To everyone in his close-knit community, Colin Howell seemed a perfect gentleman.
A charismatic preacher and a successful dentist, he had three beautiful children and his wife, Lesley, was pregnant again.
But behind closed doors, Colin was having an affair with Sunday school teacher, Hazel Buchanan. Hazel’s husband, Trevor – a respected police officer – was also completely unaware of their secret tryst.
Despite their faith, the cheaters enjoyed passionate liaisons wherever they could – Hazel’s home when Trevor was away, even Colin’s dental chair.
Until one day, when they were spotted together by a member of the congregation.
Counselled by the church, Hazel and Colin confessed to their devastated partners. They vowed to end it and begged for forgiveness. But they were addicted to the thrill of it all, and couldn’t help themselves.
Within months, the affair was back on. It became the town’s worst kept secret.
Then something horrific happened. In May 1991, the Howell’s car was found in a garage owned by Lesley’s dad. The engine was still running, pumping exhaust fumes inside.
Hazel’s husband, Trevor, 32, was slumped in the front seat. Colin’s wife, Lesley, 31, was in the back. She was clasping photographs of her children and wearing headphones playing religious songs.
It was too late to save them. An autopsy report showed they died from exhaust fumes.
It was concluded Lesley and Trevor must have ended their lives after discovering their partners’ secret affair. An inquest declared the deaths a tragic suicide pact.
After the funerals, Colin and Hazel openly became a couple. It lasted five years before they separated.
She went on to remarry, becoming Hazel Stewart. Colin moved on with Kyle Jorgensen, who had recently emigrated from the US with her two children and joined the church.
Introduced during Bible studies, Kyle was completely unaware of Colin’s past. Mesmerised by his biblical knowledge and his charm, Kyle agreed to marry Colin after just five months. Soon after, they welcomed a son, Erik.
Living in a mansion with its own lake, Colin’s reputation was back intact and his business was thriving. It seemed they had the perfect life.
Then in 1998, while the older children played outside and Kyle fed seven-month-old Erik, Colin sat opposite her at the kitchen table.
There, he made three shocking confessions.
He’d been unfaithful to his first wife.
He’d murdered her.
Then another bombshell…
He’d killed the husband of his mistress and placed their bodies together to make it look like a suicide pact.
It was too much to take in. The gentle Christian, the man Kyle thought she knew, was a monster!
‘Just take a deep breath,’ Colin told her. He’d kept the secret for seven years, and didn’t want it to come out now. ‘For the sake of the kids,’ he pleaded.
He said if she went to the police, he’d take his own life.
Confused, frightened and alone, Kyle kept quiet. The couple even went on to have four more children.
But over the next 11 years, more sick confessions emerged. Another affair, an addiction to pornography and he’d been sexually abusing sedated women under his care at his surgery. He’d also lost money in a bad investment and was declared bankrupt.
He believed God was punishing him for his crimes.
‘You’ll never be a free person unless you confess and be really honest,’ Kyle urged her husband.
Kyle was terrified, but told Colin she’d stand by him. So in 2009, 18 years after the murder, and believing Kyle’s promises, Colin revealed all to the police.
Kyle, who was not charged with withholding information, took the opportunity to flee back to the US with their kids.
She was desperate to protect them from the horror that was about to unfold.
Colin, dubbed the Driller Killer by the media, and his former lover Hazel, were both charged with murder. In 2010, Colin Howell, 51, appeared at Belfast Crown Court and pleaded guilty.
The court heard that divorce was outlawed by the church, so Howell had come up with another plan to be with his mistress.
As his wife lay sleeping on the lounge one night, Howell slipped a hosepipe emitting carbon monoxide fumes from his car into her mouth. When she woke struggling, he covered her face with a quilt until she died.
Howell then dressed her corpse, stowed it in the boot of his car and drove to the home that Hazel shared with Trevor. Hazel let him inside, where Trevor had been drugged with tablets crushed up in his food.
He too woke as he was attacked. After a scuffle, Howell finally forced the hose into his victim’s mouth and watched as his body stilled. Wearing gloves, Howell then set the suicide scene in Lesley’s dad’s garage.
Sentenced to life in prison, Howell was ordered to serve a minimum of 21 years.
Hazel Stewart, 47, denied murder at Coleraine Crown Court in March 2011. But Howell gave evidence, bringing her down with him. It took the jury just two hours to find her guilty.
She sobbed as she was sentenced to life behind bars with a minimum of 18 years.
Later, Howell was sentenced to five-and-a-half years for indecently assaulting five of his female dental patients while they were under sedation.
The secrets rocked the community to the core. But the person scarred most by the ordeal was Kyle. She’d been caught in her husband’s lies for over a decade before he confessed.
‘He abused patients, he is a compulsive liar, he was an adulterer in our marriage and murdered two people,’ Kyle told the Sunday Mirror. ‘Everyone thought he was this great Christian guy but they were so wrong. He was a monster.’
After sentencing Howell, judge Mr Justice Hart said: ‘These were truly heinous crimes, constituting as they did the cold-blooded, carefully planned and ruthlessly executed double murder of two people who Howell saw as standing in the way of his adulterous desire to be with Hazel Buchanan. Each murder was carried out when the victim was asleep and thus entirely defenceless.’
This story originally appeared in that's life! Issue 42, 2016.