Kathleen Megan FOLBIGG
Characteristics: Parricide - The motive remains unknown
Number of victims: 4
Date of murder: 1989 - 1999
Date of arrest: April 19, 2001
Date of birth: June 14, 1967
Victims profile: Her four infant children, Patrick Allen, 8-month-old, Sarah Kathleen, 10-month-old, Laura Elizabeth, 19-month-old, and Caleb Gibson, aged 19 days
Method of murder: Smothering
Location: New South Wales, Australia
Status: Sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment with a non-parole period of 30 years on October 24, 2003. The court reduced her sentence to 30 years' imprisonment with a non-parole period of 25 years on appeal on February 17, 2005
Australia's worst female serial killer
The story of New South Wales woman Kathleen Folbigg exposes the feminist propaganda that it is only men who are violent and evil.
But for this misconception, one or more of Craig and Kathleen Folbigg's children could still be alive. Thirty six year old, Kathleen Folbigg cold-bloodedly killed her four children over a ten year period for no better reason, according to her diary, than they annoyed her when they cried and cut into her time to go to the gym and to go dancing.
When this evil woman smothered 19-day-old Caleb his death was put down to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Two years later she smothered 8-month old Patrick and then Sarah.
The Coroner noticed bruises on Sarah's neck but because of his blinkered view did not associates the bruises with any action of the mother.
Then in 1999 she killed her daughter, 19-month-old Laura.
A detective began investigating. He was later to admit that his investigation was hampered by his mind-set that women do not kill their children.
This a totally erroneous concept. The National Homicide Monitoring Program conducted by the Australian Institute of Criminology reveals that where children are killed by their biological parents, the mothers commit 55 per cent of the murders.
Folbigg was found guilty of the murders and sentenced by NSW Supreme Court judge Graham Barr on 24 October 2003 to 40 years' jail.
Kathleen Megan Folbigg (née Donovan) (born 14 June 1967) is an Australian child killer. Folbigg was convicted of murdering her three infant children, eight-month-old Patrick Allen, 10-month-old Sarah Kathleen and 19-month-old Laura Elizabeth. Folbigg was also convicted of the manslaughter of a fourth child, Caleb Gibson, aged 19 days. The murders took place between 1991 and 1999, coming to an end only when her husband discovered her personal diary, which detailed the killings.
Folbigg was originally sentenced to 40 years' jail, with a non-parole period of 30 years, but on appeal this was reduced to 30 years, with a non-parole period of 25 years. Folbigg maintains her innocence, claiming the four children died from natural causes.
On 8 January 1969, Folbigg's natural father, Thomas John Britton, murdered her mother, also named Kathleen, by stabbing her 24 times. Following her father's arrest on the day after the murder, Folbigg was made a ward of the state and placed into foster care with a couple.
On 18 July 1970, Folbigg was removed from the care of the foster couple and placed into Bidura Children's Home.
In September 1970, Folbigg moved into the home of Mr and Mrs Marlborough, a couple who also provided foster care and expressed a desire to adopt Folbigg. While living there she was treated, particularly by Diedre Marlborough as a slave and not allowed to spend time with friends often.
She was not told of her mother's murder by her father until 1984, in fact she was not told that she had always been a ward of the state, always believing she had been adopted by the Marlborough's. Kathleen completed her Trial HSC in 1985 at Kotara High School, until life at home became unbearable and she was forced to leave home and school, finding work and then met Craig Gibson Folbigg in 1985. The pair formed a relationship and bought a home in the north-western Newcastle, New South Wales suburb of Mayfield in May 1987. They married in September that same year.
Caleb Gibson Folbigg was born a healthy baby on 1 February 1989. Caleb was known to breathe noisily and was diagnosed by a pediatrician to be suffering from a mild case of laryngomalacia, something he would eventually outgrow. On 20 February 1989, Folbigg put Caleb to sleep in a room adjoining the room she shared with her husband.
During the night, Caleb stirred from midnight until 2 a.m. Folbigg attended to her baby's cries, subsequently smothering him. The death was attributed to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Patrick Allen Folbigg was born on 3 June 1990. Craig Folbigg remained at home to help care for his wife and baby for three months after the birth. On 18 October 1990, Folbigg put Patrick to bed. Craig Folbigg was awakened by the sounds of his wife screaming and found her standing at the baby's cot. He noticed the child wasn't breathing and attempted to revive him by cardiopulmonary resuscitation. An ambulance was called and Patrick was taken to hospital. Patrick would later be diagnosed to be suffering from epilepsy and cortical blindness.
The couple moved to Thornton in the City of Maitland. Sarah Kathleen Folbigg was born on 14 October 1992, and died on 29 August 1993.
In 1996, the couple moved to Singleton. On 7 August 1997, Laura Elizabeth Folbigg was born. On 27 February 1999, Laura died.
Folbigg's trial lasted seven weeks. During a jury replay of Folbigg's police interview, she attempted to run from the court room.
The prosecution alleged Folbigg murdered her four children by smothering them in periods of frustration. Folbigg relied on the defense that all four of her children had died from natural causes and denied that the contents of her diary related to the killing of her children.
The defence case:
The appellant did not kill her children or harm Patrick... She did not think Craig was responsible for their deaths... There were natural explanations for the events, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and, in the case of Laura's death, myocarditis. The appellant in fact was a caring mother, who, for example, always kept her children clean and tidy and was attentive to their appointments with doctors. Many of her diary entries in fact showed that she was concerned as a parent and enjoyed being a parent, something that was noticed by Craig and other witnesses at various times and passed on to the police during their investigations.
There was no direct statement of responsibility for a death and it is understandable how a mother would blame herself in the appellant's situation, even though she was not responsible. There was no 'failure to thrive' by the children, apart from Patrick's difficulties with epilepsy and blindness, and they were well-nourished and cared for. The appellant appeared to be utterly distraught when the ambulance officers, the former police officer Mr. Saunders and others came to the house after the deaths of the children.
Prosecution had no evidence that was not circumstantial, and questioned at least eight expert witnessess. None of the doctors came to a consensus on the cause of death for any children.
On 21 May 2003, Folbigg was found guilty by the Supreme Court of New South Wales jury of the following crimes: three counts of murder, one count of manslaughter and one count of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm. On 24 October 2003, Folbigg was sentenced to 40 years' imprisonment with a non-parole period of 30 years.
On 17 February 2005, the court reduced her sentence to 30 years' imprisonment with a non-parole period of 25 years on appeal. Due to the nature of her crimes, Folbigg resides in protective custody to prevent possible violence by other inmates.
Benns, Matthew (2003). When the Bough Breaks: The True Story of Child Killer Kathleen Folbigg. Sydney: Bantam Books.
Killing them softly
August 30, 2003
Kathleen Folbigg killed four of her babies before she was found out. What creates a monster mother - and why are they so hard to catch? Julie Szego and Stephen Cauchi report.
Sometimes cot death runs in families. With Kathleen Folbigg, so does murder. Her father, hoist driver Thomas John Britton, stabbed her mother, Kathleen Mary Donavan, 24 times one balmy Sunday night about two weeks before Christmas in 1968.
The reason: Britton was furious over his partner's severe neglect of Kathleen, then their 18-month-old baby.
It was the first in a series of tragedies that are now culminating in Kathleen Folbigg's sentencing for the deaths of her own four babies. The severity of that sentence will depend partly on how much weight the NSW Supreme Court places on evidence that it was her own childhood deprivation that caused her to kill. Was she mad or bad? More importantly, how did she get away with it for so long?
Folbigg, 36, has been found guilty of killing Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura, who were aged between 19 days and 19 months. The first killing happened in 1991 and the last in 1999. Two of the deaths were attributed to sudden infant death syndrome, one to an epileptic fit and another cause of death was undetermined.
Police were investigating Folbigg but she was only exposed after her husband, Craig, a car salesman, found a diary in which she detailed the killings. He contacted police.
When mothers kill their children, the rest of us are left to grapple with dark questions that go beyond the complexities of the soul to touch on the stability of the social order. As Medea, the murderous mother of Greek legend, understood all too well, the woman who murders her babe rattles the very foundations of civilisation because she subverts the ideal of the nurturing mother.
How could they do it? Melbourne University associate professor of psychiatry Anne Buist uses the tag "narcissistic personality style". Such women usually have severely fragmented personalities, which are probably the result of a traumatic childhood coupled with a genetic makeup that might predispose them to respond in certain ways. The lack of love early in life gives rise, by way of compensation, to an inflated ego that makes them see children as their possessions rather than as separate entities. Says Buist: "It's a constant chasing of their own emotional needs - they can't see anyone else."
As Medea herself acknowledged: "I know, indeed, the evil of that I purpose. But my inclination gets the better of my judgement."
Folbigg's story fits the profile of early emotional deprivation. After her father was jailed for the murder, Kathleen was sent to a church orphanage and later to a foster family. She was a picture-perfect child with curly blonde hair, according to her foster mother. But the young Kathleen, she noted, also tended to keep her inner feelings to herself.
She left school at 15 and worked in a series of dead-end jobs before marrying 25-year-old Craig Folbigg. Within a year she was carrying Caleb.
While most child killers fall within distinct categories of human frailty, recidivist Medeas such as Folbigg, who murder over and over in a seemingly calculated and detached fashion, stand chillingly outside them.
Criminologist Professor Ken Polk, co-author of a book on child victims of homicide, says that in cases such as Folbigg's, psychiatrists and other experts scramble to piece together a coherent story in retrospect.
"But I'm not sure we'll ever get there," he says. "Sometimes, when you see violence that is so grossly abnormal and unusual, all you can really say is that this is a terrible tragedy. You can really only take it so far."
While explanations are hard to find, the bald facts of a case can be even more elusive. For welfare authorities to detect such mothers is extremely tricky because "it's hard to pick up the ones who are truly dangerous from those who are just incompetent".
And, as cases such as Folbigg's demonstrate, the medical profession has an equally demanding task picking murder from malfunction. In terms of pathology, accidental asphyxia (deprivation of oxygen) can look the same as deliberate suffocation.
