On 16 September 2021, Lauren Anne Dickason allegedly killed her three daughters, 6-year-old Liané, and 2-year-old twins Maya and Karla at her home in Timaru, New Zealand.
We will start with some background into the family.
I believe Lauren married Graham Dickason in 2006. They celebrated their 15 year wedding anniversary on May 1, 2021. Most of their social media has been removed but at the time Lauren wrote a post about their anniversary and thanked Graham for the “beautiful family” they had created, but mentioned sleepless nights, saying “may the next years be more blessed, more happy and may the kids let us sleep”.
The couple are originally from Pretoria in South Africa. When they were living there and pre-children, Lauren worked as a doctor and Graham is an orthopaedic surgeon.
Lauren has a long history of depression and anxiety. This started when she was around 15. Graham has spoken about struggles that Lauren faced when she was younger. “She had a lot of problems at school with teachers and friends. According to her, she was not popular… she was in an all-girls school… she was never invited to a dance or the prom… she had a lot of social, traumatic memories from a young age.”
When the couple decided to have children, they faced infertility. Lauren ended up needing 17 rounds of IVF and she had to use donor eggs. In 2013, she had her first child, named Sarah, who had to be born after 18 weeks of pregnancy. She died shortly after.
The couple ended up having three more daughters- Liane, and twins Maya and Karla.
Graham spoke about the couple’s fertility journey. “A lot of ups and downs during a fertility journey but there’s always an underlying concern – tension, expectations,” he said.
“It definitely influences your daily life… there is also a lot of financial implications… there is a lot of hope and subsequent disappointments.
“I don’t think it’s an easy period of time for any woman who goes through it, a journey like that definitely goes with periods of feeling concerned, feeling unsure and then also physically… it can have an effect on your body.
“It was definitely a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions and feelings.”
“I think that was a very difficult period for both of us, it was not a nice time… Lauren was pregnant finally after so much time and so many disappointments and initially it went well.
“We were in a period of our lives where we had a lot of hope… you make plans, you look forward to a lot of things.”
“After Liané was born and she was healthy that initial period was just a big relief and a sense of finally achieving what we had been working so hard for,” Graham said.
Liané was the first grandchild on Dickason’s side of the family.
“Everybody loved her and she was the most pretty girl you’d ever seen… it was nice to have a baby in the house,” Graham recalled.
When they lived in South Africa, they had a nanny for the kids. In one of Lauren’s posts on Facebook, a month or two before she left South Africa, she had posted a photo of the nanny, and highly recommended her, praising her for the significant role she played in helping to bring up the children.
Graham spoke about the family dynamic. Just to note that a lot/ likely all of Graham’s quotes have come out after the murders. “She would always make sure that there were clean clothes, food to eat, she always made sure the kids are where they needed to be,” he replied.
“She was not a nurturing mother. The kids preferred me – not so much Liané anymore because she’s a big girl, but the twins definitely preferred me.”
“She was struggling with motherhood and I think I compensated for that by giving the kids everything they, they needed on a social level.”
“She verbalised on multiple occasions that she doesn’t seem to think she’s a good mother. And I’ve always reassured her, maybe that was a mistake.
“She was not one that would like to pick them up or just be with them or cuddle. She’s very good in organisation, her organisational skills are exceptional but she could never just enjoy them.
Liane was not a great sleeper and Lauren suffered from post-natal depression.
Graham said “Lauren was an extremely good mother…. but she admitted it more than once to me… that the baby part is not her favourite phase… you do a lot of things but you don’t get a lot of feedback.
“Her joy was more in the toddler phase… I think the first year with Liané was not her favourite part but I think she was very effective in handling it.”
Over the years, Lauren spoke to Graham three times with concerns about hurting the children.
This info is from the New Zealand Herald:
“The first incident was roughly in May 2019… it was a normal night, the night nanny came… Lauren was helping with settling down the twins. When she came back into the main kitchen area I could see that she was crying and she looked anxious,” he said.
“I immediately asked her what’s wrong. I cannot remember the exact words but she said she felt like she could do something to the babies.
“She didn’t specify what she meant. I sat with her… and tried to calm her down. She was crying.
“I phoned her mother who immediately came over and we just tried to talk to Lauren and find out what was bothering her.”
