November 2, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Crime: Murder: Safety and Security of Volunteers: VOA: Murder in the Peace Corps

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Tonga: Special Report: 'American Taboo: A Murder in the Peace Corps': November 2, 2004: Headlines: COS - Tonga: Crime: Murder: Safety and Security of Volunteers: VOA: Murder in the Peace Corps
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) ( - on Saturday, November 06, 2004 - 2:41 pm: Edit Post

Murder in the Peace Corps

Murder in the Peace Corps

Murder in the Peace Corps

Murder in the Peace Corps
By Ed Warner
2 November 2004
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Since its founding in 1961, the Peace Corps has sent 170,000 Americans to developing countries around the world offering help in projects ranging from housing to health to education
President Kennedy

On March 1, 1961, President Kennedy issues an Executive Order creating the Peace Corps. (C. Peace Corps)
to agriculture. Generally, they have adapted well to the countries they serve and have made solid contributions. But there was a notable exception in 1976 when one volunteer murdered another on a South Pacific island, and the crime was lost to memory until an enterprising writer decided to investigate it.

Backpacking in the South Pacific in 1978, Philip Weiss first heard of a rather mysterious Peace Corps murder in the island kingdom of Tonga. As the years passed, more details emerged and finally in 2000 Mr. Weiss went to see the mother of the young woman who had been murdered.

He was shocked to learn she had not been told her daughter's killer had escaped punishment and was living undisturbed in New York city with a good salary. "Meeting her and realizing that she had no clue about what had happened to her daughter's killer, that the Peace Corps kept
American Taboo book cover
Author Philip Weiss spent four years researching his book on Deb Gardner's murder.
her in the dark, made me angry and that is what determined me to write this book," he says.

After exhaustive research and dozens of interviews of Americans and Tongans, Mr. Weiss pieced together the murder and its aftermath in his book, American Taboo, also the subject of a recent documentary on the CBS television network.

The story begins in 1975 with the arrival of a group of Peace Corps volunteers in Tonga; among them Deborah Gardner, 23, pretty, vivacious and fun loving. The male volunteers took notice, especially Dennis Priven, brooding and rather tightly wound who always wore a six-inch hunting knife in his belt. His attentions made Deb Gardner uneasy, and she eventually asked for a transfer from Tonga.

There were ample warnings of the tragedy to come. Apparently obsessed with Ms. Gardner, Priven suggested putting a listening device in her small house or stealing her car. "This isn't Russia, Dennis," another volunteer cautioned. But the group supervisor, Mary George, a former fashion model and Capitol Hill lobbyist, did not seem concerned.

Then one night Mr. Priven entered Deb Gardner's house, unsheathed his knife and stabbed her 22 times. Her death was lingering and painful. There was no question who did it. Priven was observed at the crime scene and left behind plenty of traces. If there was ever an open-and-shut case, writes Mr. Weiss, this was it. But it didn't turn out that way.

The cover-up began at once, says the author. Trying to defend both Priven and her Tonga program, Mary George suggested some Tongan might have been the killer. The word "murder"
Flag of Tonga
Tonga's justice system was no match for the Americans with their mysterious jargon.
was avoided in Peace Corps communications, and a psychiatrist and attorney were provided from overseas. In the ensuing trial, writes Mr. Weiss, the baffled Tongans were no match for the Americans with their mysterious jargon. Priven was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

While locked up, Priven had wondered if the incident would affect his career, but in fact, he didn't have much to worry about. Though he was supposed to be committed to a mental hospital in the United States, a psychiatrist ruled he was no danger to society, and so he landed a job with the Social Security administration in Brooklyn, where he remains to this day.

Patrick Hogan, associate Peace Corps director for Safety and Security, says the law was followed in the case, although many documents pertaining to it are no longer available. He says the crime was horrific and the pain of the Gardner family unimaginable. "We are a small organization, and it is very family like," he says. "To lose a family member, even many years ago, fills us with a profound sense of sadness, and the fact that the death was caused by another member of the family just compounds the sadness. And that sadness does not really diminish with time."

Philip Weiss thinks the U.S. Government still has something to answer for and hopes his book will lead to a long-deferred investigation of the case. At least, he believes he has been able to bring some resolution to the Tongans.

