The Kiwi criminal who tried to kill the Queen
HE ONCE decapitated a sparrow, shot at the Queen and was believed to have plotted to kill Prince Charles, and in 1997 became embroiled in the murder of an Auckland woman - which he denied all culpability for until the day he died.
Christopher John Lewis' story is a troubled one - by all public accounts he was a crazed individual, a psychopath, a terrorist, arsonist, robber and, in the year of his death - a murder-accused.
In Lewis' words, published in his memoir, he was an outsider, who struggled to fit in and who grappled to manage his anger and grief at what he described as a lost childhood.
The Herald has delved into its archives and Lewis' self-written memoir, Last Words, to detail the life and death of a man who could have been the Queen's assassin at just 17.
TROUBLED EARLY YEARS
He was born on September 7, 1964 to a teen mother in Dunedin. Lewis said his mother always said she loved him, but he often felt he was the source of all her woes.
His father left when he was young, and his mother later remarried a man who said he had been physically abused as a child and went on to do much the same to his stepson.
"Basically my life from the age of 7 or 8 onwards became a living hell, which left me in a constant state of terror."
Lewis described in his book how he was frequently whipped with a belt until he had deep purple welts on his back, stomach and legs.
His crimes? Not washing his hands, failing to feed the guinea pig, being minutes late home from school.
At 33, Lewis wrote he had harboured a sense of anger throughout most of his life as a result and this is what he blamed for "rebelling against society".
He said this anger eventually paved way to grief at his "loss of a happy childhood".
It wasn't all bad - Lewis spoke of a loving grandmother, a mother who always said she loved him, even while he endured what he felt was subtle resentment towards him for destroying her teen years.
He enjoyed walks in nature, music, was a fan of German opera singer Ivan Rebroff and was proficient in many musical instruments, including the ukulele, the piano, the clarinet, the guitar and a number of other brass instruments.
Lewis also trained in the martial arts, a skill that earned him the title of the fugitive ninja.
However, he said the physical violence he endured as a child made it hard to remember the good.
"This taste of violence made me resentful and turn inwards. And whatever pleasant moments I can remember of these years seem now detached and ethereal. All I can remember wondering is 'Why the hell has this descended upon me?"
Lewis said it took him years to recover from this "twisted wreckage" of his life - though, given how it ended, with him alone in a prison cell it seems as if he never did recover fully.
Twenty years on Lewis said he could only feel "sorrow for the child who was inexorably caught up in a dark web of generational abuse".
EMBARKING ON A LIFE OF CRIME
He never did seem to fit in. Friends, family and even Lewis himself, described him as a loner, one who always seemed to go back to his life of crime.
He toyed with religion, a stable married life, a career as an electrician - but never seemed to manage staying on the straight and narrow.
Lewis earned the first black mark against his name when he was a mere preschooler. At 4, he was kicked out of kindergarten for pushing a boy off a slide.
Throughout his schooling he was constantly causing trouble, tipping over a teacher's desk, playing with matches, showing porn to his classmates. His education was marred by a series of expulsions until he eventually left for good at just 15.
Those who knew Lewis through his fairly troubled childhood described him as a "true psychopath" who "fancied himself as an outlaw".
A friend from Lewis' childhood in Dunedin who watched his schoolmate decapitate a sparrow wasn't surprised he may have gone on to commit murder.
Former friend Paul Taane told the Herald in 1997 Lewis had been trouble since the pair met in their intermediate years; Lewis' name made a regular appearance in the disciplinary records at Tahuna Intermediate School.
Taane's memories of the criminal-to-be included him pointing a shotgun at an old lady and demanding a ride to the shop. He was just 15 at the time.
Two years later, Lewis pulled the head off a sparrow "just for the hell of it", Taane said.
He said his former friend was "beyond" messed up and fancied himself as an outlaw.
"He always wanted to know what it would be like to take someone's life."
Sandy-haired and described as a "polite" boy, Lewis first came to the attention of Dunedin police in the early 1980s, when he was just a teenager.
Accompanied by two mates from school, he brazenly carried out an armed robbery on Dunedin's Andersons Bay post office during recess. The trio held staff and two children at gunpoint and stole $5000.
The robbery happened just a week after the same three boys broke into a gun shop and stole a number of weapons.
Days after the boys' post office heist, Lewis' anti-royalist tendencies emerged when he fired a .22 rifle at the Queen during her visit to Dunedin.
The shot missed, but Lewis was eventually caught. He pleaded guilty in the Dunedin District Court to the shooting as well as more than a dozen other charges, but narrowly avoided a treason charge - which former Dunedin detective Tom Lewis (no relation) believed was a deliberate attempt by the Government to cover it up.
The detective, speaking to the Herald in 1997, said the cover-up was probably because of fears the shot would jeopardise future royal tours.
In his memoirs Christopher Lewis claimed he never intended to assassinate the Queen, but merely to "scare her" into seeing the issues he believed were prevalent in New Zealand society.
Lewis and some of his friends had formed a breakaway group of the National Independent Guerrilla Army, to challenge those in power.
Lewis described in his book how they started with petty crime to raise public attention.
But when this failed they "raised the stakes" and toyed with bomb-making, before coming up with the idea to shoot at the Queen.
"I felt that giving her a scare somehow, that the issues and problems that were evident in New Zealand might be finally brought into the public attention and as a bonus if the Queen would look at these issues - she might well take notice."
