PALMERSTON NORTH, MANAWATU. On the 25 August 1996, a letter came across the desk of Detective Constable Brent Garner. Brent opened the letter and began reading, “COP, you drew the straw. Chapter 1 starts. You will die, I guarantee. The Executioner.”
Visit www.truecrimenz.com for additional information on this case. Including a transcript of this episode, with supporting pictures, sources, and credits.
Hosted by Jessica Rust
Written and edited by Sirius Rust
“Colorless Aura”, “Day of Chaos”, “Decisions”, “Gloom Horizon”, “Irregular”, “March of the Mind”, “Rising Tide”, “Spacial Harvest”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
The podcast version is the intended way to consume this story but we make a transcript available for those that would rather read instead. This can be found below.
PALMERSTON NORTH, MANAWATU. On the 25 August 1996, a letter came across the desk of Detective Constable Brent Garner. Brent opened the letter and began reading, “COP, you drew the straw. Chapter 1 starts. You will die, I guarantee. The Executioner.”
PART I (VENUS)
21 April 1996, 10.58am. Hastings. 25 year old Police Constable Glen McKibbin made a routine stop of a motorist. McKibbin was speaking to the driver of the Toyota Corolla he had pulled over, when a mustard coloured Ford Falcon pulled up next to Constable McKibbin. The driver of the Falcon was armed with a .22 rifle; he pointed the weapon across the passenger’s seat at the officer.
The rifle was fired, the bullet went through McKibbin’s hard-covered notebook, then his stomach, before penetrating his spine. The officer went down, calling for help via police comms “10/10. I’ve been shot”.
The driver of the Ford sped off a short distance up the road, only to slow down and do a U turn. The Ford and it’s armed driver headed towards the downed officer; taking aim once more – he fired two more shots. The bullets narrowly missed Constable McKibben, hitting the police car instead. The Ford exited the scene. Glen McKibbin lay on the road, awaiting assistance. When assistance arrived; Constable McKibbin had already passed.
Police identified the driver as 43 year old Terrence Thompson, although he had dumped his Ford and escaped into the bush. Police discovered Terrence was on his way to a property he once had owned to evict the occupants. If they resisted, he was prepared to shoot them. Why Constable McKibbin was chosen as his victim was unknown.
A nine week manhunt in the surrounding bushland of Hastings followed. Then on June 24, 1996, 4.45pm. Police were briefed about a possible sighting of Thompson on the outskirts of Havelock North; a suburb of Hastings. An orchard owner spotted someone on his property fitting the description of Terrence Thompson – roasting a recently killed sheep on a campfire.
The Armed Offenders Squad rushed in, yelling “Police, get down, get down, get down!”. Caught by suprise Thompson replied loudly, “Shoot me, shoot me, shoot me, fucking shoot me.”
Terrence was armed with an M1 carbine rifle, he ignored the instructions of the police and pivoted the barrel of his weapon. Police reacted, one officer fired their Glock pistol. The bullet entered Thompson’s chest; piercing his heart – Terrence Thomspon died instantly.
Brent Garner was born on the 10th of October 1964. In 1996, Brent was 32 years old, 12 years married to his wife Sam Garner and already a 13 year veteran of the Police force. Brent and Sam had purchased a home on Oak Crescent in Ashhurst.
Ashhurst was a small community situated about 14km outside of Palmerston North proper, with a total population of approximately 3,000. The Garners moved into the property with their cat and dog, Max. Soon two daughters were born to the family. Brent Garner was described by a neighbour as an, “excellent neighbour, an excellent bloke, and an excellent family man.”
On the 25 August 1996. Detective Brent Garner was at work; in the fraud department of the Palmerston North Police Department. A letter came across his desk, addressed to him; it read:
“COP, you drew the straw. Chapter 1 starts. You will die, I guarantee. The Executioner.
Soon a second letter came, this time it was sent to the editor of the Manawatu Evening Standard. It read:
“I am notorious. I am famous. I will be worshipped. They will hunt me – They will lose. McKIBBONS Killer was executed. The tables have turned. I have been chosen as the executioner. My subject has been chosen. My campaign has begun. He has 10 weeks to stop me if he can – but he won’t. I will win. He will know my presence. Feel my presence. FEAR my existence. I will hunt him he is my prey.