Until recently, the accepted wisdom when dealing with infant deaths was probably best expressed by British child abuse expert Sir Roy Meadows: unless proven otherwise, one cot death is a tragedy, two is suspicious and three is murder.
In 1999, Meadows called for the term SIDS to be replaced by "unexplained death". Meadows said at the time the number of unexplained child deaths in the UK was a "national scandal", citing 42 SIDS deaths in Britain that were later shown to be homicides. "SIDS has been used, at times, as a pathological diagnosis to evade awkward truths," he said.
But that theory has been shaken by the recent trial of Berkshire mother Trupti Patel for murdering her three children. The result is a dramatic contrast to the Folbigg case. Patel's children had all died before the age of three months, collapsing suddenly at the family home between 1997 and 2001.
The prosecution alleged she had deliberately smothered the babies. A defence witness, Professor Peter Fleming, who has been awarded the CBE for his research into infant death, said all the evidence suggested the children died because their bodies could not metabolise properly and they became very ill, while appearing to be well.
The president of the International Paediatric Pathology Association, Dr Jean Keeling, told the court there was no evidence Patel had harmed her children, and that an inherited condition or metabolic disorder could have caused their deaths. Indeed, in crucial testimony, Patel's 80-year-old mother told the court how five of her 12 children had died in infancy, all of them under the age of six weeks. She did not know what had caused their deaths.
After a six-and-a-half week trial, the jury of 10 men and one woman acquitted Patel.
In Australia, the number of SIDS cases has fallen from around 500 annually in the 1980s to around 100 a year now, thanks to better diagnosis and safe-sleeping campaigns. But experts warn that more needs to be done to ensure cases of foul play don't slip through the scientific net.
Professor Roger Byard from the South Australian Forensic Science Centre says the main problems are in rural areas. In isolated parts of the country infant autopsies - which require specialised techniques - are performed by non-pathologists. A 2000 study in Queensland showed that 65 per cent of infant autopsies did not meet minimum standards, were of poor quality and were not done by trained pathologists. Similar conclusions were reached in a 1995 inquest in South Australia, he said.
"People are not necessarily up on the literature. They may do one case every five years," said Byard.
While Byard wants to see national guidelines introduced for child deaths, he believes a "very small percentage" of deaths attributed to SIDS are actually homicides.
The comforting reality is that relatively few mothers kill their children. Between July 1989 and June 2002 an average of 25 children were murdered each year - nearly 40 per cent of them at the hands of their mothers. Younger children were at significantly greater risk, with the majority of victims aged five or younger. Children under one experienced the highest level of victimisation, accounting for 26 per cent of all filicide victims.
Melbourne criminologist Professor Ken Polk says mothers who kill their babies tend to come under four main headings.
One of the most common is the (typically young) mother who kills her baby within the first few minutes or hours after birth, having never accepted the fact of her pregnancy. The teenager who dumps her newborn in the toilets and then hurries back to the dance floor exemplifies this disassociative response.
Then there is the suicidal mother, usually isolated and despairing after a relationship breakdown, who can't imagine her child surviving without her. Murder in this context becomes "a curious form of altruism," Polk says.
Rarer cases involve mothers, and often step-fathers, who dish out severe physical punishment in an attempt to control their children. Mothers in such "battered children" cases believe they are administering "tough love" and fail to understand their violence as dangerous.
Mothers affected by psychotic disturbance, those who hear voices urging evil acts, are another small group. Buist, a postnatal depression expert, gives as an example Texas mother Andrea Yates, last year sentenced to at least 40 years' prison for drowning her five children in the bathtub. While childbirth is the spark for such "post-partum psychosis," only one in 600 women are likely to be afflicted, in contrast to the 14 per cent affected by postnatal depression.
There are other, more obscure, sub-categories. Mothers suffering from Munchausen's by proxy syndrome, or fictitious disorder, inflict illness on their child to gain attention for themselves. This week a 35-year-old Gold Coast mother was jailed for seven years for torturing three of her children by making them sick and subjecting them to risky medical procedures.
Kathleen Folbigg's behaviour after each death, what her husband later termed her "broken sparrow" routine, was theatrical. He would wake to his wife's blood-curdling screams and see her standing over the bassinet. After the deaths of the first three children, Kathleen packed all their belongings away, taking photos out of the frames and off the mantelpiece. She would not mention their names afterwards.
Do our laws properly reflect the varied contexts in which mothers murder? The issue has particular relevance in Victoria, where mothers who kill babies younger than 12 months can be charged with the somewhat archaic crime of infanticide. The offence applies only to women who have suffered a "disturbance of the mind" resulting from birth or lactation.
In Victoria infanticide is both a "lesser" charge to murder, attracting a maximum penalty of five years' jail and a defence to homicide. As a category of crime, it was a "merciful" 19th-century response to women who killed babies born out of wedlock as a means of escaping social censure.
But the Victorian Law Reform Commission will consider pushing for the crime's abolition, as part of its review of defences to homicide. Chairwoman Professor Marcia Neave said the commission intended to "provoke debate" about whether infanticide should be abolished as a separate offence for women.
"On the one hand we don't want to entrench the idea that women are victims of their bodies, which is what the defence does," she said. "But on the other hand there are women, who, because of their circumstances, like having no support, kill young children, and maybe we should be merciful and be treating people rather than locking them up."
Says Melbourne University Associate Law Professor Jenny Morgan: "The law rests on the notion that you've got to have a psychotic disturbance, but the data suggests that these are not women who are seriously depressed but perhaps in circumstances of stress because the child-rearing burden overwhelmingly falls on them. We are squeezing women into a category they can't fit into."
Folbigg is now in a category of her own: Australia's most notorious woman serial killer. In court this week, she sat impassive, listening as a psychiatrist said she needed regular therapy for several years; therapy she would not get in prison. Psychiatrist Bruce Westmore told the court she did not have an anti-social personality disorder or psychotic illness, and was not a risk to the public, but "she's a potential critical risk to any children that she might have".
Folbigg recently wrote to her step-sister from jail; the letter ended up in a newspaper. She said she was outraged by the Crown's use of her diaries: "They are not literal. Definitely not a window to my brain."
But it was critical evidence at the trial and now provides some of the raw material for her psychiatric assessments.
Some of the sentences will long resonate with the public. While pregnant with her fourth child, and after the deaths of her first three, Folbigg wrote: "Obviously I'm my father's daughter. But I think losing my temper and being frustrated and everything has passed. I now just let things happen and go with the flow. An attitude I should of had with all my children, if given the chance, I'll have it with the next one."
And, more chillingly, "With Sarah, all I wanted was her to shut up. And one day, she did."
- with AAP
Julie Szego is The Age social affairs reporter and Stephen Cauchi is The Age science reporter.
Her Father's Daughter - The Kathleen Folbigg Story
By Patrick Bellamy
Against All Odds
When Kathleen Megan Marlbourough left school in 1982, she was 15. Like many kids her age with a limited education, she worked at several low-paying jobs before marrying at age 20. Her husband, Craig Folbigg, was a steel worker. He was 25. They settled in Mayfield, a suburb of Newcastle, Australia's sixth-largest city an hour's drive north of Sydney.
Within a year, Kathleen was pregnant. She gave birth to their first child a son, Caleb, in February 1989. At the time of his birth Caleb was described as "full term and healthy."
Five days later Kathleen took him home. One morning while feeding him, Kathleen noticed that Caleb was having difficulty breathing and took him back to the hospital where doctors diagnosed him as having "a lazy larynx."
At 8 p.m. on February 19, 1989, Kathleen put Caleb in his crib to sleep. At 2:50 a.m. the next morning, Craig Folbigg was awoken by his wife's screams. Running to the sunroom where the baby slept, Craig saw Kathleen standing over the crib screaming, "My baby, something is wrong with my baby."
Caleb Folbigg was dead at just 20 days old.
The official cause of death was listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or "cot death."
Seven months later, Kathleen was pregnant again. She gave birth to another son, Patrick, in June 1990.
On October 18, 1990, Kathleen put Patrick to bed. Craig looked in on him at 10 p.m., and he appeared to be sleeping peacefully. At 3:30 a.m. the next morning he was again awoken by Kathleen's screams.
According to the police statement, "He rushed into Patrick's room and saw his wife standing over Patrick who was lying in his cot. Mr. Folbigg picked up the baby and noted faint, labored breathing. He commenced resuscitation until the ambulance arrived. Patrick regained consciousness, but was (later) found to now have epilepsy and be blind."
Patrick survived, but not for long.
On the morning of February 13, 1991, Kathleen called Craig at work, and, according to the police statement, said: "It's happened again." Craig left work and arrived home just as the ambulances came. Patrick was taken to hospital, but was dead on arrival.
An autopsy was conducted and the cause of death was an "acute asphyxiating event" resulting from an epileptic fit.
Following Patrick's death, the Folbiggs moved to Thornton, a town northwest of Newcastle.
A year later, Kathleen was pregnant again. In October 1992, a daughter Sarah was born.
All seemed well until 11 months later when Sarah caught a cold and was "having trouble sleeping."
By 1:30 a.m. the next morning Sarah was dead.
This time, according to the police report, Craig was awoken by Kathleen's screams and saw her standing in the doorway of their bedroom. Sarah was lying in bed, motionless.
Her death was officially attributed to SIDS.
After Sarah's death they relocated to Singleton in Hunter Valley, a popular wine producing area north of Newcastle.
The couple spent two years there before Kathleen became pregnant for the fourth time. Their second daughter, Laura, was born in August 1997.
Laura was apparently healthy when Kathleen brought her home three days later. Unlike her siblings, Laura's breathing and sleep patterns were monitored closely for several weeks after her birth, just to be sure.
All was well until 19 months later when Laura caught a cold.
Kathleen gave her medication but at 12:05 p.m. on March 1, 1999, she called an ambulance after Laura allegedly stopped breathing. According to the official report, two ambulance officers arrived to find Kathleen "performing CPR on her daughter on the breakfast bar." They examined Laura and found that she "was not breathing and had no pulse."
