Hoax collar bomber had mental problems, ex-wife tells court

Court told of ex-HK banker's mood swings and hard drinking before bizarre extortion attempt

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 3:58am

A former Hong Kong investment banker who admitted chaining a fake bomb to a teenager was reeling from the breakdown of his marriage, drinking heavily and exhibiting wild mood swings in the years before the bizarre extortion attempt, his ex-wife and a psychiatrist said yesterday.

Still, Deborah Peters testified at a Sydney sentencing hearing that she has no idea why Paul Peters committed the crime. "I don't know if even Paul knows why he did it," she said.

The 51-year-old faces up to 20 years in prison for tethering a bomb-like device to the neck of then-18-year-old Madeleine Pulver in August 2011 while she was alone in her family's Sydney mansion. In March, he pleaded guilty to aggravated breaking and entering and committing a serious indictable offence.

It took a bomb squad 10 hours to remove the device, but it contained no explosives and Pulver was not injured. Peters, who wore a rainbow-striped ski mask and wielded a baseball bat in the attack, left a ransom note with an e-mail address that helped authorities track him down in the US.

The former banker went to school in Hong Kong, the privileged son of a pilot, and spent part of his financial career there.

Deborah Peters wept in New South Wales state District Court yesterday as she described how her then-husband's behaviour began to change in 2000. "Paul started to disconnect," she told the court. "I didn't know who was going to walk through the door. ... One minute he'd be OK; the next minute he'd be upset or angry."

The mood swings coincided with his attempt to write a book, an historical novel about a man living in Hong Kong, she said. Initially, it was meant to be about a man who finds a key and looks for treasure, she said, but it ended up being much darker, about a villain who kidnapped someone and addicted the victim to drugs.

Peters was spending hours in the basement working on it, she said. He also began drinking more: up to two bottles of wine and two large gin and tonics with dinner every night, she said. Deborah Peters testified that she divorced her husband in 2007, after he refused her pleas to get help, but they remained close.

Psychiatrist Bruce Westmore, testifying for the defence, said Paul Peters was "angry and revengeful" over his failed relationship and separation from his three daughters, was obsessed with his book and may have tried to become the vengeful character in the novel.

Westmore said he believes Peters suffers from depression, but was not psychotic and had an awareness of what he was doing at the time of the crime. Since his arrest, Peters has told the psychiatrist that he has no memory of the attack and described his own actions as bizarre, absurd and stupid. But Peters is so complex, pinpointing an exact diagnosis is difficult, Westmore acknowledged.

"I've never met anyone like Mr Peters before," Westmore said.

Outside court, the victim's wealthy father, Bill Pulver, said he found the testimony on Peters' mental state interesting, but ultimately thinks the attack was all about money. "He threatened our daughter with a baseball bat ... We have no question in our mind what this was all about," Pulver said. "We believe it was clearly an extortion."