‘He was completely out of his mind, insane’

Karen Kissane and Kate Hagan

KAERA Douglas was out of places to run. This time, she was so frightened that she could hardly walk.
A few minutes earlier, she had found a dancer from the Spearmint Rhino strip club on the ground in King Street, topless, bloody and unconscious from a beating. She grabbed the girl’s top and covered her before running inside to tell the bartender to call an ambulance.
Back outside, Ms Douglas caught sight of Christopher Hudson, her on-again, off-again lover, and the man she was sure had done the beating. He motioned her over to him at the corner of King Street and Flinders Lane and grabbed her. “I just knew that he was completely out of his mind, insane, just completely gone,” she later told police.
She tried to defuse his rage with, “Come on, you don’t have to do this.” But he pushed her along, insisting, “Walk with me!”
She knew he had a gun. He showed her how it was stashed down the front of his pants. She thought fast: “How do I get out of this? He’s bigger, faster, stronger than me.”
She knew how it felt to be on the receiving end of his fist. He had punched her previously. And she knew how obsessive he could be. Every time she had tried to break up with him he had pursued her relentlessly on the phone.
So she kept putting one foot in front of the other. But surrender did not save her. She became one of three people whom Christopher Hudson, white-faced with rage, shot in quick succession in the centre of Melbourne that grey June morning.
Ms Douglas, at least, would live to tell of it. A passer-by who went to her aid would not.
Yesterday Hudson, 31, pleaded guilty in the Melbourne Magistrates Court to murdering solicitor and father-of-three Brendan Keilar and attempting to murder Dutch backpacker Paul de Waard and Ms Douglas. A charge of unlawfully imprisoning Ms Douglas was withdrawn.
Hudson has more than 60 convictions in Queensland and NSW for offences including assault, grievous bodily harm and possessing weapons.
Statements by witnesses about the events of that morning were tendered to the court. From them can be pieced together the story of how the sex and violence of people of the night exploded into the light of day.
Kaera Douglas, 25, had only recently returned to Melbourne after fleeing Sydney to recover from being jilted by a boyfriend and to take refuge in “the safety of my parents’ house”. She had been doing promotional work and had a job lined up as a part-time travel consultant.
She had met Hudson through the ex-boyfriend; when that relationship was over, Hudson offered her a shoulder to cry on. They started seeing each other in April last year.
She discovered a different side of him when they took a road trip to Adelaide. “I forgot the (hotel) door key and when the door finally got opened he took me inside and he hit me and (threw) me around. I think I got a broken nose.”
She took photos of herself with black eyes but didn’t tell anybody he had hit her. She fled back to Sydney for a couple of weeks: “It terrified me to the bone. I just remember crying for my mummy and daddy.”
In text messages, she told him “how I couldn’t stand him and, just, how I was getting nightmares from how he’d hit me and stuff, and he just wrote back, ‘I don’t care’.”
Days after returning to Melbourne, she saw him again. “I didn’t want to go, to be honest, but he just broke me down and just rang and rang and rang.”
On the morning of June 18 last year, they were staying at a city hotel. Hudson sent her a text message at 6am telling her to go to a King Street nightspot, Bar Code.
“That was just like, no way. And then I got up and went to the bathroom and noticed that my keys and all my money had been taken. My plan was to go down there and get my keys to my car, catch a cab back and get my things and leave. (I was) seriously scared ’cause I knew that he’d been drinking.”
What Ms Douglas did not know was that events that night at another nightclub, Spearmint Rhino, had left Hudson smouldering like a lit fuse – and she would walk right into his explosion.
Hudson had wanted to keep chatting to one of the girls who had knocked off work. But at Spearmint Rhino, entertainers not in costume must go home. He protested to management, to no avail.
He had also had a hostile encounter with Autumn Daly-Holt, the young woman he would leave bleeding on the steps of the club later.
Ms Daly-Holt acknowledged to police that she had “some kind of altercation with Chris…He got into my personal space and I became defensive. I don’t know what the argument was over. I do recall at some stage with Chris telling him to f— off.”
This might have occurred when she was giving a semi-naked lap dance for the club’s manager. Stephen Kyriacou told police that Ms Daly-Holt was “getting quite frisky with me. All of a sudden I saw Huddo was standing on the ramp area above us. He reached down and grabbed (her) by the hair and lifted her up slightly. She began to cry and he stopped doing it.”
