The sins of my mother

Wendy loved John Steed; tall, elegant, always with a kindly smile, which she felt he kept for her alone, a fat, insecure child in need of love who had been taking prescription slimming pills for a year to control her weight. Wendy was 12. She loved TV’s Avengers.

Her mum’s coolness and her dad’s disappointment in her being heavy didn’t matter so much when Steed smiled, a flickering black and white smile.

She was upset, then, when her mother ushered her, her sister, Angela, 11, and their four-year-old brother, Lloyd, to bed early one night.

It was 14 May, 1968.

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"No matter what, don’t get up!" her mother told them. Wendy realised her mother was agitated. She had been drinking a lot that evening. From a distance of 34 years Wendy recalls with clarity that it was gin and orange. Then, she did not understand that her mother, Sheila Garvie, was drinking to screw her courage to the sticking place, in order to participate in one of the most infamous murders in Scottish criminal history. Before morning, she would help kill her husband Maxwell, Wendy’s father.

In the early hours, she admitted two men to West Cairnbeg farm in Kincardineshire, which she shared with Maxwell, 35, and the children, a family which apparently defined the expression "pillars of society".

One of the men was her lover, Brian Tevendale, then 22; the other was his friend Alan Peters. In the darkness, Garvie, 33, guided Tevendale into her bedroom. Her husband was sleeping deeply. She had earlier had sex with him.

Maxwell Garvie was knocked senseless with a rifle, which Tevendale then placed to his head and fired, the report muffled by a pillow.

Wendy, now Wendy Drew, 45, is the first of the Garvie children to speak about the murder. It was a death signposted by revelations - which emerged at the trial of Garvie, Tevendale and Peters - of lust, perverted sex, drug-taking and infidelity.

But on that night Wendy slept, not knowing her life was forever changed, and unaware that the years between then and now would not constitute a life, but a battle to survive the emotional trauma of the experience.

Drew is writing a book about the legacy of her father’s murder. It will be her latest attempt at escape. One she hopes will work. She has already tried many other routes - pills, alcohol, teenage marriage, motherhood. None has brought peace; none can remove the erroneous guilt bred in a child’s mind that her silence may have contributed to her father’s murder.

Just weeks before the killing, Drew discovered her mother and Tevendale kissing passionately, but the child acquiesced to her mother’s plea to keep it secret.

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Drew says: "They had to be conspiring then to kill Dad. Over the years I have wondered whether if I had spoken up I might have ..."

She allows the thought to drift. Speaking in a curiously childlike voice, in a soft Scottish accent untouched by 24 years of living in the West Country, she adds: "Sometimes, when I drink whisky, I tell people I am going to kill Tevendale. It passes, but the desire is there. I still cry for my dad and sometimes I still see him. He is happy or sad or angry, and still going on about my weight.

"My mum is, of course, alive and living her own life in Scotland. I still love her; you love your mum, don’t you? She’s mum; can’t be helped, but I remember, too, her coldness and that night she killed my father. Maybe if I had spoken up …

"I’ve always needed therapy," Drew says. "I’ve tried other, bad things, the traps. Maybe writing can be a lasting therapy to help reclaim my life. I don’t really think I’ve had a proper life. I was married at 16, had my daughter at 18, and was separated from them more than 20 years ago. I have not seen them since. It’s painful. I lost my dad to murder, my mother to imprisonment. I have been battered by the actions of others who committed them without a thought to me."

Whether or not writing can offer Drew the peace she needs, her book will offer a unique insight into the events which led to her mother and Tevendale being jailed for murder. The charge against Peters was found not proven.

The trial that sent the lovers to jail was a cause clbre and shook the communities of the north-east to the core. It may have been the "Swinging Sixties", but in the fertile Mearns - Lewis Grassic Gibbons’s country - the revealed lifestyle of Maxwell Garvie, the "flying farmer", represented an abstraction so great it might have come from another planet.

The trial began on 19 November and queues ringed the elegant High Court of Aberdeen. This was to be a "good one". It was the biggest murder trial in a century and no-one was to be left disappointed by evidence of "perverts" tossing coins to decide their sexual partner for the night; of Maxwell Garvie having sex with a young lover as they flew in his private plane; of allegations of bizarre sexual practices forced on Sheila Garvie by her husband, not least of which was being forced to take Tevendale, a man 11 years her junior, as her lover. Maxwell Garvie, it was alleged, engineered the relationship to gratify his sexual fantasy. He did not legislate for them falling in love and plotting to kill him.

