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LETTER FROM NEW ZEALAND

mind game
When a murderous shrink moved to a trusting coastal town, both had a surprise in store.

BY CARL ELLIOTT

D unedin, New Zealand—the second


city of the South Island, and the
home of the University of Otago—is an
year-old physiotherapist, she had been in
good health until a few weeks earlier,
when she began experiencing dizziness,
uncommonly peaceful place. Once, at tea blurred vision, and problems with coördi-
in the university’s Bioethics Centre (where nation. She made an appointment with an
I’ve had a visiting appointment for some optician and got a prescription for glasses.
years), a nurse leaned toward me and said, Annette’s symptoms did not seem espe-
“In Dunedin, we have only interesting cially alarming, until the morning of No-
murders.” She had a point. Rates of vio- vember 20th, when Bouwer reported that
lent crime here are similar to those in the he had awoken to find her unconscious in
more placid European countries, such as bed. An ambulance took Annette to
Denmark and the Netherlands. But, Dunedin Hospital, the main teaching
when Dunedin does have a murder, it is hospital for the University of Otago.
spectacular. In November of 1990, three It was quickly determined that she was
months after my wife and I first arrived in in a hypoglycemic coma, which is most
Dunedin, a mentally disturbed man commonly caused by self-administered
named David Gray shot thirteen people glucose-lowering drugs that diabetics use,
in a nearby village, the deadliest murder such as insulin. But Annette did not have
toll in New Zealand’s history. In June, diabetes. Dr. Andrew Bowers, a specialist
1994, a former missionary teacher named in internal medicine, was managing her
Robin Bain and his wife and three of their care at the hospital, and he asked Colin
children were shot dead in Dunedin very Bouwer to search the house for drugs. He
early one morning. The oldest son, David, also ordered a lab test for the presence of
was eventually convicted of the murders, such drugs in Annette’s blood. The tests
but there was never a good explanation came back negative, and, during the next
for the crime, and the conviction was few days, Annette’s blood sugar stabi-
overturned last year. In July, 2009, Clay- lized. Why it had been so low in the
ton Weatherston, a tutor in the Otago first place remained baffling.
economics department, was convicted The other mystery was Colin Bouw-
for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, a re- er’s behavior. Bouwer, who had moved
cent graduate. She had been stabbed two from South Africa two years earlier, was a
hundred and sixteen times. stout, self-assured psychiatrist with an Af-
Even in Dunedin, however, a psycho- rikaans accent. “He gave me a warm, hard
pathic psychiatrist stands out. What is handshake, and said he was a physician, a
striking about the case of Colin Bouwer, psychologist, and a pharmacologist,” An-
who was once the head of psychiatry at drew Bowers says. “He said it in an intim-
the University of Otago Medical School idating way, as if to establish that he was
and is now a convicted murderer, was the the one in charge.” Soon, though, Bouw-
man’s ability to fool his colleagues, many er’s attitude shifted. “It was like hot and
of whom would have studied psychopaths cold taps: He tried to overbear me at first,
in their medical training. It’s hard to say but that didn’t work, so then he tried
whether his success reveals more about being friendly.” Even more puzzling was
the nature of psychopathy or more about Bouwer’s lack of medical knowledge: he
the character of New Zealanders. had described himself as an expert in in-
ternal medicine, yet he seemed unable to

I n November of 1999, an internist at a


New Zealand hospital faced two mys-
teries. One had to do with Colin Bouw-
discuss the diagnostic tests associated with
hypoglycemia.
Four days after Annette was dis-
er’s ailing wife, Annette. A forty-seven- charged from the hospital, she went into
36 THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 6, 2010
another coma, and was readmitted. After had to be buried within forty-eight hours. on the couch, unresponsive, while Bou-
an extensive workup, the endocrinolo- Bowers offered to have the postmortem wer did all the talking. He also made an
gists consulting on the case came to done right away, but the psychiatrist still unusual choice of music for the funeral,
think that Annette might have an insu- resisted. It was only when Bowers refused Mann says—not a hymn, or anything that
linoma, a rare neuroendocrine tumor, to sign the death certificate without a Annette was especially fond of, but a song
but a pathology report later revealed no postmortem that he relented. Bowers at- about going over a cliff.
