Wife murdered for money?

2001-10-08 12:00

Christchurch - A Dunedin psychiatrist murdered his wife because he believed it was better for his finances and reputation than dumping her for his mistress, the Crown said in the High Court at Christchurch on Monday.

The trial of South African-born Colin Bouwer, 51, the head of psychiatric medicine for Healthcare Otago, comes just a week after his former wife, Mariette Bouwer, was arrested in Kempton Park and charged as an accomplice to the murder of their daughter-in-law in May 1999.

Colin Bouwer junior, their 27-year-old son, was arrested in May last year for allegedly murdering his wife, Ria (23). Ria Bouwer was found strangled in the couple's home.

In evidence presented to the High Court in Christchurch on Monday, the state claimed that Colin Senior allegedly told a group of Otago medical students in 1999 that "the way to kill someone" was to fake a hypoglycaemic attack by injecting them with insulin, prosecutor Robin Bates said.

Later that year, soon after starting an affair with another Dunedin psychiatrist during an overseas conference, Bouwer began administering a "clever cocktail of drugs", including insulin, to his wife Annette to replicate the hypoglycaemic symptoms of a rare pancreatic tumour, Bates said.

'Bouwer couldn't poison his wife overnight'

"The Crown says Bouwer couldn't poison his wife overnight because too many questions would have been asked. So it was a careful and calculated plan to administer drugs over a period of weeks which created the exact symptoms a tumour would have created," he said.

After two months of ill health, including two hypoglycaemic comas and exploratory surgery that showed no pancreatic tumour, Bouwer's husband allegedly spent January 3-4, 2000, administering to his wife the cocktail of blood-sugar altering drugs.

He left her in a hypoglycaemic state for hours until she died in the early hours of January 5 and then called in a colleague, Andrew Bouwers, to inspect the body and sign the death certificate.

"Dr Bouwers almost - almost - certified death as being caused by undetected insulinoma (tumour in the pancreas). But he didn't," Bates said.

"Had he done so at that point, it's very likely we wouldn't be sitting here today. The matter would have been dealt with on that basis and that would have been the end of it.

Post mortem revealed no tumour

"Bouwers just drew back a little bit and decided that this isn't something he should do at this stage and maybe there should be more investigation."

Dr Bouwers' caution, combined with the suspicions of a pathologist involved in Bouwer's care, prompted a coronial investigation, including a post mortem that revealed no tumour.

A blood test during the early stages of Mrs Bouwer's illness had shown no sign of the cocktail of drugs Bouwer is alleged to have used.

After her death, a more sensitive test of a later sample of her blood revealed significant amounts of two blood-sugar altering drugs and sedatives, prompting the police to launch a homicide inquiry.

'Bouwer had more than enough motives'

Mr Bates said police found "more than enough reasons for Bouwer to cause his wife's death", including:

- Between September 1999 and Bouwer's death, Bouwer had written out 11 false prescriptions, most of which were for the cocktail of drugs found in Mrs Bouwer's blood. The first for blood-sugar altering drugs was four days before Mrs Bouwer's first hypoglycaemic coma and the one the day before her death had been for insulin.

- Bouwer had spoken to colleagues about his "unsatisfactory" marriage, had had a protracted affair with a nurse in Invercargill, and began an affair with a fellow Dunedin psychiatrist a few weeks before Mrs Bouwer became ill. Mr Bates described the timing as "not coincidental".

- Dumping his wife for a work colleague "wouldn't have gone down well with friends, colleagues, and family", and Bouwer had suggested to others that his wife "had something over me" that would make it difficult for him to leave her.

- Bouwer had few assets but stood to gain about R1.05 million from insurance if his wife died.

- Bouwer discussed with the National Poisons Centre the issue of testing for blood-sugar altering drugs before Mrs Bouwer died.

- Intercepted e-mail and telephone conversations between Bouwer and his fellow psychiatrist lover included "expressions of love" and "elaborate scheming" about obtaining a backdated psychiatric report detailing his depression, cancer, and suicidal thoughts at the time of Mrs Bouwer's death; and about using a thank you note from Mrs Bouwer as a suicide note.

- Bouwer obtaining a letterhead from a South African doctor which he used to forge a bogus diagnosis of cancer to bolster his claim of depression.

David More, defending, said the two issues in the trial were whether the drugs were administered to Mrs Bouwer and, if so, whether it was her or the defendant who had done so.

The trial before Justice Panckhurst continues on Tuesday and will involve 179 witnesses. - Sapa/NZPA