Bye, bye, baby, bye, bye

THE BABY started school yesterday. She didn’t want to, particularly, and the good-morning snuggle in our bed lingered on and on. It made her father laugh. It reminded him of how he had felt when I was expecting our first child and my waters broke in the middle of the night. He had dived under the Doona in dismay and said, “Just give me a minute.” Anything to hold off this momentous change.

Frightened to let them come, frightened to let them go. We had all worked hard on getting used to the idea of school. She had paraded around in her blue-checked uniform and sensible black shoes over the holidays, carefully packed and unpacked all the mysterious contents of the schoolbag, and played “school” every day for a fortnight.

It got to the point where even I was becoming confident that this quiet, shy little girl was going to be fine. Then came the time I couldn’t play teacher – there were potatoes to be peeled – and her big brother offered to stand in. “Hang on,” he said. “I’ll just get the strap and the ruler.” Her eyes widened.

No, no, I protested, they don’t hit children at school these days. It’s one of your brother’s stories, like the one about how you would grow antennas if you were bitten by a dragonfly. And remember how he fibbed that the dentist would saw your head off and screw it back on? That wasn’t true, was it? She nodded doubtfully. But I was reassured; it reminded me that her schooldays would be dramatically different from mine.

Yesterday she dressed herself except for the final tie of the shoelaces and tried the loaded bag on for size. “It’s too heavy,” she protested over her new harness. She lurched between over-exuberance and vulnerability, clowning about the room and then throwing herself into my arms and clinging.I rocked her and sang what I had always sung for them when they were feeling small and frightened, that old ’60s classic, “Be my, Be my baby . . . My one and only baby, Be my darlin’.”

The moment, when it came, was an anti-climax. Kids hate goodbyes, hate having to face that you are leaving them. They leave you instead. One minute she was holding my hand outside the classroom, the next the teacher appeared smiling at the door and our preppie slipped into the room without a backward glance.

Her dad and I stood, bereft, watching through the glass. It was like the scene in the film Father of the Bride, where Steve Martin, after organising the wedding from hell, realises that his daughter has left without so much as a kiss goodbye.

I’d been longing for milestones ever since the first child came. You long for their first word, their first step, their first night sleeping through, that first tinkle in the potty. And then comes the day you realise you’ve wished their lives away.

First published in The Age.

Men not ready for paternity test grief

MANY men who believe that paternity testing is their “right” and the best way to find out “the truth” are unprepared for the intense grief they feel when they discover a child is not biologically theirs, according to research.
They were devastated and did not foresee that the test might lead to the ending of their relationship with the child. One father, who had the testing done secretly, said: “The results ruined my life when my ex-wife then ordered the child never to call me ‘Dad’ again. And worse still, she is never allowed to see me again . . . I still think of her as my daughter.”
For most men who had sought the testing themselves, however, a negative result meant they felt they now had no financial responsibility for the child and were no longer fathers in any sense at all. While they often felt deep loss about a final separation from the child, “they were all adamant about the value of paternity testing”.
The study, Paternity Testing and the Biological Determination of Fatherhood, is by Dr Lyn Turney of the Australian Centre for Emerging Technologies and Society at Swinburne University. It is published in the Journal of Family Studies.
Dr Turney interviewed 64 people about their experiences. Some had been tested, others planned to be.
Dr Turney reports that many who discovered that they were not fathers were so angry that they could not talk openly with their former partner or have a relationship with the child.
Dr Turney told The Age, “There are some men who can’t disconnect their anger about the mother’s deception and infidelity from their feelings for the child. The hurt is focused on the fact that ‘this child is the result of something my wife or partner has done to me’.”
Some who had been absolved of responsibility for an unplanned pregnancy by a mother who never told them about it were upset when they discovered it years later. One man said: “I was sad because I’d missed out on my son’s life. And angry because it felt like, you know, something had been kept from me.”

First published in The Age. Also see Sins Of The Mother.

