Kathleen Megan Folbigg – Childcare Nightmare or Misunderstood Mother?

Kathleen Megan Folbigg whose father, Thomas John Britton, murdered her mother, Kathleen Donavan, by stabbing her 24 times on January 8, 1969. At the trial six months later, a woman who witnessed the murder gave evidence against Britton. She testified that after brutally murdering his wife, Britton knelt down and kissed her saying: I’m sorry, darling. I had to do it. He then turned to the witness and said, I had to kill her because she’d kill my child.  In hindsight, his crime is almost rational if his reasons for the murder were expressed by his grown daughter years later. In fact, as an adult with three of her children already dead, his daughter Kathleen would made a disturbing diary entry that indicated how the tumultuous events of her childhood had affected her: Obviously I am my fathers daughter.

kathleen-folbigg-galleryFollowing her father’s arrest on the day after the murder, little Kathleen was made a ward of the state and placed into an orphanage until she was three. While in the orphanage, Kathleen was placed into foster care with a couple. In September 1970, she moved into the home of Mr and Mrs Marlborough, another couple who also provided foster care and expressed a desire to adopt Folbigg. While living there she was treated as a slave. It is possible she was sexually abused. Kathleen attended school until life at home became unbearable and she was forced to leave home. She was not told of her mother’s murder until 1984, always believing she had been adopted by the Marlboroughs.  Kathleen was an adult before she met her half sisters and learned the truth about her parents. Nasty. It’s understandable how Kathleen ended up to be a messed up individual.

At 15, Kathleen was now a girl without much of a future. Without an education she worked art-353-Folbigg-20-1--300x0at several low-paying jobs before marrying when she was 20. Her husband, Craig Folbigg, was a steel worker. He was 25. They settled in Mayfield, a suburb of NewcastleAustralia’s sixth-largest city an hours drive north of Sydney. Within a year Kathleen was pregnant. She gave birth to their first child a son, Caleb, in February 1989. At the time of his birth Caleb was described as full term and healthy. Five days later Kathleen took him home. This is where it gets weird. One morning while feeding him, Kathleen noticed that Caleb was having difficulty breathing and took him back to the hospital where doctors diagnosed him as having a lazy larynx. Good move on Kathleen’s part for covering up her own guilt.

At 8 p.m. on February 19, 1989, Kathleen put Caleb in his crib to sleep. Caleb Gibson Folbigg was born a healthy baby on 1 February 1989. Caleb was known to breathe noisily and was diagnosed with a mild case of laryngomalacia. Some kind of larnyx thing, I should imagine. On February 20, 1989, Kathleen put Caleb to sleep in a room adjoining the room she shared with her husband. During the night Caleb stirred from midnight until 2 a.m. Allegedly, Kathleen smothered him at 2 a.m.. At 2:50 a.m. Craig Folbigg was awoken by his wife’s screams. Running to the sunroom where the baby slept, Craig saw Kathleen standing over the crib screaming, My baby, something is wrong with my baby. Caleb Folbigg was dead at just 20 days old. The official cause of death was listed as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) or cot death. How does a person get away with a murder like that? Must be a heckuva fine line between suffocation and SIDS.

Patrick Allen Folbigg was born on June 3, 1990. Craig remained at home to help care patrickfor his baby for three months. On October 18, 1990, Craig put Patrick to bed. Craig was awakened by the sounds of his wife screaming. He noticed the child wasn’t breathing and attempted to revive him. An ambulance was called and Patrick was taken to hospital. Patrick was diagnosed to be suffering from epilepsy and cortical blindness. On February 18, 1991, Kathleen telephoned her husband at work saying It’s happened again!” Craig left work and arrived home just as the ambulances came. Patrick was taken to hospital, but was dead on arrival. An autopsy was conducted and the cause of death was an acute asphyxiating event resulting from an epileptic fit. Following Patrick’s death, the Folbiggs moved to Thornton, a town northwest of Newcastle. The couple picked up and moved after each child’s death, ostensibly to wipe the slate clean and start over. Perhaps they also wanted to escape rumours about the nature of the children’s deaths.

Sarah Kathleen Folbigg sarah-folbiggwas born on 14 October 1992. All seemed well until 11 months later when Sarah caught a cold and was having trouble sleeping. By 1:30 a.m. the next morning Sarah was dead. This time according to the police report, Craig was awoken by Kathleen’s screams and saw her standing in the doorway of their bedroom. Sarah was lying in bed motionless. Her death was officially attributed to SIDS. Rather odd that doctors weren’t a bit dismayed about the number of SIDS babies in this family. Perhaps the family kept changing doctors.

