Death of a family

The tragic story of a Winchelsea family culminates in a man being found guilty of murdering his three sons.

When Shane Atkinson saw the man acting strangely on the highway, he did think of death. The man leapt on to the road waving his arms; he had already caused one car to swerve past him. Atkinson’s first thought was that he was looking at an attempted suicide.

Atkinson swerved too and then braked hard and pulled over. Atkinson was a young man, then 22, and his girlfriend had only that day come home from hospital with their new baby. He was driving from his home in Winchelsea to return to her side at a family barbecue in East Geelong. This was a day for celebrating his child and tending to the little details that keep a family ticking over.

But he was also primed for a sympathetic response. “My brother had just killed himself a couple of months prior to that and I thought that this bloke was trying to kill himself,” he would explain later.

It was dark, about 7.30 on a Sunday evening in early September; Father’s Day, 2005. Not a day for imagining that three small children might be drowned in a car at the bottom of a dam. Not a day for that kind of encounter with death.

Atkinson ran down the road – the Princes Highway, east of Winchelsea – as the man ran towards him. “What the f— are you doing standing on the side of the road?” Atkinson cried. “Are you trying to kill yourself, mate?”

The man was swearing: “Oh no! F—! What have I done? What’s happened?”

Atkinson and the friend travelling in the car with him, Tony McClelland, tried to talk to the man but could get no sense out of him until his babble took a new turn: “He just kept on saying he’s killed his kids, he has to go home and tell Cindy he’s killed his kids, and he just kept saying, ‘F—, what have I done?”‘

The man said he had had a coughing fit and blacked out; maybe he had “done a wheel bearing” – somehow, his car had ended up in a dam. He said he found himself in water up to his chest. He seemed to be panicky and to have trouble catching his breath.

Atkinson was perplexed. He wondered whether the man had Down syndrome. He didn’t believe the local dams were deep enough to swallow a car. The man couldn’t even tell him which of two nearby dams he was talking about. Atkinson looked over at the nearest one, just visible in the darkness: “The water looked like glass, like nothing even had happened there.”

Atkinson finally said, “Well, I’m not going anywhere if you’ve just killed your kids. Do you want to ring the ambulance or the police?”

Atkinson would later say that he kept pushing his mobile phone towards the man and asking him to use it. The man refused: “He wouldn’t. He just kept on saying that he wanted to go back to (his former wife) Cindy’s . . . He just wanted to tell Cindy before he called the police or before anyone else had known.”

The two young men offered to jump into the dam to look for the children. “He just said, ‘No, don’t go down there, it’s too late. I will just have to go back and tell Cindy.’ That’s all he kept on saying. He said it probably 100 times.”

In the end, Atkinson agreed to drive the man back to Winchelsea. In doing that, he would later say in court, visibly distressed, “I done the stupidest thing of my whole life.”

As he reached town, he turned on the car’s interior light: “The penny dropped and I reckoned I’d known him. He used to do all the lawn mowing around Winch when I was a little feller . . . Robert Farquharson.”

Behind them, at the bottom of that now-tranquil dam, they had left Farquharson’s three sons.

Jai, 10, was the sporty one who loved his footy and cricket and karate. He also loved acting out jokes from the movies – the adult ones that he shouldn’t have understood. He was happy to earn money mowing his Poppy’s lawns but preferred the winnings from the “Tattslotto chair” on his Sunday visits to his grandparents’ house, where he would raid his grandfather’s armchair for the change that had fallen from his pockets. Jai was travelling in the front of the car and would be found face-down across the seats, part-way out of the driver’s door.

Tyler, 7, had his mother’s grin and loved hot dogs and mud cakes and his grandma’s vegie soup, strained. His mother said of him, “Have food, will travel”. He was a joker too, best known for his cross-eyed faces and the plastic dog poo he hid in his grandfather’s bed. He was found lying on the driver’s side of the back of the car. His head was near the door and his legs were between the two front seats, with his knees resting on the centre console.

Bailey, 2, called the family dog “Woofy” and the family cat “Puss”. The cockatiel was simply “my bird” and would sit on his shoulder while he fed it cereal. Bailey was old enough to protest against anything he didn’t like with “This is quack, mum!” When told that was naughty, he would play his strongest card: “But me just a baby, Mum!”

Bailey, tangled in the straps of a child seat on the rear passenger side, would now always be a baby.

This was the sort of tragedy that made parents hold their children close. It was also the sort of tragedy that made people wonder. What had happened that night? Was Robert Farquharson a loving father struck down by the dreadful mischance of a moment – or a man with ice in his veins who drowned his three children like a litter of unwanted kittens?

CINDY GAMBINO saw her three boys alive for the last time when she dropped them over to their dad at about three o’clock that Sunday afternoon. She had ended the marriage 10 months earlier and Farquharson had moved back in with his father.

She stayed while Farquharson opened the boys’ presents. Jai had forgotten one of his, a back scratcher he had bought at the Father’s Day stall at his primary school, so they were going to bring that another time.

She said goodbye: “I gave them a cuddle, and Bailey said, ‘I love you, Mum.”‘

The boys wanted to have tea with their dad because they figured it would mean KFC. They were right. Farquharson took them to K-Mart in Geelong, where he bought a cricket ball for Jai and videos for Tyler and Bailey. Then they went for fried chicken, sitting outside in the car for a while because Bailey was asleep, and for a visit to their uncle in Mount Moriac. It was on the Princes Highway, on the way back to Winchelsea from that visit, that the car went off the road.

Police later estimated that the car turned right at an angle of about 30 degrees. It crossed over into the wrong lane, went into a wire fence, travelled on through long grass, clipped a tree – and went into the dam.

Gambino had spent the afternoon with her new partner, Stephen Moules. This night, she was alone in her house with Moules’ son, nine-year-old Zach, because Zach wanted to see her boys. Gambino was just closing the curtains against the darkness when she saw a car pull in to her driveway about 7.35pm. She thought, “Here they are now.”

But it was not her boys. It was Atkinson and McClelland with her husband. He was wet and hysterical. She would later tell the court, “He kept saying ‘The kids are in the car and they’re in the water’ . . . but at the same time he was not knowing where the car was or where it had gone, or he couldn’t say it.”

Gambino rang Moules and screamed, “The boys are in the water! Meet me on the highway!” Then she bundled Farquharson and Zach into her car while Atkinson drove back into town to raise the alarm.

At one point Gambino looked at the speedometer and found “I was doing 145 kilometres an hour. Zach started getting upset, saying, ‘Cindy, you’re frightening me. Can you slow down?’

“And I said, ‘I’ve got to get to the kids! I’ve got to get to the kids!’