Chapter 1: He will know the fear of the hunted.
Chapter 2: He will feel the destruction of the great god of FIRE.
Chapter 3: He will hate my very existence.
Chapter 4: He will see my face and accept his death sentence. His crime is his allegiance to the crown and his fight against evil.
There is nothing more noble than the death of a police. Palmerston North Police WILL bury a murdered colleague. I guarantee! His time has come. His blood will flow. He will die alone. No-one will be by his side. He will know the time. He has 10 weeks. He should cherish them. Mr Policeman I am coming. The Executioner.”
Confused, police and the press pondered whether Glen McKibbin was murdered as a sacrifice to the devil; as the letter implied.
Police took this threat very seriously, but wondered, why Brent Garner? He worked as a detective in the fraud department; not violent crime. He didn’t deal with hardened thugs or have much to do with the underworld. On the other hand, Glen McKibbin was seemingly picked at random – perhaps Brent was also.
This threat spooked Police and Brent enough that precautions were taken. Brent’s wife – Sam Garner and their two daughters, both still infants, were relocated. They stayed with family to the north of ‘Palmy’, in Tauranga. Brent decided to stayed in Ashhurst.
The Palmerston North police monitored Brent’s property on Oak Crescent in Ashhurst. Brent was given a pendant alarm that he could wear around his neck. This alarm would alert police comms immediately. On top of this, patrol cars would regularly check in on Brent throughout the day and night, keeping an eye out for suspicious characters.
On 25 September 1996, a third letter arrived:
“Officer Garner, are you foolish enough to think I have forgotten about you? I think you are. He is the master. And I am his disciple. He has the wisdom and I am his earthly vessel. Let me tell you this, Officer Garner. Without a doubt, you will take me very seriously when I prepare you for my Lord. For to be prepared you must be pure, and to purify a subject, there can be only one way. Pain is the genesis of purity. And that it is by my hands that they make their way to pay homage to Satan himself. I have remained free to carry out his taskings and I will continue to do so. For I am notorious. I am famous. And, yes, I will be worshiped. Officer Garner, accept your fate or challenge the great one. That decision is yours. Time is unstable. I am coming. Gilles de Rais.”
The Executioner had rebranded, now referring to themselves as one of history’s most infamous men. Gilles de Rais was a 13th century Knight who famously fought alongside Joan of Arc; Rais was a commander during The Hundred Year War; a war that in actuality went for 116 years – fought between the Kingdom of England, over the right to rule the Kingdom of France. Rais’ bravery was honored by France by being given the title of Marshal of France; only awarded to generals for exceptional achievements.
After retiring from the military, Gilles de Rais became interested in the Occult. In 1438, Rais contacted a priest who claimed to know alchemy, as well as being versed in the act of demon summoning; François Prelati.
Together, Rais and Prelati began doing experiments in the lower hall of Rais castle, Château de Tiffauges. After failing three times to summon the demon Barron. Prelati informed Gilles that the demon was angry; Barron required the offering – parts of children.
Rais and Prelati began kidnapping children, sometimes the children would come willingly with the noblemen. They would bring their victims back to the castle. In his 1971 biography of Rais, Jean Benedetti explains what would follow, “[The boy] was pampered and dressed in better clothes than he had ever known. The evening began with a large meal and heavy drinking, particularly hippocras (which is wine mixed with sugar and spices), which acted as a stimulant. The boy was then taken to an upper room to which only Gilles and his immediate circle were admitted. There he was confronted with the true nature of his situation. The shock thus produced on the boy was an initial source of pleasure for Gilles.”
Gilles would then strip the child naked, hang them by ropes and hooks, assure them he only wanted to play, then murder them; usually by decapitation or breaking their necks. Gilles would sexually abuse his victims as well; sometimes even engaging in necrophilia – using a decapitated head or a cut in the throat as an orifice.
According to the writings of Jean Benedetti once again, Gilles took great pleasure in his whole event, “… when the said children were dead, he kissed them and those who had the most handsome limbs and heads he held up to admire them, and had their bodies cruelly cut open and took delight at the sight of their inner organs; and very often when the children were dying he sat on their stomachs and took pleasure in seeing them die and laughed”.
