“She did it to hurt me.”
That’s how Dr. Graham Dickason said on the evening of 16 September 2021 to the wife of one of his new New Zealand colleagues outside the house in Timaru where Graham’s wife, Lauren, killed their three little girls.
Cathy Cvitanich says she and her husband, Mark, found Graham in the driveway of the house that night.
“Graham cried. It was terrible,” Cathy recalls.
Earlier in the evening, Mark was with Graham at a work dinner, reports Stuff.co.nz. Graham called Mark soon after he got home. He has just found his three little daughters – six-year-old Liané, and two-year-old twins Maya and Karla – dead in their cots.
Mark and Cathy rushed to the Dickason house where they found a crying Graham in the driveway. The couple got out of the car and Graham told them “they are dead”.
He also mentioned something about cable ties, Cathy recalls.
“He said she (Lauren) was crazy and that he couldn’t believe she would do that.”
Cathy asked why Lauren would do such a thing, and Graham said she suffers from depression and anxiety.
“He said they were his babies… I just held him. He said ‘it’s my fault’. I think he meant by bringing them here (to New Zealand). I told him it wasn’t and that he did his best.”
Testimony from people who had dealings with the Dickasons shortly before the family tragedy was heard in the High Court in Christchurch on Thursday.
A New Zealand mother who met Lauren a few hours before the tragedy at Liané’s new school, says in a statement that was read out in court today, that shortly before the murders a dark cloud hung over Lauren.
“I could see that Lauren was going through a difficult time,” says Laetitia Smit in this statement.
NZ Herald reports that Smit went to drop her own daughter off at school on the morning of 16 September 2021 when the principal approached her.
The principal pointed out Graham and Lauren to her and said “they have just arrived in the country and may need support”.
Smit went to introduce her to the couple.
“Graham seemed so excited to be here,” recalls Smit.
However, Graham asked Smit to assist his wife. “The last two weeks in South Africa and two weeks in managed isolation broke her,” Graham told Smit.
“Lauren didn’t say much,” recalls Smit.
“She looked confused – as if there was a cloud over her. It’s hard to explain, but it seemed like she was going through a difficult time and was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders.”
Smit took Lauren’s mobile phone number and later sent her a message so they could meet again. Lauren never responded to this message.
Lauren was skinny
Isabella Kruger, a South African who met Dickason for the first time in the 48 hours before the children’s deaths, spoke to Lauren beforehand via mobile phone messages. At that stage, Lauren asked former South Africans in Timaru for advice on, among other things, schools, churches and the cost of living.
“Lauren seemed very overwhelmed… she wasn’t bubbly… she wasn’t excited,” says Kruger.
She remembers that when they first met, Lauren wore loose-fitting clothes “that showed how thin she was”. Lauren explained earlier that she lost three kilograms in a week because she “couldn’t eat”.
“I did most of the talking,” Kruger remembers. “Lauren said everything is overwhelming for her and she is still trying to find her feet here.”
Kruger admits that she was not worried, as she had gone through emigration herself.
The jury also heard from several of Graham Dickason’s colleagues and their wives who attended a welcome barbecue the Sunday before the incident.
Dickasons ‘looked happy’
David and Teresa Templeton hosted the barbecue. Teresa says the family “all seemed very happy”.
She says that Graham and Lauren still “held hands and touched each other” at the braai. The little girls had fun playing with the other children.
“They were a bit tired, but none of the talk was unusual,” says Teresa.
“Lauren was engaging … eating like normal … she was the quieter one of the couple … the family was really engaging and happy to be there.”
Teresa met her husband and Graham for lunch on the day of the murders. She asked if Lauren was going to join them and Graham indicated that “she’s not ready to go out for lunch”.
The trial continues on Friday.