Heartbreaking untold story of Hannah Clarke’s final days

 

EVEN after she left, after she escaped the man who controlled every moment of her day, who called her a "useless mother" and a "dirty pig", Hannah Clarke's abuser continued to torment her.

Two weeks before he set them on fire, before he shouted at the people who ran to help to let his family burn, Rowan Baxter lost access to his children after terrorising and assaulting Hannah, as well as using photographs of the young mum in lingerie to taunt her.

It was this loss of control involving access visits, her family believes, that led to his "escalation" - to the murders of an abused woman and her three young children. Murders so brutal and horrific they shocked a nation and sparked a major review of laws surrounding domestic violence - in particular, the criminalisation of coercive control.

 

Rowan Baxter (left) with son Isaiah Baxter, 22, (centre) and Hannah Clarke whom his father murdered along with the children they shared.
Rowan Baxter (left) with son Isaiah Baxter, 22, (centre) and Hannah Clarke whom his father murdered along with the children they shared.

 

Hannah, who had moved in with her parents, had a domestic violence order. But there were arrangements in place for the children, Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4 and Trey, 3, to spend time with their father.

Baxter was supposed to return the children at a particular time but regularly didn't.

He'd even kidnapped one of their daughters, taking her interstate before police managed to get her back after days on the run.

"They'd had mediation," Hannah's mother Sue said.

"He was allowed to have the children but was supposed to bring Trey home at 9am. This was nearly 9.30am. This is what he did. No-one could tell him what time to turn up."

 

Mrs Clarke said when Baxter arrived, Hannah spotted a large collection of A4 printouts scattered throughout the car - photographs of her in lingerie.

"She started pulling them out of the car and asking him: `Why have you got this in the car? The kids have seen this'.

"And his argument was, that was his evidence to take to court to fight the DVO."

He told her he planned to tell the police the photographs proved she was "provocative".

Mrs Clarke said Hannah, with three-year-old Trey in her arms, opened the back door of the car to retrieve the photographs.

Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter.
Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter.

"He jumped out of the car and he grabbed her wrist and he twisted it up behind her back, almost like he was going to break her arm," she said.

"It was on the footpath. I went racing out and he heard me yelling as I came running out and he jumped in the car and took off.

"She had her son in her arms as he did this. Of course, the poor little mite, he didn't speak for nearly half the day.

"Hannah had to go off to work and she was so upset because he wasn't speaking or anything. But he came good."

Mrs Clarke said they called the police and reported that Baxter had breached the domestic violence order.

Hannah's solicitor was also informed and it was explained to Baxter that his access to the children would need to wait until a decision was made by the Family Court.

"(He was told) he's not seeing the children again and he's not allowed near the children until we actually go to Family Court and have it in writing, have everything sorted out properly.

"I think that's what helped him escalate too - the fact that he was losing the kids."

 

Mourners at the scene where Hannah Clarke and her children were killed by their father Rowan. Picture AAP/David Clark.
Mourners at the scene where Hannah Clarke and her children were killed by their father Rowan. Picture AAP/David Clark.

 

Mrs Clarke said her daughter had had no issues with a shared custody arrangement, but that Baxter used visits with the children to torment her.

"Whenever he did have them, he wouldn't bring them back on time," she said.

"And then he kidnapped Laianah. Had he been co-operative, he would have had half the custody of the kids, really. She was more than happy for him to have access."

Hannah was murdered after years in a controlling relationship. She didn't believe she was a victim of domestic violence because Baxter didn't beat her.

Instead, he controlled and abused her and left her living in terror.

She left in early November, 2019, taking the children and moving into her parents' home in Camp Hill.

Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter with kids Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey.
Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter with kids Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey.

But Baxter's behaviour continued to terrify her and she had told her parents she believed he would kill her.

Friday marks one year since Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey were murdered in a suburban street during an early morning school run.

Baxter ambushed Hannah as she left her parents house, doused her and the children with petrol and set them on fire.

When people rushed to help, he shouted at them to stop, before getting back in the car where he stabbed himself in the chest.

Their horrific deaths sparked a conversation around the importance of legislating against coercive control, with Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman yesterday announcing a special task force had been set up.

Hannah's family have asked people to light a candle for her and the children on Friday.

Originally published as Heartbreaking untold story of Hannah Clarke's final days


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