On the 26 of October 1440; Gilles de Rais was hanged for these crimes. Estimates of the number of Gilles’ victims range from 80 all the way to 600. Just in case you were wondering, Gilles never got to summon his demon. Was this new Gilles de Rais trying to pick up where his 13th century counterpart left off?
Police scrutiny of Brent’s Ashhurst property was dialed up. When a couple of days later, Brent expressed concern that he believed someone may be feeding his dog; trying to gain its trust. Patrols were increased.
On the 19th of October 1996, around 4am. Palmerston North police were alerted by a resident of Oak Crescent that something was happening at Brent Garner’s house. As the police convoy pulled up at the Ashhurst property, they found the house ablaze.
Police exited their vehicles. A neighbour called out for help, responders rushed to the pleas for assistance coming from the backyard. There they found Detective Brent Garner in his underwear – covered in gasoline; bound and gagged with deep razor cuts carved into his back.
Brent communicated that he had been assaulted whilst he was asleep. The assailant attacked him with a razor blade, cutting him multiple times before finally overpowering Brent and eventually restraining him. Something was stuffed in Brent’s mouth before it was duct taped shut. The assailant proceeded to pour gasoline over Brent, before exiting the room to douse the rest of the house.
During this time, Brent’s survival instincts kicked in. He maneuvered still bound and gagged over to a nearby window; which was fortunately unlocked. With much difficulty, Brent managed to climb out and fall many feet to the ground. In much pain, Garner shuffled away from the house to join his dog Max in the backyard. Just in time to watch his property go up in flames.
The next day, “Is Satan in NZ?” the headlines read. Many reports began appearing in the media about Satanic ritual abuse and secret, underground, evil cults. The Member of Parliament for Nelson, Nick Smith, noted that the attack on Brent Garner reminded him of a scene from the movie Reservoir Dogs involving a knife attack, gasoline, torture and murder. As such he called for the censoring of violent scenes from movies, convinced there was a link between this movie and the attack.
The public were also very supportive of the Garner family. Sending over $11,000 in cash and large quantities of gifts to help with the rebuilding of Brent and his families lives. Many toys were sent to the Garner children, the youngest being only 7 months old and the oldest was celebrating her third birthday the following day.
Operation Venus was headed up to investigate the attempted murder, being led by Detective Senior Sergeant (D.S.S) Grant Nicholls. The Police utilised this new thing called ‘The Internet’. People could visit a home page which gave details of the crime, a first for police in NZ. The public was encouraged to provide any information they could on the occult or cults around NZ.
First port of call for Operation Venus was to go speak with the only witness, Brent Garner. Garner reiterated what he had said earlier, but elaborated. Beginning with, Brent remembered seeing a car in his rear vision mirror, it seemed to be following him. Brent told Sergeant Nicholls that he was up until 1am, cleaning. He told the police he must have forgotten to put his alarm pendant on after he showered.
Then he awoke around 4am to find the attacker standing at the end of his bed, in a “cultured English accent” the man spoke, “Expecting me were you? Been wondering when I might come? Well, here I am.”
While, Brent didn’t recognise the man’s face; he did provide police with a description which was converted into an artist’s sketch, known as an identikit. This is a good time to mention, if you visit truecrimenz.com, we have supporting pictures – including the identikit sketch Brent provided. You should be able to click the link in the show notes to take you directly to the case page.
Many Detectives commented, as well as Sam Garner, Brent’s wife – the identikit sketch looked a lot like Brent himself. Only really noticeable difference was the sketch had a goatee, Brent was clean shaven.
The assailant then attacked Brent, overpowering him with his strength. Brent was restrained with cable ties around his legs and hands. Garner then said, something was stuffed in his mouth that he almost swallowed before he was gagged with duct tape.
When police investigated that ‘something’, it turned out to be another letter, “Brent Frederic Garner was chosen by the Great One. I was chosen to do the work of the Great One. Immortality is mine. Evil triumphs again. I will be watching. Goodbye. Advocatus Diaboli.”
The formerly named The Executioner had renamed himself once more. Advocatus Diaboli is latin, and literally translates to ‘the Devil’s Advocate’. As a quick sidenote, the origins of this phrase are actually pretty interesting. A person from within the Catholic Church was assigned to be Advocatus Diaboli, their role was to “[argue] against the sainthood of a candidate in order to uncover any character flaws or misrepresentation of the evidence favoring canonization”. This is where the idiom ‘playing devil’s advocate’ derives from.