“And I kept saying to Rob, ‘Where? Where? Where?’ and he said, ‘Keep going. Keep going.”‘

She kept going.

BY THE TIME he arrived at the home of Cindy Gambino, Shane Atkinson was already upset with himself over his decision to drive back into town. “I knew I shouldn’t have even left the – the scene,” he would say later, stumbling over what word to use to name what he had left behind.

He left Gambino’s house to get help. But Winchelsea is a small country town of only 1200 people, and this was a Sunday night. There was no one on duty at the local police station. Atkinson pressed an intercom outside the station that put him through to police in Geelong. “The lady kept talking. I didn’t have time for that.”

He abandoned her to race around to the local sergeant’s house but he was not at home. He ran back on to the street and a local woman gave him a phone. Finally, he was able to raise the alarm. He called the ambulance and the fire brigade and fetched a man up the road whom he knew to be in the State Emergency Service, along with other locals.

Someone set off the siren at the rural fire brigade and men rolled up to be told they were needed at a motor vehicle accident. Country people rely on each other in a crisis. Four men set out for the dam in the brigade’s pumper.

Atkinson drove three men back to Gambino’s house to pick up Farquharson. No one was home so he drove back to the dam. The boys’ parents were already there.

GAMBINO finally pulled over at an overpass near the dam. “We couldn’t see the dam, it was so dark, we couldn’t see anything. Rob tried to comfort me at one point, and I pushed him away. By that time, Stephen was on the scene.”

Farquharson asked Moules for a cigarette. Moules, furious, said, “‘What! Where are your kids. Get out of my face before I kill you! Where are your kids?”‘

Gambino later recalled that at some stage Farquharson had said that he had a coughing fit and could not stop. He told her that when he woke up, “I thought we were in a ditch. I told the kids to wait there.” In court, when she retold this story, her voice became more fragile as she said, “It wasn’t a ditch.”

At the side of the dam, Moules stripped off his jacket and boots and began diving for the children. Gambino, hysterical by this time, had trouble finding the numbers on her phone to call her parents and triple 0. She ran up and down in the long grass with the phone to her ear as the emergency operator tried to get a grip on what she was saying.

Moules had already called his parents and their car arrived. A local CFA man, who was one of the first on the scene, heard Gambino screaming that she couldn’t bury her children.

Others came in a jumble – the fire brigade, ambulances, the State Emergency Service truck, police cars; lights, noise, people. So many people, so much activity, and all of it too late.

Moules kept diving. The water was so icy that he could only stay in for five minutes at a time. He had no idea where to look and took guidance from local men on the bank: “I remember they were saying things like, ‘I think I can see bubbles there’ or ‘I think I can see movement there’, and each and every time I would come out, I would go back in where they would point.”

Eventually one of the young men guiding Moules yelled, “Come on mate, get out or you’ll be next!” Moules left the water, shivering, overwhelmed with cold. Two men put their arms around him to warm him up.

Two other men secured only by rope also lowered themselves into the water in a vain attempt at rescue. The police helicopter thundered overhead, directing its spotlight on to the water.

Amid all this frantic activity was an island of stillness. Gambino cannot remember much from that time but she does remember sitting in the front seat of Moules’ parents’ car and seeing Farquharson. “Rob was standing in front of the car with his arms crossed . . . There was no movement, no nothing . . . He wasn’t doing anything. He was just like in a trance.”

Gambino was at the scene for about an hour. While she was in the Moules’ car, a paramedic walked up to her.

“How long has it been?” she asked.

He told her it was 40 minutes since he had arrived.

“What are their chances?”

“Very slim.”

Eventually, Gambino’s brother came to take her away. Later that night, he called a doctor for her. The doctor drove her slowly through gathering fog to the local hospital. She remembers the journey seemed to take forever. She remembers she had wet socks. When she arrived in the emergency ward, Cindy Gambino was sedated against the horror of it all.

THE FINDING of the car and the children would fall to a woman, Rebecca Caskey, a senior constable of police and a professional diver with the search and rescue squad.

She arrived at the dam at 9.45pm. Her first task was to help work out where the car had gone into the dam. It was hard; the night was dark, and they were working by torchlight. But police noticed the broken housing of a car mirror and broken twigs on a tree near the edge of the dam. They decided Caskey should start close to that edge and work out.

Caskey worked in a team. Another officer was her attendant; he stood on the bank holding her lifeline and directed the search. Caskey would tell the court, “I am the monkey on the end of the rope, if you like; I just go where he tells me.”

She entered the black water at 10.35pm. Black water is water with zero visibility, and this water was also cold – 10.1 degrees. Caskey dived to the bottom and searched in the darkness by feel alone. She swept in an arc: her attendant would let out her lifeline and she would go from one side to another while keeping it tight. Once she cleared a sweep, he would let her out another arm’s length and she would sweep back the other way. This method systematically covered the search area.

There was no point in taking a torch with her, she said: “Torches don’t work because there’s so much sediment in the actual water itself.” And because the vehicle would have sunk, there was no point in searching higher up in the water: “Ninety-nine per cent of our searching is grovelling around in the mud on the bottom.”

She found some metal and plastic debris and felt she was close. After 23 minutes in the water, she ran into the car – literally. She hit her head on a wheel, causing it to spin. “And then I felt upwards and realised that the underside of the car, I was actually facing that.” The car was vertical in the water with its nose pressed into the mud at the bottom. Caskey swam upwards and felt the tow bar and the exhaust. Then she swam to the surface and signalled that she had found the vehicle. The dam, an irregular rectangle, was 7.4 metres deep at that point.

She dived back in. She had to check the car was stable, for fear it might otherwise fall back on her. She tried to rock the top of the car back and forth. It stayed in position.

There would be no attempt to get the children out now. Too much time had passed. This was not a rescue but a retrieval of bodies and of a potential crime scene. Caskey said that before she went into the water, “A conscious decision was made to make sure the car was sealed and leave everything inside intact.”

Caskey got out again and returned to drop a “data marker” – an empty Coke bottle – before diving back down. She found the driver’s door was open. She felt a small person’s head. She gently pushed it back into the car and shut the door.

Caskey left the water for the last time at 12.35am. The vehicle was winched out of the dam. As it rose into the air and onto the land, water whooshed out of it. The driver’s window was open.

Caskey recalled, “I just had a brief look in the car and saw three children.”

She turned away. She wanted to get changed. She was cold.

JUST AFTER 8pm, Robert Farquharson was standing at the scene wrapped in a blanket. Paramedic David Watson noticed that he was cold and wet. Fearing hypothermia, he took Farquharson into the back of his ambulance, stripped him and towelled him dry, and wrapped him in thermal blankets.

