25 Nov 2023

The troubled past of Lynne Martin, found dead after being jailed for murdering her father

7:05 pm on 25 November 2023

By Marty Sharpe of Stuff

Lynne Martin at her trial in the High Court at Gisborne.

Lynne Martin at her trial in the High Court at Gisborne. Photo: Stuff / John Cowpland

It is difficult to imagine a level of sibling enmity greater than that which existed between John Allison and his sister Lynne Martin.

Martin, 63, was found dead in the cells of Gisborne's police station on Thursday, the day after a jury found her guilty of murdering their father Ronald Allison, 88, in January 2013, by setting his house alight as he slept inside.

Over the preceding 12 days in the High Court at Gisborne the jury and a large crowd in the public gallery had heard from some 50 witnesses. Amongst them was John, Martin's husband Graeme, and others who'd had dealings with Martin.

Martin did not give evidence, but she appeared in hours of secret recordings obtained by an undercover police officer and from recording devices in her home. She was not one for hiding her feelings towards John.

"I'd kill my brother if I had the chance, I really would", she said in one recording. "The wrong c... died. It shoulda been my brother. I'd love to see him be a crispy critter," she said in another.

The jury also had details of Martin's prior arson conviction in Australia.

This, with the evidence they heard - particularly the recordings in which Martin spoke so candidly - would form in their minds a picture of the woman they were to judge.

There was, of course, plenty they could not hear, or were not allowed to hear.

There was most likely a lot they, like many others, would like to know about the woman who one day drove 240 kilometres to put a pot of oil on her father's stove, then turned it on high, in the dead of night, to kill him and get $150,000 from his estate.

John Allison at his home in Te Karaka.

John Allison at his home in Te Karaka. Photo: Stuff / Marty Sharpe

No-one knew as much about Lynne Martin as John.

What you read below is from an interview John gave the morning after the guilty verdict. At the start of the interview, John was unaware Lynne had died. About halfway through the interview, he answered a knock at his door, which was a police officer who had come to tell him the news.

News of her death surprised him. He shook his head, scratched the side of his face and gazed out his living room door for a while. But he was not much affected.

"I don't feel sad or sorry. I just feel the same really. To me, today, tomorrow, and the days to come are not a time for celebration for us, the family and community. It's a time of healing," he said.

John and Lynne were adopted by Ronald (who was known by his middle name 'Russell') and Marie.

John, 66, was adopted as a baby from Gisborne in 1957. Lynne was adopted from Wellington hospital three years later. During the trial the jury was read a letter from Ronald to Lynne in 2012 in which he said he had always loved her, from the moment he drove down to pick her up and she cried all the way on the drive to Gisborne.

John and Lynne got along well when little, but at around the age of eight or nine, Lynne "went off the rails", John said.

"It started with tantrums and misbehaving, then she started stealing. It just kept going from there. It never stopped. She was hell for Mum and Dad. I seriously think it was in her genes," he said.

"It doesn't worry me at all that I was adopted, and I've always thought it was irrelevant to tell people that. As long as they know she's adopted and there's no genetic link between us," he said.

John and Lynne went to primary school together, then the local Waikohu College (which closed in 1999 to become Te Karaka Area School).

"She was expelled twice from Waikohu. She was also expelled from Gisborne Girls' High School, and then from Solway College in Masterton. She ended up doing Correspondence School and I think that ended pretty quickly too," John said.

Lynne got pregnant when she was 16. Abortion had not been legalised in New Zealand at that time, so it was arranged by Marie and Lynne's doctors for her to fly to Australia with an escort for the procedure.

"She came back home for a couple of weeks after that, then went to Auckland, got involved in the Church of Scientology and then went back to Australia the next year with a guy she'd met," John said.

She had her first child, a son, when she was 17. The father returned to New Zealand with the boy when he was a toddler.

At that stage, Lynne was a sex worker in Townsville, in northern Queensland.

She later married Barry Tweeddale, and they had two sons and a daughter. In about 1986, Lynne returned to Gisborne with Barry and their kids, with the intention of staying there.

