The epilogue that sheds light on Antonie Dixon's dark deeds

by Gareth Eyres / 16 December, 2017

Karen Power at home in 2007 with Sisi, a fallow deer.

EPILOGUE

The events that began that day with Antonie Dixon violent actions at the sleepy Hauraki Plains village of Pipiroa cast long shadows – and shed some light.

We look at how those affected by his actions have fared.

  • A YouTube slideshow in memory of James Te Aute was uploaded on April 7, 2008. The amateur clip shows images of the young boy and his family, along with the adult Te Aute posturing for the camera. It’s titled “South Syde’z finest Thug Life Presentation”. A comment posted by Aria Te Aute notes: “Yes! That was my dad:( he got murded :(”

    Julie Cropley, mother of Te Aute’s three children, spoke about her partner’s murderer at the trial.

    “There are no words I have for the guy. I hate him. Full stop.”

Julie Cropley (right), partner of murdered man James Te Aute, sheds tears outside the Auckland High Court in 2005.

  • Antonie Dixon, who was arrested at the scene, was reported by police to be sobbing. “Those fuck’n girls win again,” he told them while being cuffed. “Fuck, I chopped them up good, fuck’n sluts.”

    At his first trial, Dixon was convicted of murder and a host of other charges, including kidnapping. For the murder, he was sentenced to life imprisonment with 20 years’ minimum no-parole. He appealed, his key argument being the judge did not properly instruct the jury on the law relating to insanity.

    The Court of Appeal overturned his conviction; a retrial in 2008 ended with a second guilty verdict. In February 2009, the night before his scheduled re-sentencing, Dixon was found dead in his cell at Auckland Prison. The next morning, it was reported that the 40-year-old had died of self-inflicted injuries.
  • Dixon’s girlfriend, Renee Gunbie, lost her left hand after the ferocious sword attack. She stayed in touch with criminal elements and struck up a relationship with Michael Waipouri, who in March was convicted of the murder of Lance John Murphy in December 2015. Gunbie’s brother, Steven, also went on trial but was found not guilty on related charges of being an accessory to murder, and kidnapping.

Michele Gillespie on the West Coast’s Old Ghost Road, with Phil Rossiter, who helped forge the back-country cycle trail and tramping track.

  • Former Dixon girlfriend Simonne Butler had both her hands reconnected after marathon surgery efforts. She went on to write a book of her experience and road to recovery, Double-Edged Sword. Published last November, it’s a finalist in the 2017 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Non Fiction. Butler is now a self-proclaimed “medicine woman, spiritual counsellor, naturopath, speaker and activist”.

  • For many years after, flight attendant Karen Power struggled with the events of that night. Outwardly, she brushed it off, but after a few drinks she’d bring up the subject and talk about it at length.

    The Dixon affair was just another heavy stone in the bag of problems she hid from the world. She kept a folder full of press clippings on the case in a box in her wardrobe, along with her victim impact statement. It read, in part: “Every morning, I had all the doors open (around the house) in case I had another intruder, and this way I had many options of escape. This has abated, but I still cannot stand to be hemmed in.”

    Imagine Power in her job; in a plane full of strangers for more than 12 hours at a stretch, in an aluminium tube 36,000ft above the ground. No windows to open, no plan of escape there. The stress was something she admitted to later as she struggled getting back into her work.

    “I now drive with my doors locked both day and night. At petrol stations, especially evening fill-ups, I am more vigilant about my surroundings and persons in the immediate area.

    “What this has brought home to me is that you do not have to be involved in the criminal scene to be suddenly involved in the most horrendous events just by going about your day-to-day business.”

    In 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was successfully treated, but during following check-ups her doctors detected the onset of rheumatoid arthritis. While there is no cure, the disease can be managed with drug therapy. Her specialist also advised her to stop drinking and smoking. But by this time, Power was getting through a bottle of wine a day.

    Her relationship with Miller became brittle and the couple grew apart. One evening in early January 2013, Ian and I chatted on the phone. He was going fishing the next day and I asked him to call and let me know how he’d got on.

    He rang me the following evening. “I’ve just come home and things aren’t good,” he said, in his quiet way. “Karen has killed herself.”

    On the previous evening, Power had drunk late into the night, then taken an overdose. Miller discovered her body in the spare bedroom when he arrived home that evening. She was a few days away from her 53rd birthday.

Ian Miller diving in Doubtful Sound.

  • Detective Sergeant Michele Gillespie has 22 years in the force and, while the job is still very important, her perspective on life has changed. She sees the five years she worked on the Dixon case, from 2003 to the conclusion of the second trial in 2008, as a pivotal time in her life. “It was my first big trial; I had to gather all the information. It was really important to me; it was the trial that gripped the nation at the time.”

