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Deborah Gardener, 23, originating from Washington state, a civic minded free spirit who joined the Peace Corps and ended up serving on the island of Tonga.
Oct. 14, 1976, screams rang out from Deborah Gardener's hut. She had been brutally stabbed 22 times by Dennis Priven, another volunteer from the Peace Corps who was jealously obsessed with her. She had been polite to him, but became afraid of him when he refused to understand that his stalking attentions were unwanted.
Deborah had asked to be reassigned to another island and stated her reasons. Mary George denied her request.
The night Dennis murdered Deborah, he had his dive knife, a syringe, a metal pipe, and two jars with cyanide. He had intended a surgical murder. Which meant he would club Deborah with the pipe knocking her unconscious. Then he'd destroy her at his leisure. Deborah had other plans, of staying alive. She fought him, incurring terrible wounds on her hands. Dennis stabbed her 22 times and was dragging her out the door of her hut when her Tongan neighbors rescued her. They brought her to the hospital and doctors did all they could. Sadly, it wouldn't have mattered if the hospital had been a top notch American hospital, her aorta and carotid artery were damaged so terribly.
Dennis Priven fled but was encouraged by a friend to turn himself in. He claimed to have intended to commit suicide, but his wrists only had feeble slashes. He said he had taken an overdose of Darvon as well. He'd also changed his mind about committing suicide.
Dennis Priven manipulated the Tongan justice system to his advantage. Through negotiations and pressure, and assurances the Tongans allowed the U.S. to fly Dennis Priven back home with the caveat that he would be evaluated and placed into a psychiatric institution for treatment. Instead Priven got away with murder and walks free today in the great city of New York, unpunished. He even got a job as systems coordinator in the Brooklyn office of the Social Security Administration!
Deborah Gardener wasn't just murdered, she was denied justice. Justice was first circumvented through the efforts of Mary George, the incumbent Peace Corp head stationed on Tonga at the time. Mary George
deliberately avoided using the word murder in any communications to the Peace Corp or to other officials back in the U.S. government. She also (conveniently) had a "dream" that it was a Tongan who committed the crime and asked Tongan police to drop the murder charges against Priven. She did everything in her power to pry Dennis Priven from the Tongan legal system and set him free.
Deborah Gardener's rights were violated.
CBS NEWS VIDEO - AMERICAN TABOO
Philip Weiss wrote American Taboo, exposing this injustice. He chronicles the events surrounding Deborah's murder, the trial, the machinations of Mary George, the Peace Corps, and how justice was never served.