After Advocatus had successfully restrained Brent, he told him, “I’m going to hurt you now.” Before proceeding to cut into Brent’s back with a scalpel, some theorised he was trying to carve a pentagram. When Police investigated the wounds on Brent’s back closer, they found multiple deep razor cuts. What they thought was interesting though, the cuts were quite clean and straight. If Brent was thrashing around on the bed, you would think the cuts would be messier – more haphazard.
Brent continued. The assaulter then produced multiple cans of petrol and threatened his hostage, “You are going to burn, Detective Garner.” Petrol was poured over Brent, over the fresh cuts on his back. Advocatus then exited the bedroom to douse the flammable over the rest of the house.
Brent explained once more about escaping out the window, crawling to the backyard, and finding Max. The dog didn’t bark? The police asked. No, Brent replied; which was weird he added. It was weird to detectives as well, Max had a reputation for being a noisy dog. Barking at all hours of the night. Tonight, he was silent. Brent pondered if he was right about his suspicions that someone was feeding Max to gain his trust. Also police wondered, if someone has threatened your life, why was the window unlocked?
Brent Garner concluded his recollection, explaining that his neighbour who had jumped the fence to help eventually discovered him. Fire crews arrived about 10 minutes later.
Something wasn’t stacking up for D.S.S. Nicholls. He asked for permission from his superior to start a dual, covert investigation into the possibility Brent Garner was responsible for the letters. Investigating a fellow officer is something of much disrepute in policing circles, described by one officer as a “nightmare of nightmares”. Nicholls evidence? A few inconsistencies in Brent’s story and gut instinct. He was putting a lot on the line for this hunch.
D.S.S. Nicholls obtained permission to launch the second convert investigation. The second floor of the Palmerston North Library was used as a space for the operation. Nicholls started recruiting trusted personnel for the assignment. The two investigations were to work in tandem, both possibilities could be the truth; it was their job to find which one. They christened the investigation, ‘Operation Mars’.
PART II (MARS)
Detectives on Operation Mars got to work analysing the evidence. They had found a blood stain on Brent’s fence. Could this have been where the attacker escaped? Detectives were disappointed to discover that analysis of the blood found that it wasn’t human, but possum.
Detectives put luminol, which is a chemical compound that will glow blue when mixed with iron found in hemoglobin, which in turn is a protein found in blood, along the trail Brent said he rolled and shuffled his way to the backyard. No blood was discovered. They had also uncovered that Brent had stopped at K-mart a couple days before and purchased duct tape, plastic ties, gas containers, and a timer.
Brent Garner during this time was given a full time police escort. They were with Brent simultaneously, to protect and to ‘keep an eye on’. In the weeks that followed, no new letters from Advocatus Diaboli arrived.
A closer look at Brent’s time off from work, he had taken a suspicious trip with a coworker. Looking further into this found Brent and one of the female receptionists at his work were having an affair. Detectives looked into the receptionists husband, but he didn’t stack up as a suspect. Brent had also expressed desire to leave his wife to his friends.
When Detectives looked into Brent Garner’s finances closer, they found debt; a lot of it. The Garners had borrowed against their mortgage for a holiday earlier in the year. This left them with: a $99,000 dollar mortgage, $3000 worth of credit card debt and another $2000 to credit union. Brent’s $1100 a fortnight wasn’t enough to cover their mortgage plus other debts. In September, a month before the assault and arson, Brent’s finances were in the red. Could this be a possible motive for the arson? Insurance fraud?
One top of this, in the months leading up the incident, Brent seemed to be under an immense amount of stress – he was managing a caseload of over 100 at work. He dealt with this pressure in perhaps unhealthy ways, as David Burns – Director of Police Studies at Massey University explains, “… that kind of control and toughness is “overly reinforced” in a crudely macho police culture. Garner had visited massage parlours; made fantasy phone calls. Sexual exploits and getting “falling-down drunk” in police canteens are regarded as necessary to let off steam”.
