art for catfishing feature for dt
art for catfishing feature for dt

Caught up in a dangerous catfishing net

At the start of her alleged "catfish" love affair with a man that never existed, Renae Marsden did ask questions.

"There's some things that just don't make sense to me … I want to talk to your lawyer," she told Brayden Spiteri in a message on November 7, 2011.

"LOL OK," came the reply, "I'll see what I can do, I wish you would just leave this".

Ms Marsden ended her life at The Gap at Watsons Bay on August 5, 2013, the day "Brayden" broke up with her via text.

Brayden Spiteri never existed - that was not disputed at this week's inquest into Ms Marsden's death.

 

Renae Marsden (left) and Camilla Zeidan. Picture: Supplied
Renae Marsden (left) and Camilla Zeidan. Picture: Supplied


 

The person pretending to be Brayden was in fact Ms Marsden's ex-high school girlfriend Camila Zeidan - that was not disputed either.

What was disputed was Ms Zeidan's repeated claim that Ms Marsden was in on the whole thing. That she and Ms Marsden were actually still in love. That neither of their parents would approve of their lesbian life together so Brayden had to be created as a front.

Counsel assisting the coroner Sasha Harding piled on evidence which she claimed proved Ms Marsden thought Brayden was real and Ms Zeidan orchestrated a cruel manipulation, acting alone as Brayden.

 

Camila Zeidan claimed Ranae knew ‘Brayden’ was fictitious. Picture: Toby Zerna
Camila Zeidan claimed Ranae knew ‘Brayden’ was fictitious. Picture: Toby Zerna

 

 

 

Catfishing victim Renae Marsden leapt to her death.
Catfishing victim Renae Marsden leapt to her death.

 

But Ms Zeidan's position never wavered: "she knew" she told the inquest, "she went along with the character". Ms Zeidan was repeatedly accused of lying on the stand by Ms Harding and repeatedly she insisted she was telling the truth.

 

Past is prologue

Ms Zeidan and Ms Marsden met in high school at Mount St Benedict College in 2008. They were emotional and volatile teenage years.

"Baby I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you. I'm going to eat you up in a second," Ms Zeidan told her in an email.

"I swear babe, anyone who ever takes you away from me is going to be sorry.

Both women left high school in the following years and became hairdressers. Ms Marsden began dating a man named Angus Young, a client at her salon, in 2009.

"I got upset because she didn't tell me about it, she just did it behind my back," Ms Zeidan told the inquest.

"She was seeing him at the same time she was seeing me for a while."

 

 

Camilla Zeidan with the man whom Renae Marsden believed was Brayden Spiteri.
Camilla Zeidan with the man whom Renae Marsden believed was Brayden Spiteri.

 

 

 

The catfish phenomenon

Our modern obsession with putting personal information on the internet and the rise of online dating have created the perfect setting for "catfish" love rats, a criminology expert says.

Catfishing is the cruel practice of using fake online personas to convince "targets" to fall in love or be manipulated.

Senior criminology lecturer and psychologist Xanthe Mallett said the younger generation were not only divulging huge amounts of personal information online but willing to start relationships there as well.

"For the younger generation this is how they do communicate, everything is on the phone," Dr Mallett said.

"That's the way we're going really … technology assisted relationships.

"In some way people feel safe, you have that distance there. However it really is quite dangerous … you're giving away a lot more power to the catfish."

She said catfishing may be rising faster than we realise.

"It might not be making it to the court because in many cases it's not criminal," Dr Mallett said.

"People are being catfished but because they haven't actually lost anything they're not going to police … often there's a reluctance to go to police because they feel foolish."

 

Breaking up is hard to do

Ms Marsden's parents Mark and Teresa thought Mr Young was a charming young man and he remains close to the family.

His statement to the inquest described harrowing allegations Ms Zeidan attacked Ms Marsden while he was dating her.

"She came to my house and she was upset, crying and shaking … she told me she didn't want to go back to TAFE because of Camila," the statement said.

"She was in a car and would not let her leave … pinned her down and locked the car and would not let her leave."

He said Ms Marsden had "distinct finger grip marks" on her body.

Ms Zeidan told the inquest "we argued but I never was physical with her".

Ms Zeidan then began showing up in her BMW near the Marsden family home, according to statements by both Mr Young and Mrs Marsden who considered moving Ms Marsden to her mother's house.

 

 

Texts to Renae’s mother from ‘Brayden’. Picture: Supplied
Texts to Renae’s mother from ‘Brayden’. Picture: Supplied

 

Again, Ms Zeidan denied this happened. "I never parked outside the Marsden residence," she told the inquest.

At one stage a meeting had to be called between the women and their mothers at a cafe.

"Camila I don't want to be friends with you anymore, stop harassing me," Ms Marsden told her ex, according to a statement from Mrs Marsden.

"I remember Camila said 'you don't mean it, you don't mean it'.