Lewis was sentenced to three years in prison, but spent the final year at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital.
During his time at the hospital, near Whanganui, Lewis reportedly put a knife to the throat of a guard, but was disarmed by other guards.
Police also alleged that while at the hospital he developed a plot to shoot Prince Charles.
ON THE WATCHLIST
In the years that followed Lewis tried to make a life for himself, removed from his criminal past, but couldn't seem to stay on the straight and narrow and committed a series of burglaries. In 1987 he fled from police and hid on the West Coast.
Authorities viewed him as a serious threat and he remained on the intelligence services' watchlist.
In May 1987 the former police commissioner said that if Lewis had had a more efficient weapon and the ability to plan and carry out an assassination his attempt to shoot the Queen six years prior would have been a "matter of very serious concern".
Following this, assistant police commissioner Stuart McEwan, called for the complete file on the shooting.
Eight years later, in 1995, Lewis was secretly exiled to Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf because of police fears for the Queen's safety during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland.
ACCUSED OF MURDER
The next year Howick mother-of-three Tania Furlan was found dead in her home.
For three months police thought a woman might have bashed Furlan to death.
However Lewis' name popped up when a man held by police on a different matter claimed his former inmate had confessed to the killing.
Police came to believe her death was the result of a failed kidnap attempt in which Lewis was planning on holding Furlan's baby daughter for ransom. Baby Tiffany was abducted from the house but later dropped at a nearby church.
The police informant who gave up Lewis' name was Travis Burns. Police gave him a new identity and a payout in exchange for the information and settled him into a safe house in Orewa.
Lewis never stood trial for Furlan's murder and protested his innocence until he died.
"I stand firm in my convictions that the present nightmare will soon be over. I know in my heart that I didn't commit these crimes, so this is all the hope I need for myself," he wrote in his memoirs.
He had sent a manuscript of his book to Howling at the Moon Productions while awaiting trial, but was told the company couldn't publish the story while it was before the courts.
Days later, on September 23, 1997, he was dead.
Till his death Lewis blamed Burns - whom he called Jimmy the Weasel - the police informant who helped pin the murder charge on Lewis.
A coroner's inquest, and a reinvestigation of the Furlan case failed to clear Lewis of the murder or find any evidence to pin it on Burns, who was later found guilty of the murder of young mum Joanne McCarthy, whose killing was strikingly similar to Furlan's.
Speaking to the Herald after Lewis' death, his mother said she had tried to get her son help, but the counselling sessions stopped when the counsellor moved overseas.
She said her son had an "untreatable" mental disorder and described him as "psychologically disturbed".
The Christchurch woman, who did not want to be named, said doctors couldn't pin down what was wrong with him as his behaviour didn't match any psychiatric condition.
She described her son as an introvert, she said he resented his stepfather and by 13 or 14 his hormones had "gone mad" and she couldn't control him.
Despite this, she said she still loved her son. "He's my son, I still love him and I always will."
LIFE AND DEATH OF CHRISTOPHER LEWIS:
September 7, 1964
Christopher John Lewis born in Dunedin. His mother was a teenager and his father just a few years older.
Age 4, expelled from kindergarten for pushing a boy off a slide - the first official black mark on Lewis' record.
The remainder of his childhood was turbulent, marred by physical abuse, bullying and juvenile crime.
October 2, 1981
Lewis, 17, breaks into a gun shop with two friends and steals a number of weapons - his first major crime.
October 9, 1981
The three boys raid a local post office, hold staff at gunpoint and steal $5000 - they planned to use the money to fund a "revolutionary" organisation to "overthrow" the government.
October 14, 1981
Lewis, armed with a .22 rifle, fires a shot at Queen Elizabeth II during her visit to Otago.
In his memoirs Lewis said giving the Queen "a scare", by shooting in her direction, not at her, would be a way of bring the issues sand problems of New Zealand into the public eye and perhaps draw her attention to it.
The sound of the gunshot is heard but not investigated and later reports about the gunshot are quashed by police - because of fears it would jeopardise future royal tours.
November 15, 1981
Lewis pleads guilty to 19 charges, including aggravated robbery, arson and burglary. Police discover a .22 rifle in a local reserve - but no charges of treason in relation to shooting at the Queen were laid.
He was sentenced to three years in prison and spent the last 12 months of his sentence at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital to treat his severe depression.
Police alleged that, during his time at Lake Alice psychiatric hospital, Lewis plotted to assassinate Prince Charles.
Lewis secretly exiled to Great Barrier Island as police fear for the Queen's safety during the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Auckland.
July 26, 1996
Tania Furlan found dead in her Howick home. Police believe her death to be the result of a failed kidnap attempt in which Lewis was planning on holding Furlan's baby daughter for ransom.
Baby Tiffany was abducted form the house but later dropped at a nearby church.
November 1, 1996
Lewis charged with Furlan's murder.
March 5, 1997
Lewis denies killing Furlan, despite further evidence against him including signs of a ransom note to her husband.
March 6, 1997
Lewis committed for trial.
September 23, 1997
Lewis found dead in Mt Eden prison.
Christopher John Lewis' book is published by Howling at the Moon Productions. He had sent a manuscript to the company while awaiting trial, but was told the company couldn't publish the story while it was before the courts.