As other leads were exhausted, roads kept leading back to Brent Garner. Over the course of this investigation, Police completed 3,200 tasks, 1,959 people were interviewed and detectives took over 1000 photos. Ultimately, costing Police more than $350,000.
All this evidence was taken to the Detective Inspector (D.I), who reviewed the information D.S.S. Nicholls and his team had compiled. Over the next couple of days, the D.I. read over the material before returning a verdict, there is something here. Enough to bring Brent Garner in for a chat.
37 days after the investigation started, Brent Garner was brought into their Mars homebase at the Palmerston North Library. Present for the interrogation were D.S.S Nicholls and the D.I.. They presented the information they had: they knew about the affair and about the finances, a possible motive. Brent rebuffed that’s not evidence. The Police responded, the absence of evidence is evidence – why was there no blood on the trail Brent ‘wriggled’ down? Why leave the window unlocked? Why take your pendant off? Why did Max not bark? Why were the wounds on Brent’s back in a straight line?
Brent wouldn’t budge. He asked for his lawyer, and refused to speak. Operation Mars went home that night disappointed; knowing without a confession – this would be much harder to win a trial in court.
The next day, D.S.S. Grant Nicholls received a call from Brent Garner, he wanted to talk. He wanted to confess.
A short time later, Brent was brought back to Mars HQ to formally confess. Yes, Brent wrote the letters. He found information on Encarta about satanism and wrote the letters in kind. Yes, he burned his house down for the $100,000 insurance money.
Brent claimed this was his plan to ‘liquidate his assets’, so he could give the buyout to his wife and children; before he would leave to start his new life with his mistress. Neither woman knew about his plan by the way, he told police he worked alone because, “Each time you introduce a new partner to each offence you increase the risks of apprehension.”
One thing Nicholls wanted to clarify with Brent was, how did he inflict the injuries on his back. Brent explained he hammered a scalpel blade through a piece of wood, this allowed him the leverage he needed to carve into his own back.
On the 27th of November 1996, Brent Garner appeared in the Palmerston North District Court: he plead guilty to forgery, arson, false pretences, wasting police time and making a false complaint. Brent Garner was sentenced to five years in prison for those crimes.
That day, Brent’s wife Sam Garner, appeared on Radio Pacific to comment on the fiasco. She described their marriage as a ‘sham’, with consistent infidelity on Brent’s part. When asked to comment on Brent’s most recent affair, Sam said, “They can have each other. I hope they both get syphilis and die”. Sam also expressed her empathy to all the kind people who had supported the couple in their ‘time of need’. She expressed a desire to pay the money back but said she was left with a $99,000 mortgage with little to no chance of repaying, “They’ve been through so much and for this egotistical self-centred nothing. He’s a nothing. He’s not worth people’s sympathy. He’s not worth people’s anything, anger or anything.”
Sam Garner remarried in 1998. She got a two page spread in Woman’s Weekly in which she asserted much joy in her new relationship. She also expressed some forgiveness for Brent and said she wanted him to be a part of their children’s lives.
In August of 1998, Brent Garner was released from prison – serving almost 2 years of his 5 year sentence. Eight weeks later, Garner did an interview with Woman’s Weekly, there he revealed that he is now living with his parents in Tauranga.
When asked all these years later, why did he do it? Brent answered, “What made me do it? Had I gone crazy? I don’t know. I remember being quite defensive about questions regarding my sanity at the time. A psychologist’s report prepared while I was in prison cited inadequate stress-coping strategies, but I think it’s too much of an easy way out to say I was just stressed”.
Although, Brent goes on to explain some of the stress he was under; he cites the marriage and financial trouble – but goes a bit more in depth with the work stress, “I recall one instance in early February 1996. There was a two-year-old girl – the same age as my daughter was at the time – who was stuck alone inside a house for 10 days with the rotting and maggot-infested body of her dead mother… She’d been sleeping next to the body. Beside her was a margarine container and you could see her little finger-prints inside, where she’d scraped out margarine to eat… I was just so shaken up… It’s such a stupid attitude to take. Everybody sort of wanders around trying to look as if they’re not affected by it all… The resources available to help deal with things are good resources, you’ve just got to stand up and use them.”