    Gillespie’s task was to help secure a guilty verdict, and make sure there was no loophole through which he could escape. Her diligence could have cost Gillespie her life. Prison monitoring captured a phone call from Dixon to known associates in the Mongrel Mob. He asked if they knew of some members who would get Gillespie and “murder her, cut her into little pieces”. There were also threats of a sexual nature.

    The Topaz squad moved in to ensure her safety. It’s there to protect police officers who have had threats made against them. They instructed her on counter-surveillance techniques while driving to and from home, installed a full alarm system in her house and gave her advanced lessons in hand-to-hand combat.

    Even from jail, Dixon’s psychopathic nature reached out to touch those involved in the case. “After the trial, Karen would ring me late at night,” recalls Gillespie. “She’d talk for hours about the case. It was clear she had been deeply affected by it.”

    After Power and Miller asked her to house-sit while they were on an overseas trip, she developed a close relationship with the couple.

    “I think until then I’d been wary of getting involved with victims, but Ian and Karen were so open and obviously really grateful for what the police had done for them, by staying in touch and keeping them informed about how things were going. We became good friends.”

    It was nearly 10 years after the Dixon crime that Power took her life. “Karen’s death hit me really hard,” says Gillespie. “I knew them both well by then, and through the trial process I knew Karen’s family, as well.”

    Power’s death happened not long after Gillespie’s father had died. “Up until that time, I would work every hour under the sun. My job was my life. The loss of Dad and Karen gave me a kick up the butt. I had to change my work-life balance – get out more, take a break from the job and live for the day.”

    When Gillespie heard Dixon had taken his life in jail, in 2009, the first people she called were Ian and Karen. The sense of relief was enormous.

    “The world is a safer place without Dixon in it,” she says. “It sounds tough, but it’s the truth. It gives me a personal level of comfort knowing he won’t be back, especially after all he had done. I could sleep safely in my bed at night. It was over.”

Miller at home with his adopted daughter Amy, 11, and Ellie the dog.

  • And so to Ian McGregor Miller. Hostage. Survivor. He’s not the kind of bloke to throw his hands in the air and say in a shrill voice, “Oh, my God, that was life-changing!” then go out and get a couple of self-help books.

    And yet quietly, methodically and in his own way, he made some quite big changes.

    First, he cast about looking for a place to buy. Somewhere with a bit of land he could put his mark on. He found a block at Omaha Flats – not far from the beach, close to the boat ramp – that ticked all the boxes. He also had a few ready-made friends in the area, including me and my partner Kate.

    He built a large, American-style barn with accommodation and living space on one side, and a two-bay area to park his boats, tractors and a vintage 69 Mustang, along with the rest of his toys. He dug lakes and drains, planted natives and palms, installed large coops for his beloved pheasants and bantams, and got himself a new hunting dog, Zena. He and Power moved in together permanently in 2005.

    He sold his share of Pro Dive, and the house in Inchinnam Rd. He left Auckland in his wake and didn’t look back.

    Three fallow deer arrived on the block. A deer compound was built, and the flighty animals would come to Power’s call as she shook an ice-cream container of deer nuts, which they ate from her hand.

    From the outside, one would have said the couple wanted for nothing. There was plenty of seafood to be caught, good wine to be had and friendships shared. Power’s staff flight discounts ensured there was no shortage of overseas travel.

    It’s difficult to imagine what Miller thought and felt when his partner took her life. Being the private chap he is, he hasn’t really said much about it. Nothing could be done except to perhaps learn from the loss.

    Miller had never had kids. Having been a friend since the 80s, I know he’d have been a great dad and taught them all the right stuff: to ski, fish, dive, get into the outdoors, and be practical, steady and honest.

    Sometimes you get what you deserve in life, if you wait long enough. Miller got to know Tomarcelle Adams, a personal banker at a local Warkworth bank. Tom (as she’s known) was a single mum of two girls, Anna, nine, and Amy, five. Miller opened his heart to all three of them, and in time they moved into the house at Omaha Flats. Ian and Tom got married on Niue on July 19, 2014.

    Ian Miller, now a busy, late-life dad, breeds parrots, pheasants and odd-looking bantam hens. The deer are still in the compound and get tamer as the years go by, running for their deer nuts when you shake the ice-cream container. The lifestyle block has reached maturity, with Miller’s landscaping and additions looking as though they belong – the sign of a good landscape gardener.

    Karen Power is not forgotten. On the second anniversary of her death, a group of us gathered at the house and interred some of her ashes beneath two young kauri saplings Ian had chosen to plant alongside the bird coops.

    The trees are growing strong and straight not far from the house. You get the feeling everything is going to be all right.

This was published in the November 2017 issue of North & South.

 

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