Twenty years ago today, Christine and Amber Lundy were brutally murdered in their Palmerston North home. Husband and father Mark Lundy remains in jail after being convicted of their savage slayings. But he still says he didn't do it. Herald senior journalist Kurt Bayer examines one of New Zealand's most well-known – and controversial – murders.
It's one of those infamous New Zealand cases where, for most Kiwis, just one word is enough to trigger connections: Bain. Watson. Thomas. Pora.
And what do they all have in common? Controversy. Injustice, perceived or proven. Ingrained in the national psyche, even if only the broadest of details are known.
Most New Zealanders of a certain age know something about it. The grieving husband's Oscar-winning performance at his slain wife and little daughter's funeral. The mad, supposed high-speed dash by a psycho-killer from Wellington to Palmerston North and back again – which cops and journalists could never replicate. The prostitute. The psychic neighbour's dramatic courtroom testimony of seeing a fat man disguised in a long blonde curly wig jogging down the road. The return clean-up job. The failing vineyard venture. Brain matter on the polo shirt.
It's gone to every court in the land, and beyond. The perfect murder. Perfect, because Mark Edward Lundy has been in jail most of this time. And yet, he remains firm: Someone else murdered Christine, his wife of 17 years, and 7-year-old daughter Amber that night on August 29, 2000. But who?
A brutal, cold blooded killer. Someone who snuck into the plain, weatherboard house at 30 Karamea Crescent in the quiet suburb of Kelvin Grove and butchered 38-year-old Christine with a tomahawk or axe - or something similar; we don't know as the murder weapon was never found - and then did the same to "outgoing, happy and strong-willed" Amber. The little girl was hacked down trying to flee.
Lundy. Mark Edward Lundy. Born December 1956. Palmerston North Boys' High School. Childhood nicknames: Chuck, or Sally Lunn - after the buns. Travelling kitchen sink salesman. Scout leader. Wine lover (also a rum and coke man) and vineyard enthusiast. Amateur dramatics enthusiast. But a double killer too?
Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. If he didn't, then who did?
What we do know is everyone has an opinion. He definitely did. He definitely didn't. The science is irrefutable. The science is bunkum. Two trials – two totally different beasts – two guilty verdicts. Appeals lost, appeals won. Twenty years on, and he's still behind bars. His wife and daughter are 20 years still dead.
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A top New Zealand lawyer based in London, David Hislop QC, who would take up Lundy's case, and represent him at his high-profile retrial, still believes there's been a miscarriage of justice.
And he admitted to the Weekend Herald during its investigation into the Lundy murders 20 years on: "On a personal level, in the trial I think I underestimated the level of prejudice and prejudgement by a nation which I had to deal with. In retrospect, I appealed too much to the jury's reason and logic and did not concentrate on prejudice enough."
The first trial
There are many strange things about the Lundy case. Author Agatha Christie or even our own Ngaio Marsh would be embarrassed concocting it. The drive. The obese jogging cross-dresser. The science. It's already consumed at least two lives - Christine and Amber obviously - but also Lundy himself, whether he's guilty or not.
And then there are his supporters. A loyal band of mainly men, some who knew him for years and could never see him doing it, and others like Geoff Levick who saw it splashed across the national headlines all those years ago and thought: Something doesn't add up.
Retired Auckland businessman Levick followed the first trial back in 2002. How could anyone travel 150km through rush-hour traffic, commit the murders, and return to the Foreshore Motor Lodge in Petone in two hours and 58 minutes? Impossible, he thought. And yet, without it, the Crown case fell over and Lundy walked free.
Levick has since dedicated a vast portion of his days trying to prove a miscarriage of justice. So have others. They believe the killer has never been found. A home invasion, or debt shakedown gone wrong. Or something else altogether?
In that original trial at the High Court in Lundy's hometown of Palmerston North, the Crown argued there was no doubt Lundy was behind the ferocious attack – and money was his motive. He was in financial trouble after investing in two plots of land in the Hawke's Bay that he wanted to transform into a vineyard. Against the advice of his lawyer, Lundy went unconditional on the deal before securing guaranteed investors in the scheme. The investors failed to eventuate and Lundy, the lawyers said, was in real strife.
