Epitaphs on gravestones are the starting point for presenter Paul Gittins to unravel skeletons in cupboards, lovestruck suicide pacts, and fatal love letters. The series uses compelling personal stories to retell New Zealand history and effectively combines documentary and re-enactment. An actor and history enthusiast, Paul Gittins became a household name on Shortland Street (as Dr Michael McKenna) before he devised this series for Greenstone. Epitaph ran for three series, and won Best Factual Series at the 1999 NZ TV Awards.
In the 13th episode of Epitaph's second season, Paul Gittins goes digging in Waikumete Cemetery. The epitaph for 25-year old convicted murderer Dennis Gunn, hanged in 1920 for shooting the Ponsonby Postmaster, includes an intriguing inscription: "sadly wronged". Gittins unearths the story of a post office robbery, and the first conviction in New Zealand based on fingerprint identification. The judge called the print an "unforgeable signature". Before he died, Gunn claimed innocence: "if only my brother-in-law will speak up I will be saved".
In each episode of this popular TV series, actor Paul Gittins investigated the story behind the epitaph written on a gravestone. In this third episode from season one, Gittins visits the grave of Walter James Bolton, a Whanganui farmer who was the last man to get the death penalty in New Zealand. He was hanged on 18 February 1957, found guilty of poisoning his wife of 43 years with arsenic derived from sheep dip. Gittins meets Peter Waller, a campaigner for Bolton’s innocence, who claims to be his son. Bryan Bruce revisited the case in 2007 on his series The Investigator.