Hostage tells: How I outfoxed killer Antonie Dixonby Gareth Eyres
In a scene that could have been plucked right out of Taken or Dog Day Afternoon, Ian Miller was held hostage in his Auckland home by the meth-fuelled, gun-wielding Antonie Dixon, who had already left one man dead. Outside the courtroom, he’s never talked publicly about the bizarre night he spent bailed up with a homicidal maniac. He tells his story for the first time to photojournalist – and old friend – Gareth Eyres.
He’d been out to dinner at the Blues Bar in East Tamaki with his partner, Karen Power, and his bank manager. Pro Dive, the water-sports business of which he was a director, was doing well. He owned a partly bush-clad, one-hectare lifestyle block on Inchinnam Rd, Flatbush, high above the new suburbs of southeast Auckland.
Power was a senior flight attendant for Air New Zealand International. After 18 months, their relationship was growing into that comfortable stage. On her non-flying nights, she and Miller would often stay at his house or hers. On this particular night, they were both in Flatbush.
The evening was warm, even at 11pm; warm enough for the couple to sit out on the deck with a glass of chardonnay, and for Power to smoke a last cigarette before bed.
Around the same time, Antonie Dixon was prowling the streets below in a stolen silver Honda Integra. With a customised cut-down .22 semi-automatic in the footwell of his car, he was both armed and dangerous – under the influence of methamphetamine, with a kick of cocaine.
In what is now a well-documented crime spree, he’d that afternoon attacked two women with a samurai sword, cutting off one woman’s hand and leaving the other woman with both her arms partially severed. Stealing the Honda in Hamilton, he then taunted police on his cellphone during a high-speed drive to Auckland. Now, he was on the lookout for more trouble. Dixon had been searching for notoriety for a while, and today was the day he was going to achieve it.
The 34-year-old was already well known to police. He’d been involved in mostly petty crime since the age of 15. His was the life of the small-time criminal with big aspirations. His rap sheet included car theft, burglary, driving offences and receiving stolen goods, with a few assaults thrown in. At the time, he had 160 offences on his police file.
Dixon’s main line of trade was the theft and disposal of high-performance cars. He was associated with a number of gangs through illegal activity, but had never joined their ranks. Dixon wanted to be his own man. The main man.
Strangely, he liked to keep in touch with the police, even when he wasn’t immediately in their sights. A former officer said Dixon would sometimes visit the Howick Police Station in east Auckland – just dropping in for a chat. Perhaps this was linked to his belief that he was under constant surveillance, with the authorities using bugs, satellites and even Boeing 747s to monitor his activities. This paranoia was fuelled by his long-time use of meth, or P. In the year leading up to his night of carnage, Dixon had been advised by police to ease up on his use of the drug, or he’d end up in serious trouble.
After leaving Hamilton and heading for Auckland, Dixon made a number of calls from his car to the police. His taunting that night reached a crescendo when he yelled down the phone, “I’m not going to jail. This is going to be another Aramoana!” The reference was to the 1990 siege in the small Otago village, where 13 people died at the hands of gunman David Gray.
“I’ll go out in a blaze of glory,” Dixon boasted. “Suicide by cop. The Armed Offenders Squad had better be ready…”
The police had issued an all-points bulletin on Dixon. The police Eagle helicopter was in the air, with members of the AOS on board. All South and Central Auckland police who were on call had been summoned, with clear instructions to stop Dixon from turning his Aramoana threat into reality.
Detective Constable Michele Gillespie was one of those called up. Piling out of bed, she responded briskly to the call and headed into Harlech House Police Station in Otahuhu, where she joined other members of Target Squad.
Karen’s daughter, Alana, had been living at Miller’s house on and off over the past couple of months, while sorting out where she was going to live next. This night, though, the couple were alone.
Only a few kilometres away, Dixon was taking a breather at Dunrobin Place in Highland Park – until he confronted three men in a car. James Te Aute, along with his friends Craig Grace and Jackson Lemalu, had spent the evening cruising the streets of Auckland, smoking P. They had just filled up their car at the nearby Caltex station, paying with a stolen credit card. Pulling into Dunrobin Place, they parked close to Te Aute’s sometime associate Steven Matthews, who was sitting in his Ford Telstar. They’d bought the fuel using “hot” plates on the car, and Grace jumped out to change them.
Out of nowhere, a silver Honda pulled up alongside. Winding down the window, the driver began gesticulating and verbally abusing them. Te Aute and Lemalu jumped out of their car and advanced on the Honda. Dixon then reached down below the passenger seat, lifted his laser-sight-equipped .22 and opened fire. On seeing the weapon, Lemalu dropped to the ground. Te Aute spun around and went to run.
