Trudy Tapsell opens up about the past, her treatment

Trudy Tapsell opens up about the past, her treatment

The daughter of a top New Zealand politician who killed her own grandmother in circumstances that horrified the nation has spoken about the incident for the first time.

In an interview with 3D tonight, Trudy Tapsell opened up about the killing, her illness and recovery.

She says she has forgiven herself in order to move forward, and her family have forgiven her and say she deserves a second chance.

Her father was prominent, respected politician Sir Peter Tapsell – a Speaker of the House and Minister of Police. In December 1991, Sir Peter's 87-year-old mother, May Tapsell, was found dead in Rotorua, decapitated and dismembered.

Twenty-six-year-old Trudy was arrested at the scene. Police say she was alone in the house with May at the time of the murder. She was later found not guilty by reason of insanity, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

She says she still lives with it every day.

"I think about it but it's manageable now. It's 25 years later. There's nothing I can do except make sure it never happens again."

The case attracted attention not only because of its shocking nature, but because of her father's position. She was close to her grandmother.

"She lived across the road from us growing up. I spent the first 18 years of my life at her house. She was very kind, caring, loving, tough but yet soft at the same time."

Trudy says she was very unwell in the months leading to the incident with her grandmother.

"I just existed basically; I didn't have a life. I was so unwell, hearing voices, seeing things, delusional thoughts, thinking that my father's job was in trouble – lots of bizarre thoughts, actually."

Trudy's older brother, Rees, says the illness first became obvious several years earlier.

"She was saying strange things and doing strange things, talking about people around town watching her.

"She would get treatment. She would engage with services, take the medication for a little while, begin to believe she didn't need it anymore and stop taking it and quite clearly deteriorate."

Trudy says her family was trying desperately to get help for her, but she wouldn't listen.

"I remember it was in December but I don't remember the exact date," she says. "But I remember what happened, I remember that. The voices were really bad and it was just Gran and I at home.

"It happened, yeah. It was horrible.

"I put it down to bad voices I was hearing and when I say voices it's like […] if you're listening to music on your MP3 and you can hear the music going on in your head, you can hear it. That's what voices are like. No one else can hear it.

"A lot of negative stuff, they got really bad. They were saying that basically she was out to get me and she was a demon – a lot of really crazy stuff. And this is how we deal with demons and I thought it was real."

She says she had no control over it.

"We don't do these things on purpose. I didn't ask to be a schizophrenic."

Road to recovery

Trudy was sent to the now-abandoned Tokanui Hospital. She credits her treatment there with getting well.

"It's a place that when I first realised what I'd done I started to get better. I don't have very good memories of my time in there."

It was insight into what made her kill her grandmother that contributed to doctors finding her well enough, after six years at Tokanui, to leave and be released back into the community.

She first got a job as a receptionist, but wanted more, taking up courses in business and computing.

Then she got a social work degree, achieved she says through hard work, determination and medication, via a monthly injection of an anti-psychotic drug.

"I wouldn't want to take a risk and go off it," she says. "I don't think any medical professional would support that either."

Trudy is now a peer-support worker in forensic mental health at the Waikato District Health Board, and with other staff she represents the patients' voice. She says she loves the job so much it doesn't feel like work.

Rees went on to become a forensic psychiatrist, so he gets Trudy's case not just personally but professionally. He's at ease with how well she is now.

"I think that it's highly, highly, highly unlikely that she would even become unwell again, let alone become unwell again and hurt either herself or someone else.

"I trust my children with her, and all of we siblings have trusted her with our children. Her friends have trusted her with their children. And these are people that know her story."

The family presence has been crucial for her recovery.

She says now she has forgiven herself.

"I do because I've now realised it wasn't me; it was my illness. It wasn't me that purposely went out and did that to her. You have to sort of forgive yourself a little bit otherwise you'd never go on."

"We've all forgiven her," says Rees. "The whole family have forgiven her. Of course we did with the passing of time and seeing that she's so well now and how well she's done with her life. Of course people forgive her. So I've forgiven her, my family have forgiven her. Everybody deserves a second chance, everybody."