Onlookers smiled at devoted husband Peter Dansie, 71, who was pushing his wheelchair-bound wife along the tranquil paths of Veale Gardens.
Helen, 67, had once been a passionate gardener and loved being surrounded by the flowers, so he paused at the flowerbeds so she could take it all in.
The public park in Adelaide, Australia, was quiet enough to hear the flow of the water features as it was getting towards the end of the day, and people were heading home.
But Dansie was keen for Helen to enjoy the sunset in her few hours away from the nursing home where she lived. He found a pond surrounded by rocks, parked up her wheelchair on a flat stone and positioned Helen for a view of the sun going down.
After Helen’s stroke 25 years earlier, she and Dansie had adapted to a very new way of living.
(Image: 9 News)
Helen and Peter had been married over 40 years. They had a home they’d built in Waterfall Gully and a grown-up son, Grant. Before the stroke, Helen had been a microbiologist at a hospital and had had an active social life.
She was smart and funny, with lots of friends and busy days. Many thought Helen was the opposite of her husband, who worked in statistics. Some described him as being ‘socially clumsy’.
Helen had always run the family, but in 1995, when Grant was just 13, she’d suffered a devastating stroke. It left Helen with long-term disabilities, and she was unable to look after herself.
She couldn’t walk, and she had difficulty speaking. After a long stay in hospital, and extensive rehabilitation, Dansie became her full-time carer.
By 2017, Helen was living in a nursing home and had recovered enough to have a fulfilling, slower-paced life. She kept her mind busy with crosswords and chess.
Thankfully she had a pension that helped towards the costs, but her family did raise concerns that Peter, who controlled the money, seemed reluctant to spend what was needed to give Helen the very best care. Was he just struggling with the responsibility of running their lives?
But there was no doubting his willingness to give his time to his wife when he picked Helen up from her nursing home on 16 April. It was Easter Sunday and Dansie drove Helen to Veale Gardens and pushed her along the pathways.
But moments after setting his wife in position to enjoy that perfect view of the Australian sunset, Dansie was making an emergency call for help. He explained Helen’s wheelchair had accidentally rolled into the pond and she was submerged in the water.
Dansie told the operator he’d jumped in to try and pull her out but had climbed back out to call for help – and Helen’s head was still under water.
The operator said several times that he should try and turn the chair enough to get Helen’s mouth out of the water, but Dansie said he’d tried and failed. He said the pond was too deep, and he suffered with health problems, including diabetes and bad knees which made it impossible.
By the time emergency services arrived, Helen had drowned. Dansie was wet up to the neck. Police divers recovered Helen’s body and wheelchair. It looked like the most tragic of accidents. A frail woman unable to save herself and a husband too infirm to help.
(Image: SA Police)
When questioned by police, Dansie was strangely calm about the tragedy. He described pushing Helen’s wheelchair on to a flat rock next to the pond so that she could watch the sunset.
‘I thought that was a nice stable platform to put her on,’ he said. Dansie described the chair getting stuck and asking Helen to take the brakes off. ‘She took the brakes off and the bloody wheelchair disappeared into the pond,’ he said.
‘I was pushing it, I thought it was propped up against a piece of rock or something, so I was probably pushing it fairly hard… It was just there and then not there.’
When Dansie said he’d placed his phone, keys and glasses next to a tree before getting into the pond and dragging her to the edge, officers were surprised. Why waste such precious time?
Most would have jumped straight in without hesitation. And why had he left his watch and wallet in the car? It was as though he knew he was going to get wet…
(Image: SA Courts)
He’d also taken 30 seconds on his call to tell the operator his wife was drowning. Dansie complained about the depth of the water, but it was only 1.5 metres deep and was easy to stand up in. All he had needed to do was turn the wheelchair to an angle that would allow Helen to get air until help arrived – but he’d failed.
When Dansie was told his home would be searched as part of the investigation, he quickly admitted he’d been engaging with ‘risqué’ online chats with two Chinese women. Police discovered he had tickets to fly to China a few weeks later.
Dansie said the steamy sex chats were because he was bored but admitted he was going to visit the women when he visited China.
At the house, police discovered Dansie already had a suitcase packed. It was full of condoms, Viagra, sex toys and lingerie. Online searches revealed he’d looked up things such as ‘sexual role-playing games’, ‘thigh-high boots cheap sale’ and ‘sexy six-inch stiletto sale’ in the weeks leading up to Helen’s death.
(Image: 9 NEWS)
The chats with the women were sexually motivated. It was starting to look like Helen’s death was no accident. Had he killed her so he could be free to pursue his sexual fantasies?
Dansie was charged with Helen’s murder. He pleaded not guilty and was released on bail. In 2019, his trial began where there was no jury, just a judge. The prosecution said Dansie thought his disabled wife had become a ‘cost burden’ to him and that his account of what happened that day was implausible.
They said he wanted to have sex with another woman and his online chats proved that. His defence said Dansie was just too weak to save his wife and that it was simply an accident.
In the December, the judge found Dansie guilty. He showed no emotion as Justice Lovell said there was a ‘dual motive’ for the murder. The deteriorating feelings Dansie had for his wife and the desire to have a sexual relationship with another woman.
Justice Lovell said Dansie’s act of pushing his wife into the pond had been ‘voluntary, conscious and deliberate.’.
(Image: 9 News)
In February this year, Dansie was sentenced. Son Grant had a statement read out on his behalf which said he hoped the case would result in a review about how the Government deals with the rights of the most vulnerable as there were ‘gaping holes in the system’.
‘My beautiful mother belonged to three vulnerable groups — she had a disability, she was elderly, and she was a victim of domestic violence. Yet she managed to fall through all of the supposed safety nets, this isn’t good enough,’ he had written.
‘Mum was a truly amazing person, she was funny, smart and she had a huge heart. Her murder was a tragedy and we miss her every day.’
Justice Lovell described the killing as an ‘evil and despicable act’ and said Dansie had shown no remorse. ‘This was a chilling, planned murder of a person whose mistake was to trust you,’ he said to Dansie.
He said Helen’s murder was the ‘ultimate act of domestic violence.’ He said Dansie had made ‘no attempt’ to save his wife.
Dansie was sentenced to life in prison and told he would serve at least 25 years before any chance of parole. His legal team has announced they are appealing.
Dansie had tricked his wife into thinking she was having a special day that Easter Sunday in the park surrounded by the flowers she loved, being pushed along by the husband who had promised to care for her. But he’d decided that push would be her last.