Early evening gave no hint of waiting horror

By Miranda Forster

Real estate agent embarked on campaign of deceit to cover up killing

Allison Baden-Clay’s body was found floating 10 days after she went missing. Picture / Courier Mail
Allison Baden-Clay’s body was found floating 10 days after she went missing. Picture / Courier Mail

The last night of Allison Baden-Clay's life started like any other.

The mother-of-three put her girls to bed about 7pm, going room to room in the family's modest rental home in Brisbane's west.

She patted her 5-year-old on the head, sang a lullaby to her 8-year-old and said goodnight to her 10-year-old.

"I went to get a drink of water and she was lying on the couch watching television," the eldest later told police.

That image of the 43-year-old curled on the sofa would be the girl's last memory of her mother. When the children woke up the next morning, she was gone.

When Gerard Baden-Clay reported his wife missing on April 20, 2012, he sparked a huge manhunt in the affluent Brisbane suburb of Brookfield.

It was 10 days before his wife's body was found by a kayaker, 13km from the family home.

The body was bloated and discoloured and the woman's jumper was twisted around her head and neck.

There was no sign of how she died.

But a court has found Baden-Clay murdered his wife, likely by smothering her in a violent attack, before dumping her body in the mud of nearby Kholo Creek.

He then engaged in a campaign of deceit, pretending to look for his wife and inventing the idea of a drug overdose as a ruse to cover up a heinous crime for which he'd shown no remorse.

In 2008, Baden-Clay's west Brisbane practice was thriving and at one stage the real estate agent was earning more than A$5000 ($5365) a week.

But his marriage was deteriorating.

Gerard Baden-Clay told police his wife had taken an overdose. Picture / Courier Mail
Gerard Baden-Clay told police his wife had taken an overdose. Picture / Courier Mail

In court, Baden-Clay made much of Allison's struggle with depression, though doctors testified it was relatively mild.

He sobbed in the witness box as he admitted to multiple infidelities, tearfully explaining how intimacy with Allison had vanished and he had "just wanted sex".

In 2008 he began a passionate romance with employee Toni McHugh.

He also found time to preside over the local chamber of commerce and sit on the school parents and citizens committee.

But by 2011 his life was unravelling.

As Baden-Clay expanded his business, Brisbane suffered its worst flood in decades and suddenly no one was buying homes in the riverside suburbs.

As he sank into debt, news of his office romance filtered back to his wife, who was heartbroken and humiliated.

She gave her husband an ultimatum and he dumped a devastated McHugh.

"For me it was only a physical relationship. I didn't want anything more," was Baden-Clay's brutal testimony at his trial.

Yet three months after the break-up the affair was back on. Even as he diligently attended marriage counselling he was promising his mistress he would leave Allison by July 1 - his wife's birthday.

"Leave things to me now. I love you," he wrote in an email on April 11, 2012.

Eight days later, McHugh erupted after learning Baden-Clay was sending his wife to a real estate conference she would also be attending the next day.

"What is your plan?" McHugh shouted down the phone. "What are you going to do to change things for us to be able to be together?" What Baden-Clay did that night changed everything.

In convicting Baden-Clay, the jury has accepted the prosecution case that he killed his wife, bundled her body into the family car and left his three daughters alone at home in the dead of night to dump her in the mud.

Allison was never going to overcome her much stronger husband but the scratches she left on his face showed the gentle-natured woman fought back.

In the words of Justice John Byrne they were the marks of "a desperate woman struggling for life".

Baden-Clay will now spend at least 15 years in jail for a crime that continues to haunt many - including himself, judging by his reactions as he was sentenced.

He shook and wept in court as Allison's mother seized her moment to stare him down and explain, in heartbreaking detail, just what he'd done to his own children.

"They miss her terribly and cry to her at night. To have mummy put them to bed one night and to wake up the next morning and be told that she is missing - what a situation to face," Priscilla Dickie said.

"Does mummy love me? These are heart-wrenching moments in my life and theirs."You have changed your daughters' destiny and sentenced them to life."

The evidence
• Experts agreed facial scratches likely caused by fingernails, not a razor.
• Allison Baden-Clay's blood found in her car.
• Leaves found in Allison's hair matched those found growing around the Baden-Clay home.
• Gerard Baden-Clay had promised mistress Toni McHugh he'd be separated by July 1, 2012.
• Baden-Clay had large debts, his business was struggling and he stood to gain from Allison's life insurance policies.

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