sign of one, and her condition, once tended Annette’s funeral, the following For Andrew Bowers, the most
more, had stabilized. About a week after week, and he was surprised to find that alarming sign came on the morning of
she was discharged again, Annette’s the ceremony was not Jewish. It was con- Annette’s death. Dr. Anne Walsh, one
symptoms returned. ducted by an Anglican priest, Helene of Bouwer’s colleagues in the Depart-
Andrew Bowers is a genial, ment of Psychological
dark-haired man in his mid- Medicine, was at the
forties, with the tired eyes and house when Bowers ar-
the slightly doughy skin of rived. Bowers wondered
someone who has spent too what she was doing there
much time indoors. “Annette so early in the morning.
was scared,” he says. She had As he was leaving the
lapsed into two comas in nine house, he later testified,
days, and no one could tell her Walsh pulled him aside

FPO
why. At the time, Bowers was and said, “It will be good
only three years out of training. to get all this settled, espe-
“I was feeling insecure about cially since Annette had
what was going on,” he says. “I accused Colin of trying to
was thinking, Is there anything murder her.”
that I’m missing?” His insecu-
rity colored his interactions
with Colin Bouwer, who, as
head of the Department of Psy-
I
n most medical schools,
it is not hard
to identify the stars, the
chological Medicine, was sev- charismatic figures whose
eral notches higher than Bow- charm and enthusiasm
ers in the academic hierarchy. draw in students and resi-
Annette was discharged for dents. It’s not just that
the third time, on Christmas they radiate energy and
Eve. Early on the morning of excitement about their
January 5, 2000, Bowers got a work; it’s that the excite-
call at home. “Annette is dead,” ment seemingly extends to
Bouwer told him. He asked the you, personally. Colin
internist to come to his house Bouwer was this sort of
and sign the death certificate. figure. “He was a brilliant
This was an unusual request. Dr. Colin Bouwer dazzled and deceived his colleagues with ease. doctor,” a former patient
Signing a death certificate is says. “He had this way of
normally a job for the patient’s general Mann, and at one point Annette’s closest embracing his patients. He made me
practitioner, not a hospital consultant. friend, a South African expatriate living in feel important.” The psychiatric resi-
When Bowers arrived, it was clear that Auckland, spoke movingly about the faith dents (or “registrars,” as they are known
Annette had not died peacefully. The in Jesus that she and Annette shared. in New Zealand) found him dazzling.
bedroom was a mess, and Annette’s body Later, Annette’s body was cremated. “He made each one feel they had some
was splayed across the bed. The bed- Bowers was not the only person puz- special knowledge or intelligence that
clothes were soiled with vomit. Bowers zled by Bouwer’s behavior. The Reverend was not being recognized or put to full
suspected that she had undergone a sei- Mann prepared for a number of funerals use,” Dr. Jubilee Rajiah, a Dunedin psy-
zure. Yet Bouwer said that he had no- that week, but says that her visit to the chiatrist who trained in Bouwer’s de-
ticed nothing out of the ordinary until he Bouwer house was unlike anything she partment, says.
found Annette dead early that morning. had ever experienced. “It felt like a chem- Bouwer was born in Bloemfontein,
“We slept in different rooms,” Bouwer istry laboratory,” she says. “Sterile, as if it South Africa, in 1950. He graduated
later explained to the police. had been disinfected.” Mann usually talks from medical school at Pretoria Univer-
Bowers wanted to order a postmortem to the children of the deceased, because sity in 1975, and spent a number of
ANDREA VENTURA

exam to find out why Annette had died so they often have stories that she can use in years in South Africa as a general prac-
unexpectedly, but Bouwer objected. Both her eulogy. But, when she tried talking to titioner. At a meeting of Mensa, the
he and Annette were Jewish, he said, and, Colin and Annette’s two teen-age chil- high-I.Q. society, he met Annette
according to Jewish law, Annette’s body dren, Greg and Anthea, they sat silently Langford, who was then working as a
THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 6, 2010 37
physical therapist, and they married in the coast among steep, intensely green himself to what people want to hear.” He
1981. Later, Bouwer specialized in psy- hills, which swoop down unexpectedly to was often willing to experiment with
chiatry at Stellenbosch University, the reveal sandy white beaches. The effect is a higher doses of drugs and non-standard
most illustrious of the country’s Afri- cross between Ireland and Fiji. The Bou- combinations. His research was on anxi-
kaans-speaking universities. Dr. Sarah wers lived in a cliffside house overlooking ety disorders—social anxiety, panic disor-
Romans, a former head of Otago’s De- St. Clair Beach, known as the best surfing der, post-traumatic-stress disorder.
