WARNING: This article contains graphic content
Lauren Anne Dickason allegedly murdered her three young daughters just minutes after her husband left their Timaru home to attend a work dinner.
She gathered the little girls in a room and then smothered them to death one by one.
The 42-year-old has admitted killing 6-year-old Liané, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla on September 16, 2021.
However, she denies it was murder and is mounting a defence of insanity or infanticide, claiming that at the time she killed the children, she was severely mentally disturbed and did not know what she was doing was morally wrong.
Dickason is facing three charges of murder and her trial began at the High Court in Christchurch today before Justice Cameron Mander.
Jury selection began at 11am and Crown Prosecutor Andrew McRae opened the case against Dickason this afternoon.
Until today much of the detail about how the children were killed has been suppressed.
Once McRae outlined the allegations against Dickason for the jury in open court, some of that information could be published.
‘She acted methodically’
The court heard Dickason and her husband emigrated from South Africa after he accepted a job at Timaru Hospital.
They spent time in managed isolation and were released on September 11, 2021.
The day the girls died Graham Dickason left home at 7pm to attend a work function, leaving his wife alone with the girls.
McRae said soon after Dickason used cable ties to try and asphyxiate the girls.
“When they failed to die by way of the cable ties being applied, the defendant smothered the girls with their blankets before she made an attempt on her own life,” he revealed.
Graham Dickason found his children dead in their beds when he arrived home just before 10pm.
“There is no doubt in this case that the defendant was responsible for killing her own children - the issue is whether she intended to kill the children in anger … frustration … or resentment for how they were getting in the way of her relationship,” McRae said.
He said it was likely Dickason was “suffering from a major depressive episode” but the Crown believed she knew what she was doing and intended to kill her daughters.
“She knew what she was doing before, during and after - she acted methodically … even clinically.
“There is no medical evidence here.”
McRae said Dickason was diagnosed with an intermittent mood disorder some years ago and set high standards for herself, struggling with perfectionism.
She struggled to get pregnant and turned to fertility specialists to have children.
She lost one baby before she gave birth to Liane. The process, naturally, caused extreme stress for both Dickason and her husband.
Dickason struggled to parent the little girl due to mental health struggles. Her state eventually improved and the couple went on to conceive the twins.
Soon after that, they decided they wanted to move to New Zealand, the court heard.
In the lead-up to the move, Dickason began to struggle again with her mental health.
By March 2021, Dickason was controlling her mental health issues with a lifestyle and health plan and was off medication for the first time in 12 years.
She often commented to friends about the impact the children had on her life and her relationship with her husband.
“She felt that the children favoured Dr Dickason and the Crown says she was resentful for that,” McRae said.
There were a number of delays in the family moving to New Zealand including the children contracting Covid - which the couple had been working hard to avoid.
That caused even more stress to Dickason.
“That process of moving their life was arduous … the organisation of moving to one country to another was intense,” McRae said. “The defendant largely organised all of the logistics of the move.”
When they finally arrived in New Zealand they spent the mandatory time in managed isolation. They had two rooms between them and had an hour of exercise allowed each day.
During their MIQ stay, Maya was jumping on a bed and fell, requiring a visit to the doctor and stitches.
McRae said there were no other issues in the isolation facility.
When they arrived in Timaru they settled into their home - a small temporary house near the hospital.
McRae said Dickason’s days were “kept full” organising school uniforms, stationary, bank accounts and other general life admin.
Meanwhile, her husband was “settling in” to his new role.
Liané started school on September 15 and the twins started preschool the next day - the day they were killed.
McRae said Dickason had a lifelong issue with anxiety and perfectionism.
“The unpredictable nature of children clashed strongly with that … the defendant was angry at her children … for not listening and for jumping on the couch.
“The pressure she was under made her snap - the anger was bubbling over … she was resentful at the way the children got in the way of her relationship with her husband.”
Cellphone records obtained during the police investigation gave an insight into Dickason’s anger towards her kids.
“The number of these messages and the type of messages … along with internet searches and her statement to police … ultimately what she has admitted to the children shows a relationship with the children was loving at times and fraught at others.
“The message shows Mrs Dickason harboured resentment and anger towards her children when they were misbehaving.”
One message from when Liané was young highlighted that further.
Dickason messaged a friend saying she was going to start the child on augmentin because she was keeping her mother awake at night.
“She moans all the f**king time,” Dickason before referencing strangling the child.
In another message, she said: “I’m afraid one day I will smack her too hard”.
She spoke of screaming so loud at the children after the twins were born that Liané became scared of her.
She also spoke about her difficulties having three young children to another person seeking advice on having more babies.
She said with three children she was “outnumbered” and spoke of the financial and other pressures.
“Three kids has really killed all the passion and a lot of the happiness,” she said.
Dickason spoke on a number of other occasions about her frustrations during lockdowns including this message when further restrictions were about to be announced in South Africa.
“I can’t anymore - I’m afraid I’m going to take out my whole family if they announce this tonight,” she said.
In a number of messages, Dickason also spoke of the difficulties she had raising the twins and how she often had no time for her older daughter.
On one occasion a friend asked her what Netflix show she was watching and Dickason replied, and said it was, “very good - otherwise I’m just trying not to murder the twins”.
She also spoke of murdering the twins or all three children in various other messages including:
“It feels like my fuse is so short... I want to explode over the smallest things.”
“I regularly want to smack mine but Graham stops me.”