The Crown revealed that four days before the murders, Lundy had increased his and his wife's life insurance from $200,000 to $500,000.
Killing Christine was his way out of the red.
He murdered her – and when his daughter walked in on it, had no choice but to do away with her too – before covering his tracks meticulously. A missing musical jewellery box was meant to make it look like a burglary gone wrong, the Crown said, although there was a slip-up when a bracelet of Christine's was later found on the front passenger seat of his car. And the murder weapon was painted the same colours as Lundy's tools, the Crown said, with light blue and orange paint fragments found on the victims' bodies.
A procession of more than 130 witnesses was called. The evidence was complex, intense, and at times, sordid. It emerged that Lundy had slept with a prostitute at his Petone motel on the night his family were killed. He admitted paying a young blonde escort who arrived about 11.45pm $140 in cash for sex.
Lundy's lawyers argued that while the insurance amount had increased, the policy had not yet been updated and the higher amount was not valid at the time Christine died. They also pointed out that Lundy's business partner had already assured him he would pay off any creditors – essentially bailing him out – and there were no real money woes.
They also countered the DNA evidence by saying that while there was blood and tissue splattered everywhere in the house, nothing was found in Lundy's car, or on his glasses, wedding ring, shoes, or other clothes. They put it to the jury that contamination could account for the brain tissue found on Lundy's shirt.
And as for the round trip from Petone – impossible.
Lundy himself took to the stand to emphatically deny the accusations. But it wasn't enough. A jury found him guilty after more than six hours of deliberation and he was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years.
He was always going to appeal. For a lot of people, things didn't add up.
"It was so unbelievable"
One of Lundy's good mates, Aram Joukadjian, who met Lundy through Scouts at a National Rovers Scouting Moot in Australia in the 1980s, was told of the murders by a fellow Rover Scout.
"It was so unbelievable all I could say was, "Oh f-," like a hundred times."
Joukadjian flew straight to Palmerston North. He stayed with Lundy and agreed to support him at the funeral.
He remembers people saying Lundy had seemed a "bit funny". Emerging from St Peters Anglican Church, Lundy was captured by news cameras collapsing from grief as he followed the coffins. He wailed, howled, and had to be propped up by Joukadjian and another mate as his slain family were lifted into the hearse.
But Joukadjian didn't buy claims he was putting on a performance worthy of the nearby Abbey Musical Theatre.
"I had to go and get my back fixed afterwards because he was a big bastard [and] if he was faking it, he was faking it pretty good. They said it was big show, it wasn't a big show," Joukadjian said from his home in Melbourne.
But others disagree. One person who attended the funeral remembers seeing behind Lundy's dark glasses and being taken aback at the lack of tears. He recalls remarking to a senior policeman, "Not a single tear, do you know that?" And the cop replying, "Yeah, it's quite the performance isn't it."
The police investigation was vast. Detectives dedicated to Operation Winter drew up a list of 82 persons of interest. Working on a time of death of 7pm, it was whittled down to five final suspects. Lundy was on the list.
While being secretly surveilled, he was chatty with police, often ringing to ask how their inquiry was going. He even casually mentioned to a cop that petrol was being siphoned from cars parked at his Petone motel – and petrol and fuel consumption would be scrutinised at his trial, with prosecutors arguing there should've been more fuel in the tank if he hadn't done the murderous expedition.
Three days after the bodies were found, police searched Lundy's leased dark blue Ford EL Fairmont Ghia and took a striped polo shirt into evidence. When he was interviewed by police, he told them he had packed the shirt to take on his business trip to Wellington and that he had been wearing it the night before.
It took another 56 days before it was forensically tested.
The Herald spoke to Lundy just before his arrest in February 2001. He had no idea who would kill his family. He was aware of rumours saying it was him.
"You couldn't tell me something I haven't already heard. But I try to keep away from it."
When they thought they'd gathered enough evidence on him, the cops made their move. Lundy was arrested and charged with the murders.