partment of Psychological Medicine, spot on the South Island. “Colin had this fascination with things
remembers meeting Bouwer at a con- Bouwer was hired by the University of that terrify people,” Romans says. “People
ference in Spain: “Here I am, an aca- Otago, New Zealand’s oldest university, being suffocated, being exposed to water
demic head of department, looking for as a senior lecturer in psychiatry, and he torture, or drowned.”
good staff, and here is this unpolished swiftly rose to the top administrative post. Some colleagues may have thought
diamond. He seemed like a great catch.” When I spent a sabbatical at the universi- that this was the result of Bouwer’s own
Dan Stein, Bouwer’s research partner at ty’s Bioethics Centre, in early 2000, his experiences. Bouwer told them that he
Stellenbosch, now head of the depart- office was across the street. Our paths had been involved in the South African
ment of psychiatry at the University of never crossed, but I knew several of his resistance struggle during the apartheid
Cape Town, sent an enthusiastic letter colleagues. They describe him as an ebul- era—joining the African National Con-
of recommendation: “On a personal lient, down-to-earth rugby fan who was gress in the nineteen-sixties, as a teen-
level, I regard Dr. Bouwer as a man of always good for a laugh or a story. He had ager—and had even counselled Nelson
enormous integrity. He has a wonderful decided to emigrate, he said, because of Mandela when he was released from
sense of humor and ability to commu- worries about violent crime. Bouwer had Robben Island. Bouwer described how,
nicate with others, so that he is held in a paunch and a bushy beard, and though when he was a young man, the South
warmest esteem by patients from all his hair was thinning on top, he wore it African police had detained him with-
walks of life.” long and unkempt; it gave him, as one out a trial for six months and tortured
In early 1997, Bouwer arrived at colleague said, “rather an Einstein look.” him for his political beliefs. He would
Dunedin; Annette and the two children He came across as deeply caring. “He’s the bring up his torture casually, at confer-
soon followed. The town was founded in sort of guy where you’d let your child sit ence receptions or over a beer, and then
the nineteenth century by Scottish set- on his lap and open a present,” a former provide graphic details. A doctor who
tlers. Its streets are named for those of Ed- assistant in his department told me. “He’s had seen Bouwer as a patient gave this
inburgh, and at its center is a statue of sort of a cross between Santa Claus and testimony: “He said the torture con-
Robert Burns, looking wistfully out to- your old uncle.” sisted of standing naked with a brick
ward Otago Harbor. When Mark Twain By all accounts, Bouwer was an excel- being hung from his testicles, sleep de-
visited Dunedin, in 1895, he wrote, “The lent psychiatrist. “He has this amazing an- privation, exercised to exhaustion with a
people are Scotch. They stopped here on tenna,” Sarah Romans says. “He can reach hessian bag over his head, then dunked
their way from home to heaven—think- out and just size people up and know in water until drowning, electric shock
ing they had arrived.” It would have been where their vulnerabilities and their administered to the penis and anus, sod-
an easy mistake to make. Dunedin sits on strengths are, and, chameleon-like, adapt omized and being confined to a single
cell.” The doctor added, “He said he
communicated to others by Morse code
at night and practiced meditation and
self-hypnosis.”
Few of Bouwer’s colleagues knew An-
nette. This was unusual in a city as small
and friendly as Dunedin, but Bouwer
rarely brought her with him to social
events, and told some colleagues that she
had social phobia. Still, he seemed de-
voted to her, and also to his two children,
whom he spoke about with obvious
warmth. One colleague told me that she
once spotted Colin and Annette walking
together down the street, holding hands,
and she remembered being moved by
their quiet affection.