Sins of the mother


What is it with mothers and daughters? Karen Kissane tries to make sense of this volatile relationship.
SHE had tried to teach her daughter all the right things about resisting the modern world’s caging of girls. Be happy with who you are, not how you look; wear what you like, not just the brands that carry cachet with the kids at school; stay in touch with your own feelings about what you want and follow them.
And then came the awful moment, the one that challenged her fond beliefs about her mothering. Her teenaged daughter was going to the movies with friends. She came to say goodbye dressed in a pair of tights
with a hole, a skirt and top in colours that did not match, and a favourite handbag that her mother thought clashed with the lot. The comment was out of her mouth before the mother could stop it: “Going for the Little Orphan Annie look, are you?”
The ugly words hung in the air between them. The daughter slid her eyes away and quietly kissed her mother goodbye.
The mother says, with regret, “Here she was, being quirky and individualistic and anti-fashion, using her clothes to find out who she was, and it was me who tried to put her in the cage. And I know exactly why it happened; even now that I am middle-aged, whenever I tell my mother I have something important on, one of her first questions is, ‘What will you wear?’ She still reminds me when she thinks I need
a haircut.”
What is it with mothers and daughters?
The relationship between mothers and daughters is different to that of any other dyad in a family, researchers say; it can be more intense, more volatile, more conflicted, more painful and more rewarding. Part of the reason for this is that talk is a much bigger part of the mother-daughter exchange, and what mothers say – and what they leave unsaid – has a powerful effect on their daughters, who yearn for their mothers’ approval and resent that yearning. Although daughters often do not realise it, the reverse is also true.
American linguist Deborah Tannen has studied mothers and daughters and written about her research in a book published earlier this year, You’re wearing that? Understanding mothers and daughters in conversation. Writing in the Washington Post, Tannen says, “For girls and women, talk is the glue that holds a relationship together – and the explosive that can blow it apart. That’s why you can think you’re having a perfectly amiable chat, then suddenly find yourself wounded by the shrapnel from an exploded conversation.”
She found the most common complaint from daughters to be:
“My mother is always criticising me.” The corresponding complaint from mothers was: “I can’t open my mouth. She takes everything as criticism.” Tannen says mothers subject their daughters to a level of scrutiny they otherwise reserve only for themselves, and that the Big Three topics for criticism are hair, clothing and weight. A mother feels obliged to criticise because she knows women are judged by their appearance, and because daughters represent their mothers to the world, Tannen says.
Sometimes, it is because a mother just doesn’t understand a daughter’s choices. Tannen gives an example from her own life. Tannen had recently taken a teaching position at a prestigious university. She showed her mother around her new office, with her name on the door and her publications on the shelf. Her mother asked if she would have done all this if she had stayed married (her mother had been distraught at Tannen’s divorce). No, Tannen said, she would never have got her PhD if she’d stayed married.
Her mother replied: “If you’d stayed married, you wouldn’t have had to.” Ouch! Tannen wrote: “With her casual remark, my mother had reduced all that I had accomplished to the consolation prize.”
But what mothers do not say to their daughters – “what my mother didn’t tell me” – can also have a profound effect. There is the thin-lipped, disapproving silence about
a daughter’s actions. There is the avoidant silence about the awkward topic – sex, periods, the family scandal. And then there is the great silence, heavy with things unspoken, that is maternal depression, which was so beautifully and wordlessly portrayed by Holly Hunter in Jane Campion’s film about the almost-submerged mother, The Piano.
The psychological effect of the great silence on daughters is well documented, with the daughters of depressed mothers at greater risk of depression themselves. What happens in the psychic space daughters share with their mothers has profound physical effects, too: one study of girls in America and New Zealand found that those whose mothers had mood disorders reached puberty earlier than those whose mothers did not. Their mothers’ unhappiness and instability kick-started their periods. The researchers speculated that human females might have evolved to
respond to early childhood stress by accelerating pubertal development.
There is also some evidence suggesting that personal secrets in a mother’s history can play themselves out again in the next generation if they are hidden away. One study more than a decade ago examined families in which the mother had had an abortion when she was young. In those families where the mother did not tell her daughter, the daughter had a higher likelihood of finding herself in need of an abortion in early adulthood than did the daughters of families where the mothers had talked about their own experience. Perhaps those who do not learn from family history are also destined to repeat it.
But mother-daughter relationships are so complex and so nuanced that it is sometimes hard to judge the application of a worthy principle such as openness; when to tell, and how to tell. Erica Frydenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, says mothers might not tell daughters about an abortion, for example, because they do not want their daughters to prejudge how to manage a pregnancy.
The timing of a revelation can also be crucial. Erica tells of a woman who was told on her wedding day that the person she had thought of as her mother was actually her aunt; that her biological mother had died when she was tiny. “She was so shattered
by this information that she never spoke to the aunt again for the rest of her life. Judgements about discovery are very tricky.”
For every daughter who feels she has suffered over something for which her mother did not prepare her, there is a mother who feels her daughter resisted being forewarned about possible painful experiences.
Maggie Kirkman, at the Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society at the University of Melbourne, was a co-researcher in a study about the way parents talk to their children about sex. “Relationship information was one of the things parents wanted to talk about, and daughters often didn’t want to talk about it.”
Kirkman says mothers trying to warn daughters about potential life problems can be a bit like a doctor trying to deliver bad news: “People will swear blind that no one told them, and they were told but they found it too distressing to absorb it.”
The difficulties of falling in love, and falling out of love, can be similarly uncomfortable for daughters to hear about: “I tried to tell my daughter how it felt when someone important fell out of love with me. She was sympathetic, but I think she felt it wasn’t something that a mother should be sharing. Daughters want parents to be coping and to be bulwarks against the world rather than people who will fall apart when something happens.”
On the other hand, in Kirkman’s study there was a woman who blamed her teenage promiscuity on the fact that her mother did not talk to her about sex or relationships and failed to educate her “that you don’t just throw yourself into a sexual relationship without thinking of the consequences”.
In the world of classic “chick lit” – Jane Austen, the Brontes, even the light-hearted Regency romances of Georgette Heyer – it has always been the task of the mother to guide a daughter in the proprieties and protect her from sexual predations. Often in these authors’ stories the mother is absent or inadequate (a contrivance
to give their heroines greater trials and greater freedoms), but even then, she symbolises protection or restraint. In her book, Beyond the Myths: Mother-Daughter Relationships in Psychology, History, Literature and Everyday Life, Sydney researcher and psychologist Shelley Phillips points out that when Rochester begs Jane Eyre to be his mistress, it is the ghost of her long-dead mother who tells her to flee temptation and leave Rochester and Thornfield.
For Erica Frydenberg’s daughter Lexi, though, one of the great strengths of her relationship with her mother is that her mother did not ever tell her about judgements she had made about her daughter’s adult relationships. Lexi, 33, is a Melbourne pediatrician. She is also mother of a little boy and is five months pregnant with her second child.
Lexi says she feels her mother has given her great freedom to make her own choices. She never heard much about Erica’s own experience of childbirth and early parenting but Erica was always there to help with cooking and cleaning when Lexi was sick or exhausted: “I was grateful that she was there to support me and didn’t put her own issues on me and didn’t constantly reflect on her own experience.
“We have never talked in depth about marital relationships either.
I think she adores my husband and is completely there for us, but we never sat down, even when I was going out with men, and said, you know, ‘He’s got this or that going for him, or not going for him.’ She gave me freedom to form my own opinions.”
Long after one long-term relationship ended, Erica told her daughter that she had found the man exceptionally boring. “I had no idea,” laughs Lexi. “I thought she thought he was a great catch.”
Another time, when Lexi was in a “total dilemma” about her reluctance to marry a man who seemed perfect, her mother did not buy into the debate. She referred Lexi to a psychologist who could help her think it through independently. “It was a clever thing to do at the time because if the relationship had worked out and she had put her two cents in, it would have changed the dynamic between us, and if the relationship didn’t work out because of something she said, I would have resented her for it. By being supportive but suggesting that I do the deep talking with someone else, she wasn’t putting a value judgement on the relationship.”
Erica Frydenberg herself had been brought up by a mother who was a Holocaust survivor and who was progressive for her culture and her times, but who did initially resist Erica’s determination to adopt Australian freedoms, such as mixing with boys and going to university. When it came Erica’s turn to mother Lexi, she decided it was important “to respect the other, and to be there to assist and to ‘scaffold’ but
to really trust in my kids’ capacities”.
Erica remembers only one time they ran into trouble in Lexi’s teens – “saying she was somewhere when she wasn’t, an under-age drinking thing. That wasn’t very hard”. And Lexi remembers only one major dispute: her mother wanted her to have a big wedding, and Lexi wanted a small one. “That was the biggest crunch time.
I hadn’t actually anticipated her opposition because she had always been so open-minded. But in the end Adam and I dug our heels in. We wanted to form our own boundaries as a couple.”
Such a rebellion-free youth is unusual. According to Shelley Phillips, most daughters report that they argue more with their mothers than with anyone else when they are teenagers and young adults. Conflicts often centre around everyday things such as tidy rooms and outings but the intensity can escalate out of all proportion to the issues. Daughters argue with their mothers because it is during fights that they work out who they are and what is important to them. Many researchers have concluded that daughters do not want to “separate” from their mothers or break the relationship; they want to maintain emotional closeness all through their adult lives in a way that is not as common with sons.
Kim Kane, 33, a commercial lawyer and children’s writer, has forgiven her mother all her “sins”: making Kim eat celery sticks and carrots at childhood parties, studying at university instead of being “a proper tennis-and-tuckshop mum”, vacuuming furiously outside Kim’s bedroom if she slept in too long. Says her amused mother Barbara, “That is grotesquely exaggerated!” She adds, “Kim was always my great leveller.”
They see themselves as close – they share a love of trashy magazines and the high arts, and often go to the opera or to a gallery opening together – but Barbara says she doesn’t expect that closeness to extend to talking about everything. “I’m very close to my mother but I don’t tell her about things that would worry her. I’m sure my girls are the same, they’d just give me the general headline.”
Asked to think about “What my mother didn’t tell me”, Barbara says that, while it is not something she would have expected to come from her mother, she does wish now that when she left home she had known that it was wise to get established in a career before starting a family. She had three children because she wanted them to have the fun of siblings, but it meant that her own career as an art historian began late and had to be squeezed in around family commitments.
For Kim, too, the only thing she wished she had known involved the world of work: she found some corporate environments tougher, blokier and more bruising than the sheltered world of her family, and realised that she had to upskill in boisterousness and bad language. “That’s something my family could not have prepared me for because we don’t act like that.”
Just like the women in Tannen’s research, Kim remains sensitive to her mother’s criticism in a way that she is to no other. When she showed her mother the manuscript of her first children’s novel, her mother took seriously the request to say what she thought. “She said, ‘Well, it’s good, there are some strong characters, but I’m not sure about this.’ I was absolutely gutted!
I found myself saying to publishers, ‘This is what my mother thinks’.
I sounded like a 14-year-old!”
Lexi Frydenberg recently had an ultrasound for her pregnancy. Her mother came with her because her husband was away. They were both delighted to hear she is expecting a daughter. Says Lexi, “We both had tears in our eyes. Because I have a very strong bond with my mother, I’d like to have that with a daughter.”
You know how it is with mothers and daughters.
Mother-daughter books …
1. The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan
Four mothers and their first-generation, Chinese-American daughters dealing with culture clashes.
2. Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott
Single motherhood in 19th-century New England.
3. Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen
The silly Mrs Bennet is heroic in her tireless attempts to get her five daughters good husbands.
4. White Oleander, by Janet Fitch
Heartbreaking coming-of-age story.
5. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
Civil War tale of runaway slave Sethe, who is haunted and comforted by the ghost of her murdered daughter.
6. Unless, by Carol Shields
A wry feminist meditation on women’s roles.
7. Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
A novel of imperfect love and forgiveness.
and films …
Freaky Friday (1976 and 2003)
Mother and teenage daughter swap bodies and are forced to live each other’s lives.
High Tide (1987)
Gillian Armstrong’s tale of a maternal relationship lost and potentially found.
News from Home (1977)
An engrossing meditation on the bonds of family, identity, exile and creativity.
Stella Dallas (1937)
A mother raises her daughter alone, renouncing everything to allow her child a better chance in life. — JANE SULLIVAN AND PHILIPPA HAWKER

First published in The Age.