The 2002 trial was a sensation. Palmerston North was abuzz with rumour and speculation. The news headlines were the talk of smoko rooms up and down the country. From across the Tasman, Joukadjian watched with interest. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"I'm not a judge ... but the stuff I read was unbelievable. He may be guilty ... he may be guilty. But not the rubbish they said about him," he says.
"He must've been 300 pounds with s*** knees, dressed as a woman, running 800 metres – you know what? If you gave him ten million dollars he couldn't run eight hundred metres. And things like he drove really fast from Wellington to Palmerston North and back so he must have done it ... They'll never bury me without me thinking he's not guilty."
The stains on the polo shirt
Lundy's bid to overturn his conviction came at the Court of Appeal in Wellington later in 2002. It challenged the evidence of a Texan expert pathologist. Dr Rodney Miller, director of Immunohistochemistry (IHC) at ProPath Laboratory in Dallas, had been sent samples by New Zealand police and had taken slides from stains observed on the XXL Lancia navy, purple and fawn striped polo shirt. Lundy admitted wearing the shirt on the night of the murders. It was later found in his car.
The two stains were on the front sleeve and the chest pocket. Miller was also unable to positively identify the tissue under a microscope but conducted an IHC procedure, from which he categorically stated that it was CNS (central nervous system) tissue from the brain or spinal cord.
The IHC procedure had never been used before in that way. It led the Crown to allege the CNS tissue must have also come from Christine - a proposition not challenged by the defence at the first trial.
The defence case was that Christine's brain tissue must have got onto the polo shirt as a result of police conduct during which, either deliberately or accidentally, the shirt came into contact with the brain tissue.
Lundy's appeal backfired spectacularly on him. Not only was it thrown out – with the appeal judges finding the jury was entitled to accept Miller's brain tissue evidence – but his minimum non-parole period was lifted from 17 to 20 years.
Miller did not respond to interview requests for this article.
The Privy Council shock
The fight went on. Levick and the other supporters crusaded in the background for years to get others to listen. They enlisted Hislop in London who agreed: the case didn't seem right.
They managed to get a rare sitting before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council - the court of final appeal for the UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies.
During the 2013 London hearing , the science that got Lundy convicted – especially around the times of death and the polo shirt "staining" - was ridiculed. Experts lined up to tear it apart.
Hislop submitted that the expert evidence given by Miller, who accepted he was not a forensic pathologist, and others who relied on his opinion, was "fundamentally flawed" to the point that the trial was unfair. Three IHC experts - professors Helen Whitwell (inspiration for the main character in British crime drama Silent Witness), Otago University's Philip Sheard (refused to comment for this article), and Kevin Gatter (deceased) - concluded the tissue was poorly preserved and it was impossible to reach any conclusion as to the nature of the material. They deemed the IHC procedure an "uncontrolled experiment" incapable of producing a reliable outcome.
The Privy Council also heard that IHC had been used sparingly worldwide to forensically identify tissue in criminal cases, with only one other example found.
On top of criticism of Miller was the discovery of a previously undisclosed police document. The report, written by the officer-in-charge of the murder case Detective Sergeant Ross Grantham, asked a senior officer for permission to visit Miller in the United States. He asked for the trip to be funded after neuropathologist Dr Heng Teoh said tissue was too degenerated to identify as brain tissue and Lundy should not be convicted on the strength of the cells on the slide he saw. However, the document was not disclosed to Lundy's lawyers before the trial, denying them a line of inquiry for the defence.
Hislop also attacked the science method that established the 7pm time of death evidence.
The five Privy Council judges unanimously concluded: No. Lundy's conviction could not be considered safe and he deserved a fresh trial. It was kicked back to New Zealand a retrial was ordered for 2015 at the High Court in Wellington.
It was a different case altogether. Gone was the drive. Gone was the psychic witness. Gone was the 7pm time of death.
But what couldn't go away were the polo shirt stains.
The Crown turned to Dutch scientist Dr Laetitia Sijen. Using a technique called mRNA, she tested the spots in her Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) laboratory. She concluded the tissue was 58 per cent probable it was human brain or spinal cord.
The defence team said the tissue on the shirt was either the result of contamination, or it was CNS tissue which was not human, and could've happened while Lundy prepared food during cooking.
