Viv Mason spent only 100 minutes with her "lover" before he was executed by lethal injection.
With two-and-a-half years of emotional letter writing behind them, she met convicted killer Karl Eugene Chamberlain at the Allan Polunsky Unit, in Livingston, about 90km north of Houston, Texas.
Standing in separate metre-square cells, with Chamberlain handcuffed and dressed in white overalls, the pair talked on phones, separated by thick glass.
They pressed palms together and said their last goodbyes just before noon on June 11. Chamberlain's parting words were "love you, love me". Six hours later he ate a final meal and was executed.
The 37-year-old Oklahoma man had been on death row for more than a decade after killing his 30-year-old neighbour, Felicia Prechtl, in August 1991.
Texas newspapers reported he taped her hands and feet, before raping and shooting her.
Viv, 34, decided to research death row prisoners on the internet after watching a documentary more than two years ago. She was "intrigued" by Chamberlain's website requesting penfriends and wrote to him for friendship and fun.
About a year ago they "fell for each other", reading poetry and weekly letters _ "keeping New Zealand Post in business", she joked.
It was then she started carrying around his prison photo in her wallet with the message penned on the back, "To my darling Viv, Love Karl."
They found common ground in motorbikes, music, animals, travel and jokes.
Viv said she wanted the public to know she wasn't a "nutter", just a girl from Whakatane who moved to the Waikato and unexpectedly fell for a "friend".
The couple's love came to light through a death notice placed in a handful of papers last week.
Viv described Chamberlain as her "best friend, soul mate and the better part of me". She thanked him for sharing his sorrows and joys and allowing her into his life. She signed off, "Miss you, love you, love me forever please, Viv."
With tears streaming down her face, Viv yesterday explained how she came to know and love Chamberlain _ and how she took out a $3500 loan so she could see her "partner" just before he died.
The week of the execution was the first and last time they met. Over three days they spent about 100 minutes together and never touched.
Viv wanted to be a witness at the execution _ at Chamberlain's request _ but she was unable to get the paperwork completed in time.
Instead she sat alone in a nearby motel room and cried.
"Karl's mum [Muina Arthur] came to see me after she had finished washing her son's body down _ the first time she had touched her son in 12 years," said Viv.
Chamberlain's mother, his sister Liberty Chamberlain, three chaplains and eight penfriends from around the world, including Viv, saw Chamberlain in his final hours.
Viv got home from her 10-day visit on Tuesday. She wants other Kiwis to petition against the death penalty in Texas because "violence shouldn't solve violence".
Chamberlain admitted to the murder and told his victim's family he was "terribly sorry".
Viv said he had an appalling childhood, and while nothing could condone his crimes, they were "something he did, not who he was".
She even mooted marriage, but Chamberlain was not keen.
He had more than 100 penfriends, including another close girlfriend who was with him on his last day also.
Viv has written to another death rower in the past and may write to another. But, for now, she is holding onto Chamberlain's letters piled in her tidy white bungalow.
One friend told her Chamberlain got "his just deserts". Viv knows other Kiwis will think her friendship unusual, but doesn't care. Other friends and her South Island-based mother have supported her.
Liberty Chamberlain said Viv was "courageous to have taken the risk to know someone like Karl who has so openly been condemned by everyone in America".
On Chamberlain's website lifeforkarl.net there is a section on "Karl's friends worldwide". He did not have access to a phone, email or TV, but had a small radio and was allowed to write letters.
A journalist from The Santa Fe Reporter, Dave Maass, who had written about Chamberlain's execution, said many people worldwide wrote to death rowers.
Many women had flocked to Livingston to be close to the 250 death rowers who live in single cells.
Their "friends" are inmates in cells to the left or right. They "live for" the letters they received from people on the outside, usually opponents of the death penalty.