On 7 August 1997, Laura Elizabeth Folbigg was born. Laura was apparently healthy laura-folbiggwhen Kathleen brought her home three days later. Unlike her siblings, Laura’s breathing and sleep patterns were monitored closely for several weeks after her birth, just to be sure. All was well until 19 months later when Laura caught a cold. Kathleen gave her medication but at 12:05 p.m. on March 1, 1999, she called an ambulance after Laura allegedly stopped breathing. According to the official report, two ambulance officers arrived to find Kathleen performing CPR on her daughter on the breakfast bar. They examined Laura and found that she was not breathing and had no pulse. Laura died. As before, an autopsy was conducted but, unlike the others, the coroner considered Laura too old to have succumbed to SIDS, recorded her cause of death as undetermined, and ordered a police investigation. Interesting. SIDS can occur in infants up to 2 years of age. Perhaps someone had a look at Kathleen’s unfortunate history with children and stumbled upon the information that Laura dying of SIDS was extremely unlikely because during her life she was exhaustively investigated, monitored and had lived beyond the SIDS danger period.

Suspicions about the children’s deaths ran high. A Detective Ryan was assigned to folbigg_narrowweb__200x341Kathleen’s case.  He began his investigation by interviewing Kathleen and Craig Folbigg. When he learned that Laura was the fourth child to have died in a similar fashion, his suspicions grew. That’s good. All that police training paid off. Then a twist happened in the tragic tale. Craig Folbigg told police he had the odd suspicion about his wife,” but after finding the diaries his suspicions became horribly real.” Detective Ryan learned that Kathleen had been keeping diaries most of her life but had thrown most of them away. The ones Craig found obviously had been overlooked. Her entries indicated a woman torn by mixed emotions. On one hand she wanted children to prove she could do it, just like other women could and described the feeling of having a child growing inside her and being impatient for the birth: We’re all waiting, little one, when will you come? 

On the other hand, she wrote about the frustrations of being a mother including her babies2205,0inability to breast feed despite numerous, fruitless attempts with each child.  She also wrote about the resentment she felt after each birth when the attention shifted away from her to the new baby, describing it as a feeling of abandonment just like she had experienced as a child where she was in a family but never felt like part of it. She wrote about her wild mood swings and how she watched fish swim in a tank to try and calm herself: I don’t know, how do I conquer this? Help is what I want. Help is what she and her children desperately needed but never received.

Her writings also disclosed her innermost fears. She worried that Craig would leave her. hugekathleenShe felt threatened when he teased her about her weight, and wrote about how she couldn’t deal with his perpetual flirtations. At one point, when he rejected her advances because of her pregnancy she wrote, Craig’s roving eye will always be of concern to me. Must lose extra weight or he will be even less in love with me than he is now. I know that physical appearance means everything to him. When she was pregnant with Laura, she wrote: On a good note, Craig said last night he accepts that I’m not going to be skinny again. That’s wonderful, but I know deep in my heart he wants his skinny wife back. 

Time after time she wrote about her weight and Craig’s preoccupation with it. Got to start changing my life and becoming a hot-looking energetic mother for my daughter and a sexy wife for my husband. An entry on November. 13, 1996 indicated the isolation she felt, even from her own family. Why is family so important to me? she wrote. I now have the start of my very own, but it doesn’t seem good enough. I know Craig doesn’t understand. He has the knowledge and stability and love from siblings and parents, even if he chooses to ignore them. Me I have no one but him. It seems to affect me so. Why should it matter? It shouldn’t.

mainpic_leftOnce, she was home alone when a storm struck. She wrote how she was torn between wanting Craig home to comfort her and then not wanting him there because of how bad he makes her feel: I actually relish in the fact he has a weight problem now. All the years of him tormenting me have come back to get him. Another entry searched for identity: Thirty years. The first five I don’t really remember, the rest, I choose not to remember. The last 10-11 have been filled with trauma, tragedy, happiness and mixed emotions of all designs. If it wasn’t for my baby coming soon, I’d sit and wonder again what I was put on this earth for. What contribution have I made to anyone’s life?

