David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

How a loving father turned into a killer

The death in Dunedin of two young children at the hands of their father sent David Fisher in search of a monster. He found something more unsettling - a man.

Bradley Livingstone, 9, and his sister Ellen, 6, lived and died in the family home on Kiwi St, Dunedin.  Photos / Otago Daily Times
Bradley Livingstone, 9, and his sister Ellen, 6, lived and died in the family home on Kiwi St, Dunedin. Photos / Otago Daily Times

Part one of a two-part series

Monster. There's that word. Peter Scott says it when speaking of Ed Livingstone, brother-in-law, mate and killer-of-children.

"People will make him out as a monster," he says of the father who killed Bradley, 9, and Ellen, 6, on January 15 before shooting himself.

"And probably, in the last minutes of his life, he was. But the guy we knew? Absolutely not."

It was a monstrous act. That final hour of Livingstone's life would eradicate any good he had ever wrung from his existence, including the lives of his children.

"Monster" comes from a Latin word which describes a disruption of the natural order - some perverse malfunction of nature.

Livingstone was unrecognisable at the end. In a corruption of nature, he killed the children he raised.

Left alone was the woman he fell in love with at first sight. Katharine Webb - she uses her maiden name now - was robbed of everything except that which would torture her.

Life.

'See that girl there? I'm going to marry her.'

If he was a monster, Ed Livingstone was one whose roots were Kiwi. He was born in Christchurch in 1962 and moved to Australia when very young. His father, Duncan Livingstone, a Scottish merchant seaman, went to New South Wales with his son and daughter Suzanne (Suzie) in search of work in the mid-1960s.

Edward Livingstone.
Edward Livingstone.

There is no record of the children's mother travelling with them and he wasn't long settled in Australia before marrying Shirley Crease, whose daughter Karen Scott expanded the family to five.

"He was part of a family," says Pete Scott, who married Karen years later. He remembers a young Livingstone leaving school, working as an unskilled labourer or office worker, before shifting to running pubs.

"We all showed each other respect. There was nothing out of the ordinary way back then," says Mr Scott, a train driver. They rocked around the Central Coast, north of Sydney, socialising together, even after the marriage with Mrs Crease dissolved. "Life was pretty good." Considering how it ended, looking back is like "putting a jigsaw puzzle together" but none of the pieces fit. "We just knew him as Ed," says Mr Scott, a little helplessly.

Livingstone's best mate - really, now, his only mate - was Rob McFarlane. They met in 1984 and worked together at clothing chain David Jones. Livingstone was assistant office manager while Mr McFarlane, another Kiwi, worked as assistant loss prevention manager.

They had a solid foundation for friendship. "At one stage, he saw me having a bit of a hassle with a client. He dumped everything and came to give me a hand. In the process, he almost got stabbed with a paper spike." Others piled in to help but the bond forged lasted. They would work together three times, twice with Livingstone as Mr McFarlane's boss.

Livingstone worked at David Jones for several years, then turned to working in pubs. He was still doing that more than a decade later when he met Katharine Webb, the woman who became mother to Bradley and Ellen. She caught his eye as she entered the pub. "He actually turned to one of the bar staff there at the time and said: 'See that girl there? I'm going to marry her'."

Until then, no relationships had really stuck. This did. Bradley was born and New Zealand beckoned. For Livingstone, the appeal was simple.

"It was all about bringing Bradley up in a quieter atmosphere ... Plus, all of Katharine's family are here and Ed doesn't have much of a family."

They started in a rented house on Franklin St, high on the hills in the north of Dunedin, an easy commute for Ms Webb to her public service job in the centre. Her parents lived just up the road. "I don't think there was a lot of love lost there," Mr McFarlane says of Livingstone's relationship with his in-laws.

It was a big shift, not just geographically but in lifestyle. "It was very late for them to have children, both of them. They were both in their forties when Bradley was born."

For Livingstone, the move was the beginning of an isolation which lasted until he died. As Mr McFarlane says: "He was fairly much a loner. He didn't have a lot of mates down there."

Across the fence at Franklin St was Geoffrey Vine, retired Presbyterian minister, and his wife, Gillian, who also worked in social services. They recall the family of three, as it was then, moving in about nine years ago.

Livingstone, who wasn't working, would farewell Katharine each morning and turn to caring for Bradley. The Vines watched him grow into fatherhood and, when thinking on it after the killings, were confounded as news reports wove the threads of January 15 into a horrifying tapestry. "It was a totally alien picture," says Mr Vine. "It was hard to believe that someone could have changed and become diametrically the opposite of what you know.

"He was a lovely man. He was just the sort of neighbour you hope to get."