"Barry found work and for a couple of years we thought they'd settle. But they just didn't make it, so went back to Oz," John said.

There is not a lot known about what Lynne got up to in Australia. It is understood she accumulated a fairly sizeable criminal record while living in New South Wales.

In 1999, she was living in the city of Orange, about 250km inland from Sydney, and had been in an on-off relationship with a man who lived in Dubbo, a city 150km to the north.

Lynne was low on money and on the evening of 30 April 1999, she travelled by motorbike to see the man. He was not home, so she got drunk at a nearby pub, got into an altercation with another patron and security staff, then bought some petrol and set the man's two vehicles on fire.

In that same year, Lynne made a visit home to the farm, and was at the centre of a troubling incident that John remembers clearly.

"I was living in town [Gisborne] at the time, and travelling back to the farm each day for work. I turned up that day to find a police car and the district nurse's car parked in the driveway. My parents and uncle Pete [Russell's brother], who was living there at the time, were all out on the verandah looking really crook," John said.

"They were being sick, looked really subdued, looked like stunned mullets.

"Lynne was there too, looking really agitated and fidgety and saying someone had come into the house. There was this really strong putrid chemical smell. It turned out someone had put this stuff, whatever it was, all through the milk, the butter, coffee, bread, the cold meat in a dish on the stove," he said.

"The cops asked me if I recognised the smell. I had no idea what it was. One of the cops took me round a corner and said 'look I know what you're going to say, you're going to say it was Lynne' and I said 'that's right'," he said.

John said police took Lynne for a mental health assessment, and after she was assessed they told her she could return to the house but had to leave within 48 hours.

"When Lynne was around you never knew what would happen next. I think she'd probably got drunk and got into an uninhabited state and hatched a plan to poison them and get money from their wills," he said.

"When we had the Tasman Sea as a barrier I felt safe," John said.

While living in Australia, Lynne researched her birth family, discovering they were from Christchurch and she made contact with them.

"She would use that against Mum and Dad. She'd say 'I'd rather be with my real mum and dad' and all that sort of stuff," John said.

"There was something I didn't discover until much later on. Dad knew about it but never told me much about it. Mum had been bought out of her family farm many years ago, before she married Dad, and had a bit of a nest egg in the bank. Lynne would ring from Australia, and tell Mum things like she had terminal cancer and needed treatment, or that she was pregnant again but couldn't afford to keep the baby and Mum sent her ten grand," he said.

"Mum and Dad loved Lynne. I think it's probably harder when you adopt a child because you have to prove you love that child, you know? You feel you have to make it work, you can't fail. They tried and tried and tried. They always tried to steer her back. She would always say what they wanted to hear, then she'd go straight out and do the opposite. Every time. She was given so many chances. People will never know how many chances that woman was given," he said.

"I saw my role in life, once I grew up, to be a shield and to protect my parents from her as much as I could. If I found information that affected us as a family or them as parents, then I had to intervene," he said.

Lynne lived in Australia until 2006, when she returned home to look after Marie as she was dying at home.

"It wasn't until Mum died when things were being settled up, that we found out about her nest egg and that there was nothing left of it. There'd been something like $40,000 originally," John said.

Lynne moved to Tauranga at some stage, and would live with her partner Graeme Martin in his house in the suburb of Welcome Bay.

In December 2014, the couple paid $415,000 for a property near Matamata. Near the tourist attraction of Hobbiton, they provided spaces for travellers to park their campervans. It was this property that the police bugged, and where the undercover cop visited the Martins to gain evidence that was critical to Lynn's conviction.

Lynne and Graeme married in December 2015. They ran a steam cleaning business, and in 2016 the couple was praised by police for offering free graffiti removal to businesses in Matamata.

Lynne lied to Graeme about where shehad been the night her father died, but he forgave her, and he never believed she had killed him.

In the evening before the fire, 24 January 2013, John had driven the 6km from his home in Te Karaka to the farm, where Russell still lived - and was determined to live, with the help of carers as long as he could. As he did every single night, John helped his father to bed, ensured he was comfortable and gave him his nightly sleeping pill.

