NZ Woman's Weekly

‘Black Widow’ Helen Milner tore my family apart

It has been nearly five years since ‘the Black Widow’ Helen Milner killed Ben Porter’s father, Philip Nisbet, when Ben was 14. The manipulative Christchurch woman was recently sentenced to life in prison with 17 years non-parole after she was found guilty of murdering Philip, her husband, in 2009.

Helen claimed he wrote a suicide note, stating he’d discovered Ben wasn’t his biological son, but in truth she had poisoned and suffocated Philip in a bid to claim his life insurance.

In an exclusive interview with the Weekly, Ben reveals the truth behind his stepmother’s web of lies – and how his mother, Karen Porter, is helping him rebuild his life.

As Ben Porter hugs his mother, Karen, during the Weekly photo shoot, it’s obvious that the past five years have taken a toll on the teenager. Karen tries to make Ben laugh, but he resists. The grief is overpowering – even a smile is hard to elicit.

He misses his father Philip Nisbet dearly and is coming to terms with not only his father’s death, but also with being used as a pawn by his stepmother, Helen Milner, who asserted that Phil was not Ben’s father – just so she could cover up the cold-blooded murder.

“Without a doubt he was my dad, and besides, my mother isn’t the sort of person to lie about something like that,” explains Ben, who took a DNA test proving what he knew all along, that Phil was his biological father. “Helen must have been desperate to come up with that plan. People always said I looked like him, so she was grasping at straws.”

Ben Porter and mum Karen

Ben says Milner took away his father, but the precious memories he has of Phil will stay with him forever.

The ordeal continues to leave Ben, now 18 years old, numb and shell-shocked – he hadn’t been able to cry after his father’s premeditated killing on May 9, 2009. But at a Christchurch party just a month ago, and weeks after Milner was finally convicted for Phil’s murder, Ben heard his father’s favourite song – Meatloaf’s I’d Do Anything for Love and broke down in tears – it was hearing the lyrics, and realising that it was his truck driver father’s love for Milner that had blinded him to her treacherous plan, that sparked Ben to mourn the loss of his devoted father and best friend.

“When the song came on I had a moment to myself,” he explains. “I sat in a room and I cried during the whole song. I hadn’t cried since Dad died, because of the general feeling that men are strong and not meant to show emotions. I held everything in for so long, but when I heard his favourite song, it triggered something and I couldn’t hold back the tears.”

Milner, who has since been described by her own mother as “evil”, murdered her second husband.

The court heard she had laced Phil’s evening meal with drugs and, while he was lying heavily sedated in bed, finished him off by smothering him with a pillow. She then concocted an elaborate scheme to make it look like a suicide, even typing fake notes and sending text messages to herself.

Motivated by greed, she hoped to claim Phil’s $250,000 life insurance payout. The gripping saga has intrigued the nation since the trial in December when Milner was found guilty of murder, four years after Phil’s death.

“He was too young to die. Anyone who takes another human’s life, for no reason at all, is despicable. You can never forgive someone like that,” Ben says solemnly.

Hearing her son express his sorrow saddens Karen immensely. She, too, is heartbroken – she knows no-one so young should experience such a tragic ordeal.

To add to Ben’s pain, Karen is suffering from a liver disease. Without a transplant, she only has two years to live. She’s fighting for her life for the sake of her son and can’t bear the thought of Ben losing both his parents before he turns 21.

“I can’t leave him now. He’s still young and he hasn’t properly grieved for his father,” the Christchurch mother says. “I will do anything to protect my boy.”

Karen had full custody of Ben, who stayed with his father every second weekend. Milner came into their lives when Ben was seven years old.

Karen says Phil met her through a flatmate, who contacted and dated Milner through a personal ad in the local newspaper.

“Phil’s mate came home one day after a date, told Phil that Helen wasn’t his cup of tea and suggested Phil should date her,” Karen tells.

Karen took an instant dislike to Milner and dreaded seeing her around her son.

“I sensed she couldn’t be trusted. I saw right through her from the beginning.”

But both Karen and Ben never imagined Milner could be capable of murder, until they were given the news of Phil’s death – a revelation that rocked the family.

On the morning that Ben found out his father had died, he was waiting for Phil to visit him at Karen’s home, and knew something sinister was up when he didn’t arrive.

“I was watching out the window, waiting for him to come,” Ben says. Karen received the call and had to break the news to her then 14-year-old son. “He was the kind of dad who always kept his promises. He never let me down. I was broken,” Ben says.