“All I could see was gunshots and smoke,” Grace reported afterwards. He called to Te Aute, saying, “Don’t worry, bro, it’s only a BB gun.”
Grace was clearly deceived by the large silencer that had been attached to the gun by Dixon, who was using low-velocity, subsonic rounds. All Grace would have heard was a “cough, cough” sound and the clack of the weapon’s receiver recycling.
In any case, Te Aute couldn’t answer. He lay dying on the tarmac, with blood pouring from his mouth and 10 .22 hollow-point bullets in his back, side and stomach.
Dixon took off, with Matthews in hot pursuit. The two sped down Pakuranga Rd, nearly colliding near Pakuranga Plaza. Again, Dixon lifted his gun. A bullet thunked into Matthews’ door and as he tried to take evasive action, he lost control of the car. Dixon drove on.
People still milling around this string of late-night eateries and gas stations were in mortal danger. Dixon threatened staff and a customer at two petrol stations as he rampaged around southeast Auckland. The laser-sight of his gun flashed red across the forecourts, like a deadly firefly. By now, with reports of his whereabouts coming in thick and fast, the police were closing in.
Bizarrely, in the midst of all this mayhem, Dixon pulled over and offered a stranger a ride. Bradley Kukard, 19, was walking home along Wellington St in Howick after spending the evening with his girlfriend. After he got in the car, Dixon told him he’d just shot and killed a man in Highland Park. Kukard said later: “The guy was wide-eyed and his hands were shaking.” Soon after, Dixon dropped off Kukard, scared but unharmed, close to his home.
The Honda was then spotted by two police officers, who followed it along Kilkenny Drive in Dannemora and down a cul-de-sac. Spinning around, Dixon sped back towards the police car. Once more, his gun’s laser-sight flashed in the dark. The police swerved onto the footpath, taking cover behind a parked car, as Dixon, The Fast and the Furious wannabe, escaped into the night.
Thirty minutes later, at about 1am on Wednesday morning, January 22, Senior Constable David Templeton spotted Dixon in Rialto Court on the flat stretch of Chapel Downs, across a vacant lot. Realising he’d been seen, Dixon took aim and fired. A bullet struck the police car just below where Templeton was sitting. Dixon took off again, followed by Templeton, undeterred by his close shave.
Down Chapel Rd the Honda raced, then uphill along Gracechurch Drive, past the Gracechurch and Point View reserves, and a hard right into Inchinnam Rd, a dead-end street with a handful of small lifestyle blocks at the far end.
Dixon pulled up outside number 7 and ran onto the veranda, but the occupants, Mark and Patricia Glenie, wouldn’t let him in. Patricia dialled 111, while Mark tried to find out who was banging on their front door. “It’s none of your business,” Dixon shouted back. “I’m having a shoot-out with police.”
He then turned and took aim at the police roadblock that had been hastily set up at the end of the road, but his gun misfired. He ejected the round (Mark Glenie found it on his deck the next day) and shot again.
Jumping back in the Honda, Dixon cut the headlights and sped further down the road and into the drive of number 12, where he hauled to a halt on the gravel and flashed his headlights at the police. Leaving the engine on (he’d hot-wired the car in Hamilton and it was easier to let it run), he ran to the closest house – a long, low ranch-style house, with a covered veranda facing west.
Power’s statement makes for chilling reading. At this stage, she was completely unaware of what was about to go down. Flicking on the bedside light, she slipped into her cotton dressing gown and went over to a bedroom door that opens directly onto the deck.
“I unlocked the door at the top and bottom then opened it,” Power told police. “The door opens out towards the right. There was a man standing in the doorway with a gun. I think it was a shotgun.”
By now, Miller had got out of bed and shrugged into a Japanese-style robe. At 188cm (6’2”), he’s taller than most Japanese and the kimono was an imperfect fit, just covering his bum – but he’d always liked wearing it.
“What are you doing?” he heard Power shout. “Get off the property!” Once a kindergarten teacher, she knew how to use her voice for effect.
From here, the recollections of Miller and Power differ slightly, in the confusion of the moment. “Ian must have got up because he was standing behind me,” her police statement continued. “The man took a step inside and I took the opportunity to duck under his left shoulder. As I did that, I pushed the gun aside and I ran.”
However, because her back was to Miller, Power didn’t really know what had happened. In fact, Miller – who was standing behind her – had pushed Power out the door with one hand and grabbed Dixon with the other, pulling him into the bedroom, and forcing up the arm with the gun in the process.