Carol Matthey was this week committed to trial for allegedly murdering her four children. Karen Kissane looks at the evidence presented about the case and the woman, who has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
THERE is no dock in Court 20 at the Melbourne Magistrates Court to separate the accused from the rest of the room. Carol Louise Matthey sat in the front row of the public seating, close to her lawyers but not far from those who had come to watch her case.
She is a solidly built young woman who invariably wore her hair pulled back into a bun or a ponytail. Her clothes were plain: jeans, cotton shirts, pull-on ankle boots. Every day she carried a water bottle and an A4 notebook and pen and took notes as witnesses gave evidence.
Sometimes she had companions sitting in the row behind her, and she would occasionally turn to them and murmur a comment. “Bullshit!” she said audibly once, apparently disagreeing with the evidence being given at the time.
Four children had brought Carol Matthey to this courtroom. The purpose of the hearing was to determine whether she had a case to answer on charges of murdering her four children. The case for the proscecution will not be finalised, and the case for the defence not known, until the matter goes to trial.
The trigger for the case that led to this hearing was her three-year-old daughter, Shania. Shania had been a colicky baby, but she became a happy, cheeky child. She often had a runny nose or a cold because, like many active small children, she liked to strip off her socks and her jumper.
She was a daddy’s girl, according to a statement from a neighbour tendered to the court: “She was always so delighted to see her dad come home in his truck and always spoke of Dad. She also clung to Carol, wanting to be picked up all the time, and always carried her bottle of milk around with her.”
The week she died, she and her parents visited the house of one of her mother’s friends. “Shania was great,” the friend later recalled to police. “She was catching bugs and playing, laughing and giggling. Everyone seemed very happy.”
A few days later, according to her mother, Shania had a mishap. She had been pretending to ride her Barbie doll’s horse on a coffee table. She had fallen off the table and begun to scream. Then she stopped breathing. Her mother rang for an ambulance, saying that her daughter was purple and unconscious. She told the operator that she was beginning resuscitation. Moments later, a child’s gasping cry could be heard.
When Geelong ambulance officers arrived, they found Shania being nursed in Carol Matthey’s arms. The little girl resisted being examined and seemed fine, and the ambulance officers did not know she had reportedly been unconscious and then resuscitated, so it was decided that her mother would take her to the family GP for a check-up.
Shania never made it to that doctor’s appointment. That night, her mother gave her a bottle when she called out for it in the early hours. Carol Matthey got up for her shower the next morning and was surprised, she later said, that Shania did not come into the bathroom when she heard the water running. She said she checked on Shania and found her in bed, not breathing and without a pulse. An ambulance took the child to hospital but she never came out of what doctors call “asystole” – her heart had stopped.
It was Wednesday, April 9, 2003. Shania Jayne Matthey was dead. Her death was unexpected. Shania was the fourth Matthey child to be found suddenly dead. Carol and Stephen Matthey had already lost three other children, who had died as babies. Shania was their fourth child to die in five years, and as a preschooler, was outside the 12-month age limit for sudden infant death syndrome, according to several witnesses. An autopsy failed to find any cause of death.
The police then took an interest in what remained of the Matthey family.
In February last year a police investigation resulted in Carol Matthey, 26, now of Bannockburn, being charged with having murdered the four children: Jacob, Chloe, Joshua and Shania. This week, her committal hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court came to its conclusion.
The Crown case painted her as a killer who smothered one child after the other. Her defence counsel, Ian Hill, QC, said there was no medical evidence that any of the children had been deliberately harmed, and that Matthey had most probably lost her children because of some shared genetic disorder about which medical science knows little or nothing. “The primary and stark question in this case is whether any of these children were killed at all,” he said.
Magistrate Duncan Reynolds had the task of deciding whether to commit Matthey for trial. His work was cut out for him.
CAROL Matthey is the third of five sisters. She left school at 15 to work as a shop assistant at a fruit and vegetable outlet, according to a statement tendered to the court by Jodie Matthey, who is married to one of Carol’s brothers-in-law. The store, plus a 365-hectare market garden at Bannockburn, were owned by the Matthey family. By 16, Carol was dating one of the family sons, Stephen Matthey. They had Jacob in May 1998, and three more children – Shania, then Chloe, then Joshua – in quick suc-cession.
By the time Shania died, the Mattheys were living in the Geelong suburb of Herne Hill, in a plain, brown-brick, three-bedroom house with white net curtains that had been bought for them by Stephen’s parents. Ste-phen Matthey’s family were not a talkative bunch, Jodie Matthey, told the court: “(They) pretty much just talk about business. It’s more about a business relationship than a family.”
Carol had broken off communication with her own parents, Jodie told police: “The reasons for this are very complicated, but it all seemed to stem from her parents never accepting Stephen from the beginning of their relationship.”
According to another statement, from a friend Geraldine Taylor, Carol and Stephen Mattheys’ relationship was “not close. They were not an affectionate couple. They did seem happy, but they were not close or affectionate.”
Stephen Matthey worked long hours, according to a statement from a neighbour, Dorothy Minett: “Onmarket days, he would leave home between 12am and 1am, and on normal days he would leave for work about 5am. He would (never) get home before 6.30pm or 7pm.”
A number of witnesses who knew Carol Matthey in everyday life were called or statements were tendered from them, including two relatives, two playgroup friends and a neighbour, as well as her maternal and child health nurse and both her bereavement social workers. Each stated that from what they had seen, she was a normal, loving mother.
Minett told police, “Carol seemed very good with Shania. I never, ever noticed anything untoward about Carol’s parenting of Shania or any of her children.” Said Taylor, a mother at the Matthey children’s playgroup: “I have never seen her spanking her children, ever. (She raised her voice) every now and again, but she was very calm.”
All these witnesses stated that Matthey was a quiet, reserved woman who was not one to show her feelings. Jodie Matthey had found her to be a good friend; when Jodie was in a wheelchair with multiple fractures following a car smash that also injured her daughter, “Carol would visit me often and help me look after my family.”
Sergeant Solomon, the primary police investigator, found Carol Matthey to be calm and relaxed when he first interviewed her at her home. He also noted two black plastic boxes on top of a microwave oven in her kitchen. In response to his question, Matthey said they contained the brains of two of her dead children, Shania and Joshua. The Coroner’s Court had kept the brains for further testing. “The accused explained that it was her intention to have the two brains and Joshua’s ashes placed with Shania (in her grave) in due course,” Solomon said in his statement, which was tendered to the court.
According to Crown prosecutor Susan Pullen, SC, the first indication of Matthey’s allegedly “violent relationship” with her children came before any of the deaths. It was a house fire in August 1998, when she was the only adult at home.
A fireman at the scene briefly recorded the probable cause as a fault in the newly installed central heating system, and an insurance company paid the Mattheys’ claim. But two expert witnesses told the court they believed the fire actually began in a child’s bedroom. Country Fire Authority investigator Graham Lay said he had pulled the heating unit apart and found no fault with it, and that the pattern of charring showed that the fire began above the floorboards, not in the heating ducts below.
Gerard Nealon, a forensic scientist who investigated the blaze for the insurance company, also believed that the fire started in the bedroom, and that its lighting probably had involved “some kind of naked flame with some human involvement”.
A few weeks after the fire, Carol and Stephen Matthey wed in a private ceremony.
The first death came four months later.
Died aged seven months on December 8, 1998
On October 28, 1998, an ambulance was called for six-month-old Jacob, whom his mother described as being purple and having trouble breathing. One of the ambulance officers, Anthony Clark, told the court that he had trouble finding the house, and that no one came out to flag the ambulance down. “When we arrived, (Carol Matthey) and a male were sitting on the front step. I thought they were having a cigarette at the time.”
“Even before the time I knew Mrs Matthey had been charged, it always struck me as odd the way she presented,” Clark said.”
She was devoid of all emotion … (and) when we arrived at the scene, they weren’t actively looking after the child.” The Mattheys sent the ambulancemen to the back of the house, where Jacob was found pale, unresponsive and grunting.
Children’s neurologist Dr Ian Hopkins, who treated Jacob, concluded that he had suffered “a significant sudden insult to the brain”, which can depress breathing and consciousness. Such “insults” could be caused by head injury, metabolic disorders or impaired circulation as a result of epileptic seizures. A seizure could also be the result of having been deprived of oxygen.
There was not strong evidence for an infection in Jacob’s case, Hopkins told the court, although he did have an enlarged liver and spleen and a high count of white blood cells. Jacob recovered, and no cause for this episode was ever found.
Dr Janice Ophoven, an American forensic pediatric pathologist and medical examiner, reviewed the Matthey files and was flown toMelbourne fromMinnesota to give evidence. She told the court she believed Jacob’s “apparent life-threatening episode” was consistent with him having been partially suffocated. His white cell count was “most telling”: “Children who have been asphyxiated will have a sudden and substantial rise in white blood count in the absence of infection … I have substantial experience with children who have been suffocated short of death and rushed to hospital with signs and symptoms similar to this, and they recover essentially completely, without diagnosis, after receiving an insult to the brain.”
Ophoven said she had seen children who were resuscitated from “multiple asphyxial episodes” before they were eventually killed. Medical staff often don’t suspect deliberate smothering “because, unfortunately, it takes the death of more than one child for people to figure out what’s going on”.
On December 8, five weeks after his episode, Jacob died. Jodie Matthey told police that when she arrived at the family home that afternoon after a call from a relative, ambulancemen were trying to revive the baby, and his parents “were both extremely upset and crying”.
