By JAN CORBETT
If Dr Colin Bouwer landed at Dunedin airport with murder on his mind, he might have thought this isolated, sparsely populated region was just the place to get away with it.
Soon after arriving from South Africa in 1997, he read about the David Bain case and decided the New Zealand police were not good at investigating complicated crimes.
And few deaths would turn out to be as complicated as his 47-year-old wife's.
Dunedin might rejoice in a veneer of southern gentility. But it is precisely that relentless, white, middle-class respectability and the backdrop of gothic-style churches and Edwardian university buildings that give it the unsettling impression of making a perfect setting for a Stephen King horror story.
Annette Bouwer's killing was nearer to sensational fiction than to the realm of the ordinary.
An insecure wife might contemplate the idea that her husband will leave her for another woman. Some live with the threat of their violent husband drawing a weapon or closing his grip around her throat and ending the marriage in a bloody rage.
But the idea that a professional man, a psychiatrist no less, would poison his wife slowly and painfully to avoid social stigma or financial loss from leaving her for his lover, was as chilling as a Dunedin southerly. Perhaps the local reaction was best summed up by fellow Dunedin psychiatrist and Medical Association head Dr John Adams: "This is unfortunate for Dunedin and unfortunate for psychiatry."
Doubly unfortunate, as it turns out, for two women who married men called Colin David Bouwer. While Colin Bouwer sen was languishing in a Dunedin jail awaiting trial, his son with the same name was arrested in South Africa and charged with strangling to death his wife, Ria. His mother Mariette Kruger, Bouwer's first wife, is charged as an accessory for giving him an alibi and tampering with the murder scene. They will be tried in South Africa next year. The younger Bouwer maintains he had little contact with his father when he was growing up.
P EOPLE who met Colin and Annette Bouwer after they arrived in Dunedin in 1997 thought they had a near-perfect life together. After nearly two decades this, Bouwer's third marriage, looked like a resounding success. Certainly people noticed their affection for each other.
One of Annette Bouwer's close South African friends remembers how her face would light up when he entered the room, and her voice would lift when he called her on the telephone. Annette Bouwer never complained about her husband, rather she always seemed proud of him.
After working as a psychiatrist in Invercargill, Bouwer took up a clinical post with Healthcare Otago, rising to head of department. His annual salary was around $100,000. He was also a part-time senior lecturer at Otago University where he memorably led a class discussion on using blood-sugar-lowering drugs to commit the perfect murder.
Annette Bouwer, a physiotherapist who had met Bouwer at a Mensa meeting in Pretoria, devoted herself to their two good-looking and talented teenage children. Greg Bouwer was head prefect at Bayfield High School, a popular state secondary school. Anthea is an accomplished pianist and cellist.
The eulogy at Annette Bouwer's funeral painted a woman with a strong belief in God and a strong sense of loyalty, honesty and integrity. Her willingness to help others was recalled. She and Bouwer had counselled families of drug and alcohol abusers in South Africa. Her family life was described as a model.
The Bouwers lived in a gracious $320,000 home on the slopes overlooking the ocean and the sweeping golden sands of St Clair Beach, where Annette Bouwer regularly walked Cinnamon, her English bull terrier. Dunedin mayor Sukhi Turner shares the same right-of-way, but Turner says she had only ever met Bouwer at a university function, and did not know the house was there, obscured from sight.
The Bouwers also held a $262,000 life insurance policy - something the Crown painted as one of the motives to kill.
Friends say Annette Bouwer loved Dunedin, adored the house with its fresh lemon and mint-green interior, and, like many South Africans, was glad to have escaped from their crime-ridden homeland.
On the surface it was a privileged life. Alongside wifely and motherly chores, Annette Bouwer found time to relax doing jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and knitting and other handcrafts and was an avid reader. Murder mysteries were one of her favourite genres.
At night, she went to computing classes so she could help her 51-year-old husband enter his research results into one of the two family computers in their book-lined study.
When Annette Bouwer could not attend class one night because she had fallen into a coma, Bouwer rang one of her classmates, asking her to bring the notes from the lesson to the house. Without being sure why, the classmate thought this was a bit odd.
Indeed, all was not what it seemed. Behind the appearance of a happy marriage and a successful career was a man who not only led a double life, but who, even before he killed his wife, habitually invented significant episodes from what can only be described as his alleged background. He falsely claimed to have been a member of the African National Congress and a political prisoner. He said he was tortured in prison. His lawyers used this, unsuccessfully, to argue that he should be released on bail, because imprisonment would be unusually traumatic for him.
He once told a friend that an earlier wife had killed herself and their children. He told a colleague Annette Bouwer had been gang raped, which had a severe impact on their marriage.
