Antoine Dixon attack: 10 years on

By Kathryn Powley

Simonne Butler doesn't think about the attack. Photo / Doug Sherring
Simonne Butler doesn't think about the attack. Photo / Doug Sherring

Like an axeman trying to fell a tree with a golf club, Antoine Roni Dixon's samurai sword hacked into Simonne Butler. It sliced into her hands held up for protection; whacked into her wrists and elbows, slashed into her upper arms and the back of her neck stopping just short of her spinal cord.

That attack, that sword and that name Antoine Roni Dixon all secured methamphetamine in the New Zealand psyche as a nasty drug that causes people to do crazy, sick things. Dixon died in prison in 2009 aged 40, but a decade on, what has become of Simonne Butler?

Nobody would blame her if she'd wanted to hide herself away forever; to forget there was good in the world.

But Butler laughs at that notion. "It's been 10 years, you know. I've spent a long time getting over it. I've always been a bounce-back kind of girl. The second I woke up from my coma and found my hands had been sewn back on I was rapt. I felt it was my duty to do everything I could to get myself as well as possible physically, mentally, emotionally, just to say thank you to the surgeons who had worked on me."

The first and longest of those surgeries lasted 27 and a half hours as doctors re-attached Butler's badly damaged left hand. She has had 12 major surgeries and about 50 procedures and does weekly physio with a hand therapist but she will never regain full use of her hands.

She bears obvious scars and struggles to grasp objects firmly, but she has emerged a strong, positive woman with an easy laugh and a warm personality. She does not think about the sword attack, not because she's buried the memories, but because she has better things to do than dwell on Dixon, her on/off boyfriend, and what he did.

Pain sometimes troubles her, especially if she tries to do too much. "In summer when it's warm, it's good. But in winter, they claw up like arthritis. I start every morning in winter by filling up the bathroom sink with warm water and putting my hands in before I can even get dressed."

Butler lives alone in a small house in the shade of mature pine trees in rural west Auckland. She doesn't follow current affairs and doesn't have a TV. She does have a computer with internet, though. She reads lots of books, especially fantasy fiction, has a cat called Boom-Boom and keeps a few chooks. Sitting cross-legged on a sofa covered with velvety cushions, sipping tea made from kawakawa leaves picked that morning, Butler is relaxed and ready to tell her story.

"My left hand was completely severed except for a little piece of skin holding the hand to the forearm."

She remembers exactly how it looked.

"Absolutely, because I caught it when it came off and then tried to stick it back on."

Her right hand wasn't much better: "It was completely in half, sliced through the middle."

A childhood friend, Renee Gunbie, who had also been involved with Dixon, also suffered horrific sword injuries to her hands that day. Butler was lucky; Gunbie lost a hand. (Butler and Gunbie have not seen each other since Dixon's trial.)

Butler, 37, doesn't see the point in hiding her scars, and tends to gesticulate a lot as she talks. The more animated she gets, the more obvious those deep pale grooves criss-crossing her arms become.

"They reckon it probably took about six slashes before my hand came off. It wasn't like the super sharp Kill Bill thing when it just comes off in one hit. It took a few thwacks to get if off and break through the bone. He was trying to chop my head off so the hands were casualties of war. It was a bit of a shitty day. Oh well, these things happen."

Wait a minute? No, they don't. Butler tips her head back and laughs.

"Well, they happen in my life.

"For me, as disgusting and horrific and bad as it was, this was just one more nasty thing to add to the list. This was just one more day in my life."

Monday was the 10th anniversary of that horrific day. But did she spend it reflecting, or mourning for her hands?

No chance.

Was the day difficult?

"No, not at all. Nothing's really hard for me. I de-cobwebbed my house inside and out. I gardened. I pulled out weeds and dead plants. I got rid of the deadwood and the dross, and then Monday night a very good friend turned up with three bottles of wine and two containers of Indian takeaways and we drank wine and ate curry and watched a movie." Did they even talk about Dixon-who she calls Tony?

"No, not at all. Because I don't live in the past. I live here and now."

That means focusing on finishing her book which she promises will cover all the "gory details" as well as how she made sense of the mess that was her life back then.

The book should be out later this year and will include chapters called Survival, Aftermath, The Dixon Files, Healing Hands and Into The Shadows.

Butler is studying to be a professional healer. It's something she's always wanted to do but, after finishing Form 7 at Green Bay High School, she studied travel and tourism and worked in a travel agency before becoming a sales rep for NZ Couriers and then shipping company Cosco. Ironically Dixon's assault set her back on the right path. "It was the best thing that could have happened to me. It helped me know who I am and what I am here for."