He put Farquharson in a cervical collar – standard practice with any patient involved in a road accident – and listened through a stethoscope to his lungs. There were no wheezes or crackles, and Farquharson was conscious and coherent. He did cough several times.

Farquharson said he blacked out and lost control of his car, which ended up floating in a dam. He said his oldest son opened the car door, causing the car to fill up with water and sink. Concerned by the story of a blackout, Watson gave him an oxygen mask.

Farquharson was taken to Geelong Hospital. At 10pm, lying in emergency bay number one, attended by a nurse and still on oxygen, Farquharson told a fuller version of his story into a tape-recorder held by police Sergeant Rohan Courtis.

“I think I just went over the overpass and – um – I just started coughing and then – um – don’t remember anything and then all of a sudden I was in this water and my son screamed out and he opened up the door and we nosedived and I – I – shut the door on him and I tried to get them out and I tried to get out to help, thinking I’ve only just (gone in) off the road, not realising I was – Tried to get up to the road to get people to . . . help and people just drove past and I don’t know exactly whereabouts it was, and it’s just a big blur, like, you know, everything just happened so – so quick.”

He said that when Jai opened the door, “I just sort of leant across and shut it and I tried to unbuckle them ‘cos they were screaming and I’m trying to get the other two in the back and – ‘cos he done that we must have done a nosedive . . . It’s just a nightmare.”

A second policeman asked him gently, “Do you realise that the children are – are – not made it out of the car?”

“Ah, I gathered that,” Farquharson said.

Farquharson said he got out thinking the water was only “foot deep” and that he could get out, run around to the other side of the car, drag Jai out and then drag the other two out.

He said he went under the water three or four times trying to save the children and then decided it would be better to try to get help.

He said that he and his wife had the normal arguments involved in a marriage break-up but that they both put the children first. He had depression and was in counselling, partly over the death of his mother, but “nothing too overboard in the sense of a troubled person or anything”.

He had been on antibiotics and had had about eight days off work over a throat infection that had left him with a troublesome cough. In the car, “I think the kids were a bit cold so I put the heater on and of course it must have warmed up and I started coughing.”

He vowed his honesty – “That’s exactly as it happened; I mean, I got no reason to lie or anything of that nature” – and painted himself as an ordinary man caught up in circumstance – “I’m a normal average guy just trying to make a living and trying to do the best by my family and look what I’ve done now.” He would have to live with this, he said, for the rest of his life.

Several times, he asked police what would happen to him. “I’ve never been in trouble before, so what’s the scenario for me?” And, “What sort of thing’s going to happen to me now, like?”

Listening to that tape now, it seems notable for what it does not contain. There is no tearfulness or any other overt sound of distress. And there is not a single cough.

While Farquharson was in hospital, police from the major collision squad had been inspecting the site. When Farquharson’s 1989 white Commodore sedan was retrieved, they found the heater, the ignition and the headlights turned off. They were not able to find any physical evidence on the ground that supported Farquharson’s claim of a car out of control.

At a meeting at 8am on Tuesday, major collision police handed the investigation over to homicide.

WHEN Farquharson’s father, Don, opened his door to two homicide detectives at 12.43 that afternoon, his first comment was about the journalists staked outside his house: “The vultures are still out the front.”

“They are,” agreed acting Senior Sergeant Gerard Clanchy.

Clanchy, who looks a little like Paul Newman and has the same kind of blue-eyed charm, would be the “informant” in the case: the policeman who oversees the gathering of all the evidence and who puts together the brief for the prosecution. With him was Senior Constable Andrew Stamper.

Clanchy told the family they wanted Farquharson to come back to the homicide squad offices in St Kilda Road to do a videotaped interview. He quietly resisted repeated requests by Farquharson’s two protective older sisters that they go with them in the police car. The detectives left a card with the address of their destination.

Farquharson was not to know until later that Stamper was wearing a covert recording device. The police secretly taped their conversation with him during the 90-minute car trip to Melbourne. The two officers played warm cop/cool cop. Clanchy spoke rarely and kept his tone impersonal; he was driving. Stamper was chatty and tried to establish a rapport by talking about his own experience as a separated father.

Stamper began by asking after Farquharson’s welfare. Farquharson said he wasn’t feeling very good and had had to ask his sisters what day it was. He was wearing a Holter monitor – a portable ECG device that consisted of an electronic pack on his left hip connected by wires to patches stuck on his chest. This was to check whether he had any heart rhythm problems that might have caused him to black out.

Farquharson’s voice is soft and deep with a broad Australian accent: sometimes he addressed the police as “youse”. From the back seat, he murmured answers to their questions about his marriage; they had just drifted apart, and no, no one else was involved. Not at that stage. There “might be someone” now, but “I – I – I’m not interested.” She had not wanted to get back together, but he had, for the sake of the family: “Everything’s for the kids. They’re the most important.”

The police continued casually to advance and retreat, touching on a sensitive topic and then pulling back into unrelated chat – footy, the price of petrol – but circling, ever more closely circling, his feelings about the marriage break-up and the events of that night.

He protested that he wasn’t going to like all this questioning and insisted he had no reason to lie. Detective Clanchy said, “The boys are owed the truth. The boys, the family, the mother . . . Everybody is . . . Everybody’s got questions.”

“Mm,” said Farquharson.

Later, the police turned to cajoling; to promises that they would understand. Clanchy said, “If something horrible has happened – and I know something horrible has happened – but if you’ve made a really horrible mistake, we’ll understand.”

“No. I’m tellin’ you the truth . . . I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Said Stamper, “It’s important for me to tell you that we’re not going to judge you or anything, OK? . . . We will treat you with the utmost respect.”

Farquharson insisted that he tried everything that night: “I’ve only got two arms and two legs and I’m tryin’ to get myself around three kids and, you know, like people have reassured me, ‘You tried. You tried. You can’t blame yourself for that.’ I’ve always been responsible with my kids. You know, I’d never have a drink and have the kids in the car . . . I love my kids. They were everything to me.”

Cindy Gambino’s family had come to see him afterwards, “Her mum and her dad and her brothers. They were really good. Said they don’t blame me and it was an accident and, you know, ‘You tried’. They know how much I love the kids.”

Much of that night was a blur, he said. He didn’t know whether he could see the water at the front of the car. Or the headlights. He didn’t know when he came to, or whether the driver who picked him up had a phone, or what the driver did to help.

Said Stamper, “A lot of ‘don’t knows’, isn’t it?”

ON TELEVISION, police interview rooms are large and stylishly decorated, with the carefully thrown shadows of Hollywood mood lighting. The reality is grittier and more claustrophobic. Farquharson was led into a small room lit by fluoros. He sat at a narrow brown table. The two policeman faced him from the other side of it. They were close enough to touch.

