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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Kathleen Folbigg - guilty or innocent?

Kathleen Megan Folbigg is officially an Australian serial baby killer. She was convicted of murdering her three infant children - 8 month old Patrick, 10 month old Sarah, and 19 month old Laura and convicted of the manslaughter of Caleb who died when he was 19 days old.  The murders took place between 1991 and 1999 and when her husband found her personal diary, she was arrested.  On appeal, she had her sentence reduced to a non-parole period of 25 years.

Craig Folbigg

Gary Edmond, a forensic science expert from the University of New South Wales thinks that Folbigg would walk free if granted a retrial today because of outdated medical evidence presented at her trial.

Her son Patrick was later discovered to be blind and had epilepsy, two others were victims of SIDS and her fourth child Laura could have died from a heart defect.  

The case was front page news and everyone knew her name - Kathleen Folbigg - the cold-hearted mother who liked to sleep in and had a bad temper. Nobody believed she was innocent simply because four infant deaths in one family is inconceivable.

When her fourth child Laura died at 18 months, forensic pathologist Dr Allan Cala looked first for obvious signs of mistreatment, but couldn't find any.  She had been already x-rayed, so he knew there were no broken bones.  He swabbed her mouth, nose and rectum, looking for disease, he looked at her skin for rashes, pocks, cuts or bruises.  He put his finger inside her mouth and peeled back the top lip because he knew that an 18 month old would put up a fight and leave signs of a struggle, particularly teeth marks on the inside of the lips, but there were none.  He removed the brain, heart and lungs for examination, but still nothing.

Carla continued to look for a natural cause of death and a few weeks later, he found one.  He saw clumped-up lymphocytes - white blood cells - which meant that Laura had myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart that can cause sudden death. 

And this is where Carla's evidence falls down - he said later that if he hadn't known Folbigg's history, he might have given the cause of death as "myocarditis" but because he did know that three of her children had already died in infancy, he gave evidence to the court that her death was "undetermined" which cleared the way for a murder investigation.

So even though four babies in one family had died, it could be argued that two had known medical explanations and the other two were victims of SIDS.

Her only friend during the court case, Salvation Army chaplain, Major Joyce Harmer
Photo: Jon Reid

The Folbiggs separated soon after Laura's death, the strain was too much, but husband Craig still believed she was innocent. 

A year went by and Craig discovered that Kathleen was seeing another man, Tony Lambkin and his attitude started to change. When he was cleaning out her belongings, he found her personal diary.  This diary, along with another one later found by police, sealed Folbigg's fate because her entries speak for themselves.

DIARY OF KATHLEEN FOLBIGG – when her last child, Laura, was three to five months old.

November 9, 1997: Craig was pretty drunk Friday night. In his drunken stupor he admitted that he's not really happy. There's a problem with his security level with me and he has a morbid fear about Laura - he, well I know there's nothing wrong with her. Nothing out of ordinary anyway. Because it was me not them.
Think I handle her fits of crying better than I did with Sarah - I've learnt to, once getting to me, to walk away and breathe in for a while myself. It helps me cope and figure out how to help her. With Sarah all I wanted was her to shut up. And one day she did.
December 8, 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? I must learn to read her better. She's pretty straightforward. She either wants to sleep or doesn't. Got to stop placing so much importance on myself.  Must try to release my stress somehow. I'm starting to take it out on her. Bad move. Bad things and thoughts happen when that happens. It will never happen again.
December 31, 1997: Getting Laura to be next year [sic] 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 and I then. We'll actually get to see. She's a fairly good natured baby, thank goodness, it will save her from the fate of her siblings. I think she was warned.
January 28, 1998: Very depressed with myself, angry and upset. 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 and left her. I restrained enough to put her on the floor and walk away. Went to my room and left her to cry.Was gone probably only five minutes but it seemed like a lifetime. I feel like the worst mother on this earth. Scared that she'll 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. I don't want that to ever happen again. I actually seem to have a bond with Laura. It can't happen again. I'm 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, whingy sound drives me up the wall. I truly can't wait until she's old enough to tell me what she wants. 

Lea Bown

Folbigg's foster sister, Lea Bown, believed she was innocent right up until the trial, but her love and support quickly turned to hate.  "There's no doubt in my mind, none, I mean we had Laura down here just before Christmas, her last Christmas, and Kathy's temper was unbelievable, I've never experienced that before with her, and it was always Kathy that found them." Ms Bown is so sure of her guilt, she said she would be happy to be the one to give her a lethal injection to end her life.

Folbigg has 15 years left of her sentence to serve and lives in protective custody.  She will remain there, away from the women who would gladly do her harm.

Mark Tedeschi QC

Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi said at her trial that the Folbigg children might all have died from natural causes, but piglets might sprout wings and fly too.  He said he could disprove neither.

And that just about sums up the feelings of the general public about Kathleen Folbigg - just like Lindy Chamberlain, she's as guilty as sin.