Control and cowardice: The truth behind our murder-suicides
The murder-suicide that claimed Rebecca Walker's life this week was both predictable and preventable. But ultimately it was all about one last act of control for her killer, writes journalist SHERELE MOODY.
On Tuesday, 46-year-old mum-of-three Rebecca Walker became the 61st Australian woman lost to violence in 2020.
It is believed Rebecca's partner murdered her in what has been described as a "vengeful domestic-violence attack".
The man who killed Rebecca - and then himself - was her partner and the father of her youngest child.
When I think about Rebecca's death, I see her pyjama-clad five-year-old son wandering the streets of Townville looking for someone to help his mum after she was so grossly and selfishly deprived of her life.
No one can possibly put into words better the reality of this atrocious act of violence than Rebecca's sister Samantha.
"I lost my sister to domestic violence and it hurts deep that I wasn't there to help," Samantha wrote on social media this week.
"You can think you know that person but you really don't.
"Every day a woman is dying from selfish individuals who just can't move on."
This year, we have seen 61 women and 29 children killed as a result of murder, manslaughter or other unlawful actions.
Most of these victims were killed by men and almost all of their lives were taken during acts of domestic terrorism.
As well as being the 61st woman killed in 2020, Rebecca is one of 10 Australians killed as a result of seven murder-suicides since January 1.
- On February 19, 2020, 31-year-old fitness professional Hannah Clarke and her children Trey, 3, Aaliyah, 6, and Laianah, 4, were set on fire by Rowan Baxter in Raven Street, Camp Hill, Queensland. He also killed himself.
- On March 6, 2020, 65-year-old Sally-Anne Evans was shot to death at a property on the Brand Highway in Greenough, Western Australia. Sally-Anne's body was found alongside that of her son, Mark-Anthony Westney, 40. Police believe he pulled the trigger.
- On May 30, 2020, 22-year-old Ruth Mataafa was stabbed to death by her former partner Jachai Leota Fuimaono, 22, at a home in Tongariro Terrace in Bidwill, NSW. After killing Ruth, Fuimaono ended his own life.
- On September 5, 2020, four-year-old Koah Kurihara was killed by his father Troy Harvey, 46, at Harvey's home in River Road, Rossville, Queensland. After ending Koah's life, Harvey killed himself.
- On October 10, 2020, 31-year-old executive assistant Kate Bell was murdered by her partner Rahul Patel, 29, at his home in Church Street, Richmond, Victoria. After killing Kate, Patel ended his own life.
- On December 19, 2020, a man and a woman were found dead after a deliberately-lit fire razed their home to the ground in Keats Avenue, Kinsgbury, Victoria. Police believe one of the occupants set the home alight in a deliberate attempt to kill.
I have been documenting the violent deaths of women and children for five years now and I always find the hardest to stomach are the cases where the killers end their own lives.
To me, the killing of one's self after ending the life of someone else is the biggest act of cowardice and a heinous act of retaliation and revenge directed squarely at the grief-ridden loved ones mourning a victim of murder.
My research for the Memorial to Women and Children Lost to Violence shows that in each murder-suicide, there is an entirely preventable and predictable story of abuse, control, aggression, thuggery, jealousy and hate that has been part of the victim and abuser's lives for extended periods.
Most of these tragic and horrific stories are played out behind closed doors and away from prying eyes - so well is the abuse hidden that even those closest to the victims and perpetrators can be unaware of the dangers posed.
I have found that the victims do everything in their power to keep themselves and their children safe while the killers do everything in their power to exert and maintain control - from monitoring victim's movements, cutting them off from loved ones and meting out physical, sexual, psychological and/or financial abuse.
When the killer feels their control slipping, they take back their perceived loss of control by wiping out the one thing that is most precious to the victim - their life.
Murder-suicides are acts of power. The murder is designed to deprive victims of their futures, while the suicide is designed to deprive loved ones of any hope of closure or any chance at justice.
After all, dead killers cannot confess and you cannot jail a corpse.
Statistics show that the vast majority of murder-suicides are perpetrated by male family members, usually fathers or current or former partners, and the main victims are women and children.
In Australia murder-suicides are rare. In 2019, for instance, there were only eight cases while there were seven in 2018.
While there's a lot of work undertaken across the country by women's groups, not-for-profits, charities, sector professionals and governments in trying to drive down rates of gendered violence, a quick peruse of social media accounts shows that not all Australians are on-board with the complexities and drivers that we must all come to understand.
Followers of Facebook groups focused on male suicides and men's rights often have concerning discussions around the role of male violence in our lives.
One leader in this area has been known to encourage disenfranchised men to end their own lives publicly, another leader implores his followers to kidnap their children and to kill the kids' mothers; and the admins of another group encourage victim-blaming on posts about murdered women and kids.
Comments like "mothers will do that - drive a man to irrational violence" are common across social media in the wake of murder-suicides.
It's discussions like this that show Australia has a long road to travel before the conversation surrounding murder-suicides and other acts of violence reaches a sensible middle.
The reality is, it is now too late to know what was going on behind closed doors at Rebecca Walker's home or and we have no hope of knowing what was going on in the mind of her killer as he ended her life.
Yet this is not reason for us to turn away from the truth - that Rebecca's death was very much preventable and it was - in all probability - entirely predictable.
Murder does not happen in a vacuum. There is always some form of abuse occurring before the killing occurs.
It is up to all of us to look for the questionable moments and to learn to recognise the little signs of abuse that tell us something is not quite right.
When we see these signs, we should offer support, provide guidance and reach out to authorities and professional services to try and keep potential victims safe - it's the least we can do for women and children whose lives are on the line.
Most importantly though, it is up to people who perpetrate violence and abuse to do what they need to do to keep their hands and their weapons to themselves.
Without a concerted community effort we have no hope of changing the story for the Rebecca Walkers in our communities.
*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. The Suicide Call Back service is on 1300 659 467.
News Corp's Sherele Moody has multiple journalism excellence awards for her work highlighting violence in Australia. Sherele is also an Our Watch fellow, the founder of The RED HEART Campaign and the creator of the Australian Femicide & Child Death Map and All That Remains: The Memorial to Women and Children Lost to Violence.