Strolling through the farmlands that have been in their family for more than 40 years, Jo and Bryan Guy are feeling a mix of emotions.
The parents to slain farmer Scott Guy remember the good times – how the vast dairy farm on the outskirts of Feilding was once both a sanctuary and a playground for their children, Nikki (38), Scott (37), Anna (34) and Callum (29).
The siblings lived an idyllic Kiwi life, climbing trees, playing in the hay and winning prizes for their calves at school pet day. Of course, the farm also brought challenging times – droughts, floods and heavy snow that caused riverbanks to erode, fences to be lost and put the lives of valuable stock at risk.
But for loving mother Jo, any memories are now coloured by thoughts of Scott – the father of two whose young life was brutally taken five years ago when he was gunned down in the driveway as he left his house to go and milk the cows.
“It’s currently ploughing season. Scott was the one that did all our ploughing,” Jo says quietly. As she gazes out at the paddocks, she can picture her son on the tractor waving and smiling at her as he cared for the land that he and his siblings hoped to inherit one day.
Jo (58) and Bryan (60) were counting on the 250ha property being in the family for a very long time. They were hoping the profits and opportunities that it brought would be passed down to their children and the generations that followed.
But that succession plan has been brutally crushed. After much thought and discussion, Jo and Bryan have decided to sell the farm. Scott’s death and the highly publicised trial of their former son-in-law Ewen Macdonald (35), who was charged with and then acquitted of murdering their son, have contributed to their heartbreaking decision.
Ewen was found guilty – and jailed for – other offences, including vandalising Scott and his wife Kylee’s new home on the family’s property and killing 19 calves. He is due to be released on parole in November after serving more than four years in jail.
The farm holds many memories and so much hope for the future. But soon, those memories – both the fantastic and the frightening, most horrific ones – will be all that Jo, Bryan and their remaining children have left.
“We tend to measure our lives in two periods – before Scott was killed and afterwards,” says Jo, speaking candidly with the Weekly. “During the early days of being here, we had a wonderful life with lots of good memories. Then everything turned very bizarre.”
Jo and Bryan met in 1975, on a blind date during a farmers’ ball in Feilding. Bryan was raised in the Manawatu, whereas Jo had moved to Feilding from Christchurch as a teenager.
City girl Jo had to adapt to dairy farming life after her father, who managed a wool scouring plant, settled his family on a small farming block. Jo was 17 when she met 20-year-old Bryan, and they married a year later.
“People often wondered how we ever got together because we are complete opposites,” Jo explains, glancing at her husband who nods in agreement. “I was a peacock – a bit of a show pony. I loved to talk. Bryan is an introvert, a details person who likes systems. He loves spreadsheets – I hate them!”
The farm was originally owned by Bryan’s father Grahame – who tragically passed away just three months after Scott’s death. Bryan bought into the business when his dad wanted to expand but couldn’t get a bank loan, having exhausted all of his credit. Bryan, who was only 19, was asked to apply for the loan instead – which began his and Jo’s 40-year tenure on the farm.
“When we started having our children, it was great,” Bryan tells. “They had trees to climb, they could run around in the paddocks and it was also character-building for them. I would take them out milking at an early age and give them simple tasks to perform.
“Farming is a great education for children. Something as simple as closing the right gate has consequences. The kids would be petrified if they got it wrong!”
It seemed that Jo and Bryan were leading the perfect life. But behind closed doors, there was an unhappiness seeping into their family. Bryan was spending too much time on the farm and became very controlling. This is the first time Bryan and Jo have spoken openly about this painful period in their marriage – one that they eventually overcame, giving them the tools to deal with the brutal murder of their son and the tragic aftermath that was to follow.
“I was working all the time. I didn’t take weekends off or have holidays,” Bryan begins. “I wasn’t a nice person and I was taking everything out on my family. You think you’ve got to work hard to provide for your family, but the problem was, I wasn’t spending time with them.”
He also admits to keeping Jo “under his thumb”.
“I was bossy, I was controlling and told Jo what to do and how to think. I wasn’t allowing her to be her own person,” he says with sadness in his voice.
After years of struggling, Jo started to empower herself – taking assertiveness courses and learning how to deal with a manipulative husband.
“To start with, I changed the way I was reacting to Bryan, which he did not like,” she recalls. “I wasn’t a good communicator. I couldn’t express how I felt. Bryan is smart and I thought he knew best. For a long time, I just wanted to keep the peace, until I realised that I had some very good opinions of my own! When I went to assertiveness training, I learned how to get my point across without being passive or aggressive.”
But there were shocking consequences. Jo admits that this unpleasant period in their marriage affected their children immensely.
“The boys made sure that when they had their own families, they found a balance between family and home,” she says. “But I think it was hard on Anna. She picked up on every tension. She was very sensitive.”
Anna, who married Ewen in 2001, has been open about her years of insecurity and how she overcame the bulimia she had suffered since she was a teen. Jo thinks that witnessing such unhappiness at home might have contributed to her daughter’s problems.
“But there were issues at school too,” Bryan tells. “I don’t want to take all the blame.”
As his wife attended courses and learned more about herself, Bryan found it difficult to accept that Jo was becoming more outspoken.
“We reached a crisis point. I decided I wasn’t going to live with this any more, and I thought ‘Bugger you’,” Jo explains. “I needed a sense of my own worth.” The mum-of-four made plans to end the marriage, which forced Bryan to confront his attitude issues.