What is undeniably true is that he engaged in a succession of extra-marital affairs here and in South Africa. Before coming to New Zealand he worked at Tygerberg and Stikland hospitals in Cape Town. Megan Power, a senior journalist with South African paper the Sunday Tribune, has reported that "during his time at Tygerberg Bouwer's name was allegedly associated with complaints and one doctor said Bouwer left behind 'a lot of unhappiness' when he moved to New Zealand. He declined to elaborate."
Former women patients in South Africa told Power of being seduced by him, and of him telling them monogamy and fidelity were outdated notions. He would tell his lovers that his perfectly healthy wife was dying of cancer and he hadn't had sex in a long time.
Power learned of two further complaints of sexual advances from Bouwer which were not pursued because the women feared publicity.
It emerged at his bail hearing in Dunedin that, like England's serial medical murderer Dr Harold Shipman, he was addicted to pethidine. Between 1981 and 1992 Bouwer was declared an impaired doctor by the South African Health Professions Council.
However, Healthcare Otago says there were no complaints about him during his time in their employment.
I N THE lobby of the Christchurch High Court a petite, attractive middle-aged woman, stylishly dressed in short skirt and long jacket, is castigating a reporter. She is deeply unhappy about headlines describing her as a mistress. As a professional woman, she tells him she sees no alternative but to sue.
Dr Anne Walsh believes this case has ruined her career - because to practice and teach psychiatry, "one needs a certain reputation." She resigned from her university teaching post but is still employed by Healthcare Otago.
Although objecting to the term mistress and denying the affair was ongoing, she took extended leave from her job to sit faithfully in the back of the courtroom. Her ash-blonde hair sometimes tied-up, sometimes loose, her lightly tanned legs sometimes rotating to ward off cramp. At every opportunity she would chat to Bouwer and his lawyers. One morning she gave his lawyers a package from a chemist shop.
Anne Walsh worked alongside Bouwer at both the university and the hospital. But it was at a conference in Copenhagen towards the end of 1999 that their affair flourished, according to the Crown. From this time on Anne Walsh's husband, whose identity the court suppressed, grew suspicious. He searched the e-mails on her laptop, finding love notes between his wife and Bouwer.
It was soon after Bouwer and Anne Walsh's return from Copenhagen that Annette Bouwer, who had previously enjoyed perfect health, began feeling dizzy and unwell. Her children laughed when she first fell down the stairs.
The sicker Annette Bouwer became, the more Anne Walsh entered the children's lives. They regarded her as a close family friend.
When Annette Bouwer was first taken into hospital in a coma, she met them in the emergency department. When one of Annette Bouwer's doctors discussed referring her to a psychiatrist if she grew further depressed about her health, Colin Bouwer requested it be Anne Walsh.
Anne Walsh helped with the household laundry and brought around meals while Annette Bouwer was in hospital. Annette Bouwer later complained to her daughter that they didn't seem to need her.
On the January day their father stayed home to finally kill their mother, the Bouwer children spent the day at Anne Walsh's palatial home on the shores of the Otago Harbour, watching a cricket match.
Bouwer went on to have Anne Walsh appointed the children's guardian, telling his mother-in-law that she was a close and trusted friend of his wife's.
When he set up a family trust two weeks after his wife died, he named Anne Walsh as one of two trustees - her name and his lawyer's are on the title to the family home.
When he became increasingly concerned about the police investigation, it was with Anne Walsh that he discussed obtaining a backdated psychiatric report about his supposed depression, and she who suggested a thank-you note from Annette Bouwer could be interpreted as a suicide note.
After the Bouwer children gave evidence, they joined Anne Walsh and her daughter in the public gallery. They too laughed and chatted with their father in Afrikaans, when they could. When old friends and colleagues gave damning evidence they pulled faces, rolled their eyes or snorted in disbelief.
Their own evidence was forceful and mature and devoid of emotion.
Greg Bouwer especially described his mother as an overbearing, controlling person who drove her children unreasonably hard. One of Annette Bouwer's closest friends disputes that description, believing the son was echoing his father's views.
But for all the apparent cosiness between Anne Walsh, Bouwer and his children, it was Anne Walsh who gave the first hint that Annette Bouwer's death was unnatural.
During her illness, Bouwer had already begun deflecting blame by being the one to complain that he was under suspicion. He told Anne Walsh his wife was accusing him of poisoning her and that the police had even investigated. He cannot have anticipated Anne Walsh would be so convinced he was the victim of a delusional wife, that she innocently dished up this misinformation to Annette Bouwer's specialist the morning he was called to the house to certify her death.
He pulled back from issuing a death certificate and alerted the coroner. If Anne Walsh had kept quiet, Bouwer might have indeed got away with the perfect murder.
T HREE months before his wife died, Bouwer had written the first of 11 false prescriptions for a cocktail of drugs - sulphonylureas, metformin and insulin - that can lower blood-sugar levels and induce hypoglycaemia which, if untreated, causes weakness, blurred vision, slurred speech, sweating, coma and, ultimately, death. He used the names of former patients - none of whom had diabetes - that might require this treatment. About the same time he asked the National Poisons Centre if laboratories could test for these drugs in the bloodstream.