A male patron told Hudson there had been no need to pull her hair. A Spearmint Rhino dancer, Marie Gamard, told police that Hudson pulled up his sleeves and pointed to his tattoos in response, saying: “Do you know who I am? I’m a Hells Angel.” When the man told Hudson he had just come back from Iraq, they both calmed down, she said.
Drug use might have been a factor that night. According to another entertainer at the club, Carly Rheinberger, Hudson at one stage went to the men’s toilets with another man. “When they came out both of them looked happy. I said to them, ‘Excuse me, where is the love?’, meaning, where is my share of the drugs? Huddo replied to me that it wasn’t his to share. He did offer me money to buy some if I wanted it.”
It is not known what was happening inside Hudson’s head. Afterwards, he gave police a “no comment” interview.
But about 7.55am, Ms Daly-Holt left Bar Code and sat down on its steps outside. Hudson approached her. She said later: “I was afraid of Chris due to what had happened earlier…I can remember brushing Chris away with an open palm manner because he was invading my space.”
He kicked her in the face. “I remember clutching my nose and my face and thinking, ‘F— that hurt.” He picked her up and threw her out onto the footpath.
She tried to sit up. He kicked her in the face again, hard. A witness said, “I saw him draw his foot back and kick through with what looked like absolute force straight into the girl’s face.”
Ms Daly-Holt fell backwards onto the concrete footpath. Hudson went back into the club. When he came out again he used a foot to roll her body onto her side, the witness said: “Then her body rolled back again, onto her back, and she didn’t move.” Another witness said: “She sounded like she was choking on her own blood and was making a gurgling sound.”
Hudson re-entered Bar Code and signalled to Ms Douglas that it was time to go. This is when she discovered Daly-Holt on the footpath and ran inside to call an ambulance.
Outside, Hudson forced Ms Douglas along the street and into an underground car park in William Street. He pinned her against the wall with his left forearm against her throat. His right hand held a gun.
A cleaner heard her screams and came to investigate. Hudson, distracted, allowed Ms Douglas to flee onto Flinders Lane at the intersection of William Street, where she tried to flag down a taxi. She tugged desperately at its doors but they were locked. Hudson caught up with her and dragged her away from the taxi by the hair.
In one of those random collisions of events that forever changes lives, two male passers-by stopped to help.
Solicitor Brendan Keilar, 43, was walking to work in the city along Flinders Lane and Dutch backpacker Paul de Waard, 26, was on his way to McDonald’s for coffee.
Mr de Waard was struck by the fear on the face of the young woman crying “Help!” The thing that stood out about Hudson, he recalled later, was “the mad look in his eyes”.
Mr de Waard said: “I felt that I had to stop him, then I looked around me to see if there were more people to help me separate the man and the woman.
“When I first saw Brendan, I think he was walking in the same direction as me and we both stepped up to them, together. That made me feel stronger because (he) looked stronger than me and I thought that together we could stop the man hurting her. As we walked towards them I think I said something like, ‘What are you doing, mate? Let her go.’ ”
Hudson continued to hold Ms Douglas by the hair with his left hand. With his right, he pulled out the gun.
Without a word, he shot all three people at close range.
Onlookers would recall the orange flash of each shot and the shooter’s apparent calm. “This guy seems very deliberate about what he’s doing,” thought one witness, as he ducked for cover.
Hudson fired more shots into the two men as they lay on the ground, emptying the handgun of all six rounds.
He left Ms Douglas screaming, with a shot to the abdomen. Mr de Waard was hemorrhaging with wounds to the chest and abdomen. A woman came to help him, holding his hand, demanding that he not close his eyes, telling him he was being very brave.
Bystanders began cardio-pulmonary resuscitation on Brendan Keilar but his pulse stopped before the ambulance arrived.
Many lives changed forever that day. Ms Douglas and Mr de Waard have faced many operations. Mr Keilar’s family have lost a loved husband and father.
Mr Keilar’s brother-in-law, Paul Firth, identified his body. He told police that Mr Keilar grew up in Warrnambool and was dux of his graduating class at Christian Brothers College before moving to Melbourne to study law. The highly regarded solicitor married his “true soulmate”, Alice, in 1992, and they had three children.
“Brendan was a bright, effervescent and strong person. He held his immediate and extended family close to his heart,” Mr Firth told police, noting that he was also well read and held strong social convictions. “The grief that Brendan’s death has caused our family is indescribable…we will never get over (his) loss.
“Brendan has been described as having a moral compass that governed his life. It is of no surprise to us to learn of (his) actions on the day of his death. They are consistent with the way that Brendan lived.”

First published in The Age.