Livingstone was a "firm father", says Mr Vine, but not in a restrictive or rough way. Mrs Vine: "He was an absolutely devoted father and that's why what he did is incredibly inexplicable. One wonders what pressures drove him to do what he did."

Mr Vine: "The only thing I could think of when this happened is he couldn't handle being separated from Bradley because he'd been so devoted to him."

They would chat over the fence, share a cuppa, watching Bradley growing. There was a dog, Spencer.

"He always had to be busy," says Mr Vine. They watched Livingstone spend hours in the garden of the rented house, learning about local plants and growing conditions from green-thumbed Mrs Vine. He pruned with vigour - and having pruned his side, asked if he could hop the fence and do the other. He was quick to help out - and good with computers. When the Vines got a new one, he came up with training videos to help them navigate new software. It became a project, eventually stretching beyond their capacity to keep up.

Bradley grew and Livingstone gloried in it. Far too early, he was trying to teach his son how to kick a football. For Guy Fawkes, he delighted Bradley with a stack of fireworks, although the Vines suspected it was Livingstone who drew the most joy from fireworks, which are banned in Australia. "He was really so excited about it," recalls Mr Vine.

It was a bright point among mundane daily tasks, with Livingstone preparing meals, often as not, doing housework and shopping.

"Edward didn't have a lot of friends," says Mr Vine. He didn't know anyone locally and as a stay-at-home parent, had limited opportunities to meet new people. "He didn't know anyone here," says Mr Vine. And, says Mrs Vine, it's different for men - dads at home don't slot into the coffee groups and social circles mothers enjoy.

Asked if he was clever, Mr Vine said Livingstone "persevered with things". "He was prepared to give anything a go. He had a curiosity about things. He wasn't intellectual but neither was he a dummy. He was a good conversationalist."

He hunted for work, says Mr Vine, straining against his inability to find a job in New Zealand. "When he was looking for work, he wasn't the type who sat around twiddling his thumbs. He really did want to work. One of the things that delighted him about the job at Milburn [at the prison] was that he was going to have people to socialise with." Not even that, adds Mrs Vine. "Contact with adults," she says.

Court documents list Livingstone as earning $58,000 at the time of his death, working as a property officer on reception at the Otago Correctional Facility about 30 minutes south of Dunedin.

The job came about the time Ellen was born and about the time they bought a home. Property records show the Livingstone family buying the house on Kiwi St in 2008 (the listed settlement date is June 17).

They had a home. Livingstone had a job. The children had the rest of their lives. Their mother still does.

Mr Vine: "The big unanswered question for me is what drove the transition from a thoroughly nice man to a monster. You don't become that overnight."

Monster.

There's that word.

The house on Kiwi St

The house on Kiwi St is plain to look at. Like many in Dunedin, it sits hunched into the land, braced against the weather. One storm blew in late on January 15, 2014, through the back door, bringing with it fatal results.

But before then, the bungalow offered hope and opportunity. Seen in the media images that followed, the pale blue house looked as if it were shrinking from the violence that had happened inside.

But turn the other way and there were wonders to behold. Livingstone's friend Rob McFarlane captured the best of it when visiting. His photograph looks across Otago Harbour, the sea calm and still, stretching off towards the distant harbour mouth. Above, a wide sky is azure-blue fading to white-blue on the horizon.

McFarlane posted it to Facebook and Livingstone wrote on August 2: "Rob, what made you post a photo of my front garden, nice isn't it :-) You are making me home sick."

By then, it was no longer his front garden. He was banned from the St Leonards home he once lived in, with only supervised access allowed to his children.

The relationship ended in early 2013. Livingstone moved next door to Chris and Mel Foot's home for a few weeks but it didn't work. He'd pace and mutter, eyes turned to the house just up the hill.

Ellen's bedroom looked down on his temporary exile. As in the bedroom of any girl just starting school, a mosaic of stickers climbs up glass.

The separation escalated on May 27, when Livingstone visited the house, an argument followed and he tried to stop Ms Webb from leaving.

The court was later told "he would not let the victim take the family vehicle when she became concerned for hers and her children's safety due to the defendant's behaviour".

Livingstone was put in the care of Southland Health Board's Emergency Psychiatric Service. It was here a protection order was actually served on May 31.

The temporary protection order was made permanent on June 18.

Three days later, Livingstone made contact with Ms Webb through her Facebook site. "Your are beautiful [sic]," he wrote at 11.14pm, tagging the comment to a picture of her with her arms around their children.

Livingstone's access to his children was now restricted to visits supervised by Barnados.

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Tomorrow: The 'get out of jail card'

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- NZ Herald

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