As before, an autopsy was conducted but, unlike the others, the coroner considered Laura "too old" to have succumbed to SIDS, recorded her cause of death as "undetermined," and ordered a police investigation.
When Detective Sergeant Bernard Ryan was assigned to investigate Laura Folbigg' s death, he could have looked at the case as just one more tragic "cot death." But, following the coroner's finding, he decided to consider all the possibilities.
Detective Ryan began his investigation routinely by interviewing Kathleen and Craig Folbigg. When he learned that Laura was the fourth child to have died in a similar fashion, however, his suspicions grew.
Then the case took an unexpected turn. Kathleen, who had left her husband after Laura's death, had moved out without taking many of her possessions. While Craig was cleaning up, he made an unpleasant discovery.
In a bedside drawer he found her diaries, whose contents, he later told the court, made him "want to vomit." He took them to the police.
He told police that he had "the odd suspicion," but after finding the diaries his suspicions became horribly real.
Detective Ryan learned that Kathleen had been keeping diaries most of her life, but had thrown most of them away. The ones Craig found obviously had been overlooked.
Her entries indicated a woman torn by mixed emotions. On one hand, she wanted children to "prove she could do it, just like other women could," and described the feeling of having a child growing inside her and being impatient for the birth: "We're all waiting, little one, when will you come?"
On the other hand, she wrote about the frustrations of being a mother, including her inability to breast feed despite numerous, fruitless attempts with each child.
She also wrote about the resentment she felt after each birth when the attention shifted away from her to the new baby, describing it as a "feeling of abandonment" just like she had experienced as a child, where she was "in a family but never felt like part of it."
She wrote about her wild mood swings and how she watched fish swim in a tank to try and calm herself: "I don't know, how do I conquer this? Help is what I want."
Her writings also disclosed her innermost fears. She worried that Craig would leave her. She felt threatened when he teased her about her weight, and wrote about how she couldn't deal with his "perpetual flirtations." At one point, when he rejected her advances because of her pregnancy, she wrote, "Craig's roving eye will always be of concern to me."
"Must lose extra weight or he will be even less in love with me than he is now. I know that physical appearance means everything to him," she wrote.
When she was pregnant with Laura, she wrote: "On a good note, Craig said last night he accepts that I'm not going to be skinny again. That's wonderful, but I know deep in my heart he wants his skinny wife back."
Time after time she wrote about her weight and Craig's preoccupation with it. "Got to start changing my life and becoming a hot-looking energetic mother for my daughter and a sexy wife for my husband."
An entry on November. 13, 1996, indicated the isolation she felt, even from her own family. "Why is family so important to me?" she wrote. "I now have the start of my very own, but it doesn't seem good enough. I know Craig doesn't understand. He has the knowledge and stability and love from siblings and parents, even if he chooses to ignore them. Me I have no one but him. It seems to affect me so. Why should it matter? It shouldn't."
Once, she was home alone when a storm struck. She wrote how she was torn between wanting Craig home to comfort her and then not wanting him there because of how bad he makes her feel: "I actually relish in the fact he has a weight problem now. All the years of him tormenting me have come back to get him."
Another entry searched for identity: "Thirty years. The first five I don't really remember, the rest, I choose not to remember. The last 10-11 have been filled with trauma, tragedy, happiness and mixed emotions of all designs. If it wasn't for my baby coming soon, I'd sit and wonder again what I was put on this earth for. What contribution have I made to anyone's life?"
Other entries seem more sinister. She wrote how stress "made her do terrible things" and spoke of "flashes of rage, resentment and hatred" toward her children.
The diaries also indicate that she had no control over her depression and feelings of resentment. She wrote about wanting to wake her husband and "ask for help."
One entry marked "9:45, Wednesday, June 11, 1997" reads: "My brain has too much happening, unstored and unrecalled memories just waiting. Heaven help the day they surface and I recall. That will be the day to lock me up and throw away the key. Something I'm sure will happen one day."
Some entries spoke specifically about her treatment of her children: "I feel like the worst mother on this earth. Scared that she [Laura] will leave me now. Like Sarah did. I knew I was short-tempered and cruel sometimes to her and she left. With a bit of help."
My Father's Daughter
On a December evening in 1969, Thomas John Britton confronted Kathleen Mary Donavan outside her home in the Sydney suburb of Annandale and stabbed her 24 times.
They had been living in a de facto relationship, and had an 18-month-old daughter.
At the trial six months later, a woman who witnessed the murder gave evidence against Britton. She testified that after brutally murdering Donavan, Britton had knelt down and kissed her saying: "I'm sorry, darling. I had to do it." Allegedly he then turned to the witness and said, "I had to kill her because she'd kill my child."
Britton was convicted of murder and sent to prison. The child was sent to a church orphanage. Twelve years later, Britton was released and deported to the United Kingdom.
The little girl stayed in the orphanage until she was three. At that time Kathleen Megan Marlbourough was adopted by a foster family who lived in the Newcastle suburb of Kotara.
Kathleen was an adult before she met her half sisters and learned the truth about her parents.
On October 14, 1996, with three of her children already dead, Kathleen made a disturbing diary entry that indicated how the tumultuous events of her childhood had affected her: "Obviously I am my father's daughter." It was to be her undoing.
Detective Ryan took two years to assemble a case that prosecutors could try with a good chance of a conviction.
On April 19, 2001, Kathleen Megan Folbigg was arrested at her home, taken into custody, and charged with murdering her four children.
During her bail hearing at Maitland Local Court, Police prosecutor Daniel Maher told the court that the prosecution would show evidence from Folbigg's own diaries, technical evidence from pathology experts, and testimony from her estranged husband to prove that Folbigg had killed her children.
"While each child's individual death had not raised much concern," Maher told the court, "their collective deaths could only be attributed to suffocation."
He said the circumstances surrounding the deaths were "not consistent with sudden infant death syndrome or cot death." This included the fact that "each child was found face up, they were still warm when found and in two cases there were signs of life."
He also cited medical evidence from the United States, given by forensic pathologist Dr. Janice Ophoven that showed "the chances of cot death being responsible were a trillion to one."
"What that means is this is the only case that has occurred in the world. It's just not likely."
He also told the court that Folbigg did not appear to grieve after each child's death.
Extensive tests had ruled out the possibility that the children suffered fatal genetic or viral disorders, he told the court.
While admitting that the diary entries were circumstantial, Maher argued that they contributed to her "partial admission of guilt."
Brian Doyle, Folbigg's defense council, told the court the deaths were a "coincidence" adding, "Every one of the children was in fact ill in their lifetime before their death."
He told the court that the medical experts the prosecution would call as expert witnesses had "come to their conclusions after being supplied with Mrs. Folbigg's diaries and other statements. So what we have got at the end, wholly and solely, is coincidences," he said.
After hearing submissions, Magistrate Richard Wakely refused bail and ordered Folbigg be held in custody to await trial.
During the two-month trial at Darlinghurst Supreme court in Sydney, the prosecution led by Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, Q.C., presented strong evidence that portrayed Folbigg as a woman "preoccupied with her own life and looks, more interested in going to the gym and nightclubs than looking after her own children."
Focusing on the same evidence presented at the bail hearing, Tedeschi made the assertion that Folbigg "had a low stress threshold" and killed her four children by smothering each of them over a 10-year period because she could no longer deal with the day-to-day responsibility of being a mother.
Tedeschi also criticized Professor Hilton, the pathologist who had conducted Sarah's post mortem examination. "He had been wrong to attribute Sarah's death to SIDS when he was aware of the family history," the prosecutor said.
He told the court that because of Hilton's finding a full police investigation or coronial inquiry was never called.
The court also heard that the chances of Laura dying of SIDS were extremely low because during her life she was "exhaustively investigated, monitored and had lived beyond the SIDS danger period."
To support this theory, the prosecution called Dr. Christopher Seeton, the doctor in charge of the sleep investigation unit at Sydney's Westmead Children's Hospital. Seeton told the court that Laura's risk of dying from SIDS compared with other children was "infinitely perhaps less than average, which is 1 in 1,000."
The crown also asserted that Folbigg avoided investigation because none of the children had shown signs of abuse so the matter was never reported to the Department of Child Services for attention.
The defense, led by lawyer Peter Zahra, refuted the claim and based their argument on the fact that the children had all been sick prior to their deaths.
To strengthen this argument, Zahra called Professor Roger Byard, a forensic pathologist who told the court that it was possible the children died from suffocation and "medical problems relating to each of the four children could explain their deaths in isolation."
Considered an expert on cot deaths, Byard added: "But the fact that there are all the other deaths in the family makes me less certain ... I say undetermined because of the circumstances."
Asked in cross-examination whether it was possible the children had died from deliberate suffocation, Byard answered: "It was a possibility," but declined to draw a stronger conclusion as he had not "examined the death sites and the deceased children himself."
When questioned regarding the deaths of Patrick from epilepsy and Sarah from the heart disease, myocarditis, Professor Byard, said there was "nothing in the pathology to show Patrick died of epilepsy," and added that "only one child per year in Australia ever died of myocarditis."
Tedeschi shifted his attention to the incriminating diary entries claiming that they showed Kathleen Folbigg as "deeply resentful of the intrusion her children had on her own life, in particular on her sleep, her ability to go to the gym, and her ability to socialize including going out dancing."
He drew attention to the fact that Folbigg was worried about her weight, telling the court: "She was constantly preoccupied to an exaggerated degree on her weight gain due, in part, to the fact she couldn't get to the gym because of her children," he said.
He called witnesses to attest to the fact that Folbigg showed "no obvious reaction to the deaths of her four children."
A hospital nurse described her as "detached," and Deborah Grace, Folbigg's neighbor gave evidence that Folbigg was "straight-faced" after Laura's death. "There were no tears in her eyes. There was nothing," she told the court.
Folbigg's foster sister was also called and told the court that Folbigg's demeanor "changed suddenly at Laura's funeral from crying to being a totally different person. She was happy, laughing, enjoying a party."