Philip's gravestone

Family members immediately became suspicious when Milner claimed Phil had committed suicide.

She presented suicide notes, claiming the reason Phil took his own life was because he had discovered Ben was not his biological son. Ben says Milner is despicable for using him to cover up the murder.

“I’m glad the DNA test proved I was my father’s son, but I knew that was the only result that would come back.”

Ben says his father did love Milner, but she had control over him and she even tried to lure Ben into her web.

“She encouraged me to stay as often as I could. I felt she slowly wanted to take over my mind, because I was close to my dad. She wanted to make me a drone and have me slowly drawn to her.”

He says she would use his love for kittens, which she kept adopting to emotionally trap him.

“I remember the cats purring, and I liked how they felt warm next to me. They were something I could cuddle and give my love and attention to.”

Milner was nicknamed ‘The Black Widow’ by work colleagues because of her constant talk about how she planned to poison her husband.

Police launched a homicide investigation against Milner two years after initially ruling Phil’s death a suicide, when his sister Lee-Anne Cartier played amateur sleuth, as she had become suspicious about her brother’s death.

She constantly questioned the evidence and even befriended Milner to get more information from her.

Based in Queensland, Phil’s sister Lee-Anne spent thousands of dollars on flights home and phone calls to bring her brother’s killer to justice.

Her persistence was rewarded when police reopened the case and gathered enough evidence to put Milner on trial for murder.

At the time ‘The Black Widow’ was actually serving jail time for another shocking crime – in a mother’s act of ultimate betrayal, Milner had framed her own son, Adam Kearns, for a crime that he never committed.

Milner had a long history of dishonesty, including stealing a large amount of money from an invalid aunt while cleaning her house and taking money while working as a teller.

Ben says his stepmum even stole from him as a kid, taking money he had earned from his paper run.

Helen Milner

In December, Milner was found guilty of murdering Philip by poisoning him with the allergy medicine Phenergan.

At the trial in December 2013, Ben had to testify.

He told the jury that his father didn’t know his way around a computer and would usually write notes by hand. The suicide notes given to police by Milner were typed.

During the trial the jury also heard that the DNA test concluded Ben was Phil’s biological son, which conflicted with the reason Milner gave for why Phil ended his own life.

The trial was very difficult, especially when Ben had to face his dad’s killer in court.

“Every time I looked at the lawyers I could see her staring straight at me. I didn’t want to see her at all. But I took comfort picturing her future – sitting in a cell and thinking about what she did – and knowing she can’t get away with murdering my dad.”

It was during the trial that Ben heard for the first time the lengths Milner went to kill his dad, her attempts to cover it up, and how Milner’s son Adam heard her repeatedly describe how she wanted to kill Phil, offering him and his former partner, Kasey Woodstock, a share of a life insurance policy if they could find a hit man to do the job.

Milner also told Adam she wanted to poison Phil and put crushed glass in his mashed potatoes.

She asked her eldest son Greg Kearns if Benzylpiperazine (BZP) could cause her husband to crash while driving his delivery truck and also offered Greg a $20,000 cut of Phil’s life insurance if he would kill him.

Recalling these horrible details of her manipulation angers Ben.

“I hate her,” he says. “I want to hear about her rotting in prison for the rest of her life.”

After Milner’s sentence was handed down, Ben was finally able to receive closure and look forward to the future.

Milner will not be able to apply for parole until 2031.

Ben recently left high school and is looking for work. He has a passion for computers, which has helped him deal with the pain and suffering.

“The closest thing to happiness for me is being in a room with a whole heap of computers, which distracts me and helps me forget.”

He’s taking one day at a time, and with counselling Ben hopes to get through this dark period.

He misses the time he spent with Phil, especially attending Crusaders games.

Phil had promised to buy Ben a car if he passed his learner’s licence. He says his father would be proud he passed his driver’s test, but is sad they will never go car shopping together.

“I haven’t been happy since my dad died. You can’t imagine how much I love him. I miss him dearly,” he says, looking at the only picture he has of him and his father playing in a playground. “Helen may have taken my father away from me, but she can’t take away the memories I have of him.”

About Aroha Awarau

I started my exciting magazine career at the NZ Woman’s Weekly seven years ago, and I’ve returned after two years away. I have a passion for telling Kiwi stories – the triumphs, the heartbreaks and the many inspirational tales.

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