On September 15, 2000, nine months
after Annette’s death, the Dunedin police
arrested Bouwer on murder charges. By
this time, the police had been tapping his
telephone and bugging his house for
“How about, for God’s sake, this one?” nearly three months. His genial air was so
convincing that his colleagues were terribly sorry about the delay in getting
stunned. Just about the only person who the final draft to you. I have been in East
wasn’t surprised was Andrew Bowers, the Timor doing volunteer work for Doctors
internist. Despite pressure from superiors Without Frontiers during their riots and
to drop the matter, he had worked quietly elections.” When he was at Stellenbosch,
with the police for months. Bouwer reportedly told his colleagues that
Bouwer’s method of murder was sim- his first wife had committed suicide after
ple. He had written prescriptions for glu- killing their two children. Later, he told
cose-lowering drugs, ground them up them that Annette was being treated for
with a mortar and pestle, and given them breast cancer at the University of Cape
to Annette, most likely in her food. (Al- Town and, as a result of metastases to her
though Annette was tested for such drugs brain, had become psychotic. None of this
in the hospital, the test was only sensitive was true, of course.
enough to detect the drugs shortly after Despite all the stories of having been a
they had been administered.) The day be- brave political dissident, Bouwer had ac-
fore Annette died, Bouwer picked up a tually been trained as a doctor by the
prescription for a thousand-unit vial of South African military. A press photo-
Humalog insulin, a dose large enough to graph from the time shows him standing
kill her. alongside his fellow medical graduates
The legal proceedings against Bou- with a slight smile on his face and a grad-
wer left his colleagues wondering what, uation robe draped across his shoulders,
if anything, they knew about him. Who wearing sunglasses and a military uni-
was he, really, and why had he killed his form. He was commissioned into the
wife with such methodical precision? South African Defense Force on Septem-
ber 22, 1975. Records show that he served

A lthough Bouwer was indeed a


qualified psychiatrist, much of his
autobiography was constructed out of lies
in the military for only two months before
he married his first wife and resigned his
commission.
and half-truths. He did not have a gradu- In 1982, the South African Medical
ate degree in pharmacology, or any spe- Council suspended Bouwer’s license to
cialized training in internal medicine, or a practice medicine and put him on its list
relationship with Nelson Mandela. On of “impaired” doctors, because, it seems,
official papers, he lists his religion as he had a weakness for Demerol. It was
Methodist. Annette was not his first wife, more than ten years before his license was
as he told some people; she was his third. fully restored. In 1996, two former pa-
Bouwer had two children from the first tients reportedly claimed to have had sex
marriage: an adopted daughter, Henri- with Bouwer while under his care. (On
ette, who was the child of his first wife, being asked to provide more intimate de-
Mariette Kruger, and a biological son, tails to the medical counsel, they appar-
Colin, Jr. ently decided to withdraw their com-
Many people tell lies to protect them- plaints.) Bouwer supposedly told them
selves. Bouwer lied even when nothing that he hadn’t had sex in a long time be-
was at stake. Still, there was a certain cause his wife was dying of cancer.
consistency to the lies. They were often Bouwer had an aura that many women
told in an offhand manner, seemingly found attractive. He also had a knack for
without any calculation. They were usu- spotting women with psychological vul-
ally self-serving, in that they aimed at nerabilities that he could exploit. Soon
generating admiration or sympathy. And after he arrived in New Zealand, in 1997,
they were often so fantastic that, at least he was given an apartment at Southland
from the outside, it is hard to imagine Hospital, in Invercargill, where he did
anyone believing them. Yet people did. part-time clinical work, so that he could
“He was just so plausible,” Dr. Robin stay overnight. Before long, rumors began
Emsley, the chairman of the Department to circulate about the number of women
of Psychiatry at Stellenbosch, says. “He who visited his apartment, and about the
had a way of convincing you that he was number of telephone calls he got, since all
telling the truth, even when he was phone calls came through the hospital op-
backed into a corner.” erator. Investigators eventually concluded
Here is Bouwer explaining a late paper that Bouwer was sexually involved with at
to a colleague in America by e-mail: “I am least four hospital staff members in Inver-
THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 6, 2010 39
cargill and Dunedin. His most visible re- coma, I saw it could be quite an easy
lationship was with Anne Walsh, the psy- way to die,” he told the police. “I was
chiatrist who was present at Bouwer’s going to kill myself.” He said that he
house the morning that Annette’s death had stockpiled the glucose-lowering
was reported. drugs in a plastic container in his closet.
Walsh was intelligent and ambi- Annette must have found the con-
tious—as the director of training and a tainer, he suggested, and taken the
former acting head of the Department of drugs herself.