The video camera that recorded the interview shows the back of Clanchy’s head and focuses on Farquharson’s face and upper body. He is unshaved and has shadows under his eyes. It is less than 48 hours since the car went into the dam.

Farquharson is wearing a lime green adidas T-shirt and the black pack of the Holter monitor. He has a bit of a tummy and his shoulders are narrow and sloping. He would often speak with his head slightly lowered, looking up from under his brows. He gazes at the table top as he retells the story of the coughing fit and the blackout.

He uses his hands rapidly and expressively, touching his chest as he mentions the cough, pulling imaginary straps over his shoulder as he describes how he buckled up the children’s safety seats. He becomes intense at times but his voice stays soft.

Farquharson says he thought the car might be rocking on a ledge and that the water might only be knee-deep on his side of the car. “I thought I might have just went off the road a little bit.” It was very hard to open his door: “We were – we were down.”

Twice, he retells the story of the time in the dam without mentioning diving to try to find the children: he goes straight from failing to get to the other side of the car to thinking it would be best to flag down a driver on the highway.

Clanchy asks why he had wanted to go to Cindy. “To get help. I had no phone, nothing to ring anyone or anything . . . She was probably the first thing – the first person I thought of. I don’t know. I can’t answer that.”

“What you’re saying is your first thought was to tell your wife, not to get help?”

“To get help? Well, I – I don’t know . . .”

He could not recall why the headlights would have been off. He could not recall whether he had done anything with the ignition. Told it was turned off too, he said, “Ho – honestly, I – I don’t know whether I – what happened. I mu – I must have turned the car off or something . . . I can’t recall any of that.”

He says he had had coughing fits before that were strong enough to make him dizzy, but he did not claim to have ever before had a coughing fit in which he had blacked out.

The police tell him investigators had found no evidence of any loss of control of the vehicle.

Clanchy: “Did you drive off the highway deliberately into the dam?”

Farquharson: “No. I did not.”

They talk about his depression. Had he ever thought about hurting himself? A little, at the start of the separation, “but that sort of passes and you realise that – that it’s not really you . . .” He regained perspective after he had counselling, he says.

Clanchy asks him how he feels about the death of the children.

Farquharson says, “Pretty s-house. They were my life, my world. I wouldn’t even go to Queensland for a holiday because they would miss me and I’d miss them . . . That’s why I never went and bothered meeting any other women, because I want my kids for myself . . . Everything I – I did was for them, my whole life. And I – I – ( long pause ) I couldn’t save ’em. Anyone would tell you I love my kids and I’d do anything for them. I always want to protect them. I was overprotective of them. That’s one thing Cindy always told me, ‘You’re overprotective; overprotective’.”

Clanchy: “In what way are you overprotective?”

“If we went somewhere I’m watching ’em like a hawk, you know, make sure they don’t go out the front, ‘cos there could be cars out on the road. Or if they stand up on a slide, you know, I’d be bolting over there ‘Sit down, sit down!”‘…

The police zoom in on the fact that he has not repeated his earlier claim – made in hospital on the night – that he had dived down to look for the children.

Asked about this, he now says he dived down but could do nothing because of “the pressure”. Queried again, he says that’s what the “SIDS lady” who counselled him in hospital had said: “She goes, ‘You wouldn’t have been able to do nothing because of water pressure and everything.”‘

They continue to press him: Did he dive? Did he find the car?

“I’m pretty certain I tried to di – I think I went – yeah, I did go down ‘cos I remember, I think I was swallowing a little bit of water.”

They return to the marriage. He had found breaking up traumatic, he acknowledges: “I used to be the one who’d bath ’em at night and tuck ’em into bed, and I’d wait till they were all asleep and I’d go and tuck ’em back in, you know. So it was hard for me at first but I’ve learned to live with it.”

“Were you jealous of Steve being where you should be?”

“No, because Cindy’s always maintained that ‘You’re their father and that’s it’. She’s got photos of me there with the kids and all that . . . I’ve never been pushed to the side, and I’ve felt like that at times, but they’ll always be mine.”

Questioned about time frames, he told the police the anniversary of his separation was coming up, and in another week or so his divorce was due to be finalised.

Several days after this interview, police received information that led them to contact one of Farquharson’s oldest friends, Gregory King. What he told them increased their suspicions. King agreed to wear a secret recording device in two conversations with Farquharson, a project code-named Operation Podal.

On 14 December, three months after the car went into the dam, police charged Robert Donald William Farquharson with three counts of murder.

FARQUHARSON is a small man. He stands only a little over 150 centimetres tall and is now 38. He has soft brown hair, deep-set brown eyes, and a slight paunch that seemed to shrink over the six weeks of his Supreme Court trial. While talking to relatives in court, he once lifted the waist of his trousers as if to demonstrate their looseness.

During his trial, he wore a worried expression, his eyebrows raised in a way that left his forehead lined with horizontal furrows. It gave him a look of meekness, the air of a little boy lost. He wore the knot of his tie pulled away from his collar, as if its formal embrace choked him. He was often tearful and wiped his nose or his eyes with a large cotton handkerchief.

His former wife, Cindy Gambino, has big brown eyes and an open manner. Her hair is long and glossy but her face is worn and etched with grief.

Sometimes, when listening to the evidence of others, she would sob quietly into her handkerchief and then scrub her face fiercely as if to eradicate all trace of the tears. In court, she and Farquharson exchanged glances and sometimes remarks. In her statement to police after the deaths of the children, she had said, “I believe with all my heart that this was just an accident and that he would not have hurt a hair on their heads. I don’t believe this is murder.”

Gambino barely held herself together as she gave her own evidence. Her face crumpled and her voice wavered and, at times, sank to a whisper. She walked out of the court afterwards at a funereal pace, eyes cast down, like someone walking behind a coffin. When she reached the stone-flagged ante-room outside, she broke into wails that floated back into the hushed courtroom.

The following day would be the second anniversary of the deaths of her children.

This is a marriage and a family that ended in sorrow. They also began in sorrow, and for much of their existence lurched from one trouble to another.

Gambino and Farquharson first became friends in February 1990. She was living in Birregurra, half-way between Winchelsea and Colac, and worked at a supermarket in Winchelsea. He had grown up in Winchelsea, which is 37 kilometres past Geelong, and still lived in his parents’ house there. He was 22 and she was 20. She became pregnant with Jai in January 1994, and the following month they become engaged.

Gambino would tell the court that she had trouble “giving her heart to Rob”. She was preoccupied with the death of an earlier boyfriend who had been killed in an accident. Then, when Jai was born, she developed post-natal depression, which she believed was complicated by her unresolved grief over the other man. She went into counselling.

