Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder in the Peace Corps

Home Free

Deborah Gardner's parents had assumed that her killer had spent decades in an institution. They learned from Weiss, not the Peace Corps or the government, that he had never been confined.

"I still haven't heard from the Peace Corps," Wayne Gardner told the Tacoma News Tribune in 2004. "I don't tolerate liars. I detest them. But that's what the Peace Corps did. It was one big lie."

The New Zealand Herald labeled the entire case a "farce," with the U.S. government acting as marionette to the Tongan puppet.

Tongans, too, had been unaware that Priven had walked away from the murder.

Tevita Tupou, the case prosecutor who later became the kingdom's justice minister, offered Weiss a damning assessment:

"From the time the murder was committed until the end of the case I found a strong Peace Corps effort, in particular by Mary George, in defense of Priven. It appeared to me that all the pity was with Priven and none was shown to the dead girl. The Peace Corps effort may have been made to try and save the name of the movement from the embarrassment of one of their members being convicted of murder. I find this very strange justice if this was the case, as it was another of their members who was the victim."

Emile Hons, the volunteer from California who escorted Gardner home from the dance a few days before her murder, told his hometown newspaper that he was stunned to learn the postscript to the murder.

"The story needed to be told and the greater population needs to know about it," he told the San Mateo County (Calif.) Times. "It's an injustice of the highest ranking, in my opinion. Not only did Dennis not get treatment and the government clear his record, he was put into the vast population of New York untreated. He could have killed someone else."

In 2005, a Washington state congressman pressed federal authorities to open an investigation of Priven and the Peace Corps to determine whether laws were broken that could be prosecuted 30 years later.

The victim's father was hopeful.

"I would tie the hangman's knot," Wayne Gardner told the Tacoma News Tribune. "I would help him up the steps of the scaffold."

But after researching the issue, the U.S. attorney in Seattle concluded that the case could not be prosecuted by any American legal jurisdiction.

Priven, now in his mid-50s, was home free, once and for all.


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