By the time the trial ended - on 2 December, 1968 - the queue for the public benches was forming at 3:30am. The salacious evidence satisfied society’s worst instincts, but it paid no heed to the dead man’s children, especially Wendy, who were effectively orphaned. Their mother and Tevendale would not be released for ten years.

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"To lose one parent to murder is appalling," says Drew. "For the loss to be caused by your other parent is a lot to bear."

She has no contact with her siblings, who have built their own lives. As the oldest child, she has probably accepted the greatest of their burdens.

The period from her father’s "disappearance" until it was revealed he was murdered was, she says, the most defining period of her life.

"I remember sitting crying. I remember the clothes I wore, which shoes I had on. It is crystal clear. I was so distressed. My father was painted as a manipulating monster, but as we all know, nothing is ever that black and white.

"I wonder now just how much of it all was truth."

Her mother, now 66 and living in the north-east, has stuck to her story.

However, the only inalienable fact is that she and Tevendale killed Garvie, and Tevendale disposed of the body in an underground tunnel at Lauriston Castle, near St Cyrus.

There it would probably have remained had not Sheila Garvie confessed to her mother, Edith, that she "thought" her husband had been murdered by her boyfriend.

"My granny went to the police. I remember the day they spoke. I couldn’t hear the words, but there was anger and my grandmother went off.

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"The next day I was cooking the potatoes when two men - detectives - arrived. They took away my dad’s guns. At this point he was still officially only missing.

"The night before, I had been crying because I missed him and, ironically, it was one of the few times I remember my mother comforting me."

Maxwell Garvie’s details were posted in the Police Gazette. It read: "Spends freely, is a heavy drinker and often consumes tranquillisers when drinking. Is fond of female company … deals in pornographic material and is an active member of nudist camps … may have gone abroad."

Garvie’s love for nudism caused his daughter great pain in childhood.

"I was forced to strip off. Being fat, I was terribly embarrassed. There were old men sitting watching. We went one time to Corsica, which was warm, but my dad tried to set up a place in Scotland and I remember undressing in the freezing cold.

"From the age of 11, I’d been taking tablets called ponderax, a slimming pill, and I’m sure they affected my brain. My dad was always on about my weight. I disappointed him. I wanted to be perfect for him and couldn’t. When I was 16 and I married my 21-year-old boyfriend, my weight came down to nine stone. I lost weight when I was loved. I needed the stability, but sadly, it didn’t last."

The stability in her life was wrecked forever when her mother was charged with murder on 17 August, 1968.

"They [the police] came. My mother said: ‘I won’t be long. I love you!’ It was the only time I remember her saying that. I didn’t see her again until I was grown up.

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"My gran and uncle Billy [Sheila’s brother] came. They said: ‘Your daddy’s dead; he won’t be coming back.’ It was matter of fact, but I think they were traumatised."

The children went to live with their grandmother until her death a year later. Then they were fostered and lived in Lanarkshire.

"We were protected from the terrible revelations of the trial. My mum’s affair with Tevendale. My dad was having an affair with Trudy Birse, who was Tevendale’s sister. We knew nothing about all the talk about sex and such and their lifestyle. I had known about the drugs taken by dad. He was under pressure. He was having financial troubles.

"Eventually, we went to school. It was, in relative terms, a happy period for me. I liked school. I was well supported."

Drew left school at 15 and worked in a chemist’s shop. She moved to England with her young husband and she has remained there since.

"My family life broke down in the 1970s and I haven’t wanted to marry again, but I like the sense of distance from Scotland and the past. People know me as Wendy and that’s enough for them. Carrying the past has been a great burden. I know, as an adult, that I did nothing wrong, but there is a sense of guilt over who you are and where you came from."

Wendy and her brothers and sisters shared in a 1 million estate, but her share of the money is long since spent.

"A magic wand to change my life? Oh, yes, but I’d want to reclaim my child’s life. That’s what I’d really like to change."