Farquharson, meanwhile, was restive under the yoke of an employer. He wanted to work for himself. In 1996, he took redundancy from his job at the local shire. A few months later, he bought a Jim’s Mowing business. It went badly and they lost $40,000. He later told police, “I got sick of chasin’ people to pay me.”

He gave up on his dream of independence; Gambino had resented it, anyway, because of the financial hardship it had caused. He took a job as a cleaner at the Cumberland resort in Lorne. They sold their house and used the money to build another. In 2000, they married.

By 2002, they had two children and she wanted a third. She recalled, “Rob was unsure, he didn’t know if he could cope with three children . . . But Rob was pretty much a softie and always gave in to what I wanted.” Bailey was born on New Year’s Eve, 2002.

She also wanted a third house. They did not like the one they were in, Gambino told the court. She wanted to build, while Farquharson wanted an established house. She won: “Like I said, I usually got my own way.”

Others noticed tensions in the relationship even before they got married. Farquharson’s friend Gregory King saw them as “always at each other all the time, just niggling at each other, arguing”. Often the topic was money – “He’d come to me and say that she’s gone and bought this and we can’t afford it” – and there were arguments about the third house they were building: “Cindy always wanted the best of everything in the house.”

Meanwhile, Farquharson had back problems and was depressed over the death of his mother, who had been sick for two years with cancer. “He was always down and out,” Gambino told the court. “I think he grieved for his mum before she died.”‘

Because of her own depression after Jai’s birth, Gambino recognised that her husband’s mood swings and sleeplessness meant he had it now. He resisted at first, saying he was all right. By the time he agreed to accept help, in October 2004, the marriage was over for Gambino.

“You can love someone, but you can also be in love with someone, and I found it hard to be in love with Rob. He was a very secure person, he was a very good provider, but I just found it hard to give myself to him.” He sought help from a GP, who put him on anti-depressants, but Gambino had emotionally moved on: “I guess I was over it before it was over . . . I just didn’t want the marriage any more. I asked him to leave.”

For Farquharson, it was not as simple as that. He suspected his wife had feelings for a tradesman who had been working on their new house.

Stephen Moules was working as a concreter. He laid the slab for their new property and he became friendly with both Gambino and Farquharson. Moules was divorced with three children and was a cub scout leader and a Sunday school teacher. He and Gambino were platonic friends while she was with Farquharson.

Moules initially pushed her away because he feared being made a scapegoat by Farquharson or others for the break-up of her marriage. Farquharson had made it clear to him that he felt that his wife’s attraction to Moules must be why his marriage was not working. Moules said Farquharson had told him “he felt like she wanted her marriage over with him so as she and I could initiate a relationship”. Farquharson told him that, “It’s got to be your fault. I can’t understand any other (reason).”

Moules had not want to be involved in Gambino’s decision to end her marriage, he later told the court: “I wanted to … have all of that side, her business, clean cut, and then if down the track we were to go anywhere with any sort of relationship, then that would be the time.”

Soon after Gambino separated from her husband, she and Moules developed a romantic attachment. They are now engaged.

Gambino knew that Farquharson was angry about the marriage break-up. He feared he would be pushed out as the father of his children and that Moules would take his place, Gambino recalled. He was also upset over the level of child maintenance he had to pay: “He felt very angry towards the Child Support Agency because he felt like they didn’t give the guy a fair go – you know, he had to try and get his life back on track (but) because the mother had the children she would get the benefits from Centrelink, and stuff like that.”

Gambino told him not to worry about paying maintenance to her other than his contribution to the mortgage because she would rather see him set himself up nicely in a home, for the children’s sake. She had already given him gifts of a set of saucepans and a quilt and quilt cover. But he told her it would be illegal for him to hold back payment.

Farquharson also resented the fact Gambino had the family’s more expensive car. She thought that was only fair because she did more driving with the children.

In fact, according to Gregory King, Farquharson’s bitterness ran much deeper than he let on to his former wife. Murderously deep.

IN COURT, the Farquharson and Gambino families sat together in two benches at the side of the courtroom. They were warm towards each other. Farquharson’s sister Kerri Huntington chatted affectionately with Cindy Gambino. It seems their votes on Farquharson’s innocence were already cast.

The evidence in this case would be complex and exhaustive but would come down to three strands: the car, the cough and the man.

Farquharson’s car, which had 350,000 kilometres on the clock, was not a shining example of its kind, his mechanic, James Jacobs, told the court. It had a habit of cutting out. The rear locks were problematic. It showed a lot of wear and tear and the mechanic recommended he replace it but Farquharson had said he couldn’t afford that.

Jacobs had taken the car for a test run a couple of months before Father’s Day 2005 – he noticed that, on the stretch of road near the dam, it wandered to the right. The car had got close to the centre white line before he put his hands back on the wheel.

Police investigations suggested this was of no account, acting sergeant, Glen Stewart Urquhart, of the major collision investigation unit, told the court.

Urquhart drove a car of a similar make and model along that patch of road and noted what happened when he took his hands off the driving wheel. The tests were filmed from the inside of the car.

At a speed of 64 kilometres an hour, the car veered not to the right, as Farquharson’s had, but to the left: “To the point where I had to put my hands back on the steering wheel and turn it back to the right or I would have run off the road.” At 82 kmh and 10 kmh the car held its line, continuing straight inside its proper lane. In court the jury watched as, in each case, the film showed the dam in the background, slipping harmlessly by.

Urquhart concluded: “There was nothing in the road construction that would have contributed to a car veering off the road.”

Urquhart was asked about the evidence of the mechanic Jacob James, who had said he found the car wandered to the right on the road near the dam. Would that information change anything about Urquhart’s opinion?

At the lowest speed of 64 km/h, any tendency to steer right would simply have counteracted the tendency he found of the test car to steer left, he maintained. As for the higher speeds: “There is an enormous difference between a tendency to want to drift to the right . . . and a sharp angle off the road to the right.”

Urquhart said it would have taken a 220-degree turn of the steering wheel to make a car turn as Farquharson’s had.

He also used computer modelling to simulate a reconstruction of what might have happened. For the Farquharson car to have travelled from the road to the dam as it had, he concluded, three separate steering inputs would have been required: a sharp turn to the right to get it off the road, a straightening as it progressed towards the dam, and then a second turn to the right to avoid the tree.

David Axup, a traffic analyst and former chief superintendent commanding the Victoria Police Traffic Support Group, was called by the defence to contradict Urquhart’s conclusions.

