28 Jul 2015

The Lawson Quins on their stolen childhoods

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 28 July 2015

It was 1965 and Ann Lawson had been told she was having quadruplets. Her medical team had seen all four babies, and heard four heartbeats.

She opted for a natural birth. First came Samuel, then Lisa, Deborah and Shirlene. The babies were all breathing, everyone was relieved. Then suddenly a fifth baby emerged much to everybody's shock. Selina, it seems, had been obscured by one of her siblings in the womb, their hearts beating in synchronicity.

It was the first time quins had ever been born in New Zealand. The family became instant celebrities and the world's media came knocking.

The children's milestones were captured by the women's magazines. They were in hot demand for children's fashion parades and the subject of stares at every outing.

From the outside it appeared to be a happy childhood, and for many years it was.

But things changed when their parents divorced and their mother remarried a man called Gary Eyton after a whirlwind three-month romance.

Gary it turned out, was a violent abuser who terrorised the family.

"All these pictures of us being happy with balloons was not how we were living," Deborah Lawson said.

The quins have shared the truth about their childhoods with author Paul Little for his book Stolen Lives, The Untold Stories of the Lawson Quins.

Shirlene and Deborah Lawson speak to Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon.

Deborah Lawson said she wanted to tell her story for the sake of her children and her sisters, and to learn what they had experienced. "When you are all going through it at the same time you are too in it to know what everyone else is going through."

But Shirlene was reluctant to share hers.

"It was a hard thing to think about telling our story and it took me months to agree to writing the book. Just the fear of it, I think, just the thought of what we went through and how we felt.

"The nerves, the bubble in your stomach, the fear of telling people what we went through. It's been very hard."

They both said the hardest thing about sharing their stories was they no longer had their parents to ask what went wrong; they could not go to their Dad and ask him why he left.

When their mother met Gary Eyton, the quins accepted him into their lives, as they believed he made their Mum happy. It soon became evident that he was a violent man, who terrorised the family, beat their mother and isolated her from the community and her own children.

"It got to the stage where we were on our own. Gary controlled her so much. We grew up fast".

Shirleen and Deborah said their mother wanted to protect her kids from Gary, and at one stage even planned to fly them out of the country. But every time she tried to leave her plans were thwarted, not just by Gary, but by those around them who thought they knew better.

Gary Eyton threatened to kill Ann if she left him. She eventually did leave him and he kept his promise, killing her then himself. The quins were just 16.

Shirleen and Deborah said they grew up very quickly after that.

"We had no support. we looked after ourselves. Had to find our own way. You're not given a book on how to do it. It takes time."

The quintuplets are all parents now, and some are also grandparents. They celebrated their 50th Birthday on 27 July 2015.

Nga Taonga official LOGO from AugArchival audio supplied by Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.

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