For a few seconds, there was a tense stand-off. Miller, rumpled with sleep and clad in his skimpy robe, versus Antonie Dixon, a criminal jacked on P and cocaine, recent Samurai sword wielder and murderer, gunshot residue still fresh on his hands.
First, the gun. Miller knows guns. He has hunted deer and shot all kinds of game birds for most of his life. Shooting season was inked out in his diary, with weekends full of wet dogs, guns, early mornings and blokey camaraderie.
But this gun was like none he’d seen. “It was a cut-down .22 with a fat silencer and a laser sight on top,” he recalls. “The stock was cut off just behind the pistol grip and rounded off. The barrel was cut down in front of the receiver, like a big pistol, really. I think it was a Savage.” (Savage Arms, a US company, has been making weapons since 1894. They make a wide range of firearms, including a number of .22 rimfire semi-automatics. Miller thought Dixon’s weapon was one of these.)
According to Miller, on some models like this a spring can be removed to turn the semi-automatic rifle (which discharges with every trigger pull and auto-reloads for the next shot) to a full automatic (which keeps shooting until it runs out of ammunition.) That’s how Dixon managed to repeatedly shoot James Te Aute in the back in such a short space of time.
And so Miller found himself staring down the barrel of a machine pistol, six inches from his nose. The red dot of the laser traced ominously across his body.
Miller is a big man – not portly, well built. His hands are large, and they’re fast. A former club squash champion, he has fast-twitch muscle reaction times that go with the sport.
I’ve known him since the late 1970s, when he was a sales rep for Neptune wetsuits and I was into underwater photography, with a weekend rafting business on the side. He joined us on a rafting trip on the Mohaka River, Hawke’s Bay, and we’ve been mates ever since, paddling, diving and sailing around New Zealand and the Pacific. I’ve seen how fast he can move underwater. One moment, a crayfish is sitting half in its lair, feelers inquisitively twitching; next it’s in his catch-bag wondering what’s happened.
Dixon read Miller’s thoughts. “Do as I tell you,” he told him. “I know you think you can take me. You’re bigger than me, so maybe go ahead and try it. But I’ve killed three people tonight and one more won’t make any difference. [He didn’t know the two women he’d attacked with his samurai sword had survived.] I’ve also been in prison and guys bigger than you have tried to take me. I know karate. I don’t give in.”
Miller looked down past the muzzle of the gun at the scarred knuckles. Yes, the man was a fighter. All the signs were there. “Sounds like you’ve had a busy night,” Miller responded, in his laconic way. “You’d best sit down and we’ll have a chat.”
Miller – a man I’ve never seen flustered, even in the most challenging situations – sat on the unmade bed, Dixon still pointing the gun at his head. But the white-hot moment of conflict was diffused. Expecting fight or flight, Dixon was at a loss what to do next.
“I jumped in the car and absolutely floored it,” her police statement records. “I left half the gravel all over the drive. I got only three-quarters of the way up Inchinnam Rd [about 150m] and literally drove into the roadblock that had been set up by police and armed offenders.”
What she didn’t know was that a phalanx of armed police officers were in position at the roadblock, expecting Dixon to be at the wheel. It’s unclear which officer noticed the car was slowing and, in the flare of the lights, saw that a blonde woman was driving it.
“For a few enormously intense seconds, I felt, as they surrounded the car with firearms at the ready, I was about to be shot,” she said in her victim impact statement before Dixon’s sentencing.
Luckily for Power, the police held their fire. After she gave a quick rundown of what was going on at the house, along with a rough layout of the property, she was bundled into a police car and driven to a school about a kilometre away, where the police had set up a command centre.
“On first arriving at the command centre and seeing the set-up already in progress, complete with ambulance, I had such a feeling of terror in realising what a dangerous situation Ian was in. I drew on a whiteboard several maps of the house. When asked which way the doors and windows of the house opened, I knew a storm of the house by armed offenders was pending. When asked for Ian’s next of kin, I felt the panic rise in my chest…”
Power was right. Armed offenders members clad in black coveralls and wearing helmets and flak-vests had swarmed onto the property. They took up positions where they could: under the deck, in Miller’s rose garden, on the roof of the long veranda.
At the command centre, Detective Constable Michele Gillespie took charge of a distraught Power, who she described as “somewhat emotional, knowing her partner was locked in the house with a murderer”.
Power then broke down in tears. Asked if there were any guns in the house, she told Gillespie that Miller had guns he kept in a locked case in the garage.
Wisely, Miller had told Dixon he didn’t own a gun. And as the garage wasn’t connected to the house, the firearms were safe for the time being.