During the presentation of evidence Folbigg remained calm, almost cool but during the fourth week of the trial she broke down as a video recording of her 1999 interview with police was played for the court. Crying uncontrollably, Folbigg attempted to leave the courtroom but was restrained by court staff and conveyed to a nearby hospital where she was sedated. The trial was delayed for several days while she recovered. When it resumed, Craig Folbigg was called to give evidence against his former wife.
In his testimony, he related the details of each baby's death and described the "terrifying growl that Kathleen would produce when she got frustrated with the children." He also told the court how Kathleen had "pinned Laura to her high chair and attempted to force-feed her before dumping her on the floor with the words, "Go to your fucking father." Several hours later, Laura was dead.
Two months after the trial began and the evidence presented, the lawyers for both sides completed their closing statements and the judge directed the jury to retire to consider their verdict. They returned in less than eight hours and told a hushed courtroom that they had reached a verdict. They found Kathleen Megan Folbigg guilty of murdering her four children.
As the verdicts were read, Folbigg broke down and cried and at one point turned toward her sister in the public gallery before slumping forward with her head in her hands.
She was taken to Mulawa Women's Detention center where she was placed in protective isolation, as women in prison take a very dim view of women who kill children, especially their own.
The following August she was returned to court to hear Justice Graham Barr officially sentence her to 40 years in prison with a non-parole period of 30 years.
Interviewed outside the court, Craig Folbigg dissolved into tears telling reporters, "My humble thanks go to 12 people whom I have never formally met, who today share the honor of having helped set four beautiful souls free. Free to rest in peace finally."
Following the sentencing, Kathleen Folbiggs' lawyers also made a brief statement indicating that they would begin working on an appeal at the first opportunity.
Several weeks after the trial, Folbigg wrote a scathing letter to the Sydney Morning Herald expressing her anger at the decision. "It took four years to come up with a totally circumstantial non-factual, hearsay case," she wrote.
"I now face being the most 'hated' woman around at the moment and death threats are a real consideration."
On the subject of her diaries she wrote: "It's a sad day when a mother can be put away for merely being a normal mother, who wrote down her emotions, anxieties and frustrations in bloody books."
She also defended herself against claims her demeanor was "aloof and unemotional."
"I didn't have the choice to be any other way," she wrote. "I would not have been useful in my own defense. The day may come where it is time to release it all, but till my battle is done in clearing my name and reputation, that day is not yet."
She also lashed out at her former husband saying he had betrayed her.
"I have already suffered greatly at the hands of Craig and his capability to deliver with his tongue and his quite amazing ability to turn simple into exaggerated and extravagant tales."
Looking for Answers
Following the trial, Melbourne University Associate Professor Anne Buist, an expert in post-birth psychiatric disorders, told reporters that genetic predisposition, along with the loss of her mother at a young age, could have led Kathleen Folbigg to murder her children. "We know her father killed her mother, so we know there is potentially a genetic issue there," she said.
Professor Buist also discussed the issue of neglect or emotional abuse of young children. "A lot of studies have shown this can affect your development very significantly," she said. "Both your brain development, your actual structural biological development if it starts early enough, as well as development at the level of not having a good parenting model, self esteem."
Leading Sydney forensic psychiatrist Rod Milton, who gave evidence at Ivan Milat's "Backpacker Murder" trial also agrees that the genetic implications of the case could not be rejected. "We can't discount what the father said 'If I let her (mother) live she would have killed the kid'."
"I mean, it might be true, and that raises the genetic issue . . . that maybe there's some sort of genetic tendency. We're in the land of not knowing, but to exclude it would be folly. The obvious genetic implications can't be rejected."
"I think she must have lacked empathy for them, otherwise I don't see how she could have killed them," he said.
When asked if he thought Folbigg was mad or bad, he answered, "She certainly wasn't mad. Whether she was bad is in the judgment of others and not for me to say."
When asked if it would be possible to rehabilitate her, he said, "The idea of her being released while still of child-bearing age is one that doesn't inspire much confidence."
According to the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, infant homicides are classified as "deaths purposefully inflicted by other persons on children less than one year old."
Studies from the same source also indicate that "homicide is the leading cause of injury deaths among infants under one year of age in the United States and is the 15th leading cause of infant mortality from all causes."
In Australia, the Australian Institute of Criminology reports similar statistics: "More infants under the age of one year are murdered each year in Australia than die in either motor traffic accidents, accidental poisonings, falls or drowning. Between 1989 and 1993 an average of 27 children aged under 15 were murdered each year in Australia. Almost two thirds of these children were aged five or less. Around half of all children killed by assault were under one year of age."
In a controversial article in Australia's New Weekly magazine, Judy Wright, a criminologist at the Australia Institute of Public Safety in Melbourne, revealed the findings of her own investigation which she says shows that women are "getting away with murder."
Her 1990 study revealed difficulties in prosecuting mothers that kill their children because "a mother's role is revered in society. Her study also indicates that when women are brought to trial for killing their children they mostly rely on mental disorders as their defense," she said. " It's all due to beliefs that no sane woman could be capable of wanting to kill her own child."
"We look for explanations to say those mothers who kill must be sick not bad, just mad. Though we rather not think about it, women are capable of killing for the same reasons as men anger, revenge and power," she said.
To reach her findings, Wright examined hundreds of autopsy reports, coroner's findings, Victorian Police homicide statistics and Supreme Court files as she investigated the deaths of seventy-four children between 1978 and 1990. She discovered that "more than half had been murdered by their mothers, and in 11 cases women killed more than one child. Children had been drowned, set alight, stabbed, suffocated and one baby had even been thrown out of a window by it's mother who was furious at her partner for paying attention to their dog."
"There were other deaths where mothers' sketchy explanations sounded suspicious, and 16 where the cause was undetermined. Many weren't charged with murder, though there were clearly elements of rational planning in the offences. Those who were charged received lenient sentences after arguing they were traumatized, and others were given probation. Most were considered unwell and were treated accordingly."
As a result of her research, Wright also believes that many homicides have been falsely attributed to SIDS.
"It's a tragic excuse because it really devalues the pain of parents who genuinely lose children to SIDS she says."
Allan Cala, the forensic pathologist who voiced his suspicions after conducting an autopsy on Laura Folbigg agrees saying that homicide, accidental death and illness should be fully explored before reaching a diagnosis of SIDS.
He also believes that many pathologists give SIDS as the cause on death certificates to "spare parents the trauma of a coronial inquest."
This may have also been the case for Kathleen Folbigg had it not been for her habit of writing down her innermost thoughts as without the damning evidence they contained she may never have been convicted or even brought to trial.
Even more disturbing is that at the time her case went to trial she was considering getting married a second time. She may have even considered having more children.
Regina v Kathleen Megan Folbigg  NSWCCA 23
17 February 2005
Between April and May 2003 Kathleen Folbigg [KF] stood trial for having murdered son Caleb; for having maliciously inflicted grievous bodily harm upon son Patrick; for having murdered Patrick; for having murdered daughter Sarah and for having murdered daughter Laura. The jury found her guilty as charged in each of Counts 2, 3, 4 and 5. Upon Count 1 the jury found her not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter. The sentences were partially cumulated so as to produce an overall result of imprisonment for 40 years with a non-parole period of 30 years. KF now appeals against all five of her convictions and she applies for leave to appeal against her sentences. Four grounds of appeal against the convictions were argued.
The Crown Case at Trial
KF married Craig Folbigg [CF] in 1987. They had four children: Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura. Each child died in infancy; died suddenly and unexpectedly; and died before the birth of the next child. In the case of each death the mechanism of death was the cessation of breathing. The post-mortem examination failed to establish exactly what had caused the cessation of breathing.
KF was the primary carer for each child. CF, following the unexplained death of Caleb and the subsequent birth of Patrick, left his employment and spent a period of 3 months actively assisting her in Patrick’s day-to-day care. Apart from that one interlude, CF was at all material times in full-time employment, and KF was the parent responsible for the day-to-day care of the children. It was particularly significant to the Crown case that CF was a very heavy sleeper, and that it was KF who attended to the needs of the children during the late night and early morning hours.
Caleb was born on 1 February 1989 . He was a healthy and full-term baby; but it was early noticed that he tended to breath noisily and to stop breathing in order to feed. On 20 February 1989 KF put Caleb to bed in a bassinette in a room adjacent to the bedroom used by her andCF; and they both of them went to bed. It appeared from a record kept by KF of the pattern of Caleb’s sleeping and feeding that Caleb had had an unsettled night, being awake from mid-night until 2am.
Shortly before 3am CF was awoken by what he described as “screamed words”. He ran into the adjoining room and found KF standing at the end of the bassinette. She was screaming: “My baby, there’s something wrong with my baby”.
Caleb was lying on his back in the bassinette wrapped in a rug. CF picked the baby up and noted that he was warm to the touch but did not appear to be breathing. He told KF to call an ambulance and attempted to perform CPR on the baby. Ambulance officers arrived at 2.55am but Caleb was then already dead.
There was nothing known at the time that was indicative of Caleb’s death having been other than natural. In due course a diagnosis of sudden infant death syndrome, (SIDS), was made; such a diagnosis being normal when a baby aged between 2 months and 6 months dies suddenly and unexpectedly and there is no reason to suspect that the death resulted from unnatural causes. It was the Crown case that KF had smothered Caleb.
Patrick was born on 3 June 1990. He, too, appeared to be a healthy baby. He slept normally in a cot in a bedroom off the dining room. As previously noted, CF took 3 months off work in order to help in caring for the new baby.
Three days after CF had resumed full-time employment he was awoken by the sound of KF screaming. He ran into the bedroom and found KF standing at the end of the cot. CF at once lifted Patrick out of the cot and performed CPR, noting that Patrick was warm to the touch. Ambulance officers attended at 4.41am and took Patrick to hospital. They noted that Patrick was in respiratory distress and gave him oxygen.
