Real Life

Lawson quin Selina: ‘I’m still not ready to forgive’

Sharing the truth hasn’t been easy for the Lawson quins.

From left: Older sister Leeann, Deborah, Shirlene, Selina and Lisa

Selina Lawson has a confession to make. It’s been a year since the publication of a revealing book about the turbulent lives she and her siblings, the Lawson quins, have led, but she hasn’t been able to finish reading it.

“It was all a bit too emotional,” admits Selina, whose idea it was for the book Stolen Lives: The Untold Stories of the Lawson Quins to be written in the first place.

“I’ve got the last quarter to go and I will read it, but when I’m ready. It brought a lot of things back.”

Fellow quin, Samuel, who was in Australia at the time of our photoshoot.

The Lawson quins – Selina, Shirlene, Deborah, Lisa and Samuel – became the subjects of national fascination following their births in Auckland in July 1965. They grew up in front of cameras, and photos of them with their parents Ann and Sam, and older sister Leeann, suggested their lives were idyllic.

In fact, their early childhood was very happy, but that all changed after their parents divorced when they were five and Ann remarried three years later. Her new husband, Gary Eyton, was abusive, making life a misery for Ann and the children. Selina in particular went through a harrowing time – she was sexually abused by Gary from the age of about 10.

She left home at 15 to live with her boyfriend but found herself in a worse situation, thanks to her partner’s violent streak and gang connections.

She was later drugged, beaten and raped, and so traumatised that going home seemed to be the lesser of two evils.

The book was Selina’s idea, but she says it was all a bit too emotional.

By then, Ann had left Gary, but one night in 1982, he went to the Whangaparaoa house where his wife was living with her mother and the quins, and shot Ann dead. He then turned the gun on himself.

All of the quins apart from Deborah were in the house when their mother was murdered outside, and Lisa saw what happened.

The quins, then 16, were devastated by the death of the mother they adored and went on to suffer more trauma in their lives, including the sudden death of a partner (Lisa), losing a baby to cot death (Deborah) and living with violent partners (Deborah and Selina).

They had talked a little publicly over the years about what they had been through, but with their 50th birthday looming last year, Selina thought it would be a good idea to get the truth about everything the siblings went through on the record. She approached author Paul Little to help them write the book.

“I’m glad we did it, although it hasn’t been easy,” says Selina (51). “I did find all the attention we got when the book came out quite overwhelming and I have been recognised quite a lot, which has been a bit strange.

“People were shocked when they read it, including people I worked with who didn’t know the full story. Everyone has been very nice, but to be honest, there have been times when it has been hard getting so much attention again.

“I hope everyone who reads it will get a better understanding of what we went through and get the message that it is not all right to put up with abuse. I hope they can see that you can get through the tough times – we have.

“And I’ve gained even more respect for my brother and sisters – we all have our own stories.”

One of the good things that came out of the book was reconnecting with her brother Samuel, who she hadn’t seen since he moved to Australia 10 years ago and who was the only quin not to talk about their experiences for Stolen Lives.

Last year, Samuel told the Weekly that he felt the need to do things on his own and not be labelled as a quin.

“I’m not in touch with my sisters, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about them,” he said then. “They’re always in my heart.”

Selina felt the time had come to see Samuel and flew to visit him in Cairns last year.

“We had a lovely time, he took me sightseeing and we just enjoyed being with each other,” says Selina.

“It was so good to see him – he hadn’t changed at all. Samuel is a very private man and he’s getting back on his feet after the break-up of a relationship. He has his own issues to deal with. We did talk about some personal stuff and I respect the choices he has made.”

She gave him a copy of the book but says, “I don’t know if he has read it yet. There’s a lot in it that is hard going for all of us.”

The year since the book was published and the quins turned 50 has been one of transition for her sisters, says Selina.

Shirlene and Deborah both sold their Auckland homes and moved out of the city to more rural areas. Lisa also has her house on the market and is considering moving up north, closer to where Deborah now lives.

“It’s been hard for me, them moving away – especially Deborah because she lived just down the road from me. But we all have to do our own thing.”

Selina, meanwhile, is staying put, although she and husband Mike Erkkila have bought a section in the Bay of Islands where they’d like to live once they retire. A hairdresser who runs a part-time business from home, she also works full-time as a lounge hostess for Air New Zealand at Auckland Airport.

“That does mean I’m really, really busy and I don’t get a lot of time to do things like see my grandchildren,” says Selina, a mum-of-four who also has six grandkids aged from four to 10.

“I love my job, though, and one of the good things about working in customer service is that you get training on how to deal with people. It has made me take a look at myself and how I approach others. I tend to put barriers up – it’s a trust issue after everything that has happened.

“But I am learning through work to put my best face on and to be positive, and that is helping me to deal with other parts of my life.”

Still, there have been times when it has been hard to cope when painful memories from the past resurface.

“A while ago, I was out when I saw someone from my past who had hurt me. It related to many years ago when I was raped and beaten. I nearly started hyperventilating when I saw this person – inside my body was screaming. All I could do was walk away. I don’t want that to stop me from getting on with my life.

“There will always be pain because of what I went through and my siblings have their own pain. I am still not ready to forgive people who have done me hard and I don’t think I ever will, but I have been making the effort to move on.

“You just have to learn to put one foot in front of the other. I know how short life is, so I want to make the most of it.”

Words: Donna Fleming

Related stories