Body in the garden" killer Gay Oakes has found new love and has been planning to marry. Oakes is living with partner Andrew McMurtrie on the outskirts of Christchurch.

The couple met while working at the Pathway Trust, a Christian organisation which helps former inmates into work, and have been together for four years, friends say.

Oakes is one of the country's most infamous killers after lacing her de facto partner Doug Gardner's coffee with sleeping pills. She buried his body in the back yard of their home in Sydenham, Christchurch.

Gardner was listed as a missing person until police received a tip-off 14 months later and discovered his body.

Oakes, who has four children with Gardner, was convicted of murder in September 1994 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

She was released eight years later when the Parole Board accepted battered women's syndrome could be used as a defence. Neither Oakes nor McMurtrie would speak to the Herald on Sunday about their relationship.

"We just want to get on and live a quiet life," McMurtrie said.

But it is understood the couple have placed their marriage plans on hold.

One of Oakes' close friends, Doris Church, said she and others were delighted Oakes had found happiness.

"We are very pleased for Gay and Andrew. We were very happy when she found someone," Church said.

Oakes, who is believed to be in her 50s, met BMW-driving McMurtrie while working as a receptionist at Pathway Trust.

She left the trust 18 months ago and now works for the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society in Christchurch. Church was unsure when Oakes was to marry.

Gardner's sister Wendy Johnston said yesterday the family was still very angry.

She did not believe Oakes should be able to live a normal life and get married.

"I don't want any murderer living a normal life. She still should be in prison. Life's life," she said.

The family had not had contact with Oakes since she was paroled in October 2002.

A condition of Oakes' parole is that she is unable to publish or give media interviews about her relationship with Gardner, or be critical of him or his family.

While in jail, Oakes wrote a detailed account of her life with Gardner, called Decline into Darkness.

She wrote of Gardner's abusive, violent behaviour and claimed he stole money from her. The book angered Gardner's family and prompted debate over whether prisoners should be able to write books.

When she was released in 2002, the Parole Board said Oakes had been an exemplary prisoner and did not pose a risk to the community.