July 4, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Crime: Murder: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Cleveland Plain Dealer: Peace Corps volunteer is slain in Tonga

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Special Report: 'American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps': July 4, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Crime: Murder: Safety and Security of Volunteers: Cleveland Plain Dealer: Peace Corps volunteer is slain in Tonga
American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps

Charges possible in 1976 PCV slaying Charges possible in 1976 PCV slaying
Congressman Norm Dicks has asked the U.S. attorney in Seattle to consider pursuing charges against Dennis Priven, the man accused of killing Peace Corps Volunteer Deborah Gardner on the South Pacific island of Tonga 28 years ago. Background on this story here and here.
American Taboo American Taboo
Read the story of Volunteer Deborah Gardner's murder in Tonga in 1976 and how her killer has been free for the past 28 years with the help of the Peace Corps. Read an excerpt from Philip Weiss' book documenting the murder and coverup. Then read an essay by RPCV Bob Shaconis who says that Peace Corps' treatment as a "sacred cow" has exempted it from public scrutiny and that the agency has labored to preserve its shining reputation, sometimes at the expense of the very principles it is supposed to embody.

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-141-157-22-73.balt.east.verizon.net - on Sunday, July 04, 2004 - 3:04 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps volunteer is slain in Tonga

Peace Corps volunteer is slain in Tonga

Peace Corps volunteer is slain in Tonga

Peace Corps volunteer is slain in Tonga

"American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps," by Philip Weiss (HarperCollins, $25.95), is a disturbing account of the murder of Peace Corps volunteer Deborah Gardner by another volunteer in Tonga on Oct. 14, 1976.

Weiss first heard the story in 1978, while on a backpacking trip in Samoa, and it stayed with him, snagging some edge of his imagination until he knew he had to tell the story. He starts with the beginnings of the Peace Corps, with the idealistic hopes and dreams that fueled its founding.

The rigors of Peace Corps life, however, were tough. Volunteers lived as the people in their host countries lived, went through a tough selection process, and many were sent home, unsuited to the life abroad.

Deborah Gardner, a free spirit from Steilacoom, Wash., joined the Peace Corps and went to the kingdom of Tonga. There, the gorgeous 23-year-old who taught high school biology soon became an object of desire. Fellow volunteer Dennis Priven developed an obsession with her, though she tried to rebuff his attentions. On the night of her murder, Priven turned himself in, only to face a trial by the Tongan government. Then, strangely, many of the Peace Corps volunteers rallied around Priven, some of them believing that since they could no longer help Deborah Gardner, they should help Dennis Priven.

It was the first murder in Tonga in seven years. Tongan officials found themselves hard-pressed to conduct a murder investigation, and the Americans seemed more intent on avoiding controversy in an election year than finding justice. But all knew that Priven was guilty, and when he was sent home to the United States, supposedly remanded to a psychiatric institution, he walked away a free man.

Weiss unravels his story, following one lead after another, spurred on by Deborah Gardner's father, Wayne, from whom the young woman was estranged. Haunted by his own failures, Gardner wanted his daughter's story told at last.

Weiss meets Gardner's fellow volunteers, requests government documents and unravels the bureaucracy that led to a miscarriage of justice. He gives readers a sense of the heady mix of freedom and responsibility of a group of young adults thrown together in an exotic setting, all drawn there for personal reasons.

And finally he meets Priven, who has found work with the Social Security Administration.

"No one forgets his first foreign country," Weiss writes in the dramatic opening of this book. "The light, the architecture, the way they do their eggs. Red money. The dreamy disorientation. The smell of aviation fuel."

And no one will ever forget Deborah Gardner now, nor the conflict of ideals and hard realities that fueled the controversy over what constituted justice for her death. "American Taboo" is a kind of love story, the love of a writer for an idea, for the truth.

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Story Source: Cleveland Plain Dealer

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Tonga; Crime; Murder; Safety and Security of Volunteers



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