Note led to Black Widow killer’s capture
WHEN Lee-Anne Cartier received the devastating call that her brother had been found dead at his home in New Zealand, all signs pointed to a clear case of suicide.
Philip Nisbet, a 47-year-old truck driver, was found at his Christchurch home surrounded by empty Phenergan bottles, an antihistamine that he was allergic to.
His wife, Helen Milner, made a panicked call to emergency services, claiming she had found her husband unresponsive.
They rushed to the home but he could not be saved.
The belief that Mr Nisbet took his own life seemed to become even more certain when his wife found a suicide note in a bedside drawer.
She showed the letter, typed out on a computer and signed with a handwritten "Phil", to Ms Cartier as further proof Mr Nisbet had tragically taken his own life.
But as soon as Ms Cartier saw the note and heard the story from her brother's "grieving" widow, she knew that his death was no accident.
"I just looked at it and went, 'That is not Phil's signature'," Ms Cartier told Sunday Night senior correspondent Steve Pennells.
"Phil was left-handed, and it was like he practically engraved when he wrote. And it was just light and wispy and just was a bit girly. His was more solid and straight.
"I looked at her and knew I was looking at his murderer. I had no doubt at all."
Despite moving to Australia away from her brother, Ms Cartier said they still remained close and would often visit to see each other. But that all changed when Mr Nisbet married Milner.
"She has no empathy. She has no heart. She's a heartless, evil b***h," Ms Cartier said.
"Before he met her, we'd go over there, we'd go out and have a lot of fun. We had a lot of good times. But, yeah, once she came along it was only a few family dinners."
It wasn't just Ms Cartier that thought something was off about Milner, her workmates used to call her the "Black Widow".
The name came about because of how much Milner used to talk about murder.
Milner was known to speak about killing her husband, Philip Nisbet, so much that the name stuck - and when she was eventually convicted of murdering him she became known as New Zealand's Black Widow killer.
Lynn Maynard, one of Milner's former colleagues, recalled how she would always complain about Mr Nisbet.
"She always had dramas in her life. As time went on, they just got more and more bizarre," she said.
"No matter what the man did, she was never happy. He couldn't do a thing right. He was always in the wrong."
After reading the suicide note, Ms Cartier knew Milner wasn't telling the truth and a lot of other strange behaviour started to make a lot more sense.
She noted how at the funeral her brother's widow didn't seem very upset and was very "matter of fact" about the situation.
Alarm bells were also set off when Milner's old flame, Barry Hayton, moved into the house just over three weeks after Mr Nisbet's death.
By this point the police had already ruled Mr Nisbet's death a suicide, so Ms Cartier knew she had to gather more evidence if she was going to bring her brother's killer to justice.
After digging around, she discovered that her husband had actually been poisoned a week earlier.
"Helen purchased a smaller packet of Phenergan," Ms Cartier told to program.
"She gave him some but Phil vomited and wasn't feeling well, and she took him into the hospital."
She also discovered that her brother's wife had taken out a $250,000 life insurance policy on him 14 months before his death.
She presented her evidence to the local police but it became clear that they weren't going to take her accusations seriously.
But unbeknown to Ms Cartier at the time, she wasn't the only person that thought her brother's death was suspicious.
Milner's co-workers has started discussing the possibility that she had something to do with her husband's death.
"They thought she'd done him in, but they didn't know how," Ms Maynard said.
"This is when one of them said, 'Oh, last week, she came and asked me whether Mitre 10 sold rat poison'.
'And then one of the other guys, on the day that Phil had actually died, he came up, and he said, 'Helen asked me on Friday if I knew anybody that she could pay to bop Phil off and make it look like an accident'."
Ms Maynard said none of them went to the police because they didn't think they "would have taken a scrap of notice".
Ms Cartier clearly felt the same way and turned to the local media for help in the evidence she had found to light.
The media pressure ended up paying off and a coronial inquest was held in November 2010, which found there was no proof of suicide.
Milner was arrested and charged with murder in October 2011 and she went on trial in late 2013.
After a gruelling 13 day trial, Milner was sentenced to life behind bars with a non parole period of 17 years.
"I don't even remember hardly even hearing the murder conviction," Ms Cartier said.
"I was just in tears. It was just such a release that we'd won the fight."