He said that if a car’s steering wheel turned 220 degrees the car would spin out, leaving yaw marks until it became side on, at which point they would become sideways skid marks. There were no such marks from Farquharson’s car. He estimated that it left the road in a gentler arc. The defence argued that this wider angle was consistent with Farquharson having been unconscious.

Farquharson was not the first driver to crash through the fence on the property that contained the dam. Cam Everett, the owner of the property, told the court, “We’ve had seven people come through our fence in eight years.” At least two, like Farquharson, had crashed into the fence from the Winchelsea-bound side of the road. None had ended in the dam.

CAN A coughing fit make you black out? Did a coughing fit make Robert Farquharson black out in the car that night? Here, too, the evidence of the experts was contradictory.

The emergency room doctor on duty at Geelong Hospital that Sunday night, Bruce Bartley, examined Farquharson and on the basis of what he said, made a provisional diagnosis of “cough syncope (fainting)” – coughing that leads to brief unconsciousness.

Farquharson had no such condition but he was being treated for a chesty cough. On 18 August, Winchelsea GP Dr Ian McDonald gave Farquharson antibiotics for infection of his throat and sinuses. Farquharson returned on 23 August saying he was developing a chesty cough, particularly in the night air; his lungs were clear through the stethoscope and his temperature was normal but McDonald gave him a new antibiotic.

Thoracic physician Professor Matthew Naughton, head of respiratory medicine at The Alfred hospital and a specialist who sees 4000 patients a year, was sceptical about the existence of cough syncope in otherwise healthy people.

He said he had never diagnosed a case and had never heard of a case in which cough syncope occurred with someone who has normal heart, lungs and neurological function.

Naughton said it was “extremely unlikely” Farquharson had had it: his heart and lungs were healthy, he had not appeared on the night to be disabled by breathlessness, and he had not begun coughing when exposed to cold air while in wet clothing. He had been sitting when it allegedly occurred; faintness would be more likely in someone who was fully upright.

Farquharson’s supervisor at work had previously told the court that, two days before the children died, he had a paroxysm of coughing so severe that she feared he might be having a stroke. Would this information affect Naughton’s opinion?

He replied, “It would affect my opinion because the witnessed episode of severe coughing did not elicit syncope.” In other words, why didn’t he pass out that time?

Neurologist Dr John King told the court it was a rare condition; he had never seen an episode of it but he had diagnosed it several times based on histories given to him by patients. It was reported mostly in middle-aged men who were overweight, smoked heavily and had chronic lung disease.

Geelong thoracic physician Dr Christopher Steinfort did believe the syndrome occurred in otherwise healthy people with the flu. Steinfort searched his own database of 6500 patients and found 15 cases of people who had had cough syncope, most of whom did not have lung disease. He concluded it was “highly likely” Farquharson had had cough syncope that night.

Steinfort said he had also had a call from a GP who told of a man driving his children to a local football match in Geelong who had a coughing fit “and the next minute his car had run off the road, had turned over, had flipped onto its side, then flipped back and was wedged up against a fence post. No one was injured, fortunately, but it was a substantial accident”.

Legal Aid had since put him in touch with other people who had suffered such episodes. “The common theme amongst all of those cases has been there was at the time a pre-existing . . . flu-like illness.” He said that most of the people with syncope he had dealt with did not have advanced lung disease. His conclusion: “Mr Farquharson’s description is quite classical of cough syncope and my belief is that it’s highly likely that it was cough syncope.”

Under cross-examination, he acknowledged that the accuracy of his diagnosis depended on Farquharson having been a reliable historian.

Darren Raymond Bushell is a shearer who has known Farquharson for 30 years. On the Thursday before that Father’s Day, Farquharson told him he had had a coughing fit while he was pulling into the local roadhouse in his car. When he “came to”, he found his car had stopped.

Bushell told him he shouldn’t go driving like that: “Go and get it checked out.” Bushell told the court, “That was all, and (I) never thought any more of it.”

THE THIRD strand of evidence in the case related to what had been going on inside Robert Farquharson’s head.

GP Dr Ian McDonald told the court that he saw Farquharson in October 2004, when his complaints “included anxiety, mood swings, paranoid feelings, sleeplessness, dwelling on things, teary, emotional, ups and downs, no interest or motivation; tiredness, being stressed, irritable and finding it hard to cope with his children”.

Farquharson said he had done some research and thought he might have depression. McDonald agreed and prescribed an anti-depressant called Zoloft.

Farquharson returned on November 3 saying he and his wife had separated that day: “He stated that she could not cope with his moods and he felt that coming to see me previously had been too little, too late.” McDonald referred him to a psychologist and later to a psychiatrist.

McDonald saw him again three days later: “He said that he was still feeling down, getting angry and not sleeping, and waking in the early hours at about 2am.” McDonald changed him to an anti-depressant with more sedating qualities, Avanza.

At the next consultation, on December 13, Farquharson told him that his wife had ended the marriage and had found religion: “He stated she was having a close friendship with a member of her church and that was upsetting him. He had been hoping that (their) relationship could be reconciled.”

Farquharson did not consult McDonald again until May 2005. The doctor told the court that Farquharson “was aware that his wife was manipulating him . . . I know he was annoyed about having to finish the house they were building prior to selling it”.

Farquharson’s psychologist, Peter Popko, said his client had had mild depression. He did feel despair at times at the blended family situation and at the fact that Stephen Moules would be having an influence on his children: “At one point (he) had thought of entering into an argument with Stephen and having Stephen throw a punch at him, and then he would be able to take him to court . . . He did entertain thoughts of, I guess, retribution towards Stephen.”

Popko agreed under cross-examination that Farquharson’s attitude to his children was protective, caring, enthusiastic and encouraging; he was particularly proud of Jai.

The most favourable witness regarding Farquharson’s behaviour was Gregory Paul Roberts, a social worker and grief counsellor who has had more than 70 consultations with Farquharson since the children’s deaths. He was called by Peter Morrissey, Farquharson’s lawyer.

Roberts said all of Farquharson’s behaviour on the night was normal for someone who had been through what he had. Adrenalin would have caused Farquharson to babble in a way that did not make sense, and shock might have caused him to sound robotic, appear emotionless or fail to take in information. “If a person had been unconscious, a lot of the disorientation would be heightened,” he said.

Roberts argued that regardless of whether parents are together or separated, when one partner is present at the death of a child, that partner will have a strong urge to contact the other parent. “After emerging from the dam, that would be the next focus and, at times, people in trauma can actually become what’s referred to as ‘hyper-focused’. Because of the overload of information they lock into what they feel they need to do next and that becomes very single-minded, so the person focuses on that fact and will virtually disregard other information that is put to them.”

By the time he returned to the dam with Gambino, a person in Farquharson’s position would also have been exhausted . . .