Patrick was aged at this time 4-1/2 months. In hospital he appeared to improve; but 2 days after the initial incident he had a sudden epileptiform seizure. KF gave Patrick’s treating doctor a history of having gone into Patrick’s room at about 3am in order to see why he was coughing. He seemed to be alright and she went back to bed. At about 4.30am she heard Patrick gasping. When she attended him she found that he was blue around the lips, listless and floppy but making minimal respiratory efforts and giving off a high-pitched cry.
A battery of diagnostic tests was performed on Patrick, but the cause of the apparent life-threatening event, (ALTE), was never formally determined. A paediatric neurologist diagnosed epilepsy and cortical blindness.
In the aftermath of this KF showed signs of an inability to cope with the situation. She displayed frequently anger and frustration. She began to leave Patrick with CF’s sister, Carol Newitt, and one of their neighbours, so that they could baby-sit and she could just get away from things. At one stage during this period CF found a diary which KF had been keeping, and in which she had written that she was not coping, and that Patrick and his father would both be better off if she left them, which she was intending to do if she could. This discovery led to an increase in Mrs. Newitt’s involvement in Patrick’s day-to-day care.
At about 10am on 13 February 1991 CF received at work a telephone call from KF. She screamed: “It’s happened again”. CF at once went home. He arrived home at the same time as an ambulance which KF had called. Mrs. Newitt was already there, having been called by KF. Mrs. Newitt had found upon her arrival that Patrick was lying on his back in his cot; but KF, who was crying, would not allow her to lift Patrick out of the cot.
CF found Patrick still lying on his back in his cot. He picked Patrick up and performed CPR, noting that Patrick’s lips were blue. Patrick and his parents were transported by the ambulance officers to hospital where Patrick shortly thereafter died. A hospital physician determined that Patrick had suffered a cardiac arrest, but could assign no cause for it. A subsequent post-mortem examination could detect no cause of death. The Crown case was, once again, that KF had smothered her baby.
KF appeared to recover relatively quickly from Patrick’s death, just as she had done after Caleb’s death. She and CF relocated to the Hunter Valley; and KF began to press CF to have another child. He eventually agreed to do so, but only on condition that SIDS specialists should be actively involved in any new baby’s care.
Sarah was born on 14 October 1992. She slept in a bed in her parents’ bedroom. She manifested during her first three weeks of life some sleep apnoea, but not to any abnormal degree; and the SIDS consultants provided a sleep apnoea monitoring blanket. The monitor frequently returned false alarms. KF wanted to abandon the use of the blanket; and it was part of the Crown case that this showed an understanding on KF’s part that the baby was at no risk of spontaneous death. The use of the blanket was in fact discontinued two or three days before Sarah’s death.
KF was frequently bad tempered with Sarah, and markedly so on the night before her death when Sarah was unwell and difficult to settle down for the night. KF showed marked signs of frustration, and it was left to CF to calm the baby and to put her to bed in her cot at the end of the matrimonial bed.
According to CF, he awoke briefly at about 1.10am on the morning of Sarah’s death. There was a light coming from around the bedroom door, but neither mother nor baby was in the bedroom. CF went back to sleep from which he was aroused by the screaming of KF. He saw KF standing at the bedroom door. Sarah was lying on her bed. She was floppy and warm but not breathing. CF, and subsequently ambulance officers, performed CPR, but unsuccessfully.
A subsequent post-mortem examination noted small abrasions near Sarah’s mouth. Her lungs showed petechial haemorrhage, minor congestion and oedema, all of them phenomena consistent with death by asphyxiation caused by the application of mild force. A displaced uvula was noted and eliminated as a cause of death. The formal finding was one of death due to unknown natural causes.
The Crown case was that KF had taken Sarah out of the bedroom in order to attend to her in some way; but had in fact smothered the baby, and had placed her dead body back in the bed, pretending to have found her in that condition. A note in KF’s hand-writing was subsequently discovered on a calendar. The note read: “Sarah left us at 1.00 a.m.”.
In the wake of Sarah’s death KF seemed to become despondent and aimless. She would not depart from her version of having found Sarah already dead. Her relationship with CF deteriorated to the point of a number of separations and reconciliations; but by early 1996 KF and her husband were once again living together. KF pressed, once again, for another child.
Laura was born on 7 August 1997. Extensive testing showed mild apnoea, but no genetic, biochemical or metabolic disorders. Arrangements were made for the installation of a special type of sleep monitor which stored information that was subsequently down-loaded by telephone to a Sister Margaret Tanner of Westmead Children’s Hospital.
This monitor regularly returned false alarms. CF, suspicious that KF was not using the monitor, confronted her on that topic, and was assured by KF that she was watchful of Laura, and that the machine was driving her mad.
CF continued to be suspicious about KF’s correct using of the monitor; and over time their relationship again deteriorated. KF came increasingly to spend her days at a gymnasium and her nights with friends.
On the day two days prior to the day of Laura’s death, and again on the morning of the latter day, there were disturbing instances of anger and frustration on KF’s part, boiling over into physical violence towards Laura.
On 1 March, the day of Laura’s death, KF took Laura to CF’s place of work after her morning gym class. KF and Laura left for home at about 11.30am. At about 12.14pm an ambulance arrived at the home in answer to a call. The ambulance officers found KF crying and performing CPR on Laura who was lying on the breakfast bar. Laura was warm to the touch, but she was not breathing, and she had no pulse. The ambulance officers tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate her.
A subsequent post-mortem was conducted. It detected, but eliminated as a cause of death, a mild inflammatory condition of the heart. The formal finding was one of undetermined cause(s).
Laura’s death left her father distraught, and he and KF separated. While CF was tidying up the home in connection with that separation he discovered some diaries of KF. He read them; and what he read so disconcerted him that he contacted the police. Police investigations subsequently located a further diary in KF’s possession. The police investigations culminated in the charging of KF.
In the case of Laura, as in the case of her siblings, the Crown case was that KF had smothered the child.
The Crown case at trial accepted that the evidence available to the Crown in each individual case was insufficient to establish in connection with that individual case guilt beyond reasonable doubt . The Crown contended that to deal separately with each case would be unjustly artificial, and that all matters charged against KF should be tried on one indictment and at one trial. There were unsuccessful interlocutory attempts by KF to bar a joint trial.
The Crown case at trial depended heavily upon the contents of KF’s diaries . It was the Crown case that this diary material contained virtual admissions of guilt of the deaths of Caleb, of Patrick and of Sarah; and admissions by KF that she appreciated that she was at risk of causing, similarly, the death of Laura. Is this is a reasonable reading of the material?
The Crown led at trial evidence from a number of witnesses who were presented as qualified to give professional expert opinion evidence to the effect that they knew of no previous recorded case in which three or more babies in one family had died suddenly and for reasons not explicable by proper professional diagnosis. The admissibility of this evidence.
The Crown case at trial relied in part upon coincidence and tendency evidence. The correctness of the learned trial Judge’s directions to the jury on those topics?
KF’s Case at Trial
KF did not kill her children or harm Patrick. She did not think Craig was responsible for their deaths. The Crown case had to be analysed extremely carefully to see if the Crown’s assertions that she lost her temper with the children in fact matched the evidence. There were natural explanations for the events, such as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and, in the case of Laura’s death, myocarditis. KF in fact was a caring mother, who always kept her children clean and tidy and was attentive to their appointments with doctors. Many of her diary entries in fact showed that she was concerned as a parent and enjoyed being a parent, something that was noticed by Craig and other witnesses at various times and passed on to the police during their investigations. There was no direct statement of responsibility for a death and it is understandable how a mother would blame herself in KF’s situation, even though she was not responsible. There was no ‘failure to thrive’ by the children, apart from Patrick’s difficulties with epilepsy and blindness, and they were well-nourished and cared for. KF appeared to be utterly distraught when the ambulance officers, the former police officer Mr. Saunders and others came to the house after the deaths of the children.
The trials of KF miscarried as a result of evidence being led from experts to the effect that they were unaware of any previous case in medical history where three or more infants in one family died suddenly as a result of disease processes.
Opinion evidence was given by four witnesses, three of whom: Professor Herdson, Professor Berry and Dr. Beal, were called in the Crown case; and one of whom: Professor Bayard, was called in the defence case.
It is necessary to say something about some of the evidence which the Crown sought to lead at trial from Dr Allan Cala, a very experienced forensic pathologist, who performed the post-mortem examination of the child, Laura. The Crown sought to lead from Dr. Cala evidence to the following effect:
 That Dr Cala was not aware from his own experience or from reading medical literature that any child has ever died from a floppy larynx, a condition from which Caleb suffered.
 That no cause of Caleb’s death had been found.
 That in the light of the evidence of Dr Wikinson, Patrick’s ALTE was consistent with his having suffered from a catastrophic asphyxiation event deriving from unknown causes; and that no cause of Patrick’s death could be found.
 That it was inappropriate for Professor Hilton to call Sarah’s death a SIDS death.
 That no cause could be assigned for Laura’s death.
 That he could not think of any single natural cause that would account for all four deaths.
 That there was in his view an unnatural cause which could account for all the deaths, namely smothering.
 (Possibly) that each of the four children died from an unexpected catastrophic asphyxiation event of unknown origin.
His Honour said:
“(Dr Cala) used to be employed as a pathologist in the New South Wales Institute of Forensic Medicine in Sydney, and in that capacity carried out an autopsy on the body of the child Laura, and provided a report for the Coroner. In his report he stated his inability to determine the cause of Laura’s death.
Such a conclusion is to be distinguished from one that a death is a SIDS death. The acronym SIDS is made up from the initial letters of the words Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Having heard a number of expert witnesses give evidence about its meaning, I have the impression that it means no more than this, that the epithet is assigned to the death of a child of appropriate age who is believed to have died of a natural cause or natural causes, which cause or causes cannot be identified.
According to Dr Cala, the difference between the two conclusions is that a death should not be described as a SIDS death if unnatural causes, which for present purposes means deliberate or accidental trauma, cannot be excluded .