It was then that Russell told him about a phone call he had had earlier that day from Lynne. The call, which lasted 22 minutes, was made by Lynne at 11am, and was what the Crown in the trial would call the "trigger event" that led to her fateful drive and Russell's murder.

Within a few short hours of returning to his own home, John would be back at his father's property, gazing through smoke at a pile of embers that included the body of his father.

He has never had a shred of doubt as to who started that fire.

Standing beside him before the embers that night was detective Tina Smallman. She ha been the detective on call that night and, as destiny would have it, became the officer in charge of the case ten years later.

"I told Tina about the phone call and what Lynne had said to Dad. If Dad hadn't spoken to me that night and told me he'd been threatened, maybe we wouldn't be here today," John said.

"I've had the burden of knowing I was my father's keeper, and I've failed. I knew there was a threat, but I honestly believed I'd have more time. I said to him, 'OK Dad we'll have to tighten things up around here, so stuff doesn't go missing'. I went home that night thinking I'd tell the local cop the next day about the call, and we'd do something about security. I didn't know Lynne was just down the road from the house at the time," he said.

"One thing I really appreciated when the verdict came was that I was sitting beside Tina. She had stood beside me in the glow of the fire that night, and she was there at the end," he said.

It was Smallman who rang John in November last year to tell him Lynne was about to be arrested and charged with murder.

He was in bed at Waikato Hospital at the time, having treatment for throat cancer.

"She told me 'Remember a long time ago I said I would call you if we ever made an arrest?'. I said 'yes' and she said 'well, this is that call'. Tears just streamed down my face," he said.

(John has had three surgeries and chemotherapy for the cancer and says he is "in a safe place at the moment".)

He said he found the trial very tiring due to the amount of concentration it required, and challenging at times.

"Obviously, the defence has a job to do, and that's deflect, raise red herrings and throw doubt in a case that was circumstantial. But being the only person in the courtroom who had knowledge of this woman all her life, it was hard to hear untruths being used as a defence. There were things she claimed Dad said to her that I knew my father would not have said," he said.

The claims that he and his father had sexually abused Lynne were the most disturbing part of the trial, though John believed they were seen for what they were.

"There is no way on earth that happened. No way on earth. The trial was the first time I'd ever heard that Lynne claimed it was me or Dad who was the father of the child that got aborted," he said.

"Her whole life was lies. She was so immersed in her lies that there was no reality for her any more. She couldn't differentiate between what was real and what wasn't. Everything she did was about taking money from somebody," John said.

The ten years between his father's death and charges being laid were not easy for John.

"For all that time, people would say to me 'why haven't the police arrested her?' It's been a burden for the family and the community to know that it was Lynne who did it. I had to say 'Look, I'm not privy to all the information the police have, I don't know what they're doing, but they have told me the stage they're at'. They told me when the Cold Case [tv show] was coming on, and about the reward they offered, and I knew there were a few things on the go," he said.

"I was happy on the understanding that the police only get one shot at it, and they need to get it right. It was no use saying 'just get it signed off and have a go' then having it thrown out in court. So I was always confident that when they went it would be the right time," John said.

He had no idea that police had bugged Martin's house, or that they had used an undercover police officer.

"That was a total shock when I heard it in the courtroom. Total shock," he said.

When the verdict came he felt relief, but this was soon followed by a feeling of concern for the jury, particularly a young woman who he could see shedding tears.

"Of course Lynne was doing the sobbing and wailing thing. I'd just like that young woman to know she'd come to the right decision," he said.

"I felt happy that it was the right decision. I felt vindicated that all my accusations, including what I told police on the night [of the murder] that I knew who did this - 'It was my bloody sister'. I told them that night. There's been persecution from the defence, claiming 'It's only John Allison's word that headed the investigation in this direction [towards Martin]. So I feel vindicated that what I initiated has been proven the truth," John said.

"Lynne was like a runaway truck in the middle of a country road full of sheep. She has barrelled through her life, smacking into people. Some ended up maimed, some ended up deeply bruised, and some walked away, but she just carried on," he said.

This story was originally published by Stuff.

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