“I knew I would lose my family, the children and the farm,” Bryan admits. “That was enough for me to change and seek help. A lot of men, especially farmers, don’t go to counselling. It’s pride that stops us, but I went.”
Jo applauds her husband for accepting that he needed to seek support. By the time the children reached high school, Jo and Bryan had overcome their marital problems. Through counselling and behaviour courses, the couple learned how to work together and communicate better.
“Bryan had always been seen as someone who was strong and clever – someone who never made mistakes. After admitting his failings, we both had a new sense of freedom,” says Jo, who is sharing this experience with the Weekly to let other couple’s know that they can also overcome hardships.
“Life on the farm became happy again, and Bryan became a good and loving father to our teenagers.”
During Ewen’s trial for murder, events and characters came to the forefront in the search for truth. The farm itself took on a character of its own, as aspects of this bizarre tragedy were pieced together.
Anna had met Ewen, a local boy who worked casually on the Guy farm, while she was at high school. Her future husband was later given a permanent job on the farm, a week into his sixth form year. Bryan took an interest in the lad, showing him the ropes and later gave him his blessing to marry Anna. Eventually, the young couple moved into the big farmhouse while Jo and Bryan bought a home in Feilding.
Life on the farm seemed to be going well – until eldest son Scott returned after working as a ranch-hand in outback Australia, and brought with him his new wife Kylee. Together, the former flatmates and great mates ran the Guy farm. But an intense rivalry developed.
Later, police would try to prove that the conflict about work responsibilities and Scott’s insistence that he should inherit the farm he believed was rightfully his, caused a rage and jealously so intense that it was the perfect motive for the farm manager to kill his brother-in-law. However, it was not proven in court and Ewen was acquitted of the crime.
Bryan shoulders some of the blame for the rivalry. “One of the mistakes we made is that we thought we had sorted out the inheritance issue. We talked to the kids a fair bit about what was happening on the farm, explaining what the roles and responsibilities were and what the plans were going forward.Obviously, we didn’t talk about it enough.”
Father-of-four Ewen later pleaded guilty to other offences – crimes that targeted Scott and his wife. He smashed walls and fittings in the house that Scott and Kylee were building on the farm, and wrote obscenities on the walls directed at Kylee.
“Nobody in the family, absolutely nobody, realised what Ewen was capable of,” Jo says. “We take things at face value and we expect everyone else to be the same.”
One of the ways Jo keeps Scott’s memory alive is by saying his name as much as she can. But another name that will always be connected to the family, one that Bryan and Jo try to avoid saying, is Ewen.
“We refer to him as our ex son-in-law. Saying his name gets me choked up and emotional, and we don’t want him to have that power over us,” Jo explains.
Of course, he is still father to four of their grandchildren.
“The kids understand some of the things that their dad was in jail for,” Jo reveals.
And the doting grandparents try to spend as much time with Anna’s children as possible.
Every six weeks, they travel from Feilding to Auckland, where Anna, her new partner Brent Jameson and her children – Finn (11), Jack (10), Lucy (8), Wade (7) and her baby to Brent, Ruby (1), are now living. Their most recent visit was to watch grandson Finn star as a playing card in his school production of Alice in Wonderland.
“We want to stress to his children that life is about choices and that they need to make good decisions,” Jo says. “I tell them that if they make wrong choices, then they’ll go to the dark side and turn out like Darth Vader!”
After four attempts, Ewen was recently granted parole from his five-year sentence at Rolleston Prison in Christchurch. His bail conditions include being prohibited from visiting the North Island, being electronically monitored and forbidden from holding and using firearms.
“We always knew that this time would come,” Bryan tells. “Everybody has been stressed about it, especially Anna and the children. We won’t be seeking him out. We’ll be happy if we never see him again. After what we learned in court, we believe he has a vengeful and vindictive nature, and we don’t want to be close to that.”
Jo and Bryan also think about how the decision to release Ewen will affect Scott’s widow Kylee and her two sons, Hunter (7) and Drover (5), who live in the Hawke’s Bay. The couple admit that the media circus that followed the trial took a toll on their relationship with Kylee.
It’s tough, but the couple are working towards strengthening that relationship once more. “We try and see Scott’s boys as much as we can,” Bryan says.
As to the farm, Jo says they offered each of their children the opportunity to become shareholders in it, but all agreed it was best to move on – the memory of Scott’s death was just too painful. It’s currently on the market, valued at $8.7 million, and they hope it sells by the new year.
In the meantime, Jo and Bryan are preparing for their new life. They intend to remain in Feilding as they love the community and the support that they’ve had during the tough times. Jo has even been writing an inspirational blog called Make Lemonade.
“On the blog, I open my heart and hopefully inspire others going through tragedy. When the odds are stacked against you, you can get through.”
They are also hoping to spend more time with Scott’s two sons, Anna’s five children, Nikki’s one-year-old twins, Dulcie and Molly, and Callum’s nine-week-old son Tristan.
For the last 40 years, running the farm has meant Bryan has always had early morning starts to milk the cows. After all the happiness, the pain, the suffering and the tragedy, what Jo is most looking forward to once the farm is sold is quality time with her husband.
“I can’t wait to sleep in and have Bryan next to me when I wake up in the mornings.”
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