Trial evidence from Dr Berry was that:
Sudden death of four infants in the same family who were previously well (in the case of Patrick before his initial collapse) due to natural disease is unprecedented in my experience, and I know of no substantial examples in the literature. Nevertheless, it is important to explore this possibility.
The sudden and unexpected death of three children in the same family without evidence of a natural cause is extraordinary. I am unable to rule out that Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and possibly Laura were suffocated by the person who found them lifeless, and I believe that it is probable that this was the case.
Objection has also been taken to passages from Professor Herdson’s report, but the only one now in dispute is this:
I am unaware that there had ever been three or more thoroughly investigated infant deaths in one family from sudden infant death syndrome.
As I understand it, the defence does not object to the qualifications of Dr. Berry and Professor Herdson as highly experienced medical practitioners in the field of infant death and its causes.
What is submitted, as I understand it, is that what those witnesses would be doing, if permitted to express those opinions, would be reasoning by way of an opinion which they were not entitled to have. The evidence would therefore be non expert opinion, as that term is defined in section 79 Evidence Act.
For the most part I disagree with that submission. It seems to me that both witnesses can give evidence based upon their experience, both on their own account and from their knowledge from communication with other experts in their field of the incidence of unexplained infant deaths. It seems to me to be permissible for Dr. Berry to give evidence that the sudden death of four infants in the same family who were previously well due to natural disease is unprecedented, and he can make that statement of opinion from his own experience. He can also say that he knows of no substantiated examples from the literature.
So long as he deals with the cases individually and does not rely on the kind of coincidence reasoning against which I ruled in considering Dr Cala’s evidence, it seems to me also that Dr. Berry is entitled to say that he is unable to rule out that Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and possibly Laura were suffocated.
It would not be permissible, however, for him to continue to say that he could not rule out that they were suffocated by the person who found them lifeless, because although in one sense unexceptionable, that is a piece of loaded evidence and liable to be misunderstood by the jury. He should not, in any case, say that he thinks that it is probable that that was the case.
Conformably with my decision about Dr. Berry’s challenged evidence, I think it permissible for Professor Herdson to say that he is unaware that there have ever been three or more thoroughly investigated infant deaths in one family from sudden infant death syndrome.”
The Crown case, as finally presented to the jury, was a circumstantial case depending upon the combined effect of bodies of evidence respecting, in the case of each child:
The circumstances of that child’s death, including in Patrick’s case the circumstances of his previous ALTE;
The similarities, said by the Crown to be striking, between those circumstances and the comparable circumstances in each of the cases of the other three children;
The results of the various medical examinations, and post-mortem examinations, carried out on that particular child;
The results of the various expert medical reviews of the deaths of the four children; Things said, done, or recorded in her diary, by KF.
As to Caleb
Dr. Springthorpe was firm in the view that the “floppy larynx” had nothing to do with Caleb’s death.
Professor Byard, a specialist forensic pathologist called in the defence case, gave as his diagnosis of Caleb’s death “an undetermined cause of death”. His reasoning to that end would be: “because we don’t have sufficient information. We have the death scene undescribed. We don’t have histology of the brain, and we have got this history of him having problems with his breathing, with a diagnosis of floppy larynx”.
Professor Byard was of the opinion that there were no positive medical or pathological signs of suffocation. To say that the cause of Caleb’s death was undetermined did not imply that SIDS was excluded as a possible cause.
In my opinion it was clearly open to the jury to accept the evidence of the Crown witnesses, and to prefer that evidence to the contrary evidence of Professor Byard. In that event it was clearly open to the jury to accept that the evidence did not leave open as a reasonable possibility that Caleb had died from an identified natural cause.
Professor Byard gave opinion evidence that Patrick’s ALTE could possibly have been caused by encephalitis or by epilepsy. He said that looking at the ALTE in isolation, there were no findings or symptoms which could amount to proof that the ALTE had been caused by suffocation.
Professor Herdson’s opinion was that Patrick’s ALTE had arisen from a sudden catastrophic asphyxiating event of unknown causes.
In my opinion it was reasonably open to the jury to find that the overwhelming preponderance of the relevant medical evidence did not leave it open as a reasonable possibility that Patrick’s ALTE had been caused by an identified natural cause.
As to Patrick’s Death
Dr Khaira’s position was that he could not assign a cause of death. There were no signs apparent to him, of manual asphyxiation. Dr. Kan did not exclude a catastrophic asphyxiating event. The competing opinions which were expressed by Professors Herdson, Berry and Byard and by Dr. Beal.
I have to say that I do not see why the jurors, who saw and heard the relevant witnesses, could not reasonably have found that the preponderance of that evidence did not leave it open as a reasonable possibility that Patrick’s death, like his previous ALTE, had not been caused by some identified natural causes.
As to Sarah
Professor John Hilton performed the post-mortem examination of Sarah’s body. Professor Byard - how many autopsies have you done? A. 600 paediatric and about, I think, 1500 to 1600 adults. I think that in relation to Sarah you found that her death was from undetermined causes? A. That’s correct. Q. And – of course that also includes deliberate suffocation? A. That’s correct.”
In my opinion it was open to a reasonable jury to accept that the entirety of the foregoing evidence excluded Sarah’s uvula as an identified natural cause of death; and excluded any other identified natural cause of death.
As to Laura
Dr Cala, to whom reference has been made earlier herein, conducted a post-mortem examination of Laura. He found, among other things, inflammatory infiltrate on Laura’s heart. Of this, Dr. Cala said in-chief:
“Q. Now is that sort of finding, the finding that you found on Laura’s heart of inflammatory infiltrate, consistent with the after effects of a cold or flu?
A. I believe so.
Q. In your opinion did it play any role in causing her death?
A. I don’t believe so.
Q. Would you explain to the court why you have that opinion?
A. As I said, the heart was normal to the naked eye, but my microscopic examination did reveal inflammation of the heart. Having said that, the inflammation was quite patchy and rather mild in the sense that although the inflammation existed it was of a rather low amount as opposed to other cases that I’ve seen where the inflammation was much heavier in the heart and in other organs.
Q. Where the inflammation is much heavier, can it cause death?
Q. And where it causes death is that a condition that is known as myocarditis?
A. Yes, it is.
Q. And if somebody had died of myocarditis of the kind that you have described, what would you expect to see in and around the heart?
A. I’d expect to see a number of things. The heart may, but not always, I have to say, it may be flabby and have a – when you cut through the pump of the heart, the left ventricle in particular, it may have a stripey appearance. In other words, areas of paleness against areas of more normal looking heart, and that is just the way that the inflammatory process is.
Q. Did you find any of those in Laura’s case?
A. No. This is with the naked eye, looking at the heart with the naked eye. The left ventricle, that is the main pump of the heart, may be a bit flabby and the chamber itself may be a bit dilated. I didn’t find those changes in this case.
Then there may be evidence of heart failure because a number of these people, both children and adults, may have myocarditis and it presents clinically to doctors as heart failure, so they may have fluid around the lungs and they may have fluid in the abdomen and I didn’t find either of those things in this case.”
“Q. What do you say to the possibility that she died of myocarditis?
A. I think, it’s known that myocarditis can cause sudden death, usually by cardiac rhythm disturbance, and I can’t say that didn’t happen with Laura but I think it’s, in all likelihood, very unlikely.
Q. Is it a reasonable possibility in your opinion that she died from myocarditis?
A. I don’t believe it is.”
“Q. What do you say as to whether or not the death of Laura can be regarded as just another SIDS case?
A. Well, I don’t believe that’s correct at all.
Q. And why is that?
A. Firstly, Laura was about 20 months old when she died. Now SIDS, as I said, is an invented term but nevertheless to classify a death as SIDS it generally falls within the age of about three to six months of age. So she is clearly three times, over three times the age for that, and that by itself, and I think that’s a very important thing to consider, in my opinion would categorically exclude this child’s death as being due to SIDS, irrespective of any family history of other deaths and so on. In isolation this would not and should not be called SIDS.”
The course of this evidence drew from Mr Zahra SC this statement:
“There is no issue that this was a SIDS death. It is not part of the way the accused’s case will be run.”
Much later, and at the end of his examination-in-chief, Dr. Cala gave this evidence:
“Q. In relation to Laura, you have already told us that your diagnosis was that her cause of death was undetermined?
Q. That it was consistent with smothering?
Q. Including deliberate smothering?
Q. And that she probably died from an acute catastrophic asphyxiating event of unknown causes?
Q. Now, putting those four individual children together is this correct, that they all died from what in your view should have been diagnosed as undetermined causes?
Q. That they all died in circumstances consistent with deliberate smothering?
Q. And that they all possibly died from an acute and catastrophic asphyxiating event of unknown causes?
Q. Is there any natural cause of death that could account for all those four deaths and the ALTE?
In cross-examination Dr. Cala gave this evidence:
“Q. You can point to nothing, so far as your findings overall of Laura are concerned, that can specifically be attributed to suffocation?
A. Because there are no positive findings for suffocation, and my finding of no positive findings doesn’t exclude suffocation.
Q. Yes. Do I understand the essence of what you are saying is that because there was nothing, you can’t exclude it?
A. Because there was nothing to be found still does not exclude suffocation.
Q. Because it doesn’t necessarily follow that if there was suffocation that there could be signs?
A. That’s correct.
Q. So your process of reasoning in this case that you can’t exclude suffocation or that it is consistent with suffocation is always based on that foundation, that there are no symptoms, therefore you can’t rule it out?
A. Yes. There are generally no positive signs of suffocation, so in essence you can almost never rule it out.”
Bearing in mind that the defence case at trial was that it was a reasonable possibility that Laura had died from myocarditis, the following evidence in cross-examination of Dr. Cala is important:
“Q. Looking at this case in isolation, the autopsy you carried out, can you exclude myocarditis as the cause of death?
A. I can’t exclude it as a cause of death.
Q Might you have given the cause of death as myocarditis looked at individually?