McRae said messages to her best friend the night before the girls die were “revealing” and “a chief indicator” of what was running through Dickason’s mind.
“Our kids are driving us crazy, they are wild, cheeky and disobedient. Graham and I are run down.”
They spoke about a couple they knew who had separated as a result of stress with their children.
“I would rather divorce my children,” Dickason wrote.
“I wish I could give them back and start over, I would decide differently.”
The jury also heard how Dickason searched the internet while still in South Africa about drugs that could be used to overdose children.
McRae said that was evidence Dickason “had thoughts about killing her children” long before the fatal act.
The terrible day - inside the alleged triple murder
McRae then went into further detail about the alleged murders.
While he spoke Dickason sat with her eyes closed. The day the girls died the couple took them to their respective schools together.
Graham Dickason went to work and his wife stayed home organising the family’s new life. She picked the children up just after 3pm and took them for a walk through the Timaru gardens and to the playground.
At 7pm, Graham Dickason left home to attend a work function.
“That left the defendant at home with her three children, she knew that Mr Dickason would be out of the house for at least two hours or longer,” said McRae.
“Around 20 minutes later the defendant went into the garage and retrieved a packet of cable ties.
“The defendant got the children together in a bedroom and told them that they were going to make necklaces.
“The defendant attached the cable ties together and tightened them around the children’s necks.
“Realising that the cable ties were insufficient to cause suffocation, the defendant placed a towel over the children’s heads and smothered them.”
She killed Karla, then Liané and Maya. She then took drugs before trying to cut her wrists.
The knife was too blunt and she only made a superficial cut.
Dickson then took more pills. When her husband came home he found his wife in the kitchen acting strangely.
He ran to check the children and was confronted with his three little girls unresponsive in their beds.
He tried to cut the cable ties and revive the children and in a panic, called his colleague for help.
When the colleague arrived he found Graham Dickason in considerable distress and called 111. Dickason was rushed to hospital and McRae said when she woke up later she was “in shock and horror and surprised to be alive”.
When interviewed by police Dickason said the children were wild and did not listen to her.
“Last night something just triggered me,” she said.
“I had been thinking about it before but I was trying to find a way to ease the pressure.”
She said she killed Karla first because the child had been being particularly mean to Dickason in the lead-up to the night. She said emigrating had shown her she did not know her children and she missed the days before she was a mother.
Defence lawyer Kerryn Beaton KC also gave a short opening statement to the jury.
She said a full defence opening would occur later in the trial, but she wanted them to know Dickason was a loving mother and wife who went through 17 rounds of IVF to have her daughters.
“And yet she killed them … and it was violent and it was prolonged. But afterwards she put them in their beds, tucked them in with their soft toys.
“This is brutal and confronting. You will be rightly shocked and horrified…but the truth is that Lauren Dickason… wanted those children very much and she loved her family.”
Beaton said when Dickason killed the girls she was suffering a severe breakdown in her mental health.
“Not only did she think she had to kill herself, she thought she had to take the girls with her,” she said.
Beaton said Dickason had raised fears with her husband and health professionals about thoughts of killing the girls.
She said Dickason was “not a bad person” and by the time of the alleged murders she was “very unwell”.
“But tragically no one realised how unwell she was until it was too late,” she said.
Beaton will elaborate more on Dickason’s mental state and history after the Crown case closes.
She rejected the Crown’s portrayal of her client.
“If she just wanted more time with her husband, then why try and kill herself?” she said. “Lauren was in such a dark place, so removed from reality, so disorder in her thinking... that when she decided to kill herself that night she thought she had to take the girls with her.”
Jury selection began at 11am, with Dickason present in court.
She was quiet and calm as the charges were read to her and as Justice Mander outlined the basic facts of the case to prospective jurors.
“The case is about the deaths of three little children ... unavoidably there must be evidence traversing what happened to the children,” he said.
“That evidence, while necessary, is likely to be challenging.”
Her trial is scheduled to run for two weeks and the jury will hear from a number of experts about whether they believe Dickason was insane at the time of the killings, as well as her husband and other family members.
The jury will also see videos of Dickason and her husband being interviewed by police shortly after the girls died.
Justice Mander this afternoon outlined the jury’s responsibility and warned them that they had to make their decision based on the facts of the case alone.
He said it was crucial that they did not carry out their own investigation and research during the trial - and that it was an offence to do so.
And he reminded them they were not to discuss the case outside their number.
“It’s very important to keep an open mind, to listen to all the arguments and to listen to my summing up before reaching any conclusions,” Justice Mander said.
“Often in criminal trials feelings of prejudice and sympathy are aroused… it is at times difficult to stand aloof but you must endeavour to do so.
“You must not allow your judgement to be swayed… you need to remain entirely objective no matter how difficult that may be.”
Justice Mander said the jury needed to be dispassionate and not let their emotions get in the way of them assessing the evidence objectively and analytically.
He briefly outlined the defence of insanity and infanticide and said the jury would hear a breadth of evidence about each of those.
He said those matters would be central to the case.
‘It is for the Crown to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this is not a case of infanticide,” he said.
Dickason appeared calm during the first day of her trial, speaking only once to confirm her pleas.
When each charge of murder was read to her by the registrar she responded with a quiet “not guilty”.
Members of both Dickason and Graham Dickason’s families have travelled to Christchurch from South Africa for the trial.
They were shown through the courtroom before proceedings started today, supported by police who worked on the investigation into the death of the children.