Lauren went and saw a psychiatrist and was told she likely had postpartum depression. She continued having treatment and took medication.
Graham suspected the “anxiety attack” was “a combination of sleepless nights and fatigue” and “frustrations with the children” who did not sleep well.
“I don’t recall there were any other issues at that stage,” he said.
“She improved, definitely… Lauren seemed to have less anxiety and she seemed to have a good relationship and was functioning well with the children after that.”
The second incident was in July 2021 when the couple were still working towards emigrating which he said was a very stressful time.
She had a “severe anxiety attack” and mentioned “she could make an end to it all”.
“When I inquired further… she said she feels like she can sedate the children and cut their femoral arteries so it can just all be over,” said Graham.
He said he was not worried about her “doing it” more about “why she was saying it”.
“Lauren was not a violent person,” he explained.
“It was the first time I’d heard her say something like that.”
Graham asked his wife to see her doctor again and said the next morning things seemed to be back to normal.
“I did not take any further action, I connected it to her anxiety attack,” he said.
The third incident was when the family were staying with Graham’s mother before they moved to New Zealand.
“Lauren came to me out of the blue… I believe her words were ‘I’m having that feeling again’,” he said.
“I told her to immediately take her anti-anxiety meds… it was a much lesser incident.”
Graham got a job in 2021 as an orthopaedic surgeon at Timaru Hospital in New Zealand, so the family decided to move.
Graham has said South Africa is a “beautiful place” but there were many political and racial issues.
“The current situation in South Africa is that white people are heavily in the minority and it’s dangerous. There’s a lot of crime and a lot of people getting hijacked, killed, murdered – innocent people,” he said.
“The country is going backwards in terms of infrastructure – electricity supply, the land value has dropped significantly over the last couple of years.
“There’s a lot of people emigrating from South Africa all over the place – especially people like us with, with young kids to try and secure better quality of, of life, safer life.”
He said his job offer was “a good pulling point”.
“She was always on board – in fact, she drove this immigration, she wanted it,” he said.
Graham later spoke about stressors that the family faced at the time. “We had to pack up the house, pack a container and we moved into my mum’s house with the kids and our suitcases,” he said.
“We were only supposed to stay for four or five days and then fly out to New Zealand, but Lauren also had a foot operation, which she would have had earlier but it was delayed also due to Covid restrictions at the hospital.
“And just prior to that we had severe riots in South Africa… where there was severe looting going on, political unrest and she was very scared.
“There was nothing close to our house but she was very, very scared…. I think it was a lot at one time.
“And then while at my mum’s we went for our pre-flight Covid test and my one daughter tested positive… and that forced us to be in isolation for two weeks at my mum’s place, which we didn’t anticipate.
“During that time she really struggled. She didn’t eat much, she didn’t have a lot of conversation with anybody, she was really stressed.”
If you remember, 2021 was peak-covid time and New Zealand had some of the strictest quarantine laws in the world.
When they arrived in New Zealand, the family spent two weeks in a quarantine hotel. When they were released, they moved into housing for medical professionals near the hospital where Graham would be working.
The family had planned to get settled and then Lauren had planned to look for work. Graham said “ I had lots of hope that we would integrate easily and make friends with them and Lauren would hopefully make friends at the school with the mums – that was my idea,” he said.
“I would be working and Lauren would mainly tend to the children and we would develop from there…. we always had the idea that once the kids were in school, getting some employment for Lauren.”
Lauren spoke fairly often about her struggles with parenthood. In July 2021, one of her friends sent her a TikTok video where a mother recites a poem named “Mom needs a minute”, about the struggles of raising her children and the “chaos inside of her brain”. Lauren responded by saying “Awesome, that’s exactly how I feel”.
Lauren also told friends about her troubles with her 2 y/o daughter Karla. She said that Karla was a difficult child and that she lashed out often. Lauren said that Karla slapped and bit her. She also said that her children were “never enough”.
“I love my kids but I feel like they don’t love me and I am just their slave. Just gets me down because they always want Graham.”
Lauren did speak lovingly about her children on occasion “Maya is the little mother. Always helpful and peaceful and obedient. Karla is the firecracker. She can throw an amazing tantrum but is also lovable and talks a dog out of a bush. She and Liané are best friends. This is such a nice age. I wish they can stay this big forever.”