A. I don’t think I would because, although it was present, the amount of inflammation was not particularly heavy. There wasn’t any evidence of heart failure, the heart to the naked eye looked pretty normal, so – and not only that, there was evidence in other organs, the lungs and spleen in particular, of lymphocytes being in there as well. In other words, indicative of some viral infection that Laura was suffering from around the time of her death.
Q. Did you write to a Detective Ryan on 19 June 2001?
Q. And did you answer a number of questions?
Q. And did you say this on the second page of that letter:
“If I examined the body of Laura in isolation, I might give the cause of death as myocarditis.”
Q. Is that your view today?
A. Well, I said in the letter I might, and if I was pushed I would take it no further than I might, but I have to – for the reasons that I have given, that the amount of inflammation and so on was not particularly heavy and there weren’t any overt signs of heart failure, and so on. But I have to say, as I have said, I can’t exclude the possibility that this child did not die of myocarditis.
Q. Particularly in the absence of any other pathology that you can’t exclude myocarditis?
A. There really was no other significant pathology that I found, either with the naked eye or looking down the microscope to account for the child’s death.”
In re-examination Dr. Cala amplified the selected excerpt that had been put to him out of his letter to Detective Ryan. It suffices to quote one further extract from that letter:
“My opinion that the inflammatory infiltrate in the heart represents an incidental finding is not based on the family history but, rather, after consideration of the history provided of Laura’s very sudden and most unexpected death, the post-mortem findings of Laura and the histological assessment of the heart together with my own knowledge and experience of the condition of myocarditis”
Professor Byard gave in-chief this evidence:
“Q. What is your diagnosis in the present case?
A. I’ve put the cause of death as undetermined because I can’t exclude myocarditis as the cause of death.
Q. What is your process of reasoning, coming to the conclusion of that being undetermined?
A. If I looked at her cases in isolation I would, without anything else, I would have said myocarditis. But the fact that there have been other deaths in the family makes me less certain that I can say myocarditis. So I said undetermined cause because of the circumstances.”
“Q. Looking at the finding on pathology of Laura in isolation, what would you have as to the cause of death?
A. In isolation, looking at slides, I have no doubt the cause of death was myocarditis.
Q. Looking at all the findings of pathology of Laura in isolation, is there any finding or symptom which could amount to proof of suffocation?
A. No, no, there is not.”
In cross-examination Professor Byard gave this evidence:
“Q. Now, do you agree that Laura’s myocarditis could be incidental to her death?
Q. And do you agree with Dr. Cala, that the myocarditis is probably unrelated to her death?
A. No, I don’t.
Q. I would like to put a hypothetical situation to you. If a child, like Laura, had a cold or a flu that had caused mild myocarditis, and the child’s mother deliberately smothered her, without leaving any signs, then do you agree that many pathologists would wrongly conclude that Laura had died from myocarditis if they were viewing Laura’s case on its own?
Q. And do you agree that that is a distinct possibility in this case?
A. I think that is a possibility.”
And later, after a body of evidence directed to a publication of Professor Byard’s own:
“Q. Do you agree that there is a greater chance that she died of some other cause than that she died of myocarditis?
A. I suppose if we are speaking purely statistically, yes.
Q. And there is nothing that you have seen in any of the medical records relating to Laura that would cause you to doubt the applicability of those statistics to her case; is that right?
A. Yes, I think that’s right.
Q. Would you also agree that most people – and I deliberately say people, meaning adults and children – most people who have myocarditis, don’t die?
A. I think that is probably correct, yes.
Q. And of those who do die, of those people – adults and children – who do die, most of them have symptoms?
A. Yes, I think that’s correct.
Q. So for all of those reasons, would you agree with this; that if myocarditis was the cause of Laura’s death it was a quite unusual case?
Q. Professor, you have given evidence that it is possible in this case that all four of these children died from suffocation?
Q. And I take it that you also agree that it is possible that Patrick’s ALTE was caused by suffocation?
Q. And by suffocation you would include deliberate suffocation by an adult?
A. That’s correct.
Q. Would you agree with this; that it is not a reasonable conclusion to say that they all died from the same natural cause?
A. I think that’s – could you repeat that again?
Q. Yes. Do you agree with this: That it is not a reasonable conclusion that they all died from the same natural cause?
A. Yes. I think that’s a reasonable statement.”
In re-examination Professor Byard reaffirmed his view that myocarditis could not be excluded positively as the cause of death; and that, in more general terms, he could not exclude that Laura had died of natural causes.
The whole of the foregoing analysis of the medical evidence establishes, in my opinion, that it was amply open to the jury, which saw and heard the witnesses, to reject the defence hypothesis that each of the five relevant events could be explained away as having derived from identified natural causes; and so to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the Crown had demonstrated that the five events could not be so explained away. I am myself, and as a matter of independent assessment of the evidence, of the same opinion.
The next step in the present consideration of Ground 2 focuses upon the only real hypotheses remaining in a practical sense open on the evidence: namely, first, death or ALTE caused by unidentified natural causes; or secondly, death or ALTE caused by unnatural causes.
It is pertinent to add the following evidence taken from the cross-examination of the leading defence expert, Professor Byard:
“CROWN PROSECUTOR: Q. Professor, you would agree with me, would you not, that it is often impossible to distinguish between SIDS and suffocation?
A. Absolutely, yes.
Q. And you would also agree with me, wouldn’t you, that suffocation, including deliberate suffocation by an adult of a child, often leaves no trace behind?
A. Particularly with a baby or young child.
Q. Is this the case : That in these four cases of the four children, you cannot exclude deliberate suffocation by an adult as a cause of death for any of them?
A. In these cases and in a number of my other baby cases, because there is no pathology, no definite pathology so, no, it can’t be excluded.
Q. In this case; each of these children died or had an ALTE suddently?
Q. In this case each child died or had an ALTE unexpectedly?
A. Yes, I think to say that Patrick’s death wouldn’t be unexpected given the history but the ALTE was unexpected.
Q. Next, you have been made aware each child died or had ALTE, apparently during a sleep period?
Q. And in this case you have been made aware that each child died or had an ALTE at home?
A. Yes, I believe so.
Q. Have you yourself ever had a case in your practice in which there have been three or more children in the one family who have all died or had an ALTE suddenly, unexpectedly during a sleep period at home?
A. No, I haven’t.
Q. Have you from your discussions with your colleagues, either here in Australia or overseas, ever heard of a case of three or more children in the one family who have all died or suffered an ALTE suddenly, unexpectedly during a sleep period at home?
A. That’s less easy to answer because there are cases that have been recorded in the literature of up to five deaths or more in a family that has been attributed to SIDS. These are cases from a number of years ago.
Q. Could I interrupt you there: Is it now considered by the medical profession that they were not SIDS?
A. I believe so, yes.
Q. So perhaps if I can refine my questions a little bit. Have you become aware from discussions with your colleagues of any case of three or more children present in one family who have all died of natural causes suddenly, unexpectedly during a sleep period at home?
A. I can’t think of any cases.
Q. You can’t think of any?
A. That’s right.
Q. Are you aware of any such cases from a review of the medical literature?
A. No, I’m not. Although I think that some of the very rare metabolic conditions could cause it and some of the cardiac conditions might cause it, but I can’t come up with a paper that details this.
Q. Are those cardiac and metabolic conditions, conditions that you have been told have been excluded in these cases?
A. That’s correct.”
There is to be added to that material the evidence of the relevant contents of KF’s diary. There is a deal of this material, and it cannot be fairly compressed into a brief paraphrase. The Crown’s written submissions extract a little over five A4 pages of diary entries. I set out a number of portions of that extract, acknowledging the selectivity of that method, but concentrating on particular entries that give, in my view, a fair, representative idea of the relevant material:
“3 June 1990: This was the day that Patrick was born. I had mixed feelings this day. wether or not I was going to cope as a mother or wether I was going to get stressed out like I did last time. I often regret Caleb & Patrick, only because your life changes so much, and maybe I’m not a Person that likes change. But we will see?
18 June 1996: I’m ready this time. And I know Ill have help & support this time. When I think Im going to loose control like last times Ill just hand baby over to someone else.
.... I have learnt my lesson this time.
4 December 1996: [found out she was pregnant]. I’m ready this time. But have already decided if I get any feelings of jealousy or anger to much I will leave Craig & baby, rather than answer being as before. Silly but will be the only way I will cope.
1 January 1997: Another year gone & what a year to come. I have a baby on the way, ...... This time. I am going to call for help this time & not attempt to do everything myself any more – I know that that was the main Reason for all my stress before & stress made me do terrible things.
4 February 1997: Still can’t sleep. Seem to be thinking of Patrick & Sarah & Caleb. Makes me generally wonder whether I am stupid or doing the right thing by having this baby. My guilt of how responsible I feel for them all, haunts me, my fear of it happening again haunts me.
....... What scares me most will be when Im alone with baby. How do I overcome that? Defeat that?
16 May 1997: .... Craig says he will stress & worry but he still seems to sleep okay every night & did with Sarah. I really needed him to wake that morning & take over from me. This time Ive already decided if ever feel that way again I’m going to wake him up.
25 October 1997: .... I cherish Laura more, I miss her [Sarah] yes but am not sad that Laura is here & she isn’t. Is that a bad way to think, don’t know. I think I am more patient with Laura. I take the time to figure what is rong now instead of just snapping my cog. ... Wouldn’t of handled another like Sarah. She’s saved her life by being different.
29 October 1997: felt a little angry towards Laura today. It was because I am & was very tired. ... she [Laura] doesn’t push my Button any where near the extent she [Sarah] did. Luck is good for her is all I can say.
3 November 1997: Lost it with her earlier. Left her crying in our bedroom – had to walk out – that feeling was happening. And I think it was because I had to clear my head & prioritise. As I’ve done in here now.
I love her I really do I don’t want anything to happen.
9 November 1997: ... he [Craig] has a morbid fear about Laura. ... well I know theres nothing wrong with her. Nothing out of ordinary any way. Because it was me not them. ... With Sarah all I wanted was her to shut up. And one day she did.
