Peace Corps' Murder, and Coverup, Mark 30th Anniversary

Deb Gardner in Tonga, photo by Frank Bevacqua

Thirty years ago tomorrow Deborah Ann Gardner, a 23-year-old Peace Corps Volunteer from Washington state serving on a remote island in the South Pacific, was murdered by a man who had become obsessed with her, a fellow volunteer, Dennis Priven, 24, who turned himself into the police three hours after stabbing Gardner 22 times in her hut. Three months passed and then Priven was freed from the custody of Tongan authorities, who wanted to hang him, through the tender offices of the State Department and the Peace Corps. In Jan. 1977, Priven came back to Brooklyn a free man and went to work for Social Security before long, becoming a computer guy. His incarceration had lasted three months, in Polynesia. I exposed this case in a book called American Taboo two years back. At that point he was living in his late parents’ former apartment in Sheepshead Bay, lonely and bizarre. Notwithstanding its repeated recent claims that it was going to investigate the case, the Peace Corps has never come to terms with the coverup it initiated, which involved smearing Deb Gardner, trying to blame a Tongan for the murder, and giving a gold star, Completion of Service, to a scary guy it had failed to screen and then allowed to go free on the streets of New York. Nor has it ever apologized to Deb Gardner’s parents.

I’ll have more to say tomorrow. Peace Corps' Murder, and Coverup, Mark 30th Anniversary