Graham spoke about Lauren’s mental health struggles. “She went on a bit of a health quest and she started exercising and she followed the programme called Kaizen Wellness… like a weight loss support strategy,” he said.
“And she did very well on that and she felt good and she stopped the medication without me knowing about it… but there was no issues really.”
Lauren had foot surgery at one point and Graham said she was “struggling” and he asked if she was taking her meds.
“She verbalised that she stopped it and we immediately started her back on it,” he told police.
He asked his wife on a “semi regular” basis if she was taking her pills and she’d assure him she had been.
“To my knowledge at the moment she has been taking it for at least four or five weeks again,” he said.
The date of the murders was September 16, 2021 . We now know that Karla threw a tantrum in the car on this day. The night before, Lauren told a friend that the kids were “annoying, cheeky, wild and disobedient”.
She also told a friend “I wish I could give them back and start over. Now [Graham] is extremely angry with me.”
Instead of divorcing her husband she would rather divorce “my children”, she said.
Lauren would later say “I’ve had the kids around me 24/7 with no break, and um, it just got too overwhelming.”
Lauren seemed to be feeling overwhelmed because she had hoped Graham would help her unpack and get the new house in order, but he felt like he had to be at the hospital. “They required me to start at the hospital the next week and I needed to familiarise myself at the hospital,” he said.
“She was not very pleased with that arrangement… she was definitely taken aback by that arrangement and was annoyed with me.”
Lauren had been continually struggling with the move to New Zealand. The family had left a modern, newly built house in South Africa and were a bit disappointed by rental options in Timaru in New Zealand. Graham said “I don’t think she was too impressed with (the properties they viewed). She felt that the houses were cold and a little bit rundown,” he explained.
Graham went out with colleagues that night and Lauren was home alone with the children.
Lauren fed the girls dinner and they’d settled in front of the TV. At around 7pm, Lauren said the girls started their ‘high jinx and that’s when I just couldn’t any more”.
Lauren told the kids “Mummy’s very sick and is going to die. I can’t leave you behind because I don’t know who’s going to look after you.”
Police later asked if the children had questioned Lauren and she said “Not the two little ones, but the oldest one was very angry and she wants to know why I’m doing this to them because I’m the best mum and she loves me.”
Lauren told the three girls that they were going to make necklaces. She then placed cable ties around their necks and tightened them. The children were asphyxiated but did not pass away. Lauren cut off the cable ties and then smothered them with blankets. Lauren tried to take her own life with a knife and pills.
Graham arrived home at around 10pm that night. Neighbours heard wailing and a woman sobbing. Graham could be heard screaming “Is this really happening?”
Neighbour Jade Whaley said: “The first noise we heard was somebody sobbing, and then we heard a loud thud like someone just slammed a door.
“We could see someone through our fence wandering behind the house and wailing.”
Another neighbour Karen Cowper said “We asked him if he was OK. He did not respond to us and was screaming and crying hysterically.”
Police arrived at the home and Lauren was taken to hospital in a stable condition. She was taken to a psychiatric unit the following day. She was eventually charged with murdering her three daughters.
Graham made a statement soon after the murders- similar to the one Lindsay Clancy’s husband made.
“My words are few at the moment. On Thursday the 16th of September 2021 my life and Lauren’s were turned upside down when our three precious angels were ripped away from us.
“It is a loss that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. In this time of terrible tragedy and adversity, I can only ask for prayer for myself, my family, and my friends – prayer for strength, and for healing.
“Please also pray for my lovely Lauren, as I honestly believe that she is a victim of this tragedy as well. People that know her well will testify to that – I have no doubt.
“I’ve already forgiven her, and I urge you, in your own time, to do the same. It is the key to healing from this loss we have all experienced.
“For the people touched and affected by this – look after yourself. Look after your wives, your husbands, your partners. Look after your children.
“For those with faith in Jesus Christ – hold on to that. For the parents with young kids – remember them.
“Remember to let them run free, remember to let them play wild, allow them to laugh as much as they can.
“And they are never too young to be introduced to Jesus. I thank you for your love and support.”
A former colleague and neighbour, Natasja le Roux told the South Africa Sunday Times: “I cannot comprehend what happened, she is a medical doctor and she wasn’t arrogant or anything like that. She was very humble.
Lauren’s trial started in July 2023 and ran for three weeks. Lauren pleaded not guilty to the charges, using a defence of insanity and infanticide.