"The people there I think are very gratified that their efforts to find justice for Deb Gardner against the U.S. Government, actually, have been honored," he says. "While they did not do the best job of prosecuting Dennis Priven, they tried their guts out and were overwhelmed by the American government, which just wanted the incident to go away."

Associate Peace Corps Director Hogan says such a mishap could never occur again. There would be an immediate investigation and an ombudsman would be assigned to the family of any Peace Corps volunteer in harm's way. And the family would be kept informed on a regular basis.

While interviewing people with some knowledge of the case, Mr. Weiss found several who would not discuss it, Dennis Priven among them. "He has disconnected his phone and he has declined all comment," he says. "When I sent him a copy of the book, as I promised him, it came back with a giant sticker on it saying: ‘Refused.’"

But if Mr. Priven will not talk, Mr. Weiss expects others will after reading his book and perhaps finally bring some justice to the murdered Peace Corps volunteer.

When this story was posted in November 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Your vote makes a difference Your vote makes a difference
Make a difference on November 2 - Vote. Then take our RPCV exit poll. See how RPCV's are voting and take a look at the RPCV voter demographic. Finally leave a message on why you voted for John Kerry or for George Bush. Previous poll results here.
Kerry reaches out to Returned Volunteers Kerry reaches out to Returned Volunteers
The Kerry campaign wants the RPCV vote. Read our interview with Dave Magnani, Massachusetts State Senator and Founder of "RPCVs for Kerry," and his answers to our questions about Kerry's plan to triple the size of the Peace Corps, should the next PC Director be an RPCV, and Safety and Security issues. Then read the "RPCVs for Kerry" statement of support and statements by Dr. Robert Pastor, Ambassador Parker Borg, and Paul Oostburg Sanz made at the "RPCVs for Kerry" Press Conference.

RPCV Carl Pope says the key to winning this election is not swaying undecided voters, but persuading those already willing to vote for your candidate to actually go to the polls.

Take our poll and tell us what you are doing to support your candidate.

Finally read our wrap-up of the eight RPCVs in Senate and House races around the country and where the candidates are in their races.

Director Gaddi Vasquez:  The PCOL Interview Director Gaddi Vasquez: The PCOL Interview
PCOL sits down for an extended interview with Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez. Read the entire interview from start to finish and we promise you will learn something about the Peace Corps you didn't know before.

Plus the debate continues over Safety and Security.
Schwarzenegger praises PC at Convention Schwarzenegger praises PC at Convention
Governor Schwarzenegger praised the Peace Corps at the Republican National Convention: "We're the America that sends out Peace Corps volunteers to teach village children." Schwarzenegger has previously acknowledged his debt to his father-in-law, Peace Corps Founding Director Sargent Shriver, for teaching him "the joy of public service" and Arnold is encouraging volunteerism by creating California Service Corps and tapping his wife, Maria Shriver, to lead it. Leave your comments and who can come up with the best Current Events Funny?
 Peace Corps: One of the Best Faces of America Peace Corps: One of the Best Faces of America
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and can you come up with a Political Funny?

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: VOA

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



By ehuson ( - on Wednesday, December 06, 2006 - 1:15 pm: Edit Post

Yada Yada Yada

Some quotes:

"Patrick Hogan, director of security for the Peace Corps today, begs off answering questions about this case. He says records are too incomplete to pass judgment.

To the extent that the Peace Corps of 28 years ago did not bear its responsibilities, that is most regrettable," says Hogan. "We are very sorry for the pain caused the Gardner family."

He insists that today, the family would have the support of a very different Peace Corps

(He) says such a mishap could never occur again. There would be an immediate investigation and an ombudsman would be assigned to the family of any Peace Corps volunteer in harm's way. And the family would be kept informed on a regular basis."

Like I say, big talk and no action. I can see that in the years that have passed, nothing, nothing has changed. If the book had not been published, would the parents of Deborah Gardner still not know that her killer has been free all these years?

It is obvious that these cynical statements are no less trustworthy than Dennis Priven himself, for if the administration was truly committed to the safety of its volunteers, how could they STILL maintain the stonewalling, whitewashing and complete evasion of responsibility for conspiring to let a vicious murderer go free.

When the day comes that they, and no other, make even the slightest effort to bring this killer to justice, or even to ask that justice be done, then I will believe their committment. Until that day, their silence is not only a vile insult to Deborah Gardner and to her family, but an insult to the people of Tonga and especially to the ideals and volunteers of the Peace Corps.

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