They dismissed testimony of jailhouse snitch Witness X as unreliable and pointed the finger at Christine Lundy's brother Glenn Weggery as a potential suspect – something he strenuously denied, having been ruled out as a suspect by police in the investigation's early days. Weggery had gone to the house to pick up his tax returns, which Christine used to help him with, as she also handled all of her husband's paperwork. He was the one who came across the grisly, bloody massacre.
Hislop warned the jury it was not a "forensic jousting match" but a man's life on the line.
"It's an exciting time for forensic science," he said, "but [Mark Lundy] is not a laboratory rat - something to try something on."
Although it was strongly criticised by defence experts as – again - flawed experimental science with "significant problems" – and later Court of Appeal judges agreeing it should never have been allowed at the retrial - the Crown used Sijen's evidence with devastating effect.
"Put it all together and Mark Lundy has Christine Lundy's brain on his shirt. And no husband should have his wife's brain on his shirt," prosecutor Philip Morgan QC said in his closing address.
After the seven-week retrial, the jury came back with the conclusion from 13 years earlier: Guilty.
Contacted this month, the Dutch institute stuck by their scientist's evidence. "The Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) still endorse the conclusions of the testimonial given by Dr Sijen as an expert witness during the court case," press officer Suzan Demirhan said.
Lundy's fight goes on
Next, was another trip to the Court of Appeal in 2017. Upheld. Although appeal judges agreed the mRNA tracing should have been inadmissible, they did not accept it had prevented the defence from arguing the tissue had found its way onto the shirt through food. They were satisfied. "In the end we have been left sure of Mr Lundy's guilt."
Lundy's lawyer hit back. "Mr Lundy has long argued that for whatever reason his case has become the testing grounds for novel science," Jonathon Eaton QC said.
That left one final legal avenue. The Supreme Court- New Zealand's highest court and court of last resort.
The appeal heard last year hung on a single point - whether the Court of Appeal was wrong in choosing not to overturn Lundy's convictions when part of the evidence used to secure them was found to be inadmissible.
Eaton swung hard at the use of mRNA evidence, branding it "novel and junk science" which had "never been used before, never been used again".
"The name Mark Lundy has become synonymous with flawed expert opinion, flawed science and miscarriage of justice," Eaton said.
But just before last Christmas, the Supreme Court came back with its ruling. The last avenue. Lundy's final bid to overturn his convictions for murdering his wife and daughter has been unanimously declined.
The Parole Board confirms that Mark Lundy – now aged 63 - becomes eligible for parole in 2022.
His case will likely be one of the first considered by the new Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC), established by the government in July to investigate potential miscarriages of justice. The Herald understands Lundy's supporters have lodged an application for the CCRC to consider.
The Lundy murders - a timeline
August 29, 2000 - Christine Lundy, 38, and daughter Amber, 7, are murdered in their Palmerston North home.
February 23, 2001 - Mark Lundy is charged with two counts of murder.
February 2002 - Lundy stands trial at the High Court in Palmerston North for the murder of his wife Christine and daughter Amber.
March 2002 - Guilty after a six-week trial.
April 12, 2002 - Sentenced to life imprisonment with 17 years in jail before he can apply for parole.
August 12, 2002 - Court of Appeal rejects Lundy's bid to have his convictions quashed and instead lifts his minimum non-parole period to 20 years.
November 2012 - Lundy files a petition asking the Privy Council for leave to appeal.
June 17, 2013 - Three-day hearing in front of the Privy Council begins.
October 7, 2013 - The Law Lords release their decision, quashing the convictions and ordering a retrial.
April 2015 - After the retrial at the High Court in Wellington, Lundy was again found guilty.
2017 - Lundy continues to claim his innocence and takes his case to the Court of Appeal a second time.
October 2018 - The Court of Appeal again dismisses his appeal.
May 2019 - Lundy granted leave to have his appeal heard by the Supreme Court, arguing he was the victim of junk science.
December 20, 2019 - The Supreme Court dismisses Lundy's appeal, stating "beyond reasonable doubt" that Lundy murdered Christine and Amber Lundy.