Brent explained that the plan was solidified in his mind when he discussed the second letter with Sam. Brent asked her about the possibility of the house being burned by this attacker, “She said it wouldn’t be so bad because the house was fully insured, and at least then we wouldn’t have the hassle of trying to sell it… That was quite influential as far as I was concerned because, sure, we had built it ourselves and we had a lot of good memories in it, but the insurance money would have outweighed the emotional ties.
Garner explained that originally he was going to kill his dog to sell the idea of the satanist attack further. But when the time came, he just couldn’t bring himself to do it. He loved that dog too much he explained. He had also scared the cat away before the fiery explosion.
There will always be a little bit of debate over what exactly happened on the morning of the 19th of October 1996 in Ashhurst, but that same Woman’s Weekly article gives a really good overview based on what Brent says; which I’m going to read verbatim here, so thank you to journalist Judith Thompson for doing the hard work here, “Brent returns to his empty home after a midnight shift. He frightens the cat away but cannot bring himself to kill his dog. He feeds him a large plate of sausages instead and then, wearing gloves, douses the house with about 18 litres of fuel. After leaving footprints leading down an alleyway, he returns to the house. Stripped to his underwear, Brent lies down on his stomach on his bed, which is near a slightly open window. Using a scalpel glued to a wooden handle, he slashes his own back and garrotts his neck. Later pouring petrol in the wounds. He opens the window, stuffs a fourth Satanic attack letter in his mouth, gags himself, then ties his wrists and feet. He triggers a fire using a timing device wired to the toaster, and squeezes through the open window, then manoeuvres himself along the ground. He is later found lying in the long uncut grass near a tree after the house explodes and catches fire.”
The followup article in the Woman’s Weekly a week later, was less about looking back at the past and more about looking towards the future. Brent was hoping to rebuild his life. Explaining that his time in prison gave him time to reevaluate his life and built effective stress coping strategies.
Brent explains that through all of this his parents had supported him immensely through this whole process, “My parents have been my rocks, they’ve been wonderful, just wonderful. I can’t say any more than that.”
Ultimately the followup carried a message of hope. That everyone deserves a second chance, if you pay the price for the crimes you committed.
On the 13 of October 2003, Brent Garner was found dead in his car, three days after his 39th birthday and five days before the five year anniversary of the incident. He had commited suicide.
When District Commander Mark Lammas, who had previously known Brent, was asked for a comment, he replied, “It’s the final tragedy in Brent’s life really. For those close to Brent at the time of his death, we certainly extend our condolences. I think most people would have hoped that he would have moved on personally … I suspect that he was not able to move on.”
We’ll end our coverage on the Brent Garner story on this quote, as we feel it carries tragic significance. In that Woman’s Weekly article mentioned earlier, when asked if Brent could ever forgive himself for what he did, he replied, “That’s a tough question because I’m still so aware of how much hurt I caused. If only I’d been able to talk to someone about what was happening, maybe I wouldn’t have ended up where I am today”.
Billion Graves, Brent Frederick Garner, https://billiongraves.com/grave/Brent-Frederick-Garner/8382344
Crime.co.nz, Brent Garner, http://www.crime.co.nz/c-files.aspx?ID=60
NZ Herald, Disgraced ex-detective found dead, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=3529312
NZ Herald, TV show recalls crime that shocked NZ, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11494187
Religious Tolerance, THE “VENUS” AND “MARS” SATANIC RITUAL ABUSE CASES, http://www.religioustolerance.org/ra_newz1.htm
NZ Herald, The Ultimate Price for the Line of Duty, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/hawkes-bay-today/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503462&objectid=11626332
Wikipedia, Gilles de Rais, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilles_de_Rais
Wikipedia, Devil’s Advocate, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Devil%27s_advocate
NZ Listener, Unmasked, 11 Jan 1997, pg 18-20
Woman’s Weekly, Brent Garner – Why he deceived the nation, 12 October 1998, pg 4-7
Woman’s Weekly, Brent Garner, 19 October 1998, pg 12-13
Woman’s Weekly, Wedding Bliss for Sam Garner, 28 December 1998, pg 12-13
NZ Herald, Devious, evil man says bereft wife, 28 November 1996, pg 1
Dir. John Laing, Venus and Mars, https://tubitv.com/movies/466372/true_crime_venus_and_mars