Pediatric pathologist Dr Peter Campbell did the autopsy. He concluded that while bronchitis was a possible cause of death, the findings better reflected sudden infant death syndrome.
Dr Susan Beal, an Adelaide SIDS expert who has attended the death scenes of more than 500 babies, told the court that there had been such a poor death scene investigation in Jacob’s case that his cause of death should be called undetermined rather than SIDS, although SIDS remained a likely diagnosis.
She wrote in her report, tendered to the court, that factors weighted towards “filicide” (killing by a parent) include Jacob’s previous unexplained apparent lifethreatening episode, “which increases the possibility of non-accidental injury”, and his age (most SIDS deaths occur between one and six months.) Ophoven said she believed blood found in Jacob’s nose was due to the kind of injury seen in suffocation, where blood can be seen without any other sign of injury. The blood did not come from a “bloody purge” from his lungs, or it would also have been found in his airways, she said.
Those dealing with the Mattheys following Jacob’s death saw a normal grieving couple. Nerida Mulvey, a SIDS counsellor who was called in to help the family, later told police that Carol and Stephen Matthey seemed to experience the kind of grief common to SIDS families, expressing intense anger about Jacob’s death and looking for ways to memorialise him.
Died aged nine weeks on November 27, 2000
Carol Matthey became pregnant again soon after Shania was born in November 1999.
Chloe was born on September 14, 2000.
Geraldine Taylor saw Chloe at a playgroup party a few days before she died. “I held her for a while and she was fine. She was a beautiful baby.”
The day Chloe died, Jodie Matthey received a call from Carol asking her to come over. “I asked her why, and she said, ‘Don’t worry,’ and then hung up. I called her back straight away and said, ‘I’ll be there in a minute’. I knew something was wrong by the tone of her voice. When I arrived at her place, I found two ambulances there, and Carol was crying hysterically.
Chloe was on the bed in Carol and Stephen’s room with the ambulance people trying to revive her.” They all went to hospital, where Chloe was pronounced dead.
Neighbour Dorothy Minett later went over to visit Carol: “She looked dazed. She wasn’t crying but looked in a world of her own … For a couple of days Carol wouldn’t respond to anybody. She just lay in bed and wouldn’t eat or drink. I couldn’t get her to speak.”
JodieMatthey, too, saw CarolMatthey as devastated: “I recall her asking me why Chloe had to die. She said losing one child was bad enough, but not two.”
Dr Peter Campbell, who had conducted the autopsy on Jacob, also did the postmortem examination of Chloe. He concluded again that this was SIDS, a diagnosis used for mystery deaths of babies aged under 12 months.
SIDS is what doctors call “a diagnosis of exclusion”-it is what one concludes when all other reasonable possibilities have been eliminated. It is a category into which many different causes of death that are as yet unknownmight fall, including heart, respiratory and metabolic problems.
In recent years science has unravelled some of its mysteries. About 10 to 15 per cent of cases that were previously called SIDS are now known to be the result of genetic flaws that produce conditions such as Brugada syndrome or long QT syndrome, in which sudden, dramatic problems with heartbeat can cause unexpected death.
SIDS rates generally have plummeted in the Western world since it was discovered that lying babies on their backs to sleep helps prevent it.
According to Professor Stephen Cordner, director of the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine and another expert who reviewed the Matthey cases, SIDS is a diagnosis that does encompass “the possibility of smothering, although in the minds of parents and perhaps some pathologists it has acquired the status of natural causes”.
Campbell wrote in his autopsy report on Chloe that SIDS “is a diagnosismade after a full post-mortem examination including X-rays, microbiology, toxicology and metabolic study fails to explain death … While a second child in a family can die of SIDS by chance, recurrence raises the possibility of an inherited or genetic condition as a possible cause, as well as the spectre of nonaccidental injury.”
Chloe showed no sign of deliberate injury, he wrote, and metabolic tests were normal. “Other metabolic conditions, as yet unknown, may still be the cause of these two children’s deaths, but we have no way of diagnosing those at present.”
Ophoven said she would call Chloe’s cause of death undetermined, rather than SIDS, because it was not possible to exclude homicide. Dr Beal would call it undetermined because Carol Matthey had told an investigating forensic officer that she had laid Chloe to sleep on her back, and babies did not die of SIDS while on their backs unless their faces were covered.
Died aged three months on July 10, 2002
“Carol became pregnant again some months after Chloe’s death,” Jodie Matthey said in her statement. “Again, Carol was happy about being pregnant but was even more concerned now. I could tell by the look on her face that she was concerned about the wellbeing of the child she was expecting.”
Joshua’s birth, on March 30, 2002, was difficult. He was born by emergency caesarean six weeks premature with the cord prolapsed, and his mother was ill herself afterwards. Given the family’s history of SIDS, Joshua was given an apnoea monitor for use at home, which had an alarm that would go off if he stopped breathing. Joshua started projectile vomiting. He had developed pyloric stenosis, a problem with the digestive tract that could be fixed by a minor operation. He was admitted to the Royal Children’s Hospital and had surgery on May 10, 2002.
What happened while Joshua was in hospital, and the possible reasons for it, has triggered one of themost dramatic divisions of opinion between highly respected doctors in this case.
The operation Joshua had was so minor that it does not even involve the cutting of muscle, and the incision, just near the belly button, is small. But nurses noted that Joshua seemed to be in significant pain afterwards. Wrote one at the time: “He was extremely pale, arching backwards and his whole body was totally stiff. I was unable to move his neck due to his rigidity. His face was grimacing, very tense and flexed. His hands and feet were clenched. Baby had minimal respiratory effort . . .”
Joshua was given morphine for his pain and an hour later stopped breathing. He was resuscitated and stayed on a ventilator for 60 hours. Four hours after his initial arching, he was still tense, sensitive, startled at noise and resisted handling – and “a child with a morphine overdose would (normally) be a rag doll”, director of surgery Dr John Hutson told the court.
Dr Peter McDougall was the neonatal pediatrician overseeing Joshua’s postoperative care. He believes the baby’s arching was a response to pain and that his breathing stopped because of the dose of morphine he was given for that pain.
McDougall told the court he certainly did not share the views of Hutson, who believed that Joshua’s arching could have been due to a more sinister cause: being poisoned with strychnine after he returned to the ward from surgery.
Hutson told the court that Joshua’s pain was disproportionate, and that a baby with abdominal pain would normally not arch because it would pull the wound tighter.
Joshua also required ventilation for five times as long as a normal baby who had reacted badly to morphine. “We couldn’t understand why he was taking so long to get better.”
Hutson realised later that Joshua’s symptoms, such as neck stiffness and ultrasensitivity to handling, were classic for both tetanus and strychnine poisoning, but tetanus was extremely unlikely in a baby so young.
Hutson acknowledged that he did not think of this theory at the time: “We never looked for it, so we never saw it, so we never did any of those tests (for poison) … (but) I think it’s the most likely explanation for the series of events which occurred in the Children’s Hospital, which I have never seen before or since in 25 years as a pediatric surgeon.”
Carol Matthey was stunned and anxious over Joshua’s sudden decline, nursing staff wrote in their notes at the time. Jodie Matthey said Carol had sent her messages during Joshua’s crisis saying she had cried her way through a whole box of tissues.
Joshua recovered and returned home and was noted by a paediatrician onMay 24 to be healthy but a little pale; a blood test found he was anaemic.
The day before he died, Carol Matthey took Joshua to GP Cindy-Lou Nelson. He had an ear infection and Nelson prescribed the antibiotic recommended for this condition, amoxycillin.
The day of his death, July 10, 2002, Carol Matthey and her children were at a supermarket in Corio about 5pm. She later reported that Joshua began to cry, and after about 10 minutes the family returned to the car.Matthey later said she then noticed that Joshua was not breathing and began CPR.
When ambulance officers arrived, they found the baby’s pupils fixed and dilated, his skin pale and his fingers blue. He was pronounced dead at Geelong Hospital.
Pathologist Dr Michael Burke did the autopsy. Swabs he took from Joshua failed to isolate a particular germ. But swabs that had been taken while the baby was at Geelong Hospital were positive for a bug called klebsiella, which is resistant to the amoxycillin that had been prescribed for Joshua. Burke concluded that Joshua had died from klebsiella septicaemia – that is, that the ear infection had turned to blood poisoning.
Dr David Ranson, a forensic pathologist who would later conduct the autopsy on Shania and who reviewed Joshua’s case, told the court he saw no reason not to accept Burke’s finding on Joshua. He pointed out that babies with septicaemia could die very quickly.
But four other doctors doubted the finding.
Forensic pathologist Dr Allan Cala said he accepted that klebsiella was present, but he did not believe it had turned to septicaemia.
Pediatricians Dr KymAnderson and Professor Michael South, and Dr Susan Beal, argued it was more likely that the klebsiella germ had come from contamination of Joshua’s sample in the hospital environment.
Anderson said: “I have never known a child of that age to die quickly from klebsiella septicaemia … they would become sick over a number of hours or even longer, and the child would normally have a fever, be very lethargic, and have been vomiting.
(He) would be obviously very sick.”
After Joshua’s death, Carol Matthey was again laid low. Family friend Geraldine Taylor told police she was so upset that she could not get out of bed. “She was crying and wouldn’t speak and just lay there.”
Taylor said in court: “I just thought it would be a natural reaction after what she had been through.”
Carol and Stephen Matthey were separated at the time of Joshua’s death, according to Jodie Matthey’s statement: “The night that Joshua died they got back together and stayed at their house at Herne Hill.”
The Mattheys’ marriage had been in difficulty; Stephen worked such long hours, and Carol also confided to two friends that she believed him to be having affairs, according to statements. Depression and marital difficulties are not uncommon among couples who have lost children tragically, SIDS counsellor Leona Daniel told the court.
Died aged three years and four months on April 9, 2003
“Very soon after Jacob’s death, Carol became pregnant again,” said Jodie Matthey in her statement. “She was happy about this but concerned the same thing might happen to this child.” On November 18, 1999, Carol Matthey gave birth to Shania. Then she discovered she was pregnant again, with Joshua, despite having had injections of the contraceptive depo provera, she told social worker Nerida Mulvey. “She said that she did not want another pregnancy so soon.”