Psychological Medicine, she carried con- Bouwer flew to South Africa in late
siderable influence in the department— January, 2000, purportedly grief-
but was also widely seen as needy and stricken over Annette’s death, saying
emotionally brittle. She was married to that he needed to set their affairs in
the head of the Department of Pathology, order. His children moved in with Anne
with whom she had a teen-age daughter, Walsh. When Bouwer returned, just
but it was no secret that their marriage over a month later, his appearance had
was breaking up. According to evidence changed so drastically that many people
introduced at the trial, her sexual relation- did not recognize him. He was bald and
ship with Bouwer began on a trip to a beardless, and his eyebrows had been
pharmaceutical-company-sponsored shaved off. The reason, he said, was that
conference in Copenhagen in October, he had undergone chemotherapy. Later,
1999, a month before Annette went into he produced a forged letter, supposedly
her first coma. (Walsh says that she be- from a Pretoria urologist, saying that he
came involved with Bouwer only after had been treated for prostate cancer,
Annette’s death.) and another forged letter, supposedly
If Bouwer had any inkling that he from a psychiatrist in Cape Town, cer-
might become a suspect, there is no evi- tifying that he had received electroshock
dence of it in his behavior prior to the therapy for severe depression. Finally,
murder. He was stunningly reckless. Two he produced a suicide note. Dated Jan-
months before he first sent Annette to the uary 4th, the day before Annette’s
hospital unconscious, at a time when she death, it was addressed to Annette: “I’m
was still in good health, he told a gradu- sorry for being a weakling. I know [your
ate student that she was in a coma. In late specialist] will be back tomorrow and
November, after Annette had been hos- you’ll be safe in the medical ward. Please
pitalized, he sent an e-mail apology to a forgive my cowardice. I’m ending my
colleague for missing a deadline on a life knowing you will be safe and in
paper, explaining that his wife was “termi- good medical care.”
nally ill.” He even gave a tutorial to a In the months after Bouwer returned
group of medical students in which he ex- from South Africa, some people who
plained how to commit the perfect mur- had initially found his stories plausible
der. If you injected insulin between the began to have second thoughts. His be-
toes, he told the students, the murder havior was not that of a dying, grieving
would never be detected. man. He continued to play squash reg-
In the weeks following Annette’s ularly, even though he said the cancer
death, however, Bouwer apparently re- had metastasized to his bones. Dr. Rich-
alized that suspicion might fall upon ard Mullen, a psychiatric colleague, ran
him. In January, he began to communi- into Bouwer one day in the hospital.
cate with experts in toxicology all over “He told me he was off to get his testi-
the world, asking about the likelihood cles cut off due to cancer,” Mullen says.
that glucose-lowering drugs could be “He didn’t appear to be upset at all with
detected in a postmortem exam or a ret- his impending procedure.”
rospective blood test. He must have also At work, Bouwer missed appoint-
come to realize that the police could ments and broke promises, and he be-
track the prescriptions he had written. came convinced that rumors were
By early February, he had decided to being spread about him, especially
fabricate a more complex story: he had about his affair with Anne Walsh. He
prostate cancer; he was severely de- began to summon faculty members
pressed; and at the time of Annette’s ill- into his office for meetings, at which he
ness he was planning to take desperate pumped them for information. “I
action. “When [Annette] went into a would start shaking before the meet-
40 THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 6, 2010
ing,” one faculty member told me. “I Bouwer and searched his house, they
would feel nauseated. He would bad- found the mortar and pestle he had used
mouth other people.” to grind up the glucose-lowering drugs,
Although the police originally hidden in the pantry behind a box of
thought that Anne Walsh might have Weetabix. Nine months had passed
been involved in the murder, their sur- since the murder, and Bouwer hadn’t
veillance convinced them otherwise. In bothered to dispose of it.
the conversations recorded by the police,
Walsh seems almost desperate to believe
that Bouwer was innocent. She con-
stantly reassured him, trying to dispel his
S everal months after Annette’s body
was cremated, Bouwer and the chil-
dren went to one of her favorite spots to
worries that he was going to be arrested, scatter her ashes. “We just threw the ashes
and she urged him simply to tell the to the wind, and they seemed to get like a
truth. Shortly before Bouwer was taken glow,” Bouwer told Annette’s mother in
into custody, he gave Walsh the suicide South Africa, on the telephone. “It was
letter that he had supposedly written to like a light with the ashes going up.” Bou-
Annette, explaining how and why he wer let his daughter run her fingers
planned to kill himself. In a conversation through the ashes before they were scat-
recorded by the police, Walsh seemed al- tered. Later, in a police interview, he ad-
most deaf to Bouwer’s actual concerns mitted that the ashes were not actually
about the letter: Annette’s. He had taken them from the
A.W.: I cried over your suicide letter. fireplace in his house.