“All of the defence experts agree that there was an altruistic motive … That means that Lauren killed her children out of love,” defence lawyer Anne Toohey said.
“In her mind, she was killing them out of love – she was killing herself and she didn’t want to leave the children… she was so sure this was the right thing to do she persisted.
“This is about postpartum depression and a mother who killed her children. She did not want to leave her children without a mum… she also did not want her children to suffer from having such a bad mother.”
This info about infanticide in relation to this case is from rnz.co.nz
Some other countries also allow a manslaughter conviction where someone has a mental disorder that reduces their moral culpability for a killing. New Zealand has never had such “diminished responsibility” – except in relation to infanticide.
Infanticide has a legalistic meaning in the courtroom: it does not mean the killing of an infant. Rather, it is an offence that can only be committed by a woman.
Secondly, it must involve a child of that woman who is under 10 years of age. It must involve what would otherwise have been murder or manslaughter.
Crucially, the jury must find that the woman “should not be held fully responsible” because of the extent to which “the balance of her mind was disturbed” from the effects of childbirth, lactation or any disorder caused by childbirth or lactation.
If this series of steps is met, then the offence is called infanticide, which carries a maximum sentence of three years.
But the legislation also notes that if the defendant’s disorder was so great that there was insanity, then there must be a “special verdict of acquittal on account of insanity caused by childbirth”.
When the trial started, we learned more about the night of the murders.
Constable William Turnbull was the first officer on the scene, and asked for permission to enter the house.
“I looked in the room on my right, it appeared to be a child’s room and I observed an adult female lying perpendicular across the end of the bed.”
He noticed the adult female’s chest was rising and falling and made the triage decision to delay treating her, before entering the room where the children were.
“I observed three young children in the room all were female. Two of the children were in individual beds with the sheets up around their chests. The third child was on the end of the right hand side bed.”
He told police communications there were no signs of life from any of them.
He then went back to Lauren in the other bedroom, and tried to speak to her.
“She opened her eyes. I had to speak quite loudly. I observed no injuries on the female. She seemed drowsy and was able to partially sit up.”
“She kept closing her eyes like she wanted to sleep,” Constable Schrader told the court.
“I told her she needed to keep her eyes open and she needed to talk to me so I knew she was okay.”
Evidence about Lauren’s mental health was also presented at trial. A psychiatrist testified that Lauren was “presenting with severe melancholic depression” and also had “ongoing ruminative thoughts.” She had also told one psychiatrist that that she “would not hesitate to be given a lethal injection”.
Information about Lauren’s google searches was presented at trial.
She searched for “Lethal dosage alprazolam in children” (July 31 2021), “Ambien lethal dose” (August 14), “Most effective overdose in children” (August 20) and “Drugs to overdose kids” (late August that year).
Dr Susan Hatters-Friedman spoke during the trial about Lauren’s obsession with her inability to parent.
Lauren said at one point “Ever since they were born, mums always feel this instantaneous love for their children and I never really experienced it with my kids, like I don’t know what people are talking about … and then I think there was something wrong with me for not feeling that and I did my best that I could … they definitely preferred their dad over me.”
“She was preoccupied with her inability to parent… she thought that she could not do another day,” Dr Hatters-Friedman said.
“She just felt so desperate… she was tearful and distant… saying she didn’t want to be alive.
“She felt disconnected to her daughters… she said she was running on an empty tank all of the time.”
Lauren was said to have a “profound sense of hopelessness” and shared “an intense fear and worry something bad was going to happen” to her or her husband.
“For example, that they would get cancer or die in a car accident,” said Dr Hatters-Friedman.
Lauren told doctors about how she was feeling in the months prior to the murders. “I haven’t felt like I have been living in my own body, I have felt dead – no feeling. I feel like my soul had been pulled out of me.”
Dr Hatters-Friedman said the case was a clear example of an altruistic motive – where a parent kills “out of love” rather than out of anger or hate.
“She had been severely depressed and had developed psychotic thinking,” she said.
“She attempted to kill herself… she viewed the world as dangerous for her children to grow up in.
“She saw a joint suicide and filicide as a way out of this for her beloved children and herself… She thought she was getting her children to safety.”