19 November 1997: Bit nervous tonight. Laura $ I are by ourselves tonight.”
“8 November [sic, December] 1997: Had a bad day today, lost it with Laura a couple of times. She cried most of the day. Why do I do that. ... Got to stop placing so much importance on myself. --- funny how, now she’s [Laura’s] here, we can’t seem to imagine a life without her dominating every move. Much try to release my stress somehow. I’m starting to take it out on her. Bad move. Bad things & thoughts happen when that happen. I will never happen again.”
“New Year’s Eve, 1997: Getting Laura to be next year ought to be fun. She’ll realise a Party is going on. And that will be it. Wonder if the battle of the wills will start with her & I then. We’ll actually get to see. She’s a fairly good natured baby – Thank goodness, it has saved her from the fate of her siblings. I think she was warned.”
28 January 1998: I’ve done it. I lost it with her. I yelled at her so angrily that it scared her, she hasn’t stopped crying. Got so bad I nearly purposely dropped her on the floor & left her. I restrained enough to put her on the floor & walk away. Went to my room & left her to cry. Was gone probably only 5 minutes but it seemed like a lifetime. I feel like the worst mother on this earth. Scared that she’ll leave me know. Like Sarah did. I know I was short tempered & cruel sometimes to her & she left. With a bit of help. I don’t want that to ever happen again. I actually seem to have a bond with Laura. It can’t happen again. Im ashamed of myself. I can’t tell Craig about it because he’ll worry about leaving her with me. Only seems to happen if I’m too tired her moaning, bored, wingy sound, drives me up the wall. I truly can’t wait until she’s old enough to tell me what she wants.
6 March 1998: Laura not well, really got on my nerves today, snapped & got really angry, but not nearly as bad as I used to get.
13 March 1998: Seem to have a good day. She didn’t piss me off more than a couple of times.
1 April 1998: Thought to myself today. Difference with Sarah, Pat, Caleb to Laura, with Laura I’m ready to share my life. I definitely wasn’t before.”
132 These entries make chilling reading in the light of the known history of Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura. The entries were clearly admissible in the Crown case. Assuming that they were authentic, which was not disputed; and that they were serious diary reflections, which was not disputed; then the probative value of the material was, in my opinion, damning. The picture painted by the diaries was one which gave terrible credibility and persuasion to the inference, suggested by the overwhelming weight of the medical evidence, that the five incidents had been anything but extraordinary coincidences unrelated to acts done by KF.
It remains only to consider the English decision in Cannings, upon which the submissions made for KF place great store in the context of Ground 2. It is convenient to begin by quoting the headnote of the report. The headnote sufficiently summarises the relevant facts, and indicates in broad terms the factors that were decisive of the result in that particular case:
“The defendant was the mother of four children, three of whom died in infancy. She was charged with the murder of both her sons, J and M. The charge of murder of her first child, G, a daughter did not proceed. At the trial the Crown adduced evidence that three of the children, including the daughter who survived, had suffered an acute or apparent life threatening event (“ALTE”). The Crown alleged that the defendant had smothered both her sons, intending to kill them or to do them really serious bodily harm by obstructing their upper airways. To support that allegation it was suggested that the death of G and each of the ALTEs suffered by the other children were also the result of smothering by the defendant and that these actions formed part of an overall pattern. The defendant denied harming any of her children. It was her case that the deaths were natural, if unexplained, incidents to be classified as sudden infant death syndrome (“SIDS”). The expert medical witnesses called by the Crown and on behalf of the defendant disagreed about whether three infant deaths and further ATLEs in the same family led to the inevitable conclusion that the deaths were not natural. The defendant was convicted of murdering both her sons.
On her appeal against conviction -
Held , allowing the appeal and quashing the convictions, that where there were one, two or even three infant deaths in the same family, the exclusion of currently known natural causes of infant death did not lead to the inexorable conclusion that the death or deaths resulted from the deliberate infliction of harm; that significant fresh evidence before the Court of Appeal as to the rarity of three natural and unexplained infant deaths in the same family, the interval between the infant’s death, or near death, and the last time when that infant appeared to be well and the possible significance of an ALTE preceding death presented a picture more favourable to the defendant than that which was before the jury; that, accordingly, the basis of the Crown’s case was thereby fundamentally undermined; and that, further, where a full investigation into two or more sudden unexplained infant deaths in the same family was followed by a serious disagreement between reputable experts as to the cause of death, so that natural causes could not be excluded as a reasonable possibility, the prosecution of a parent or parents for murder should not be started, or continued, unless there were additional cogent evidence, extraneous to the expert evidence, which tended to support the conclusion that the infant or infants had been deliberately harmed.”
Those passages sound warnings which are as appropriate to the present appellant’s case as they were to the case of Mrs. Cannings.
Cannings is a case-specific decision, and it has features that are quite different from the features of KF’s case.
One of the principal Crown experts had given evidence in another trial, and it had been demonstrated, but only after the conclusion of that other trial, that his evidence had been seriously flawed. The Court of Appeal thought that it “must reflect on the likely impact on the verdict in the present case if ........ (defence counsel) ........ had been able to cross-examine ....... (the particular witness) ........ and undermine the weight the jury would invariably attach to his evidence by exposing that, notwithstanding his pre-eminence, at least part of his evidence in .... (the other trial) ..... was flawed in an important respect”. There is no such situation present in the expert evidence given for the Crown at KF’s trial.
The Court of Appeal in Cannings received at the hearing of the appeal a body of fresh scientific evidence. This fresh evidence is described as “a substantial body of research, not before the jury, and received by us in evidence .....”. There is no such fresh post-trial evidence before this Court.
The Court of Appeal discusses what it describes as “The Family Context”. In that connection the Court of Appeal considers both trial evidence, and post-trial fresh evidence, about the immediate and extended family tree of Mrs Cannings. The Court concludes that: “That there may well be a genetic cause, as yet unidentified, for the deaths of the Cannings children, manifesting itself in some, but not all of the extended family, through autosomal dominant inheritance with variable penetrance. That would mean that the child in question needed only to inherit the gene from one parent to be liable to develop whatever the genetic mechanism may be”. There is no comparable situation in the present case.
The Court of Appeal emphasises that in the case of Mrs Cannings: “there is no suggestion of ill-temper, inappropriate behaviour, ill treatment let alone violence, at any time, with any one of the four children”. In KF’s case, there is a body of such evidence, and it was not shown to be inherently incredible. That evidence was, rather, bolstered by the diary entries, for which there was no parallel in the Cannings case.
The differences between KF’s case and that of Mrs. Cannings entail that it does not follow that the reasoning which led to the quashing of Mrs. Cannings’ convictions must lead more or less as a matter of course to the quashing of KF’s convictions.
In the present case there was, in my opinion, ample evidence at trial to justify these findings, reached beyond reasonable doubt:
None of the four deaths, or Patrick’s ALTE, was caused by an identified natural cause.
It was possible that each of the five events had been caused by an unidentified natural cause, but only in the sense of a debating point possibility and not in the sense of a reasonable possibility. The evidence of KF’s episodes of temper and ill-treatment, coupled with the very powerful evidence provided by the diary entries, was overwhelmingly to the contrary of any reasonable possibility of unidentified natural causes. So were the striking similarities of the four deaths.
There remained reasonably open, therefore, only the conclusion that somebody had killed the children, and that smothering was the obvious method.
In that event, the evidence pointed to nobody other than KF as being the person who had killed the children; and who, by reasonable parity of reasoning, had caused Patrick’s ALTE by the same method.
“The trials of KF miscarried as a result of the five charges in the indictment being heard jointly.”
Tendency evidence about a defendant, or coincidence evidence about a defendant, that is adduced by the prosecution cannot be used against the defendant unless the probative value of the evidence substantially outweighs any prejudicial effect it may have on the defendant.”
The correct construction and application of section 101(2) were considered by a specially convened five Judge Bench of this Court, in R v Ellis (2003) 58 NSWLR 700.
There is no need for an assumption that all such evidence is ‘likely to be highly prejudicial’, nor for guidance that the test for admissibility is ‘one of very considerable stringency’.” Those statements of principle have been subsequently approved by the High Court of Australia: Ellis v The Queen  HCA Trans. 488 (1 December 2004).
This was a matter where, in essence, the Crown case disclosed five events which were, at their highest from the point of view of the Crown, undetermined in their origins. Without such a proven event the approach of the Crown in its endeavours to use the subject evidence had an element of circularity about it. It is suggested that this defect had not been resolved by the close of addresses and the conclusion of his Honour’s summing-up. The circularity is that it rested upon an impermissible assumption that each event (considered individually) was relevant in the sense required by the Evidence Act in that it was a non-accidental death.”
Relevant case law apart, I do not agree with that reasoning.
It seems to me that the four deaths and Patrick’s ALTE satisfy every relevant part of the Evidence Act , the section dealing generally with coincidence evidence. The five events were substantially and relevantly similar. The circumstances in which they occurred were, plainly I should have thought, substantially similar. The five events were, therefore, “related events” in the statutory sense. The admissibility, when considering any one of those events, of evidence respecting all four other events depended, therefore, upon the test: Does the Court which is asked to admit the coincidence evidence “think” that the particular evidence has “either by itself or having regard to other evidence adduced or to be adduced by the party seeking to adduce the evidence”, what the section describes as “significant probative value”?
Had any one of the five counts charged in the present case been severed and tried separately, there must have been a Crown application to lead as coincidence evidence, evidence that the event central to the severed count was not, in truth, an isolated event at all; but was, rather, but one in a chain of events that were “related events”; that whole chain of events having occurred in such an overall context, of which the diary entries were a most cogent feature, as to negate any reasonable possibility of mere, albeit somewhat astonishing, coincidence.
I can see no persuasive argument that would have rendered the proposed coincidence evidence inadmissible. There is, as it happens, authority which seems to me to support the foregoing reasoning.
In my opinion no one of the grounds of appeal has been made good; and I would, therefore, dismiss the convictions appeal.
The other judges agreed with Sully J.