In July, 2001, Carol Matthey told a GP that Shania had had two episodes where she held her breath or stopped breathing (apnoea) for more than 30 seconds. Shania also had a history of asthma that did not respond readily to Ventolin treatment.
Shania’s breath-holding had been witnessed by at least one other person.
Geraldine Taylor told the court that she had twice seen Shania become distressed after she had a tumble while playing. “She let out a real sobbing cry and then stopped (breathing) … I had heard of other children doing it, but I had never seen it till that day.” Taylor said that both times,Matthey quickly went over to her child, blew in her face to get her breathing started again and comforted her.
When he conducted Shania’s autopsy, forensic pathologist Dr Ranson could find no cause for Shania being found dead in bed the day after her fall from the coffee table. He believed that marks on her mouth were due respectively to a “drying artefact” on her top lip, and the postmortem draining of normal blood supply from her inside bottom lip.
Three forensic odontologists (dentists) who had examined Shania’s mouth at autopsy also agreed that there were no injuries.
But specialists who later looked at postmortem photographs of Shania’s mouth disagreed with this. A fourth forensic odontologist, a pediatric dentist and a forensic pathologist told the court they saw injuries.
These had included an abrasion on the inside of her top lip, and marks on the inside of her bottom lip that looked to be the same size and the same distance apart as her two front top teeth, suggesting her bottom lip might have been pushed against her top teeth.
Forensic pathologist Dr Cala believed they might be signs that “external pressure” had been applied to Shania’s mouth.
Ambulance officers who had tried to resuscitate Shania were mystified by “pink frothy f luid” found in her trachea.
Ranson reported that a subsequent review of all the pathology results for each Matthey child by the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine had not revealed anything that would “permit me to infer” that their deaths were caused by a third party.
At the time of Shania’s death, Carol Matthey seemed to be as distraught as she had been over the other children. When Jodie Matthey heard the news about Shania’s death at 7.40am that day, she made the now-familiar dash to Geelong Hospital. She found Carol Matthey crouched up against a brick wall in the ambulance loading area, her head down, weeping.
Neighbour Dorothy Minett told police that Carol had said she had not been back into Shania’s room since the day she died.
In November 2003, seven months after Shania’s death, Sergeant Solomon found in Shania’s bedroom a small toy Barbie horse and a baby’s bottle full of curdled milk.
ACCORDING to Jodie Matthey’s evidence, Carol Matthey has repeatedly questioned why this has happened to her: “How she could lose four children?” Jodie Matthey stated that the two women have talked together about whether it could be genetic problems, heart problems, asthma-even the types of formulas the children were on. The court heard that the Matthey’s have faced numerous medical tests. Doctors wanted to find out if they had a shared genetic defect that might have caused the four children to die.
Initial DNA testing in Australia suggested that this might be so. Tests in the US, however, found that while the Matthey children all shared a genetic variation, it was a common one and was not linked to any disorder that can kill.
Dr Michael Ackerman runs the Long QT Syndrome Clinic and the Sudden Death Genomics Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic in the US. He reviewed the DNA testing, and in his report, tendered to the court, concluded: “I find no objective evidence to support an argument for a genetic heart rhythm disorder and a resultant lethal ventricular arrhythmia in the four children.”
In his evidence to the hearing, given on video link from Minnesota, he said that if the cause of death was genetic – if all the children died from the same problem – then the autopsy findings should be identical for all four cases. He also said that, if there was a shared genetic disorder, at least one parent should be showing symptoms of it.
Yes, he acknowledged, there can be more than one SIDS death in a family, but “from the vantage point of my long QT clinic and sudden death clinic (which has tested over 2000 patients), this example would be conceded to be an extreme outlier.
I don’t have a single family, in a very large collection of families, where there has been four sudden deaths among infants.”
In fact, as prosecutor Susan Pullen pointed out in a sharp aside to junior defence lawyer Gerard Mulally when he referred to Shania as a baby, Shania was no infant. “She was 3½. Years!”
EXPERTS called in the case were divided over whether it was mother, or Mother Nature, who took the lives of the children, with many agreeing either was a possibility. Drs Beal and Ophoven were firm in their views that homicide was the most likely explanation.
Ophoven, who has performed autopsies on more than 800 babies, wrote: “What we now know is that some children who were diagnosed as SIDS in the past were actually murdered, and families where there were multiple infant deaths attributed to SIDS were actually the victims of serial killings … There are no verified or substantiated cases of four SIDS deaths in one family.”
She wrote that a diagnosis of “homicidal suffocation” was made from evaluating not just the medical findings at autopsy but the circumstances surrounding the fatal events.
In the Matthey case, these included the fact that all four children were with their mother at the time of death, the absence of risk factors for SIDS in some of the children, and a history of possible unwanted pregnancy, as well as autopsy findings such as pulmonary hemorrhage in three of the children and blood in the nose or mouth. “In this case, there is no known entity that is consistent with the facts present to explain these deaths except the homicidal act of another person.”
Beal, for her part, said it would be “very, very unlikely” for even three children in one family to die of SIDS. It was as likely as three children from one family dying in three separate car accidents. “I did see (such a case) once, and I missed it; I was young and innocent, and I didn’t believe mothers killed their children.” Beal said the main cause of SIDS was babies being put to sleep on their stomachs. If a child was found dead on his or her back, as Chloe was, it was questionable that it was SIDS.
With the Matthey family, there was also a history of the children experiencing “ALTEs” – apparent life-threatening episodes in which they stopped breathing or were found unconscious. “ALTES are not a predictor for SIDS; they’re a predictor for (homicide),” Beal said.
But the man who is Melbourne’s head of forensic investigation, Professor Cordner, argued that it was wrong on the pathology evidence to conclude that any of the Matthey children were killed. For example, pulmonary hemorrhage “is a marker of pulmonary congestion, itself a very nonspecific finding common in deaths from many causes”.
Cordner said there was no merit in forcing certainty where uncertainty exists: “It is not for a pathologist to conclude that a number of infant or childhood deaths, with no significant pathological findings at all, are homicides on the basis of controversial circumstantial grounds.”
Over and over again, the defence lawyers returned to this point, arguing that the case should not be assessed on suspicion or even probabilities but on hard facts – and that the hard facts left open the possibility of unknown disorders. Defence counsel Ian Hill challenged Beal and Ophoven with the British case of Angela Canning. Canning lost a daughter and two sons and always maintained that they died of natural causes.
Her 2002 conviction for killing two of her babies has now been overturned as “unsafe”.
In his final submission, Hill said: “The Crown can stand up and say as many times as they wish, ‘Well, you can kill a child without leaving any injury.’ But that’s not going to advance a skerrick or one iota of proof.
You can’t base a case … on suspicion or baseless innuendo … There’s no evidence of human intervention.”
But prosecutor Susan Pullen said it would be possible for a jury, properly instructed, to reach a guilty verdict. A jury could consider the rarity of SIDS and the unlikelihood of it recurring in one family.
The prosecution also relied on the alleged injuries to Shania and other autopsy findings, as well as the children’s apparent lifethreatening episodes: “It would be an affront to commonsense not to be able to consider these events.”
The argument that “in the future we might find something” to explain the deaths as natural causes was a fanciful, debating-point possibility, not a reasonable one, Pullen said. “The jury would have before them evidence of the extensive testing on the children during their lifetime or after their death.”
ON THURSDAY, a subdued Carol Matthey appeared in court to hear magistrate Duncan Reynold’s decision. Dressed in black jeans and a navy roll-neck jumper, she sat quietly.
Her face was impassive as the magistrate announced his decision: she was committed for trial in the Supreme Court on four charges of murder.
Accepting that Matthey’s bail should continue, Reynolds said: “I don’t think it’s a type of case that can be really appropriately categorised as aweak or strong case. All I can say is that it’s not a straightforward case.”
Asked to give her plea, Carol Matthey stood with her hands clasped in front of her said, “Not guilty”.
Shania Jayne
Died at three years and four months in the family home on April 9, 2003
“The external examination, internal examination and specialists tests ¿ have failed to reveal an unequivocal cause of death.” — Dr David Ranson, forensic pathologist who did the autopsy on Shania.
“Attempted suffocation may cause bleeding in the nose, mouth, with aspiration (of blood) into the airway and swallowing of blood into the stomach.
In the case of Shania there is evidence of pre-mortem hemorrhage that was swallowed into the stomach …” — Dr Janice Ophoven.
Joshua Damien
Died at three months in supermarket car park, July 10, 2002
“Cause of death: klebsiella septicaemia … The post-mortem examination of Joshua Matthey demonstrated no injuries.” — Dr Michael Burke, forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Joshua.
“In my opinion, the clinical situation did not fit klebsiella sepsis as being the cause of death.” — Dr Kym Anderson, Joshua’s pediatrician since birth
Jacob John Vincent
Died at seven months in the family home on December 8, 1998
“Cause of Death: sudden infant death syndrome.” — Dr Peter Campbell, pediatric forensic pathologist who performed the autopsy on Jacob.
“He was lying supine (on his back). Jacob was also outside the SIDS age group, and babies that age can turn their heads very well.” — Dr Janice Ophoven, American pediatric forensic pathologist and medical examiner.
Chloe Isabel
Died at nine weeks in the family home on November 27, 2000
“This child appears to have died from the sudden infant death syndrome … While a second child in a family can die of SIDS by chance, recurrence raises the possibility of an inherited or genetic condition … In Chloe’s case there is no evidence of (non-accidental injury).” — Dr Peter Campbell, pediatric forensic pathologist who did Chloe’s autopsy.
“The factor that increases the likelihood of filicide (killing by a parent) in this infant
is the finding of the child (on her back). In my experience, filicide is 10 times more
common if the infant is found supine than if the infant is found prone.” — Dr Susan Beal, pediatrician and SIDS expert.