Hatters-Friedman’s formal opinion was that Dickason committed a “murder out of love” based on a view of the world “through psychotic eyes”.
“It is my opinion that at the time of her alleged offending Lauren Dickason was labouring under a disease of the mind to such an extent that it rendered her incapable of knowing that the act was morally wrong,” she told the jury.
“Having regard to the commonly accepted standards of right and wrong, it is my opinion that her disease of the mind at the time of the offending was a major depressive disorder with mood-congruent psychotic features.
“She conceptualised that (killing the children) was the right thing to do.”
Crown Prosecutor Andrew McRae cross-examined Dr Hatters-Friedman.
He refuted the notion that Lauren had carried out the murders out of love.
He put out these examples as things Lauren had communicated:
“I’m afraid I’m going to take out my whole family.”
“I just try not to murder the twins.”
“We probably might commit murder in that small (managed isolation) room in those two weeks.”
“I will murder them if everyone stays home again like in lockdown.”
“Tonight Graham and I decided that our children will not abuse and scream at us and hit us any further. From now on they will get hidings and all their nice things will be held back until they start showing some respect.
“Maybe the twins are just in terrible twos. But f**k, they are going to kill me. I was so angry tonight I was shaking.
“I feel like elastic that has been stretched and can snap at any time.”
“They are little shits at the moment. I regularly want to smack mine but Graham stops me.”
During the trial, there was a lot of evidence given about Lauren’s state of mind before, during and after the murders.
Dr Simone McLeavey spoke about how Lauren had told her that she wanted to “end the suffering” and after that “there was no turning back”.
“Her intent was to die… she said her husband returned earlier than anticipated,” Dr McLeavey told the court.
Lauren told Dr McLeavey that she felt “despondent” prior to the murders and felt that family life had even become “too much” for her husband.
“We were both at the end of our tether,” Lauren said, noting her husband seemed “irritated”.
“It was like he was giving up… at some point after (he left the house that night) she thought she deserved to die… she thought her children deserved better.”
“She said there was no preplanning… it was impulsive and disorganised. She said she left no suicide note because ‘what I did was pretty self-explanatory’,” said Dr McLeavey.
Lauren told the doctor how she killed the three children, admitting she “killed Karla first because she was angry at her”.
She said it was “an out-of-body experience” and said: “it was like I was above.”
The trial continued into the second week of August.
The court heard how Lauren told a psychiatrist she was “missing the kids a lot” and waking every morning was “like a kick in the guts” and she “just wanted to die”.
She cried a lot, admitted struggling and said her mood was “lower than it had ever been”.
Lauren also told the psychiatrist that she wanted to go back to South Africa and die so she could be reunited with her children – who are buried there.
Dr Barry-Walsh testified in court about how Lauren felt that she was living in a dream like state.
‘She spoke about how unsettled their lives had been, she felt like they had ‘been putting (the girls) through torture with the shift to New Zealand’,’ Dr Barry-Walsh said.
‘They were asking when they could see their grandparents and their friends… asking why they had moved somewhere so cold.
‘She could not see a way out of it… killing the children felt right… she was concerned about the future…. she thought the children were better off dead.’
Closing arguments were delivered in the trial on Friday August 11.
This info is from the New Zealand Herald
Lauren killed her little girls “one by one” then tucked them into bed with their soft toy sheep and blankets and told them she loved them for the last time.
She admits this – and that the act was “horrific and shocking” but her lawyer has told the jury at her High Court trial there is no way her actions that day were murder.
Rather, they were the actions of a deeply unwell woman who could not bear to live another day and decided to die – and to “protect” her children, decided to take them with her.
“Her beautiful girls, who she loved so much … the deaths don’t have anything to with anger or resentment – and have everything to do with what was a severe mental illness,” her lawyer Kerryn Beaton KC said this afternoon in her closing address.
“This is the very kind of case that the law of infanticide was designed for.”
“Whether or not she was legally insane … is your decision but I ask that you look back at the full picture,” she implored.
“She decided to kill herself and also the girls and I suggest that’s because she was so delusional and so disordered in her thinking.
“But in her mind, it was the morally right thing to do.
“Finally, Lauren Dickason never abused her children, never neglected them … she was a loving mother, she was severely depressed – so depressed she was suicidal and thought it was right to kill her children.
“She tucked them into bed and she told them that she loved them, one last time.”