"Camila's mother said 'you have to accept it Camila, she doesn't want to be friends with you anymore'.

"She turned to her mother and said 'shut the f… up'."

"Renae ran to the carpark and sat in passenger seat, she was trying to close the door but Camila was in the way."

Ms Zeidan told the inquest "I never grabbed her by her arm and I never held the car door open".

The inquest heard Ms Zeidan also allegedly followed Ms Marsden on shopping trips and once cornered her in Castle Hill Library.

Then, in November, Brayden was created. A photo of a man Ms Zeidan met out one night was to be the face of Brayden Spiteri. He was to be in jail over the death of his mate in a drunken motorbike crash, so nobody ever expected to meet him.

 

A photo of a man Ms Zeidan met out one night was to be the face of Brayden Spiteri.
A photo of a man Ms Zeidan met out one night was to be the face of Brayden Spiteri.

 

 

 

Again, Ms Zeidan claimed, it was a character concocted in cahoots with Ms Marsden. Because they were in love.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Ms Harding, pushed an alternative storyline.

"You were hurt, you were angry … you wanted Renae to yourself and creating Brayden was the perfect opportunity … she broke up with Angus to be with fictional character," Ms Harding said.

She also read out a Facebook exchange between Ms Zeidan and Ms Marsden, in which they discussed how happy they were at having Brayden in Ms Marsden's life.

"He's a great guy Renae and he has never done anything to hurt anyone … (you and me) were more just friends," Ms Zeidan wrote.

"He has changed you so much, the way he loves you Renae, it's beyond love."

Ms Harding asked her why the pair would speak that way about a person they both knew as fake.

Ms Zeidan held her position.

"We made it up together and agreed to go with the character and talk the way that we did, that's just the way we went about it, we always did," she told the inquest.

 

Tragic endings

Ms Zeidan claimed she and Ms Marsden took many measures to make Brayden look real, including having "Spiteri" tattooed on Ms Marsden's arm.

"That was a bit extreme wasn't it?" Ms Harding asked. "We just did it … we were both supposed to get one but then she got it and I was too scared to get a tattoo," Ms Zeidan said.

"She wasn't going to go and get my name so everyone knew it was me."

Renae booked a wedding photographer and researched wedding gowns, Ms Harding said, in genuine anticipation she would marry Brayden upon his release in late 2013.

In a love letter to Brayden on July 22, 2013 she told him, "I have finally let Camila go for good and I feel so much better about it".

Another letter read, "one day I'll make you my husband and give you everything I can".

Ms Zeidan said: "That was the character and that's what we'd do".

 

Renae Marsden, 26, and her high-school
Renae Marsden, 26, and her high-school

 

On the day Ms Marsden took her own life at The Gap, the inquest heard she received a text from Brayden saying "I think I need a break and so do you".

"The reality of the situation was Renae had ended the friendship with you, she didn't go and watch (your) soccer match the Sunday before," Ms Harding said.

"That was further consolidation in your mind that the friendship was over and you knew the way to hurt Renae was for Brayden to break up with Renae and that's what happened," Ms Harding said.

Ms Zeidan responded: "She didn't end the friendship".

Shortly before 3pm Ms Marsden's phone records showed she called Goulburn jail, just a few hours before taking her own life.

Phone records showed Ms Zeidan and Ms Marsden exchanged a number of texts that day but she only recalled one saying "she was sorry and she loved me".

"Are you serious?" asked Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott. "Are you asking the court to accept you have no recollection of the texts? But you remember seeing a text that she loved you?" Ms Truscott said.

Family and supporters of Renae Marsden leave the NSW Coroners Court. Picture: David Swift.
Family and supporters of Renae Marsden leave the NSW Coroners Court. Picture: David Swift.

"I don't know what was said while she was at The Gap," Ms Zeidan said.

Even in the hours and days after Ms Marsden's death, Ms Zeidan maintained the character of Brayden was real to the Marsden family.

"Renae has always been like this, it isn't Brayden's fault," she wrote to Mrs Marsden.

"We can't blame one person … there is never one person to blame. I can't handle this because I can't live without Renae."

For the Marsden family - frustrated but gracious as they sat in large number throughout Ms Zeidan's evidence - they feel have missed out on definitive answers on what really pushed their gorgeous 20-year-old daughter to suicide.

But father Mark Marsden is motivated by a desire to have catfishing made a criminal offence.

"I won't rest until this gets changed, if it becomes 'The Renae case' then so be it. How can you do this and how can it not be a criminal offence?" he said outside the inquest.

"You can go up the road and steal a packet of chewing gum and get arrested for it but you can manipulate and control somebody emotionally, mentally … and when it all goes pear-shaped 18 months down the track we all, what, walk away from it?"

Lifeline 13 11 14

Renae Marsden’s text to her mum. Picture: Supplied
Renae Marsden’s text to her mum. Picture: Supplied
girlfriend Camila Zeidan.
girlfriend Camila Zeidan.

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