While police positioned themselves around the house, in the master bedroom of 12 Inchinnam Rd the two men were feeling each other out. Dixon ranted about his escapades that day, including his paranoia of being tracked by 747s. A baffled Miller decided to go along with it. His last nightcap had been a healthy measure of Glayva liqueur and, he told me, “I felt quite calm, actually, I was just sitting on the bed listening to this bloke rave on all about what he’d been up to.”
Dixon’s rant was interrupted by the ringing of Miller’s landline phone. It was the police command centre, warning all homes in the area there was a dangerous man on the loose.
“The police called up and said, ‘Lock your doors and windows. There’s an armed man on the run and he’s in your area.’ I replied, ‘You’re a bit late with the call. I’m already entertaining him.’”
Dixon grabbed the phone and briefly spoke to police before putting it down on the bed.
The surprised police command centre hadn’t yet been informed of Dixon’s presence in the house. But after this call, and Power’s subsequent appearance at the command centre, the cops finally knew what they were dealing with. And it didn’t look good.
A police hostage negotiator called the house and asked to talk to the fugitive. Dixon launched into a long diatribe, claiming the police had been hassling him, spying on him, and following him with every 747 that went overhead. He also talked about his relationship with the two women he’d attacked with his sword that afternoon. “It all doesn’t matter anyway,” he told the police negotiator. “I’m not going to see the night out.”
Miller said the police were obviously trying to talk him outside, “but Dixon wouldn’t have a bar of it”.
Observing Dixon’s agitated state, Miller had correctly guessed he was on P. At the trial, he recalled, a witness said Dixon had consumed enough methamphetamine that afternoon to kill a horse. At this point, the drug’s effects were still going strong, and he was highly unstable.
The phone rang “four or five more times”, Miller said, and each time Dixon repeated his paranoia-fuelled rant. After about the fifth call, Dixon told Miller not to answer it anymore. “I’ve had enough of them. I’m sick of this…” He threw the cordless phone back onto the bed and they then let the phone ring.
The two men were still in the master bedroom: Miller sitting on the bed, Dixon on the floor, with the gun in his lap. “I can’t exactly remember what we talked about. He asked me a few questions and I asked him about what had been going on that night.”
A bond was being formed. By talking quietly, Miller was subliminally defusing the situation. His mother, Josie, was a top equestrian, and her skill with strong-minded stallions had worn off on her son. Miller, playing a long game, had clearly taken heed of her advice: “Talk quietly and they’ll slowly come around to your way of thinking.”
Suddenly, Dixon had a brainwave: they’d break out. To confuse the police, he decided they should dress in similar clothes and make a dash for the garage where Miller’s Mitsubishi was parked.
Dixon: “Is there enough gas in the car?”
Miller: “I dunno. Where are we going?”
Dixon: “I’m not sure, but anywhere rather than here.”
The drugs in Dixon’s system made him want to keep him moving. Hyperactive and edgy, he seemed not to be fully aware there was a roadblock 150m from where they sat, or that the house was surrounded by armed police.
One of those armed officers had found a good vantage point in the garden to view the house, and had a sightline on the uncurtained living-room windows. Unfortunately for him, the bird-fancying Miller had put a large pheasant coop there. The officer clipped through the wire and let himself into the coop, joining the sleeping pheasants and bantams perched on roosting branches.
Miller can smile now: “The poor birds must have wondered what the heck was going on, folks climbing around in their coop. It’s not what normally happened round there at that time of night.”
Dixon, meanwhile, rummaged through the wardrobe looking for getaway outfits. But Miller is a pretty casual guy and all Dixon could find that vaguely matched were two tropical-print shirts Miller had bought when we were on a diving trip in Fiji. One was a colourful print of tropical fish, the other parrots and flowers. I bought a few on the same holiday. We call them our “party shirts” and, obviously, we wear them on important social occasions. We still do to this day.
To complete the fit-out were two pairs of Canterbury shorts. “We were then going to walk out the door, stroll to the garage, jump into my little Mitsubishi Sigma and escape in that.”
Miller laughs at the absurdity of it all. “There we’d have been, dressed like two bloody holidaymakers off to the airport, as though we were heading for a sailing holiday in Tonga.”
Miller took more than 10 minutes to talk Dixon out of his “great escape” plan. And he kept chatting – as normally as possible for a man being held hostage by a gunman. Dixon’s drug-fuelled mania was finally dialling down. “We were starting to talk about more rational things, and things were getting more relaxed. In fact, I said, ‘Bugger this, I’m going to have a beer. You can come on down if you want. Do you want a beer?”
Dixon refused the beer – but asked for an orange juice.
By now, they’d been closeted together for about an hour and a half.