By administering them slowly to his wife in her soup or maybe her tea, he created the impression she had an insulinoma - an insulin-producing tumour. Insulin lowers blood sugar.
After lapsing into two comas, Annette Bouwer underwent complex exploratory surgery to find the tumour.
Magda Brits, a fellow South African who she had befriended while their husbands were working together in Invercargill, visited her in hospital before the surgery. Annette Bouwer cried in Magda Brits' arms, terrified of the impending 12-hour operation and agitated about the burden her illness had placed on the children while they were sitting exams.
"I asked her if she wanted me to pray with her," says Brits, in her thick Afrikaans accent. "She said would I please ask God that this operation be a success and be blessed. She said she wanted to live for the sake of her children."
Part of her pancreas was removed, but no tumour was found. Yet her health improved and she made it home for Christmas.
She telephoned her mother in South Africa who remembers how tired "my child" sounded. "She said, 'I've never smoked, drunk or taken drugs. So why is God doing this to me?"'
Eleven days after surgery and four days after the turn of the millennium, Annette Bouwer died, which surprised her doctors and Bouwer's medical friends. If she became so ill at home so long after surgery, they asked, why didn't her doctor husband take her back to hospital?
Bouwer claimed he begged his wife to see doctors, but she consistently refused. He told family in South Africa that New Zealand's medical services shut down over Christmas and New Year.
Yet he knew the hospital was open on public holidays. In the hours before Annette Bouwer's death, Bouwer was challenged by a laboratory technician who found him in the chemical pathology department looking for needles and test-tubes.
Annette Bouwer was Christian. But her husband told the doctor who ordered a post-mortem that she was Jewish and would have to be cremated the morning after her death. Orthodox Jews, however, do not cremate.
Following Annette Bouwer's death, he gave away her dog and changed the telephone number so that for a time her family in South Africa had no way of contracting them. But if Bouwer was expecting her death to slip easily past a disinterested medical profession or an "incompetent" police force, he was soon disappointed. As the medical and legal pressure began mounting - an autopsy was conducted, no tumour was found, the police couldn't be shaken off - he started to panic.
He e-mailed an associate professor he knew at Monash University in Melbourne, saying he was an expert witness in a case. He wanted to know whether these drugs would be accurately detected in a post-mortem. The reply was that insulin would not be and that he was uncertain about the other drugs showing up unless a test had been specifically ordered. In Annette Bouwer's case it had been and they showed up in lethal amounts. Traces of the drugs were found in a mortar and pestle in the house and in the wastemaster.
Bouwer set out on a clumsy plan to establish an unlikely defence - that he was stockpiling drugs for his own suicide, his wife had found them and used them to kill herself.
Bouwer told his daughter he had prostate cancer, and travelled to South Africa soon after Annette Bouwer's death where he stole medical letterhead from a hospital and falsified details of his condition. He said he had had both testicles removed. He used the lie about having been a tortured political prisoner as reason he could not submit to an examination for his cancer. He shaved his head to give the impression he had been through chemotherapy.
His plan was to show there was a reason why he might have been depressed and stockpiling drugs to commit suicide. And he kept telling friends and family that the police investigation was "a sword hanging over him". They couldn't help wondering why he was so concerned about it if he had nothing to hide.
Finally in September last year he was arrested. Initially his name was suppressed, because only a day before he had been the expert witness in the trial of a railway worker charged with causing the death of a colleague in a train accident. Bouwer was there to outline the mental effects of rostering on train drivers.
Even the police admit they do not know for certain how Bouwer got the lethal dose of drugs into his wife. Her food and drink remain the chief possibility, especially as she deteriorated and became reliant on others for sustenance. But less believable evidence was also given that he may have injected them into tampons without disturbing the seal, even though her daughter declared she did not use tampons.
In the end, the fact that lethal doses of drugs her husband was stockpiling were found in her body when she was clearly not suicidal, was enough for the jury.
Like all immigrants, the Bouwers underwent medical examinations before and after arriving in New Zealand, to be sure they would not be an unnecessary drain on our medical system.
No one would have thought about how big a drain Bouwer would turn out to be on the justice system. Not only did his trial last seven weeks, for which lawyers, police and expert witnesses had to travel between Dunedin, Christchurch and South Africa, but after spending a year in jail with no income, Bouwer easily qualified for legal aid, although he has been asked to make a contribution.
It is chilling enough when a husband poisons his wife, and watches her suffering, with such cunning premeditation. There can be no greater personal betrayal. But it is a public betrayal, too, when that man is also a doctor with that profession's power over life and death, a power Colin Bouwer so schemingly abused.
By JAN CORBETT