dennis Priven had spent just a couple of days in the psychiatric hospital.

Once back home, Priven realized that the United States had no legal grounds to force his commitment. He had simply demanded that he be flown to New York, and the government complied.

The Peace Corps went so far as to grant the killer an exemplary rating for his service abroad.

It was as if the murder of Deborah Gardner hadn't happened.

In his book "American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps," Weiss makes a compelling case that Priven had gotten away with murder, aided and abetted by the United States government. (Many of the details in this account were drawn from Weiss' book.)

Book Cover: American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps
Book Cover: American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps

Weiss discovered that Priven had returned to his family home in Brooklyn. He took a government job as a computer supervisor with the Social Security Administration, eventually earning as much as $80,000 a year.

Priven retired in 2003 after Weiss began making inquiries about him. The killer declined to cooperate with Weiss, although the two men did speak. Weiss described Priven as still smart but deeply alienated and icy.


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