First published in The Age.

Deaths in the family

A mother is accused of murdering her four children. But Karen Kissane discovers the case has the experts divided.
IT WAS supposed to be a routine operation, but little Joshua Matthey, only six weeks old, had a reaction that was not routine. A nurse noticed he was in trouble: he was grimacing and extremely pale, his back was arched, and his hands and feet were clenched. His body was so rigid that she could not turn his neck from side to side. And his breathing was “minimal”.
Joshua was resuscitated and put on ventilation for the next 60 hours. The neonatal physician in charge of his care, Dr Peter McDougall, this week told the Melbourne Magistrates Court that he thought Joshua’s behaviour suggested he had been in severe pain, and that his breathing difficulties had been the result of morphine that had been given to relieve that pain.
There was no basis, he said firmly, for another doctor’s later theory: that Joshua might have been poisoned with strychnine while he was in hospital. Strychnine poisoning would have produced more symptoms, and would have been impossible to administer at that time as Joshua had a naso-gastric tube and was not able to suck or take in anything orally.
McDougall is the director of neonatology at the Royal Children’s Hospital. The strychnine theory he was rejecting had been put forward by a senior surgeon at the same hospital. The surgeon, who is yet to give evidence, had supervised the operation to correct a digestive problem in Joshua in May 2002.
This division in medical opinion over Joshua is only one of many hotly argued scientific issues in a complex criminal case involving his young mother. Carol Louise Matthey, 26, of Geelong, sat in court this week facing charges that she killed not only Joshua but three more of her small children. She is on bail and has pleaded not guilty to all charges.
There was a history of medical mysteries in the Matthey family. Matthey had collapses for which no cause could be found, and two of her children had crises involving breathing difficulties and unconsciousness. Does the answer to the deaths of the Matthey children lie in the frontiers of knowledge about genetic science, as her defence lawyers insist, or in a mother’s mind?
Matthey lost four children in five years. Seven-month-old Jacob died in 1998 and was found by a coroner to have been a cot death. Chloe, aged nine weeks, died in November 2000 and was also found to be a cot death. Joshua survived his respiratory arrest at the Royal Children’s but died six weeks later after he stopped breathing while in a supermarket car park. He had an ear infection at the time, and a coroner later ruled that he had died of a rare infection, klebsiella septicaemia.
The last death was that of 31/2-year-old Shania. Her mother had previously told a doctor that Shania had episodes in which her breathing stopped until she turned blue. The night before she died, according to her mother, Shania fell off a coffee table in the lounge room while pretending to ride her Barbie’s horse. She died in the early hours of the next day, April 9, 2003. An autopsy found no cause of death.
Matthey is a solidly built woman with storybook rosy cheeks. In court this week she dressed plainly – workboots, pants, shirt and jumper – and wore her straight dark hair pulled back. Most days she was accompanied by a male relative, and they murmured occasionally to each other as the evidence moved back and forth in a committal hearing that was strongly contested.
This week’s evidence painted only a sketchy picture of Matthey. The court was told that her sister had told police that “even as a child, (Matthey) never really showed her emotions, so she wasn’t outwardly very emotional as an adult”.
Geelong GP Cindy-Lou Nelson, who accepted the Matthey family into her clinic after their first two children died, said that she could not remember Matthey showing emotion. She had recorded in her notes that Matthey was “quite reserved, and presented as a sad and lonely woman who was probably quite shy . . . Isolated, no supports, not interested in doing anything to help herself”.
Another doctor at the clinic recorded that Matthey had been tearful and had trouble sleeping. She was on anti-depressants and was being counselled in a program for bereaved parents.
When pregnant with Joshua, Matthey came to the clinic worried when she could not feel him moving. Nelson agreed with defence counsel Gerard Mullaly that Matthey was appropriately concerned for the safety of her pregnancy, and that she had always had a valid reason for attending the clinic.
Doctors were not always able to help her. In July 1998, Dr Jaycen Cruikshank told the court, Matthey had had several spells of fainting from which it was difficult to rouse her. The first doctor to see her in Geelong Hospital’s accident and emergency department had wondered whether a heart problem, or a “conversion disorder” – a psychiatric condition in which a patient develops physical symptoms that have no physical cause – might be among the potential diagnoses. Cruikshank concluded it was most likely that Matthey had had brain seizures.
In a statement to police, he said it was worth asking whether, given that the cause of her collapses was uncertain, there could be a genetic disorder in the family that linked her faintings and her children’s deaths.
Dr Andrew Davis, a pediatric cardiologist, told the court how such disorders can work. He said a genetic abnormality can cause conditions such as Brugada syndrome, which was discovered only in 1992. “If you have it, you are prone to abnormal dangerous heart rhythms that cause sudden death, especially in your sleep.”
The Matthey parents had tested negative, but only 25 per cent of people with the syndrome have a genetic abnormality, making it difficult to detect, he said. And there were doubtless other such disorders that had yet to be discovered, he agreed under cross-examination.
Asked Mullaly: “We now can explain some sudden deaths in infants that we couldn’t before? . . . We are learning more about sudden death, but there is much more we can’t explain?”
“Yes,” said Davis.
Dr Susan Beal, an Adelaide pediatrician and expert on sudden infant death syndrome, allowed for fewer uncertainties in her assessment of the Matthey children’s deaths.
She told senior defence counsel Ian Hill, QC, that a study by other researchers claiming that even three infant deaths in the same family might be from natural causes “was extremely flawed and was refuted in The Lancet by very good people”.
She said it would be “very, very unlikely” for three children in one family to die of SIDS. “I did see it once, and I missed it; I was young and innocent, and I didn’t believe mothers killed their children.”
BEAL said the main cause of SIDS was babies being put to sleep on their stomachs. If a child was found dead on his or her back, it was questionable that it was SIDS.
“The incidence is one in 10,000, in my experience, and I would always be suspicious that something else had gone on in that family.”
Beal reviewed the Matthey children’s files in a report to police. She concluded that Jacob and Chloe’s deaths could be either SIDS or “filicide” (killing by a parent); that Joshua’s death was most likely filicide; and that Shania died of “some totally unknown disorder” or filicide.
“In more than 30 years of experience, I know of three other families who have had four or more children die suddenly and unexpectedly,” she wrote.
“In all three families, some of the deaths were stated to be due to SIDS, and others have been attributed to infections. In all these families it was later proved that the children were all murdered . . . In the Matthey family . . . I believe all the evidence points to all children having been killed by non-accidental suffocation.” Hill challenged her vigorously on this. What evidence was there that any of the children had suffered physical injury, he demanded to know?
Beal said that in cases of suffocation, she would not necessarily expect to find signs of physical injury. “The autopsy is absolutely unable to distinguish between induced suffocation and SIDS,” she said.
Her conclusion that the deaths were suspicious was based on several “pointers”, including that:
· Jacob was outside the normal age for SIDS;
· Chloe had been found on her back, and Beal believes babies on their backs, whose faces are not covered by bedclothes, do not die of SIDS;
· The family had a history of children experiencing “ALTEs” – apparent life-threatening incidents where they stopped breathing or were found unconscious. “ALTES are not a predictor for SIDS; they’re a predictor for filicide,” Beal said.
Hill asked: “You take an event and put the worst possible spin on it?”
Beal: “I put the most likely spin on it.”
Hill then referred to British cases in which the evidence of a prominent pediatrician, Sir Roy Meadows, was later found to have helped wrongfully convict of murder mothers who had lost two or more children to cot death.
Hill asked Beal: “At the end, you are left with an approach similar to that of Sir Roy Meadows, looking at the statistical improbability of events happening in one particular family, because you have no medical evidence?”
Beal said tartly: “What do you mean? I have just outlined it to you!”
Most of the hearing this week was taken up with doctors and ambulance officers who had dealt with the Matthey family.
The court heard a recording of a call Matthey made asking for an ambulance. She reported that Shania had fallen off a coffee table, begun to scream, suddenly held her breath and passed out. The child was purple and not breathing, she told the operator.
In the call, Matthey sounded tearful and distressed. At one point she told the operator that she knew CPR. She dropped the phone, and a few moments later, a small child coughed and wailed.
When ambulance officers arrived, they found Shania upset and clinging to her mother but showing no signs of ill health.
Shania, who had a history of asthma, died early the next morning. Her mother said she found her not breathing in bed.
As she listened to the emergency-call recording in court, Matthey cried, quietly.
The hearing continues with prosecutor Susan Pullen, SC, before magistrate Duncan Reynolds.

First published in The Age.

Who’s the dad? Why he may not know

HE tangled web that some women weave begins when they discover they are pregnant. Perhaps they had an extramarital fling; or one relationship ended the same month that another started; or they were raped or coerced into the kind of sex that few would call consensual.
The result: one pregnancy, two potential fathers, and the beginnings of a dark and painful secret.
Why Women Don’t Tell is the title of the latest paper in a study that talks to men and women who have dealt with doubts about who is the father of a child. Most of the women who were uncertain of their child’s paternity did not intend to commit “paternity fraud”, researcher Dr Lyn Turney, of Swinburne University of Technology, said.
They just found themselves in a position where they could not be sure and kept their uncertainty to themselves.
The longer it went on, the harder it became to confess, mostly because they did not want to damage the relationship between their child and their partner.
“You just have to see them together to see how much they love each other,” one woman said. “And love’s an intangible thing and it’s something that grows with you . . . It takes a long time . . . And since the day (she) was born, that’s it, he’s Dad.”
The interviews with more than 50 people found that even when the social father suspects – because the child does not look like him, or friends have dropped hints, or there were unexplained tears or whisperings at the time of the child’s birth – he rarely takes any action while the relationship is happy.
It is when the relationship breaks down, and he finds himself financially supporting a child with whom he no longer lives, that he pursues paternity testing.
“For both men and women, the common (trigger for testing) is child-support payments,” Dr Turney said.
The issue of “paternity fraud” hit the headlines earlier this year with the case of Liam Magill.
Because of bureaucratic errors, Mr Magill had to pay child support well above the legal percentage over eight years for three children. DNA tests proved that two of the children conceived during his four-year marriage were not his own.
Mr Magill, 54, was awarded $70,000 by the Victorian County Court in November 2002 after he sued his former wife for damages and economic loss for deceiving him.
But his ex-wife, Meredith (Pat) Magill, 37, successfully appealed against the decision. Her defence argued that in putting his name on birth notification forms, Mrs Magill had not intended to assert that he was the biological father.
The Victorian Court of Appeal ruled Mr Magill had not relied on statements in the forms in any respect other than the children’s names. Mr Magill is now appealing to the High Court.
The case launched a blaze of publicity, with claims the incidence of “cuckoo chicks in the nest” is between 10 per cent and 30 per cent of all children.
Dr Turney and her colleague, Professor Michael Gilding, say there are no reputable studies that back those figures, and that the most reliable estimates suggest the true incidence is between 1 per cent and 3 per cent of children.
Dr Turney said the women in her study, reported on in the Journal of Family Studies, did not fit the “moral panic” stereotype of unfaithful, manipulative partners. Many were young, naive and sexually inexperienced.
“The pregnancies usually resulted (from) one-off encounters that occurred at the margins of monogamous relationships,” Dr Turney says.
“They did not involve infidelity or deception, as the women were either free of a relationship or minimally attached to dying, old, or embryonic new relationships.”
But the women feared their new relationships would not withstand revelations about a prior sexual encounter.
One woman had unplanned sex with a long-time friend, the first since the death of her husband a year earlier; several days later she met a new man who then became her partner. “I found that I was pregnant so I just assumed it was the second chap because I’d continued sleeping with him,” she said.
Some reported being “in denial” and choosing the course of least resistance: not telling, and not deciding whether to terminate the pregnancy. All the women blamed themselves.
One woman who did tell her partner about a single sexual episode during a brief separation was knocked to the floor and kicked until a rib broke.
Some women reported conceiving while trapped in abusive relationships in which they were forced by their husbands to have sex with other men.
“I got, ‘If you love me, you will do this for me’,” one said. The paternity of resulting children was accepted by such husbands only until the relationship ended.
Either side can use paternity – or lack of it – as a dirty tool in Family Court battles. In an earlier paper, Dr Turney reported that men told of some mothers pursuing testing so that their ex-husbands could be made legally a “non-father”, often losing custody and access. “There is a child out there who loves me and was ripped away from me,” said one man. “I miss him every day.”
Some men who had testing done secretly were shocked that their ex-partners then refused them access to a child they no longer wanted to pay for.
Women in the study reported having to force testing upon errant partners who denied paternity for tactical reasons, trying to delay the onset of child support payments. They felt humiliated at the suggestion that they had had other sexual partners.
Some professional women did not want money but for the father to have an emotional relationship with the child.
According to one, “I thought that, when he had incontrovertible evidence there, that it might enable him to make a bond with the child”.
Dr Turney said the cases in her study suggested that the realities of paternity uncertainty were complicated. There needed to be an acceptance that such cases were “mistakes due to the human condition”. “It’s a really complex situation for both men and women,” she said.
For further information about the study or if you have a paternity story, phone 1800 007 166 or email
Up to 5000 paternity tests are conducted in Australia a year – about 0.25 tests for every 1000 people. In the US, there are 340,800 tests annually – 1.2 tests per 1000 people.
Between half and two-thirds of tests are initiated by men or parties acting on their behalf (eg: a man’s parents or his new wife).
On average, 25 per cent of tests are conducted with the consent of one parent only. These tests were overwhelmingly “motherless tests” – the mother was the parent who had not consented.
With “motherless tests”, only 10 per cent confirmed the man was not the father.