Dixon was alarmed when Miller switched on the lights as they walked down the corridor to the kitchen. The living-dining area has large picture windows overlooking the property. The curtains weren’t drawn. Fully illuminated, the two men were in complete view of the police hiding outside. The sniper in the pheasant coop must have searched desperately for a clear shot.
One of the police told Miller later: “We could see you both clearly. We were hoping to get a shot at him through the big window, but the opportunity just didn’t present itself.”
As soon as the pair entered the dining room, Dixon twigged what was going on outside and scuttled into a position with his back to the wall, out of sight of the armed police in the garden. “He had his orange juice and I had a beer. Lion Rouge,” Miller told me, with Gallic intonation, “as you do at bloody three o’clock in the morning when a man has a gun pointed at you.”
He chuckled at the memory. “That brought him more down to earth, really. We just sat and chatted and had our drinks.”
At this point, Miller considered opening one of the ranch sliders and escaping into the garden, but he didn’t want to be mistaken for Dixon and end up being shot by an overzealous Armed Offenders officer.
After about 15 minutes, Dixon felt uncomfortable being so exposed and wanted to head back to the relative shelter of the bedroom. “He crouched down and scurried across the lounge and took me with him down the corridor to the bedroom. By this time, he’d stopped pointing the gun at me. Even before that, when we were in the bedroom, he’d left the gun lying on the bed while he reloaded a couple of his long magazines.”
Miller thought again about snatching the gun, but what if it wasn’t cocked or the safety was on? Things could have gone terribly wrong, and the trust he’d established would have vaporised in an instant.
“We got back to the bedroom and I lay down on the bed. He just sat on the floor in the corner.”
Dixon talked about his childhood (beaten by his mother, chained up with padlocks, dragged to Jehovah’s Witness meetings and told Armageddon was nigh); what an older man had done to him (physical and sexual abuse) and what a rough time he’d experienced. This went on for a couple of hours, the discussion interrupted by the odd unanswered phone call. Finally, Miller – a man not known for putting up with people rabbiting on about their problems – nodded off to sleep.
He woke with a start when Dixon poked him with the rifle: “Hey, you were snoring… you’re supposed to be my hostage, not lying there sleeping.”
Miller has a prodigious snore, especially after he’s had a few drinks. As far as helpless, terrified hostages go, he wasn’t fitting the mould. In fact, he hadn’t felt panicky at all, just biding his time until daylight, when he thought things would be quickly resolved.
Close to dawn, an early-departing 747 thundered overhead (Inchinnam Rd is on the flight path from the airport at Mangere when the wind is in the right direction). “They’ll be listening out for me,” Dixon noted.
The phone rang again. Dixon said, “You can answer that now.”
The police talked to Dixon, who began to get “mellow and morose… he was on his way out at that stage”. At one point, he said to the negotiator, “Ian’s a good bastard. I’m going to let him go.”
“He lay on the floor as he spoke and I could see he was starting to wear down. At the end of the conversation, Tony [they were on first-name terms by then] started crying.
“I said, ‘Come on, put your gun on the bed and let’s go outside.’ He replied, ‘No. You go. I’m probably going to stay here and shoot myself.’”
“No, I’m not going out there without you,” Miller told him. “If I do, they’re going to come in here and shoot you and make a hua of a mess.” Miller grinned at the absurdity of it all. “At this, Dixon smiled and said, ‘Yeah, they probably will.’”
Miller tried again. “You may as well come on out with me because if you’re with me, they won’t shoot you.”
Dixon thought about this for a while and said, “Nah, I can’t decide what I’m going to do yet, so you best go.”
Miller looked at him slumped on the floor, sobbing quietly, then stood quietly and walked out the bedroom door. “See you later,” he said.
It was 6.28, Wednesday morning.
What Miller didn’t know was that armed police had been primed to storm the house two minutes later, at 6.30am.
This was published in the November 2017 issue of North & South.
Shayne Carter’s career has been wild and acclaimed. But his just-released memoir reveals the drama and trauma going on behind the scenes.Read more
Season three of The Handmaid’s Tale packs a punch, despite some implausible scenes, writes Diana Wichtel.Read more
The man accused of the Christchurch terror attacks has pleaded not guilty to all the charges laid against him.Read more
Despite overdue efforts to improve Parliament's culture, political biffo will always be with us.Read more
Transport officials’ enthusiasm for a sweeping lowering of speed limits looks set to go the way of the once-proposed ban on cats in dairies.Read more
New Zealanders who feel they've done nothing wrong have found themselves under surveillance by the state and say they've been left nervous.Read more
Epic drama captures an artist navigating the upheavals of Nazi and post-war Germany.Read more