C.B.: Why? What personality type does this kind
A.W.: It’s the sweetest, most very sad, but of thing? In 1941, Hervey Cleckley, a pro-
it just says it all, really.
C.B.: It’s not put on, is it? fessor of psychiatry at the Medical Col-
A.W.: No, Colin, no, it’s not, but it shows lege of Georgia, published a book about
how much you loved your wife and family. psychopaths called “The Mask of Sanity.”
C.B.: My handwriting is not too good.
A.W.: It’s fine, it’s fine. Drawing from patients in his clinical
C.B.: I didn’t love her, Anne. practice, Cleckley told stories of men and
A.W.: I think you were very fond of her. women—successful businessmen and
C.B.: We had an understanding.
professionals as well as con men, biga-
When Bouwer went on trial for the mists, and petty thieves—who were
murder of his wife, the prosecution friendly, charismatic, and often brilliant at
argued that his motive was twofold: manipulating other people. Yet alongside
he wanted the money from Annette’s the glib charm of these psychopaths was a
life-insurance policy, and he wanted to kind of moral blindness, an apparent in-
marry Anne Walsh. Yet that argu- capacity to feel moral sentiments such as
ment never really made much sense. An guilt and empathy. Cleckley marvelled at
insurance policy for two hundred and the psychological ease with which psy-
sixty thousand New Zealand dollars was chopaths lied, cheated, and betrayed their
unlikely to tempt a doctor whose salary friends and families.
exceeded a hundred thousand dollars a While the charming, cunning psy-
year. Nor would Bouwer need to kill chopath has become a stock character in
Annette in order to marry Anne Walsh. Hollywood films, Cleckley’s psycho-
He had divorced twice already; he could paths bear little resemblance to Hanni-
do so a third time. It’s not even clear that bal Lecter. Often, they look more like
Bouwer ever planned to marry Walsh, the bunglers in “Fargo,” whose elaborate
given all the other women with whom criminal plans are derailed by spectacu-
he was involved. larly boneheaded decisions. Cleckley’s
Just as puzzling as Bouwer’s lack of psychopaths are not simply blind to the
motive was his poor judgment; he was interests of others; in some ways, they
weirdly careless about covering his tracks. are also blind to their own. They consis-
The faked prescriptions, the references tently underestimate the intelligence of
to Annette’s impending death, the lec- other people, lying needlessly, even in
ture about the perfect murder, the bi- circumstances where they are certain to
zarre lies, the shaved eyebrows, the e- be caught. In “The Mask of Sanity,”
mailed toxicology inquiries: these didn’t Cleckley keeps returning to words like
exactly seem like the product of a cun- “mimicry” and “simulation” to empha-
ning mind. When the police arrested size how psychopaths can use moral and
THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 6, 2010 41
emotional language skillfully without lissa, and had returned home to find Ria voodoo doll in her mailbox, with pins
really feeling its depth and resonance. dead. stuck in its body and a condom pulled
And yet, like a pianist with a tin ear, the Colin, Jr., was, at first glance, unlike over its head. Attached to the doll’s neck
psychopath can perform for only so long his father. He made his living by install- was a Christmas decoration, one that
before his deficiencies become apparent. ing and repairing air-conditioners and ice van Schalkwyk had placed on her
In moral philosophy and the law, psy- machines. And although he was a well- daughter’s grave. Four more voodoo
chopaths present a theoretical problem. built, good-looking young man, he does dolls arrived, this time with genitalia
On the surface, they seem like the very not seem to have inherited his father’s molded out of a pliable material. In
worst kind of characters: not mere crim- charm. He was a more intimidating April, 2000, van Schalkwyk was at-
inals but criminals without remorse. Yet figure, according to Abram van Zyl, a pri- tacked and beaten as she left her house,
the fact that even clever psychopaths vate detective hired by Ria’s mother, Lou- and her leg was broken. Van Zyl says,
show such poor judgment about their ise van Schalkwyk, to look into the mur- “That was also something that Bouwer
own interests suggests a deeper neuro- der. “There was a stage when we were still had orchestrated, there’s no doubt in my
logical impairment. “The core bit of psy- investigating the case when he had been mind, but we were never able to prove
chopathy seems to be the emotional dys- to see some hit men in Johannesburg to it.” Colin, Jr., eventually confessed to
function—the lack of guilt, the lack of persuade them to knock me off, so that the murder and was convicted of culpa-
empathy,” says Dr. James Blair, a neuro- the investigation would come to a stand- ble homicide.