First published in The Age.

A town farewells three small brothers

IT WAS such a quiet funeral, despite the number of people who came: 120 in the sweet little country church, another 400 or so on plastic chairs under the spring sunshine outside.
People sat still and silent, even though the crying began long before the service did, with women wiping tears from eyes reddened for hours.
But at the end of the funeral service, the church exploded with the Farquharson boys’ favourite song – Holy Grail by Hunters and Collectors. The music thumped with life as 12 young men in dark suits rose from the congregation and walked grimly towards the three small white coffins, ready to carry them out. Then there came another sound: a high, thin wail. Bereft mother Cindy Gambino was keening for her boys.
The coffin of her eldest, nine-year-old Jai, was carried out first. Then the smaller casket of his middle brother, Tyler, 7. And then the heart-rendingly small box in which lay Bailey, the baby, who was 2. Each had his own small bouquet of red roses and baby’s breath.
Behind them staggered their mother in a long black dress, her face contorted with grief. She leaned heavily on the arm of her ex-husband, Robert Farquharson, the man who had driven the car in which their three children had died. He stared straight ahead with a dazed expression.
The rest of Victoria knows these children for the way they died: drowned in a dam after their father’s car veered off a road as he was returning them from an access visit on Father’s Day. All three were later found to be free of their seatbelts and child restraints, and police think that Jai might have struggled to release his brothers before they died.
Police have questioned Mr Farquharson about the circumstances of the crash, which left no skid marks on the road. The car was found to have its engine and its lights turned off. Mr Farquharson told police he had a coughing fit and blacked out, waking to find himself in the water. His ex-wife’s family have told media he was a wonderful father and that this was a terrible accident. His ex-wife spent the first few days after the crash sedated in hospital for shock and grief.
Yesterday, at St John the Baptist Catholic Church in Winchelsea, mourners heard of the boys that their family knew. Family friend Wendy Kennedy gave the eulogy. Jai “was generous, like his father; he always wanted to look after his younger brothers”. He was a footballer and a cub scout and had a red belt in karate. He loved acting out moments from movies – “it was always the adult jokes he liked, the ones he shouldn’t have understood”.
He also loved money and was happy to earn some mowing his Poppy’s lawns, but preferred the “Tattslotto chair” on his Sunday visits to his grandparents’ house, where he would raid his grandfather’s chair for the change that had fallen from his pockets through the week.
Tyler had his mother’s grin and loved hot dogs and mudcakes and his grandma’s vegie soup, strained. His mother said of him, “Have food, will travel”. He was a joker, best known for his cross-eyed faces and the plastic dog poo he hid in his grandfather’s bed.
Little Bailey 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 that was naughty, he would play his strongest card: “But me just a baby, Mum!”
Outside the church, as the three coffins were loaded into two hearses, Cindy Gambino and Robert Farquharson clung to each other. His lower lip jutted out and trembled as he struggled to contain his distress. Several times he hugged her in a helpless kind of way as she gazed blankly at the hearses, as if she could not comprehend what she was seeing.
They both looked shocked and disbelieving to find themselves in a world without their children.

First published in The Age.

Babes in the woods

Australia has never been so rich, yet there are serious doubts about whether our children are reaping the benefits. Karen Kissane reports on whether the needs of children are compatible with the demands of modern life.
WHEN Anne Manne’s last child started school, Manne brushed off her CV and rang old university colleagues to inquire about paid work. One asked what she had been doing all this time. She told him she had been looking after children. There was an appalled silence.
“I’ve often wondered what happened to you,” he said wanly. “But I thought . . . you know . . . New York, London . . .”
Retelling the story in her new book, Manne, who had tutored in history and politics before she became a mother, writes: “I knew what he meant. A brilliant career. But here I was, down among the children. He sounded terribly disappointed, more embarrassed for me than if I had told him I had been imprisoned for embezzling university funds . . . How hard it is to explain; it is as if one steps back across a threshold into a different world with different values, a different universe. Everything that is a priority in the other, parallel universe is reversed, turned upside down. The centre of life in one world – children – is invisible to the other. There is no shared language.”
Manne’s is one of two new books to suggest that Australia’s children are falling into the gaps between those two worlds; that the next generation is at risk of being failed in a wholesale way by new-economy obsessions with long working hours, the financial bottom line and a self-absorbed individualism that is cruelly undermining the less visible sphere of the family.
While Australia has never been so rich, according to many yardsticks the health and well-being of its children is not improving in line with this increased prosperity. It is actually getting worse.
A barrage of statistics backing this claim can be found in Children of the Lucky Country? How Australian Society has turned its back on children and why children matter, which is co-authored by Fiona Stanley, former Australian of the Year and professor of child health at the University of Western Australia.
Anne Manne’s book, Motherhood: How should we care for our children? relates more to the needs of the early childhood years and, in particular, research findings about the potential emotional damage to babies and toddlers who spend long hours in day care.
Manne writes ardently of the grief felt by mothers and babies who are separated from each other too soon and calls for a new “maternal feminism” to fight for the rights of mothers to both work and care for children in the way they feel is best. “It is not just the ‘social construction’ of motherhood that makes us feel guilty. It is the expression on the face of a child,” she writes.
The increasing problems of Australian children begin before birth. The rate of “low-birth-weight babies” – those whose small size or prematurity makes them more vulnerable to conditions such as cerebral palsy and intellectual disability – is rising, not falling. Stanley says this is due to factors including mothers’ smoking, drinking or drug use, sexually transmitted diseases and the multiple births associated with IVF.
Autism is also on the rise, for reasons which cannot be determined. Asthma now affects 30 per cent of Australian children compared with about 10 per cent in the 1970s.
Obesity and type-2 diabetes in children rose by nearly 30 per cent between 1990 and 2000. This is predicted to lead to increased incidences of adult heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney failure and stroke, and it has been suggested that this generation of Australian children will be the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents.
Anxiety and depression are more widespread among teenagers than they used to be; according to Stanley’s book, suicide rates for males aged 15-24 have increased four-fold and female rates have doubled since the 1960s. One national survey found that over 15 per cent of children and teenagers had a psychological problem that significantly interfered with their daily lives, and in disadvantaged groups the rate was as high as 40 per cent.
“People who live in good areas with nice facilities and children who are OK have no idea that (this picture) is true because they can successfully avoid evidence of it,” Stanley says. “Everyone says I’m gloomy but I’m not; I’m facing reality.”
Stanley argues that the nurturing aspect of society, its willingness to provide the services that are the community’s mortar, has been pushed aside in the personal rush towards money and success and the governmental push for a lean, mean economy. Parents are not valued enough, and nor are the educators and health professionals who try to help troubled families with abusive fathers or drug-addicted mothers.
Fixing these complex, deep-seated public health problems, Stanley says, will be “a damn sight harder” than targeting the scourges of childhood past, the infectious diseases such as polio and gastroenteritis. They could be fixed with sanitation and vaccination.
“There’s a significant amount of infrastructure missing in many families and many neighbourhoods. Map the learning disabilities and school problems and Melbourne suburbs, and then map the kinds of things needed to help them: how far do you need to go to a speech pathologist, how easy is it to see a GP for a child’s ear infection, do you have a good preschool and green space to play? Over the last 30 years we have dismantled many of these things, such as the maternal and child health clinic sisters who were the backbone of young families.”
Governments of earlier eras saw preventive support for mothers as crucial, but “economic rationalists of the 1980s and 1990s have pushed a lot of those things to one side because they don’t understand the relationship between healthy children and parents and a healthy workforce and society”.
Now, Stanley says, a child is often left to suffer disadvantage until he or she exhibits learning or behavioural problems at school, by which time the damage can be too deep-seated to repair. “Is the only answer to wait until they become little criminals and then lock them away?”
Manne, too, sees children as “the canaries in the mine of the new economy”. “Why do we have so many kids with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder), so many teenagers with depression?”
Manne writes luminously of the tenderness of early motherhood, of the importance of the little glances and touches that reassure a small child that the world is a safe place and which help the child regulate his own feelings. She writes: “What must be understood here is that child care for a baby intrudes into the midst of an intense love affair . . . There is both force and delicacy in what babies and young children feel. Their emotions are complex and deep before language. Part of my Toddlers’ Bill of Rights would include the possibility of climbing into the lap of someone who truly, deeply loves them, whenever they wish.”
Manne says that most child developmentalists agree that child care from the age of three can be a benefit, particularly in terms of a child’s intellectual abilities. But there is evidence that long day care under the age of two can be harmful: one recent US study found that 70 per cent of toddlers in “medium to excellent” day care centres had raised levels of cortisol, a hormone related to anxiety. High levels of cortisol at a time when the pathways in the brain are still being built might lead to long-term difficulties in regulating one’s emotions.
As hours of child care grew, so did the problems. One study found that at age four and a half, three times as many children (17 per cent) in more than 30 hours of care showed more aggressive behavioural problems than children in care for less than 10 hours (6 per cent). The long day care children were more disobedient and bullying, with more explosive tempers.
Manne also looks at the consequences for mothers at home who are not supported and whose distress might lead to depression and child abuse, examining the case of Sydney woman Kathleen Folbigg, an abused and neglected child who grew up to murder her own four babies. Manne asks: “Who cares for the carers?”
Manne believes that, for the sake of children, the world of work needs to be much more accommodating of the world of caring. She believes that the fertility crisis hands working women a bargaining chip in the battle for better parental conditions, and she backs the ACTU’s bid for two years’ leave after the birth of a child. And, she asks, what about the 120 days of parental sick leave offered in some Scandinavian countries? And the option of a six-hour working day, as offered to Swedish parents? And welcoming pathways back into the workforce for women who have taken time out to raise the next generation, so that they are not punished for their efforts?
For those under-twos who must attend child care because of a parent’s circumstances, Manne argues that the standard of care must be raised to one caregiver to three babies. At present, Australian regulations require only one staff member to five babies – but humans, her book points out, do not have babies in litters.
Children who are not securely attached to a trusted adult in the early years are called “insecure”, and one sub-form of that insecurity is “the avoidant child”, who shuts down emotionally, giving up attempts to connect with the parent and repressing his own needs for affection by busying himself with activities. Such children are more self-centred and hard-hearted in their dealings with others.
This might be one way in which those two worlds (described in these books) overlap. Manne writes about the possibility that we are becoming “an avoidant society . . . cooler, impatient if not hostile to the display of dependency needs in children and the vulnerable, attracted to ideas of self-sufficiency and independence, and dismissive of attachment needs.
“Another way of looking at the harsh new world, however, is to see (these qualities) as imperatives for survival in the hyper-individualist paradise of the new capitalism.
A good childhood, in (this) dog-eat-dog world . . . gives children unreasonable expectations.”
Motherhood: How should we care for our children? By Anne Manne. Allen and Unwin, $29.95.
Children of the Lucky Country? How Australian society has turned its back on children and why children matter. By Fiona Stanley, Sue Richardson and Margot Prior. Pan Macmillan, $30.
· 25 per cent of eight to 12-year-olds are overweight or obese.
· 18 per cent of four to 17-year-olds have clinically significant mental-health problems.
· Type 2 diabetes in under-17s rose about 2.8 per cent a year between 1990 and 2002.
· In 1970, the suicide rate for teenagers aged 15 to 19 was 8.4 per 100,000. In 2003, it was 12.7 per 100,000.
· In 1984, 33 per cent of 16 to 17-year-olds who drank alcohol were binge drinkers. By 2002, the figure was 41 per cent.
· Children under care and protection orders rose from 335 per 100,000 children in 1997 to 460 per 100,000 in 2003.