“and starting to move into more what we refer to as dissociation, where the person actually starts to block out part of what’s happened. Other people might be running around but they seem quite detached and will actually step back.”

And the significance of Farquharson asking Moules for cigarettes?

“In stressful events the body will actually crave stimulants, and it’s not necessarily a rational or a conscious thing, it’s actually a physiological fact. It’s obviously particularly so if the person is a smoker or a heavy coffee drinker.”

The prosecutor, Jeremy Rapke, asked, “Is it your opinion that the accused’s observed behaviour on the night was within the typical range of behaviours for a person suffering from traumatic grief?”

Roberts: “I do (think so).”

Rapke said: “I have to ask you this question, Mr Roberts, and I hope you’ll forgive me for doing so, but has there been any particular event in your life which has made you particularly empathetic towards Mr Farquharson?”


“Have you lost a child?”

“I have.”

THE MAN who painted the darkest portrait of Farquharson was one of his oldest friends. Gregory King is a bus driver, a lean, tanned man with a bony face. He wore jeans and a loose shirt and stood tensely in the witness box; much of what he had to say was difficult, and he would have to go over it again and again.

He and Farquharson grew up in Winchelsea together and got to know each other better when they both started working for the local shire. They played footy, went away together, socialised at the pub. He tried to see Farquharson about once a week when he was gloomy over the marriage break-up but sometimes it was hard; King’s wife and four children also had claims on his time.

After the separation, King heard around town that Cindy had a new relationship. He also heard it from Farquharson: “I was around there with him one night and we got talking and he said that ‘Cindy’s seeing someone else, the bitch.”‘

Once Farquharson told King he had thoughts about driving off a cliff or running into a tree. King told him, “Don’t be stupid.”

In early 2005, King saw him sitting in his car by the side of a road. Later in the week, he asked Farquharson what he had been doing parked there. “He said, ‘I was thinking about lining a truck up’ . . . Just the look on his face, he was serious.”

Two or three months before Father’s Day 2005, King ran into Farquharson outside the fish and chip shop in the main street of Winchelsea. It was about 6pm on a Friday. King parked in the angled space out the front of the shop and his children went in for their order of chips to go with the chops and vegies their mother was cooking at home.

King’s account of what was said next would be vigorously challenged by Farquharson’s defence lawyer. Here is what King told the court:

Farquharson was inside the fish and chip shop. He came out and stood beside King’s car door for a chat. Cindy Gambino pulled up two lanes over to the right. She got out of her car and greeted both of them; King said hello to her. She went on into the shop.

King reproved his friend for not having returned her greeting: “I said to Robert he had to say hello, and he said, ‘No, you don’t’. (He) got very angry.”

Farquharson was furious about Cindy pulling up in the good car, according to King, and said, “I paid $30,000 for (it). She wanted it and they are f—ing driving it. Look what I’m driving, the f—ing cheap one.” Farquharson “went on about the house and said that Cindy wanted the best of everything and they couldn’t afford it”.

“Then he said, ‘And now it looks like she wants to marry that f—ing dickhead. There’s no way I’m going to let him, her and the kids live together in my house and I have to f—ing pay for it and also pay f—ing maintenance for the kids. No way.’

“He just said , ‘I’m going to take away the most important things that mean to her’ (sic). I asked him what would that be, and he nodded his head towards the fish and chip shop window . . . I said, ‘What? The kids?”‘

Farquharson said yes. “I said, ‘What would you do, would you take them away or something?’

“He then just stared at me, into my eyes, and said, ‘Kill them’.

“I said, ‘Bulls–t. It’s your own flesh and blood, Robbie.’

“He said, ‘So? I hate them.’

“I said, ‘You would go to jail.’

“He said, ‘No, I won’t. I’ll kill myself before it gets to that.”

King told the court that Farquharson said the event would be close by; there would be an accident where he would survive and the kids would not. It would be on a special day.

“I said, ‘What kind of day?’

“He said, ‘Something like Father’s Day so everyone would remember it. When it was Father’s Day and I was the last one to have them for the last time; not her. Then she looks up and for the rest of her life, every Father’s Day . . .’

“I said, ‘You don’t even dream that stuff, Robbie’.”

The children returned from the shop and nothing more was said. When King went home, he told the court, he told his wife about the conversation. Mary King would testify that she did not recall this exchange. There was a lot of noise from the children and bustling over dinner. Her husband was late with the chips and the chops were burning.

“(We) didn’t do anything about it,” King told the court. “We just thought he was talking shit again.”

At 11pm on Father’s Day, King got a phone call saying Farquharson had had an accident and the boys had drowned in the dam. “I was just – I was speechless . . . It just all come back to me, the conversation . . . I was shattered.”

He broke down at work in front of his boss, who contacted the police. King was asked to wear a secret recording device and try to talk to Farquharson about the fish and chip conversation. He agreed. The recordings were later played to the jury.

The first taped exchange was at the house where Farquharson was living with his father. It took place on September 15, 2005, 11 days after the car went into the dam. King said urgently, “Rob, it’s been eating me up! . . . Remember when you said, when Cindy pulled up and you said to her, ‘I’ll pay you back big-time’ – I hope it’s got nothing to do with it.”

Said Farquharson: “No. No way . . . No no no no no. And then you know I would never – no.”

King said he was being interviewed by police the next day and that he was “freaking out”. That was why he had been off work: “I shook and all.”

Farquharson insisted that he had told the truth to everyone about the accident: “It was just a figure of speech me being angry, but I would never ever do anything like that.”

Police had interviewed “her”, Farquharson said: “They’ve said she said, ‘No way known would he do anything like that.’ And I wouldn’t. What, I’m not a mongrel. And I’m not a bastard, and I’m not an arsehole, and I’m not a c—. I would never ever, ever. That has never ever entered my mind. What I meant by paying her back was, when ‘One day I’ll stand here with a woman in front of you and see how you like it’. That’s what I meant.”

Farquharson urged King to tell police he had been a good father: “All you say, you say you know me, I’ve always been a good bloke. ‘He’s always spoiled his kids, used to see him riding around on the bikes with the kids, and taking them to the footy, playing footy with them . . .’ Always say all the positive things that you know.”

Of the children, he said: “I loved them more than life itself.”

POLICE SENT King on one more covert mission. On October 13, 2005, almost a month after the first taped conversation, King presented himself at the home of Farquharson’s sister, Kerri Huntington. He was again wired for sound.

In the conversation that was to follow, King’s breathing would become ragged and he would several times come close to tears. He sounded tortured by what he believed he had heard.

After initial chat about work and the weather, King again broached the topic of the fish and chip shop conversation. “Rob, I’m struggling real bad . . . You know what I’m struggling over.”