scientist at the National Institutes of still,” van Zyl told me. He says that Colin,
Mental Health, who has spent fifteen
years studying the moral judgment of
psychopaths. “And at the brain level we
Jr., was a jealous, domineering husband
and, on several occasions, had thrown Ria
out of the house, together with her be-
P erhaps because New Zealand is
such a small place, the South Island
especially, people are far more trusting
can relate those problems to problems in longings. The couple had fought on the of one another, and even of strangers,
the way the amygdala works, and prob- day of the murder, and Colin had stormed than they are in the United States or
lems in the way the ventromedial frontal out. When he returned, Ria was on her Europe or, indeed, South Africa. In
cortex works.” But, if a neurological im- bed, writing a letter. Colin strangled her downtown Dunedin, it is not uncom-
pairment prevents psychopaths from in the bedroom. mon to see bicycles standing unlocked
fully understanding the wrongness of After the murder, however, the actions on the street. The Otago Daily Times is
their actions, are they fully to blame for of Colin, Jr., proved to be just as bizarre sold in the Dunedin Hospital lobby:
their wrongdoing? and self-defeating as those of his father. payment is deposited in an honesty box.
Complicating the issue of blame still His first move was to call his mother, As a rule, New Zealanders are not
further is the fact that at least some aspects Mariette Kruger, who drove thirty miles known for being introspective. They are
of psychopathy appear to be genetically from Johannesburg to Kempton Park, modest, outward-looking people who
related—not in their criminality, which and helped him move Ria’s body to the live in big landscapes, and most of them
appears more closely linked to classic bathroom, arrange the crime scene, and probably find American-style self-ex-
causes, such as trauma and abuse, but in devise a story to tell the police. (She was amination to be a bit narcissistic, al-
their emotional poverty. “The heritability later found guilty of being an accessory though they are far too polite to say so.
of the basic emotional problem does seem after the fact.) That story was suspicious The iconic New Zealander is Sir Ed-
to be pretty high,” Blair says, from the very start, according mund Hillary, the self-effacing climber
noting that, on a scale from to van Zyl. No items of value of Mt. Everest, who always insisted on
zero to one, it’s .7. “Which is had been taken from the sharing the credit with his Sherpa
a pretty respectable heritabil- house, and although Ria’s climbing partner, Tenzing Norgay.
ity.” panties had been slit, she had This climate of trust and humility is one
not been raped. Colin, Jr., reason that visitors fall in love with the

I n May of 2000, four


months before
Colin Bouwer was arrested
began pressuring Ria’s
mother to call off the investi-
gation, a move that naturally
country, but it may also make New Zea-
landers vulnerable to hustlers and con
artists who do not play by the rules.
in New Zealand, his son cast suspicion on him. “Kiwis are easily conned,” said Jubilee
Colin Bouwer, Jr., then Seven months later, in Rajiah, who got her medical degree in
twenty-five years old, was March, 2000, Colin, Jr., India before training in Bouwer’s de-
arrested in South Africa and charged and his mother staged a phony kidnap- partment. “In India, he’d be caught out
with murdering his wife, Ria. She had ping to deflect attention from the mur- in no time.”
been found dead in the guest bathroom der. They told the police that while But Bouwer also took pains to make
of their home, in Kempton Park. Her Mariette was driving her granddaughter himself likable, by molding his persona to
panties were slashed, and toiletries were to day care, two armed men hijacked her fit the individual he wanted to manipu-
scattered around the bathroom, as if a pickup truck and disappeared with the late, finding—or inventing—a common
break-in had occurred. Colin, Jr., ini- infant. A few hours later, Melissa was interest. For Sarah Romans, it was shared
tially told the police that he had been found unharmed in the abandoned ve- academic ambition; for another colleague,
out of the house for several hours with hicle. About a week after the kidnap- it was family devotion. Bouwer sent raun-
their seven-month-old daughter, Me- ping, Louise van Schalkwyk found a chy e-mails to some people in the depart-
ment, while to others he emphasized his
religious faith. A secretary in the hospital
told me that when Bouwer found out she
was a Christian he brought in a Bible the
next day and pointed out his favorite
chapter.
