Devil you know: Tragic mental health killings tear families apart

Families are torn apart when a mentally ill relative kills, including the couple whose son killed 15 people and the man who killed his twin.

When a family member kills their own mother, brother, sister or father, it’s enough to tear the rest of the family apart.

In cases where mentally ill people murder, so often their victim is a close relative, with remaining family members left reeling with the often mentioned “indescribable pain”.

But for Norma and Sydney Long that pain was amplified.

In common with many other cases, the Longs had a fraught history with the mental health system, of getting their son admitted into care but unable to keep him safely looked after for long enough.

Then, on June 23, 2000 in the Queensland country town of Childers, their son Robert Paul Long set fire to The Palace Backpacker Hostel.

The engulfing blaze killed 15 backpackers – nine women and six men – including 10 people trapped in a room where a bunk bed blocked an exit door and the windows were barred.

Long went on the run with dad Sydney issuing a public plea: “Robert, your mother and I are ready to listen and talk with you at any time.

“We are ready to help you work through the events of the last week.

“Remember Robert, your mother and I love you.”

It later emerged the Longs had adopted Robert and tried to give him a happy life, but he had been troubled from early on.

For some time, they had made efforts for him to be admitted to different mental health facilities but it never lasted.

Robert Paul Long was suffering from mental illness when he set fire to the Childers Palace Backpacker Hostel, killing 15 people.

Sydney Long and his wife Norma tried to get help for their mentally ill son Robert who killed 15 people.

The fire which tore through the hostel trapped 10 people in one room where a bunk bed blocked their escape.

The Longs’ experience with Australia’s inadequate mental health support system is similar to that of other families torn apart by killings their mentally ill relatives have undertaken.

They are now the subject of an ABC Four Corners report.

The episode, Please Don’t Judge: Violent Crime And The Mentally Ill, examines people who have “suffered the tragic consequences of Australia’s broken mental health system”.

It comes in the wake of a case in Melbourne last week where a schizophrenic man was acquitted of murder on the grounds of mental illness.

Henry Richard Hammond, 27, was found not guilty of the murder of 25-year-old Courtney Herron by the Victorian Supreme Court because he was in the grip of a schizophrenic delusion when he beat her to death in May 2019.

There was a similar case last year of a Sydney man found not guilty of murdering his five-year-old son. The man who had long suffered from schizophrenia was found to be in the midst of a psychotic episode when he killed his son in 2018, believing the child to be the devil.

His family had tried to hospitalise him two days before the killing but were told there were no beds available.

They said the failure of the mental health system needs to be examined after it was revealed in court his mother told a clinician she feared she would wake up to find her grandson dead.


The man’s mother told Four Corners how before her son killed: “We begged and begged for my son to be admitted to a mental health bed. I’ve never pleaded so much in my life.”

On the show, one expert told Four Corners: “If somebody with a mental health illness ends up before a court, then that’s a failure.”

Another said: “Public safety is being put at risk by this continuing neglect” of the mental health system.

Here are other notable cases where families have struggled with a mentally ill relative, only to have them kill.

ANTHONY WATERLOW
In 2009, renowned Australian art curator Nick Waterlow OAM was working at a Sydney gallery and on the editorial board of an art magazine.

He had a loving partner, a daughter Chloe, grandchildren – and a son, Anthony, who was mentally ill.

Chloe Heuston, 36, a cookbook author, and her 68-year-old father had tried to protect themselves from the delusional and violent ramblings of Anthony when he didn’t take medication for his paranoid schizophrenia.

Like many families in a similar situation, they had to deal with someone who stopped taking psychotropic dugs when they felt they didn’t need it anymore, becoming violent and hearing “voices” as a result of being unmedicated.

CCTV footage of Anthony Waterlow at a Sydney hotel on the day he killed his sister and father while mentally ill.

Chloe Heuston was stabbed to death with her father.

Nick Waterlow was a respected art curator.

On November 9, 2009, Anthony Waterlow went with his father to Chloe’s house for a dinner aimed at mending his fractured relationship with them.

At the dinner he stabbed both to death.

In 2011, the NSW Supreme Court found Anthony not guilty of murdering his sister and father on the grounds of mental illness, and ordered he be detained at Long Bay Prison Hospital.

After the verdict, film director Jane Campion, a friend of Nick Waterlow’s, called for a review of the law.

Anthony Waterlow was found not guilty.

He was sent to Long Bay Prison Hospital.

She said people should be “scheduled” – admitted into psychiatric institutions without their consent – if they did not take their medication or could not accept that they needed it.

“Nick and Chloe tried really, really hard … everything that was available,” Campion said.

“But they died because Anthony could not be scheduled, not until he had done something really terrible.

“This case talks to the heart of the facts that there is a real gap in the system.

“In my view … Nick and Chloe died because there was no protection from mental health services or the police.”

LUCAS CAWTE

In late 2016, Lucas Cawte was admitted as a voluntary patient to a mental health hospital south of Adelaide.

A mental health nurse said Lucas was on the brink of a psychotic attack and was suicidal, but sent him home after five days with some medication.

Five months later, in March 2017, Lucas and his identical twin brother, Jake were at their family home Willunga, when Lucas shot and killed Jake, then drove to a police station and confessed what he had done.

Lucas Cawte (left) killed his identical twin Jake (right) in 2017 after a hospital diagnosed him as being on the brink of a psychotic attack.

In 2015, Lucas Cawte’s devastated family called out the South Australian mental health system for ignoring their son’s repeated requests for help.

The twins’ mother Deborah Watson, told Supreme Court Justice Kevin Nicholson of the “indescribable grief” she had suffered and how her family had fallen apart since the tragedy.

A court found Lucas not guilty due to mental illness.

JOEL WOSZATKA

On the morning of September 18, 2017, 25-year-old Joel Woszatka took a large kitchen knife, walked into his mother’s bedroom and stabbed her in the chest.

He had been living with his mother, Lanell Latta, 50, and her partner Geoff Robson-Scott in a house they were renting from model Gemma Ward at Avalon on Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

Joel Woszatka killed his mother but was found not guilty of murder due to mental illness.

Lanell Latta died from stab wounds.

Her body was in the house rented from model Gemma Ward.

Joel, who had a history of mental illness, punched Mr Robson-Scott several times in the face before fleeing the home.

At trial, he pleaded not guilty to murder by reason of mental illness. The court heard how Mr Woszatka noticed his mother’s “face changes” and possibly thought she had been “replaced by an alien”.

A judge ruled that Mr Woszatka “cannot be held criminally responsible” for his mother’s death as it was clear he had been severely ill with schizophrenia.

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