First published in The Age.

Joe Korp goes to meet maker

ONE of the first hymns at Maria Korp’s service last week had been Ave Maria. For the funeral of her husband, Joe, the man accused of having plotted to murder her, the choice was equally apt: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me . . .”
A gentle veil was drawn over the ugly months that led to the end of Joe Korp’s life – out of compassion for him, for his family, and especially for the youngest child he left behind.
Damian Korp, 11, sat drawn and spent, shadows under his eyes, in the front row of the church where he had only last week farewelled his mother. The orphan boy had been brought in through a side door of the church to protect him from the waiting media.
Joe Korp’s brother, Gust, wearing a Collingwood scarf with his dark suit, played chief mourner. He lit the candle to begin the service, and stood briefly at the lectern to speak.
His eulogy took only a minute. He talked of his brother’s love of sport, especially cricket and basketball, and how he would go anywhere any time to organise a basketball game.
“He brought joy to a lot of Victoria,” he said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
It would have been a difficult service for a civil celebrant. What could safely be said about a man who had been outed, in a blaze of national publicity, as an adulterer, an internet-sex swinger, and an accused conspirator in a plot to murder his wife? About a media manipulator who had committed suicide on the day of his wife’s funeral, reportedly leaving behind a videotape and autobiography to be sold to the highest bidder?
But Father Justin Woodford, the associate priest at the Catholic Church of Our Lady Help of Christians, in East Brunswick, was not at a loss. He was able to turn to God. He reminded the 120 or so mourners – fewer than came to farewell Maria – that Joe had been photographed for a newspaper holding a crucifix. “Joe also knew crucifixion,” he said. “He knew pain and sorrow . . . We pray that he be embraced by a compassionate God, but also by a compassionate people.”
He said the judgements made by people were often harsher than those made by the courts, and suggested there was only one being in a position to know the truth: “He knew all sorts of people but, in the end, there was only one person who knew Joe inside and out and back to front, and that was his God.”
The service was at noon. Father Woodford would not have heard that, in this case, the Supreme Court had sheeted home a harsh judgement that Joe Korp bore a considerable moral responsibility for what had happened to his wife.
But here, Joe Korp was mourned. His younger sister, Val, whom he had wanted to speak at his funeral, stood to read a poem she had written, much of it strangled by her sobs.
“You’ve been the best big brother,” she told him, and: “We knew you were suffering, but we didn’t know your mind . . . Rest in peace.”
As his parents, his siblings and his three children by two marriages stood beside his coffin at the end of the service, Father Woodford read a letter from Damian. “I will remember . . . how you taught me to play basketball, how you taught me to use the computer . . . I’ll remember you because you are my Dad.”
Throughout the service, women sat with eyes closed and tears stealing down their cheeks. To an outsider, who knew him only through “Mum-in-the-boot” headlines, perhaps the strangest twist in the Korp case is the realisation that Joe Korp was deeply loved.
Maria Korp’s coffin had been wheeled out of the church. Joe Korp was raised on the shoulders of his brothers and friends, and carried high and proud down the aisle. In his wake, more than a dozen black-clad women, led by his mother, Florence, clung to each other.
A woman’s voice drifted over the mourners: He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.

First published in The Age.

Children, friends mourn Maria Korp’s love

DAMIEN Korp has been an altar boy at the church where his mother’s funeral was held yesterday. He is familiar with ritual and its implements. So, at the end of the Requiem Mass to farewell his mother, the priests handed over a golden censer on a chain to Maria Korp’s 12-year-old son.
The priest had just read out a farewell letter the boy had written to his mother. He loved her soft cuddles, he said, and her cooking, and the way she helped him with his homework. But most of all, he loved the way she had loved him. And he would love her forever.
A small, thin figure in a dark suit, his spiked hair the only concession to his youth, Damien took the vessel with care. Then he gently swung it towards his mother’s coffin, the sweet clouds of incense blessing her abused, long-suffering body and swirling around him like a mist. The enormous spray of cream flowers on her coffin – chrysanthemums and lilies – had already been crowned with his love: a necklace he had made for her himself before she died, each bead chosen with care. The boy returned the censer to the priest and stood back, wiping his tears.
There had also been a letter read out from his stepsister, Maria Korp’s daughter by her first marriage, Laura de Gois, 27. She thanked her mother for making her who she was today, and especially for teaching her how to stand on her own in the world. She also promised to carry her mother in her heart forever. She stood beside Damien as the final prayers were said. She, too, lost a parent as a child; her father died of a heart attack when she was nine.
About 200 mourners, including an aunt of Maria’s who flew out from her birth country of Portugal, attended the service at the Catholic church of Our Lady Help of Christians in East Brunswick, the church Maria Korp attended when she wanted an evening service. The five celebrants included two priests from her local parish of Greenvale, as well as a priest who had attended when “the horrible drama” began.
The gentle service contrasted sharply with the ugliness that had preceded it. In February Maria Korp was found strangled and left for dead in the boot of a car near the Shrine of Remembrance. She then spent nearly six months in hospital in a chronic vegetative state. In a move that renewed the right-to-die debate, the Public Advocate decided that Mrs Korp’s feeding should be stopped. She died nine days later, aged 50.
Maria Korp had been strangled and dumped by Tania Herman, 38, who was having an affair with Maria’s husband, Joe Korp. Herman, who has been sentenced to nine years’ jail, claims that Joe Korp put her up to it. Korp, 47, is on bail for attempted murder, a charge he denies, but one that might soon be upgraded to murder now that Maria Korp has died.
Last weekend he held his own “farewell to Maria” with candles and prayers in their now-empty $1.3 million dream home, watched by relatives and a newspaper journalist and photographer invited to record the occasion. Korp did not attend yesterday but his brother Gust and other family members were present.
This was a funeral notable not so much for what was said as for what was not said. The eulogies did not touch on murder or adultery but spoke of Maria as a cheerful, outgoing woman who always had a kind word for everyone; a woman who faithfully practised her religion and who cared deeply for her children.
One priest touched on her church community’s anger at the way Maria Korp had been portrayed in the media; they had protested to a local newspaper over it. Everyone knew that Maria Korp was a good woman, the priest said.
Another priest said that Maria Korp had always striven for love, even though it cost her dearly.
Leaving the church, her two children stopped beside her coffin. Each released two white doves. Laura de Gois’ face lightened as her first bird fluttered to freedom. Damien’s face did not.

First published in The Age.