“That conversation mate, it’s killing me.”

“It was never like that . . . you’ve got to get that out of your head.” Farquharson said it was “bulls–t talk”.

King insisted it was eating at him like a cancer – why would Farquharson have said that to him?

“I was just angry,” Farquharson said. “I just turn up and she is throwing her nose up. Like, you know, ‘Look, I’m driving this good car and look at you’, and I just meant ‘One day I’m going to be better than you, one day I’m going to have a house.”‘

He absolutely denied ever saying that there would be an accident where he survived and the children did not. He said that the “payback” he had meant was that he would start a successful business and then Gambino would regret having let him go.

He pointed out that his counsellor supported him “150 per cent”, and that Gambino did too. She had told him, “‘I do not hold any blame to you, I support you, I know you.’ And she told me that, she said, ‘If we were still married, you wouldn’t be even questioned now.”‘

Farquharson said Gambino had told police that he was a fantastic provider – he gave up Sunday shifts at $32 an hour to take his kids to the footy – and that he was too soft to have done it: “She told police she was the disciplinary (sic) in the family . . . If they had to be disciplined she’d smack them; I couldn’t do it. I was too soft.” And later, “Why would someone go from not smacking them to killing them? That’s a big gap.”

King persisted. He told him that he brushed that conversation under the carpet at the time. “Then when I heard about the accident, that’s when it hit . . . And it just comes back to me, Rob, and it just – it’s haunting me.”

Said Farquharson, “But (it) shouldn’t haunt you because it’s not true, don’t ever think that.”

King insisted that he would have to talk about the accident with his counsellor. Farquharson says, “Yeah, but for God’s sake, please don’t mention that sort of stuff . . . You misinterpret what I said. Because then they’re going to have it on file, and they’re going to have to go to the police with that. That’s going to incriminate me . . . And I don’t want that because it’s not true.”

At one point, he said, “I’m begging you not to mention anything what you think of that (sic).” The prosecution would later argue that Farquharson was exhorting King not to tell the truth to police.

IN THE WITNESS BOX, King said he was 80 per cent confident that his recollection of the talk at the fish shop was accurate. He had tried hard to recall it: “I was distressed, traumatised. I was scared.” It came back to him in pieces “and after that . . . last taping, I was 100 per cent sure”.

Peter Morrissey, on behalf of Farquharson, suggested that he had not been explicit about his fish shop claims on the tapes because his claims were false. King replied that he had not put exact quotes to Farquharson because “I was too stressed”.

King admitted that he had not rung Cindy Gambino and let her know of the alleged threats; he had not rung the police, or a teacher at the school. He did not ring Farquharson the next day to see how he was.

King agreed that since the children’s deaths he had been troubled by bad dreams and intrusive visions of the children drowning, had suffered crying jags and lost his ability to sleep. As he talked of his visions of the children’s deaths, Cindy Gambino whimpered into her handkerchief.

Morrissey suggested that when King came to write his statement, he could not distinguish between facts and visions because his memory had been distorted by his emotional trauma. Morrissey said, “Mr King, what I’m putting to you is that your memory is playing you tricks because of the terrible situation you’re in?”

“No,” said King.

He was close to tears when pressed about why his questioning of Farquharson on tape had been fuzzy. He was stressed, he said, “He’s a good mate, you know”.

King had taken four weeks off after the children’s deaths because he was emotionally distraught. He could not face going to their funeral. His family sent a card. The following year, he went into counselling and onto anti-depressants. He has made a claim for compensation as a victim of crime.

THE PROSECUTION, in its summing up, told jurors that Farquharson had looked up information on depression; it was also possible he had done the same for cough syncope. If he had hatched a plot to kill his children months earlier, then buying the children little gifts on the day was a red herring, and telling a friend that he had passed out from coughing could have been part of his plan.

The jury should look at how all the pieces of the jigsaw fitted together: the marriage break-up, Farquharson’s depression, his financial situation and his hatred of the new man in his wife’s life.

Rapke said, “If this hatred is then overlaid on a chronic depressive illness, then there is a dangerous and a volatile mix just waiting to be ignited.”

In Farquharson’s defence, Peter Morrissey argued that the murder theory took a lot of believing. He claimed King was an unreliable witness because he was a troubled person with a troubled memory telling an unlikely tale that was unsupported by anyone else, including his wife.

Morrissey said that the path the vehicle travelled did not suggest that it was being driven consciously, that the Crown had no answer to the fact that Farquharson’s mechanic knew the car tended to drift to the right, and that Farquharson was neither mad nor vindictive.

It was out of balance to argue that “in a dispute over who gets the good car, ‘A man can only take so much. Now I am going to murder three children.’ That is not proportionate or realistic . . . He’s got not-significant depression, not some crazy psychosis.”

Morrissey warned the jury against grasping for answers to human suffering that do not exist: “There’s this impetus in this case because it’s emotional, because in a sense you want there to be an answer, you don’t want it to be a tragedy because if it is a tragedy then the world’s a bit of an unkind place. Whereas if he’s a bad guy and has done it, then there’s an answer.”

And he pointed out that the prosecution, in summing up, had not relied upon King’s claims that Farquharson had used the words “hate” and “kill”: “(Rapke) left that out, and that’s because they can’t look that in the eye, that bit. They can’t look it in the eye because it’s not true . . .

“With one very glaring exception, everyone has said that it was a positive, loving attitude he had to his kids; everyone.”

ON TUESDAY 2 October, the jury of five men and seven women retired to consider their verdict.

Just after 2pm Friday, the word went out that there was a decision. Cindy Gambino was weeping even before she entered the courtroom. She sat between her mother and her father, each of her hands holding one of theirs, her eyes closed, murmuring incessantly.

Farquharson was dressed like a mourner in a dark grey shirt, black trousers and black tie. He wore his familiar worried expression.

Justice Philip Cummins had asked those present to restrain their feelings until the jurors had left. But at the first blow – “Guilty” – Cindy Gambino let out a strangled cry. By the third “guilty”, she was sobbing. Court officers, who were there in numbers, surrounded her and led her from the room. Even so, everyone present could hear her unearthly howls.

Her mother Beverley, her rock, the woman who had sat beside her every day that she came to the trial and held her hand as she ran the media gauntlets, now collapsed. She was lifted unconscious from the seat and carried out of the courtroom. Mother and daughter left the court complex an hour later in an ambulance.

Robert Farquharson, the silent eye of this storm, had paled as the verdicts were announced. He glanced over at his former wife. Later, he looked at reporters and raised his eyebrows, shaking his head from side to side in disbelief, as if to say, “How did it come to this?”

First published in The Age.