While the horrific end of the Clarke family shocked the nation, I believe a deeper look into filicide should be part of the conversation moving forward.
Last week, we witnessed another despicable act of domestic homicide when Rowan Baxter made the unfathomable decision to murder his wife, Hannah Clarke and the couples’ three children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4 and Trey, 3. And it truly is unfathomable. No rational, thinking person could even imagine doing such a thing, and yet it seems premeditated.
It reminds me of a similar incident in 2019 when Charmaine McLeod drove her four children (Aaleyn, 6, Matilda, 5, Wyatt, 4, and Zaidok, 2) to their death north of Hervey Bay in Queensland. All four children and their mother died as her car collided head-on with an oncoming truck. A note was found. It had been thrown from the vehicle prior to impact.
For most of us, the idea of a parent who would commit filicide brings deep emotions of sheer disbelief and even rage. No person who could do that should call themselves a parent.
But we’ve seen this before. One of the most notable and despicable acts of family violence related to court orders occurred when Arthur Freeman brutally murdered his daughter, Darcey, by throwing her off the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne. Four-year-old Darcey was supposed to be taken to school by her father that morning. Seemingly angry at court orders reducing his time with the child, he made the unfathomable decision to murder her.
Four years prior, Robert Farquarson was driving his children back to their mother after a court-ordered access visit on Father’s Day, 2005. Instead of returning them home, Farquarson drove the vehicle at speed into a dam. He got out of the vehicle, leaving Jai, 10, Tyler, 7, and Bailey, 2, to drown.
There are obvious similarities in all these cases. A parent has made an otherwise unthinkable decision to murder their children in an act of filicide. And in each of these cases, there were unresolved issues regarding caring for the children after a relationship breakdown.
In the tragic case of the Clarke family, Detective Mark Thompson was asked to stand down due to his comments that a full investigation was required. Anti-domestic violence advocates were outraged that his comments regarding investigations indicated this was somehow Hannah’s fault.
We all know this can only be the fault of the person who did it.
Yet when Charmaine McLeod killed her children, those same advocates came quickly to her defence. Some attempted to make claims that she’d been driven to the act through desperation, as Charmaine claimed she was a victim of domestic violence in a Facebook post.
Their father, James McLeod, told the Courier-Mail that he separated from his partner in order to protect their children. “I’ve always known that she would do something like this to the kids. I’ve let judges know, I’ve let lawyers know, I’ve let DOCS (the Department of Child Safety) know, I’ve let (the) police know. They’ve all turned a blind eye. This all could have been prevented if they did something. (I’ve been telling them) for years,” he said.
I sincerely hope there will be an inquest into the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children. We must examine all aspects of these terrible acts of violence.
While what he said was poorly worded, what I imagine Detective Thompson was trying to say is on the mark. We need to investigate what drives people to make these despicable decisions. Only they, the murderer, are responsible, but until we determine the triggers and what could be done to prevent it, the rate of filicide will continue.
In a comprehensive 12-year study of filicide, the Australian Institute of Criminology revealed that 125 children were murdered by their biological mothers, and 108 by their biological fathers. Stepfathers also contribute to filicide figures, however, a child is statistically safest from filicide in the care of their biological father.
If we were to view filicide as a gendered problem, as we do with domestic violence, we would be looking at this as an issue of female violence. The reality is, in all the cases mentioned here, the difficulty of family separations is present. According to the research, separations were present in 76% of the cases.
I sincerely hope there will be an inquest into the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children. We must examine all aspects of these terrible acts of violence. Yet this week, the West Australian Coroner made the unfathomable decision to not hold an inquest into the brutal murder of the Cockman children in Margaret River.
All four children, their mother, and the children’s grandmother were murdered by their maternal grandfather. The mass murder was the single biggest gun violence since Port Arthur and was influenced by protracted matters in the Western Australian family court.
The sole survivor of the tragedy is their biological father, Aaron, who told WA Today that the court process exacerbated the problems within the family.
“Separating families don’t belong in courts; they need help, support and much earlier, health-focused interventions….where these measures aren’t enough, families need affordable access to high-quality conciliation and arbitration, too. It’s so much safer than sending vulnerable parents and at-risk kids into the deadly, pressure-cooker environment of the family court,” he said.
There has been some well-intentioned commentary regarding early intervention counselling for men experiencing relationship breakdown. Certainly, this would help in some cases. However, given the Australian Institute of Criminology’s findings, I propose that this intervention and risk assessment needs to be uniform in nature.
Tragically, and as unthinkable as it is for most of us, parents, both mothers and fathers, kill their children.