When Bouwer’s mask did slip, it was
in situations whose moral significance es-
caped him—his substitution of fireplace
ashes for those of Annette, his odd habit
of bringing up stories of detention and
torture over a beer. In early August of
2000, the police taped a telephone con-
versation between Bouwer and one of his
lovers, a physician whom I will call Kate.
At one point, she began to tell Colin
about a young crash victim in the inten-
sive-care unit who she feared would not
survive:
Colin: People are allowed to die.
Kate: This guy’s time is up too soon.
Colin: People welcome death sometimes.
Kate: This guy’s time is up too soon.
Colin: Are you listening to what I’m
saying?
Kate: Mm.
Colin: The problem is the physician’s at-
titude towards death.
Kate: Mm.
Colin: Because it’s an enemy to our
training.
Kate: He’s only twenty-two.
Colin: I couldn’t care a stuff. Death is
• •
our friend, it’s not an enemy.
Later in the same conversation: station there is a framed photograph of ever understand the pain that ‘psycho-
Bouwer, along with his remark about paths’ endure.”
Colin: Just go to his funeral, that means
so much to the family. the New Zealand police being unable to He also told me that, in order to make
Kate: Mm. catch a murderer. amends for his wrongdoing, he had be-
Colin: And you can say, shit, I feel so bad Bouwer is serving his sentence in a come a Messianic Jew—a Jew who be-
for all of you.
Kate: Mm. new prison about an hour south of lieves that Jesus is the resurrected Jewish
Colin: And you can cry and then you can Dunedin, near Milton, known locally as Messiah. Later, he sent me some
leave. You don’t have to be there longer than the Milton Hilton, for its luxurious fa- thoughts on religion, some of which took
ten minutes.
cilities. He was given a life sentence in the form of meditations. They were dated
A few months before Bouwer began November, 2001, with a minimum of and signed with his name. One medita-
to poison Annette, he told her sister that thirteen years to be served before he tion, titled “Suffering and Divine Worth,”
it would be easy to get away with mur- would become eligible for parole. He begins with the sentence “There is only
der in New Zealand, because the police appealed the decision, but so did the one thing that I dread: not to be worthy
there were not equipped to handle com- Crown, and his sentence was increased of suffering.” Another read, “I often feel
plex criminal cases. Here Bouwer mis- to a minimum of fifteen years. Last year, that everyone else has advanced so far into
understood his adopted country. Kiwis I wrote to him in Milton, asking if he holiness that I am isolated and alone in
may not be accustomed to violent crime, would be willing to meet with me. He my sin.” I was struck by the style in which
but they have a knack for improvising declined, referring to the shame and re- these meditations were written, which
solutions. The Dunedin police put to- morse he felt about his past, and to a seemed quite different from the rest of his
gether a case against Bouwer so airtight wish to avoid causing his children any correspondence. A little research revealed
that it took a jury only three hours to further pain or embarrassment. He that the first passage is often attributed to
convict him. In the months leading up seemed skeptical, too, that his explana- Dostoyevsky, and that the second is by
to Bouwer’s arrest, the police inter- tions would be heard with any sympa- the Quaker theologian Richard Foster.
viewed staff members of the Dunedin thy. He wrote, “I have learnt that the Several other passages turned out to be
Hospital, and, remarkably, no one let it pain of people like me with personality from still other writers. It soon became
slip out that Bouwer was being investi- disorders is intense, and not easily ver- apparent that Bouwer’s personal medita-
gated. A detective who worked on the balised. I do not believe the medical tions about confession, suffering, and sin
case told me that in the Dunedin police profession, nor the general public will had been plagiarized. 
THE NEW YORKER, SEPTEMBER 6, 2010 43

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