In July she'll graduate with a diploma in naturopathy. She's also part way though a Diploma of NZ Native Flower Essence Therapy and she is a third of the way through a three-year medicine woman apprenticeship. Part of that training has helped her not be caught up in her own"stuff", to better focus on others needing her help.

It's also reminded her to see the beauty in life.

To heal herself she needed to take a good hard look at what she calls her "shadow side", and ask why she was in that toxic relationship.

Butler tells how she met Dixon through friends when she was 21.

"I initially couldn't stand him. He stalked me for six months every day until I finally agreed to have lunch with him. He woremedown. He was a bit of a comedian, very charming, very persuasive, a little bit dangerous. I think he was a car thief."

The relationships was volatile. "A lot of the hidings I got I could possibly have avoided if I had just shut my mouth, but where's the fun in that? I've always had a smart mouth, it's always got me in trouble. It was a very sick and twisted co-dependent relationship."

She'd broken up with him in Easter 2002. By then she'd lost her sales rep job and moved to her Pipiroa property near Thames.

"He agreed we wouldn't be together, but he never really gives up anything. Often it's easier to put out for five minutes than to go through hours and hours and hours of abuse and still have to put out anyway."They'd go six weeks at a time without seeing each other. "Then he'd turn up and stay for an hour, a day, or a week."

Dixon was into methamphetamine and was a drug bully who would pressure her to take the drug with him. "I certainly tried it and smoked it, but I never liked it. I used to smoke a lot of weed, like an ounce [about 30g] a week when I lived down there with him. Looking back, I realise it was the only way I could deal with it all."

She'd known Gunbie when they were younger, their parents had been friends. Dixon had said Gunbie needed somewhere to stay and Butler had agreed.

That notorious sword was an ornament belonging to a friend of Dixon's who was storing things at Butler's.

That day Butler came home to find Dixon in what the experts testified was a methamphetamine-induced psychosis. Soon after she was lying in a pool of her own blood, clutching her hands close, waiting for help. She wasn't really aware of Gunbie at that stage. Thankfully Dixon dialled 111, but he drove to Auckland and that night shot dead James Te Aute at Highland Park. Dixon was convicted of murder, grievous bodily harm, firearm charges, shooting at police and kidnapping.

Later, Dixon apologised to Butler in prison, "balling his eyes out" like a baby. But the apology meant nothing to Butler. When she heard Dixon had died in prison in February 2009 from a suspected suicide she let out a loud "wahoo".

"I danced around my house for hours. It was finally over and I was never going to get a phone call from him ever again. Even though in theory I'd broken all the shackles and disentangled myself, him being dead was like tying a nice ribbon around it."

Butler dropped off the media radar after Dixon's 2005 trial when she gave evidence in court. The press was riveted by Dixon and his "crazy eyes", an affectation he adopted to support his insanity plea. The image of his goggle-eyed face has appeared onT-shirts and comedy shows, but it doesn't amuse Butler.

"That eye thing, that was possibly less than two minutes in court of what stretched out to be two court cases and months and months and months of legal stuff. And the media ran with that. Yes, they were made-for-television eyes, but there was a media overload."

Butler plans to open a medicine lodge offering healing homestays where clients will heal, garden, cook, and "retrieve their souls".

Her philosophy is that anybody wanting her help should come to her, and she's happy for us to publish her email address: Simonnebutlerhealerbynature@gmail.com.

Her specialty is "traumatic stress recovery" which makes sense because as traumas go, samurai sword attacks are right up there.

The question so often asked of victims - whether they forgive the person responsible for their injuries - has done a back flip in Butler's case.

"Forgiving everyone else doesn't really matter, I had to forgive myself for putting myself in that situation. For not loving myself enough and for the fact that I had no self-respect. I'd run away in the middle of the night quite a few times and I'd always come back because of the dogs, mortgages and things. I was a martyr."

For a short while after the attack, people would recognise her, partly because of her bandaged arms.

If she is recognised on the street as a result of this article, so be it.

"I will deal with it. I know who I am and the people who love me know who I am. No more fading off into obscurity. The time is now and I have to put myself out there and I'm ready and I think the world's ready for me."

Her career goals and book are the reasons she has decided to talk so openly now.

"It's time," she says. "I can't hermit myself away forever. I would love to, but a girl's got to make a living. I can't do what I was put here to do if I'm not out in the world."

- Herald on Sunday

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