Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Murder in the Peace Corps

Last Dance

On Oct. 9, 1976, the Peace Corps sponsored a Saturday night dance to help welcome yet another new group of volunteers to Tonga.

Deborah Gardner let her hair down. She had too much to drink and fell on the dance floor a time or two. At 10 p.m., she left with Emile Hons, a volunteer from California who was a friend of Priven.

Emile Hons
Emile Hons

The tipsy couple made their way home, pushing bicycles along darkened roads. Priven apparently stalked along behind them and watched as they slipped giggling into Hons' place.

A few days later, Priven later lashed out at Hons, accusing him of taking advantage of Gardner.

Five nights after the dance, Priven rode his bicycle to Gardner's home, arriving shortly after she returned from the weaving class.

He was armed with his ever-present knife, a pipe and a vial of cyanide.

No one knows whether he barged in or she opened her door for him.

Gardner went down fighting. The furnishings in her home were tossed about as though a cyclone had visited. The woman's blood was smeared and splashed in all four corners of her bungalow.

But the killer prevailed, clubbing the poor woman and burying his long knife again and again into her torso.

Deborah's clothes
Deborah's clothes

Authorities theorized that he planned to carry Gardner's body to another location, take a lethal dose of cyanide and die beside the woman in some mutation of "Romeo and Juliet."

But the Tongan teens interrupted, and he dropped Gardner's dying flesh at her threshold and fled on his bike.

He went off by himself and made a feeble attempt at suicide, swallowing Darvonnot the cyanideand making a few shallow cuts to his arms.

But Dennis Priven didn't have the nerve to kill himself.

He surrendered to police the next morning, and he was charged with murdering Deborah Gardner. By Tongan law, he faced the gallows if convicted.


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