He told a friend he would take revenge on his former wife. Months later his three sons were dead.
ROBERT FARQUHARSON says the first thing he heard after discovering his car in water was the words of his eldest son, Jai.
“Dad, we’re in water,” said the 10-year-old, who was next to his father in the front of the car. Farquharson says he replied: “Just sit there, mate … Don’t panic, mate.”
That was the last time the 38-year-old cleaner saw Jai and his other sons, Tyler, 7, and Bailey, 2.
Yesterday, Farquharson was convicted on three counts of murder. His Commodore had ploughed into a dam at Winchelsea, south-west of Melbourne, on Father’s Day 2005.
Farquharson’s former wife, Cindy Gambino, screamed and sobbed as the verdicts were handed down in the Victorian Supreme Court. Amid the anguish, Ms Gambino’s mother collapsed and was carried outside to an ambulance.
Ms Gambino last saw her sons alive when she dropped them over to their father about 3pm on Father’s Day. She had separated from Farquharson, but wanted to remain friends for the sake of the children.
She said goodbye: “I gave them a cuddle and Bailey said, ‘I love you, Mum.’ ”
Farquharson’s lawyer said his client wouldappeal against the verdict of the six-week trial.
In the end, the complex and exhaustive trial came down to three strands: Farquharson’s ageing Commodore, the medical condition which saw him sometimes black out during a coughing fit, and the man himself.
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 and showed a lot of wear and tear.
During a test drive a couple of months before Father’s Day 2005, Jacobs had noticed that, on the stretch of road near the dam, the car wandered to the right. It had got close to the centre white line before he put his hands back on the wheel.
Acting Sergeant Glen Stewart Urquhart, of the major collision investigation unit, drove a car of a similar make and model along the road and noted what happened when he took his hands off the steering wheel. At a speed of 64kmh, the car veered not to the right, as Farquharson’s had, but to the left. At 82kmh and 101kmh the car held its line, continuing straight inside its proper lane.
The second big issue was whether a coughing fit had made Farquharson black out in the car that night. On the Thursday before the car went into the dam, he told an old friend he had had a coughing fit while driving that had made him pass out.
The evidence of the experts was contradictory. A thoracic physician, Matthew Naughton, the head of respiratory medicine at Melbourne’s Alfred Hospital, was sceptical about the existence of “cough syncope” – coughing that leads to fainting – in otherwise healthy people. He said he had never heard of it in someone who had normal heart, lung and neurological function.
Professor Naughton said it was “extremely unlikely” in Farquharson: 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.
The third strand of evidence related to what had been going on inside Farquharson’s head.
A GP, Ian McDonald, told the court he had seen 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”.
On December 13, Farquharson had told him that his wife had ended their marriage and had found religion: “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 Dr McDonald again until May 2005, when he told the doctor that “he 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.”
The man who painted the darkest portrait of Farquharson was one of his oldest friends, Gregory King.
The pair grew up in Winchelsea together.
Two or three months before Father’s Day 2005, Mr King ran into Farquharson outside a fish and chip shop in the main street of Winchelsea. It was about 6pm on a Friday. Mr King parked in front of the shop and his children went in for their order of chips.
Mr King’s account of what was said was vigorously challenged by Farquharson’s lawyer. Mr King told the court Farquharson had been inside the shop. He came out and stood next to the car for a chat. Cindy Gambino pulled up two spaces from Mr King’s car. She got out and greeted both of them; Mr King said hello to her. She went on into the shop.
Mr 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 Ms Gambino pulling up in the good car 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”, Mr King said.
“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, ‘Bullshit. 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’.”
Mr King told the court Farquharson had said the event would be close by; there would be an accident which he would survive but the children 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. But at 11pm on Father’s Day, Mr 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 came back to me, the conversation … I was shattered.”
He broke down at work in front of his boss, who contacted the police. Mr King was asked to wear a secret recording device and try to talk to Farquharson about the earlier conversation. He agreed. The recordings were 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 boys’ deaths. Mr King spoke in anxious undertones.
He said: “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.”
Farquharson said: “No. No way … No, no, no, no, no. And then you know I would never – no.”
Just after 2pm yesterday, word flashed around the court that there was a decision. Cindy Gambino was weeping even before she entered the courtroom. She sat between her mother and father, each of her hands holding one of theirs, her eyes closed, murmuring incessantly.
Justice Philip Cummins had asked those present to restrain their feelings until the jurors had left. But at the first blow – “Guilty” – Ms Gambino let out a strangled cry. By the third “Guilty”, she was sobbing. Court officers surrounded her and led her from the court. Even so, everyone present could hear her cries.
Farquharson, the silent eye of this storm, had gone pale 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.