Other entries seem more sinister. She wrote how stress made her do terrible things and spoke of flashes of rage, resentment and hatred toward her children. The diaries also indicate that she had no control over her depression and feelings of resentment. She wrote about wanting to wake her husband and ask for help. One entry marked 9:45, Wednesday, June 11, 1997 reads: My brain has too much happening, unstored and unrecalled memories just waiting. Heaven help the day they surface and I recall. That will be the day to lock me up and throw away the key. Something I’m sure will happen one day. Some entries spoke specifically about her treatment of her children: I feel like the worst mother on this earth. Scared that she [Laura] will leave me now. Like Sarah did. I knew I was short-tempered and cruel sometimes to her and she left. With a bit of help. Her last, cold sentence is the closest Kathleen Folbigg came to admitting to the murders of her children.

folbiggShe wrote of Laura: She’s a fairly good-natured baby – thank goodness, it has saved her from the fate of her siblings. I’m sure she’s met everyone and they’ve told her, don’t be a bad or sickly kid, mum may, you know, crack. They’ve warned her – good. Other entries showed some remorse: My guilt of how responsible I feel for them all, haunts me, my fear of it happening again, haunts me. When I think I’m going to lose control like last time I’ll just hand baby over to someone else … This time I’m prepared and know what signals to watch out for in myself. Changes in mood etc

Katheen was arrested and charged with 3 counts of murder, 1 count of manslaughter and 1 count of maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm. Experts testified that while each child’s individual death had not raised much concern, their collective deaths could only be attributed to suffocation. The circumstances surrounding the deaths were not consistent with sudden infant death syndrome or cot death. This included the fact that each child was found face up, they were still warm when found and in two cases there were signs of life. The chances of cot death being responsible were a trillion to one. What that means is this was the only case that has occurred in the world.

It was just as damning that Kathleen did not appear to grieve after each childs death.  Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, Q.C., presented strong evidence that portrayed her as a woman preoccupied with her own life and looks, more interested in going to the gym and nightclubs than looking after her own children. Focusing on the same evidence presented at the bail hearing, Tedeschi made the assertion that Kathleen had a low stress threshold and killed her four children by smothering each of them over a 10-year period because she could no longer deal with the day-to-day responsibility of being a mother.

craigCraig Folbigg was called to give evidence against his former wife. In his testimony, he related the details of each baby’s death and described the terrifying growl that Kathleen would produce when she got frustrated with the children. He also told the court how Kathleen had pinned Laura to her high chair and attempted to force-feed her before dumping her on the floor with the words, “Go to your fucking father.” Several hours later Laura was dead. Incredible that Craig Folbigg only “suspected” his wife of murdering his children until he found her diaries. Surely he must have known his wife was in need of mental help long before Laura Folbigg’s death.

Whether or not the prosecution’s simple explanation that Kathleen preferred nightclubs and perfecting her appearance over mother her children fully defines Kathleen Filbigg’s shortcomings as a mother and a danger to her children is debatable. One thing is certain: Kathleen’s actions were a premeditated act. Her own entry “I will hand the baby over to someone else. This time I’m prepared and know what signals to watch out for in myself. Changes in mood etc.” is a frank admission that she recognized when she was dangerous to her children, yet she took no action to protect them.

On 21 May 2003, Kathleen was found guilty by the Supreme Court of New South Wales jury. On 24 October 2003, Kathleen was sentenced  to 40 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 30 years. On 17 February 2005, the court reduced her sentence to 30 years’ imprisonment with a non-parole period of 25 years on appeal. Due to the nature of her crimes, Kathleen resides in protective custody to prevent possible violence by other inmates.

folbiggKathleen’s mood changes sound like those of BiPolar Disorder although they could also be that of schizophrenia, or disorders such as schizoid, or schizotypal, all of which are seen in individuals with issues of social isolation, depression, paranoia, and superstitious beliefs. Some of these also occur with borderline personality disorder and avoidant personality disorder. She certainly expressed the behaviour of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome, wherein a parent, usually the mother, abuses and eventually kills her child as a means of receiving sympathy and attention from others. In any case, Kathleen Filbiggs was a disturbed woman in need of intense, ongoing psychiatric treatment. Had she received it, her children might be alive today.

2013, |Reasonable Doubt, documented by 60 Minutes, reveals the opinion of medical experts that Kathleen Folbigg was innocent of murder, the jury misled and that Kathleen should be freed.

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