Moments after being set on fire, Hannah Clarke showed such strength. Standing on the only part of her body that wasn’t burned, she recounted the actions of her “evil” ex-husband who killed their three children.
The 31-year-old man died that day. The shocking act of fiery domestic violence that unfolded on a street in suburban Brisbane has made headlines across the country and sparked a federal political response.
An investigation into the murders gave Hannah a voice through her parents.
Of Rowan Baxter, the man she was married to for years, Hannah said, “Why did you have to be so cowardly and intimidating with us for so many years? And why couldn’t you leave us alone to live our lives in peace? Why did you always have the manipulative and vindictive last word?
That’s what Hannah’s father, Lloyd, said Thursday at the close of the inquest.
For eight days, Deputy State Coroner Jane Bentley heard reports of the deaths of Hannah and Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, plus Baxter, who set fire to the family in a car on the 19th February 2020.
Sue Clarke has been devastated by the death of her daughter and grandchildren.
“Not a day has passed without tears. There is no rest, no escape, each day we spend in the shadow of this moment of what has been done to our beautiful angels,” Ms Clarke told the inquest, which she described as an unthinkable confrontation. .
“We had to relive the worst day of our lives in excruciating detail and we heard details that may have been hidden from us until now. But it was an important exercise.”
Ms Bentley – who is due to deliver her findings later this year – was asked to make several recommendations.
Among these changes is the experimentation with multidisciplinary police stations that bring together the police and services such as housing, to support victims of domestic violence. There have also been calls for more specialized police training and to address the lack of behavior and anger management services for men.
Advocate Assistant Coroner Jacoba Brasch QC says she believes nothing could have stopped Baxter from killing his wife, along with his three young children.
” Why ? Because Baxter was bad.
Such was his “simplicity of mind” and “murderous intent” it was only a matter of time before Hannah was killed by Baxter once they went their separate ways in late 2019.
“Hannah was truly walking dead the moment she asserted her own independence and left Baxter.”
People who knew Baxter described him as a hothead who enjoyed seeing people suffer – even throw up – when he trained them in gyms.
He once told Martin Coll, who had known the pair for about five years, that he was considering kidnapping at knifepoint as another relationship broke down years before he met Hannah.
“He had a rope in his car. He was going to take them out somewhere and finish everything, including himself,” Mr Coll said.
There was a road rage incident in which Baxter said he “jumped” a cyclist and “left him lying there”.
Hannah was 19 when she met New Zealand-born Baxter, who was 11 years older.
He frequently threatened to kill himself during their relationship, wanted sex every day, called Hannah a “big slut”, wouldn’t let her wear shorts or pink clothes – “because it’s for kids” – and had to winning races with her young children, the inquest was told.
“She was always walking on eggshells and trying to toe the line,” Ms Clarke said.
Baxter has also treated his stepmother terribly since Laianah was born, thinking it was hilarious and telling her to ‘get tough’ when he dropped it on her face, cutting her lip, as he s was training in the gym.
“He lacked empathy with everyone,” she told the inquest.
Body-worn camera footage captured in 2019 before the couple split shows Baxter blaming Hannah after he was pulled over while driving their unregistered car.
“Don’t tell me about it, because it’s your car,” Baxter replies, blaming her again when the officer says he was fined for the same offense years earlier.
After their split, Baxter grew increasingly suspicious and paranoid.
Hannah first spoke to police about her ex-husband on December 6, 2019, only beginning to realize she was then in a domestic violence relationship.
“There was a lot of domestic violence, not physical, but emotional, controlling me…and it became too much. I couldn’t do it anymore,” she later told police, in footage released during the investigation.
Afraid of upsetting the situation, Hannah was not given a domestic violence order at first, but on Boxing Day police issued a protective notice when Baxter took Laianah away after the family gathered for the children are skateboarding.
A distraught Hannah tells officers that Baxter – who is “just a psychopath” – put the unbuckled four-year-old in the front seat of the car.
“They were in my custody, I was doing a good thing letting them see it,” she sobbed.
Baxter took her daughter to NSW for over two days before police intervened, bringing her back to Hannah.
A temporary order was in place, pending a permanent order, but Baxter breached it on January 31, when he grabbed Hannah’s wrist during an altercation while dropping off their son.
Hannah asked about writing a will and told an officer: “I know if he had the chance he wouldn’t hesitate to kill me. I can see the look in his eyes. “
Days earlier, the 42-year-old had started writing a chilling letter – signed Row, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey – which was only found after his death.
“Hannah, the game you’re playing is shameful…I’m finishing your game. I don’t want to play anymore.
“It was never my intention, but you have to realize that you can’t fuck with someone’s life like that and expect them to take it.
“I told the kids you love them and I’m sure they will miss you. You destroyed my life and I can’t move on.”
Hannah continued to speak to domestic violence services and the police, but no one believed she was in imminent danger.
CCTV footage from the days before the death shows Baxter casually buying zip ties, cleaning fluid and a can of fuel, then 4.6 liters of fuel and three Kinder Surprise chocolates at a gas station.
Hannah was leaving her parents’ Camp Hill home to take the children to school when Baxter ambushed her while getting into the car.
He poured fuel inside the vehicle and set it on fire. He also suffered burns, but died nearby after stabbing himself.
Hannah died the same day in hospital.
Dr. Brasch says Baxter may have intended to tie up and then burn Hannah, so he could be with his children.
But Baxter may have turned to his ‘plan B’ when Hannah defied his instruction to keep driving by enlisting the help of a nearby man to wash her car.
The deaths of Hannah and her children brought coercive control into the spotlight.
Sue Clarke says understanding this concept will not allow her family to see Hannah blossom into the strong, compassionate and successful woman she was determined to be.
“But we hope that a community that stands up against coercive control will prevent others from suffering the same fate and we hope that it will prevent other parents and families from suffering as we have suffered and spending their lives reflecting to this puzzling and unanswered question – why?”
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Australian Associated Press