Tracey O'Brien Maw murder: 'Was she suffering? Was she lying there thinking of us?'

By Kim Stephens of news.com.au

When Tracey O'Brien Maw visited Fiji for the first time in 2010 she felt she truly belonged. Photo / via news.com.au
When Tracey O'Brien Maw visited Fiji for the first time in 2010 she felt she truly belonged. Photo / via news.com.au

Caitlin O'Brien's "beautiful mum" fell in love with the gentle, smiling people of Fiji from the moment she first visited in 2010.

But Tracey O'Brien Maw could never have guessed that, four years later, one of them would suddenly and brutally snatch away her life.

In November 2014, Ms O'Brien Maw, who had been living in Fiji on and off since her first visit, had been missing for a few days when Caitlin, her eldest child, received a call from her grandmother.

The pain in the older lady's voice was palpable as she urged Caitlin to come over right away.

Caitlin's heart sank.

A farmer taking a shortcut between rural villages in the Fijian province of Sigatoka had found her in a field, four days after she was left for dead.

The 44-year-old was no longer recognisable.

Her body was so badly decomposed by four days in the tropical heat, the only way her brother could identify her was by a distinctive tattoo.

Two years on, the painful, pervading thoughts of what happened to her mother in the early hours of November 7, 2014, are never far from 26-year-old Caitlin's mind, and undoubtedly from the minds of other members of her close-knit family.

Ms O'Brien Maw's first-born child told news.com.au she thinks they will always remain.
"Was she suffering? Was she lying there thinking of us? All the stuff that we will never know, it's heartbreaking," Caitlin said.

"To know such an evil person would leave her there like that. Someone so beautiful just left there like she was nothing."

Fiji's High Court this week convicted surfing instructor Lloyd Richard Senikaucava, 35, of Ms O'Brien Maw's murder.

As he awaits what is likely to be a life sentence for the crime, Ms O'Brien said the verdict has brought her family justice but no answers.

"You don't have the closure, although justice may be served there are so many questions left unanswered," she said.

"Why did it happen? Why did he do what he did? What's being left out? It's really so many things that don't make sense.

"It makes this whole thing harder to get any full closure and we will never get it, never really have it, because he's the only one who knows what happened."

For nearly four decades, Ms O'Brien Maw called the fruit-growing capital of Shepparton, in Victoria's north east, home.

Like many people in the city, she settled young, and opted to raise her four children in the city she herself had been born and raised.

But when she visited Fiji for the first time in 2010, among the gentle, smiling faces of the country's agrarian villagers, the farmer's daughter found the place she felt she truly belonged.

She fell in love, Caitlin said, both with a man she called Joe and with Fiji itself.

So, she decided to stay.

"She was not at all materialistic and over there she lived pretty much with nothing but she was free of nastiness and judgment," Ms O'Brien said.

"She was just free and enjoying her life the way she wanted to. The people were so nice she just fell in love with it.

"It would have been hard to leave her kids but people have to do what they have to do.

"She was happy and I truly believe she loved Fiji."

Tragically, the place she loved would also be the place that claimed her life.

In the early hours of November 7, 2014, Senikaucava left the 44-year-old for dead in farmland near Vunuvutu Village, the quiet, happy place about 60 kilometres south of Nadi, where she had lived with Joe for more than four years.

Senikaucava fled the village after Ms O'Brien Maw's death and was arrested by police a week later.

A father-of-three, he had been a friend of Ms O'Brien Maw.

At the time he killed Ms O'Brien Maw, he was awaiting trial for rape charges, court documents lodged when he made an unsuccessful application for bail in 2015 reveal.

Ms O'Brien said she did not know if her mother was aware of the pending rape trial.
The putrefaction of Ms O'Brien Maw's body made it impossible to determine a cause of death.

The last family picture, taken in January 2014, with Tracey O'Brien Maw far right. Photo / via news.com.au
The last family picture, taken in January 2014, with Tracey O'Brien Maw far right. Photo / via news.com.au

Her family will never know what happened to their much-loved mum, daughter and sister in her final moments on earth.

"She had a heart of gold that's why it is so hard to wrap my head around what is happening," Ms O'Brien said.

"She wasn't materialistic, in the end it didn't matter what she had, as long as she had a bed to sleep on.

"All she wanted to do when she would come home would be to go shopping and grab school bits and pieces for the kids back in the village and she was asking us for clothes she could take back.

"She just wanted to help people and make people feel better about themselves, she wouldn't hurt a fly, she pretty much loved everybody."

What is known about the lead-up to Ms O'Brien Maw's death is that she and Senikaucava were at a nightclub with a group of friends before sharing a taxi home together.

The taxi dropped the pair near a well-known shortcut to Ms O'Brien Maw's village, one that would normally take her back there in about five minutes.

She never made it.

The farmer found her body in the area four days later and, by that time, Senikaucava was long gone.

It only took police three days to catch up with him and charge him with his friend's murder.

It sparked what Ms O'Brien described as an often-frustrating fight for justice, as the family battled to understand the Fijian legal system and the powerlessness of Australian officials in a foreign case.

"The hardest thing about it is there is no support from our end as such, it happens overseas and there is not much our government can do to help, that needs to change," she said.

"They say they try but there is no emotional support, no financial support, no 'Here's what you can do'.

"This is an Australian citizen who has passed away over there from something tragic and they can't do anything for you."

Now, with justice served, Ms O'Brien, her younger siblings, sisters Amy and Claire, and brother Rhys plan to return together when Claire, the youngest, turns 18 next year.

"At the very start, we hated the whole country," Ms O'Brien said.

"But you can't blame everyone for one person's mistake.

"It's hard to know that in a country so beautiful, something so inhumane can happen."

While the family has their mum's ashes sitting in a shrine at their Pine Lodge home, Ms O'Brien said it is in Fiji, the place she loved, where she and her younger sister Amy, in particular, feel most close to her.

"We will be going back next year, all four of us, but this time everything will be finished," she said.

"Something Mum always wanted was for all of us kids to be together and be there.
"We feel that she's there, that's our connection, I almost feel her presence when we're there."

Ms O'Brien said Joe had been nothing but supportive throughout the family's battle for justice and a lifelong bond had been formed between them.

"I can see why she fell in love with him and he has been nothing but supportive for us. It's a close relationship," she said.

The toll on all of Ms O'Brien's family continues to be felt, she said.

"I don't think ever in life it's ever going to get easier," she said.

"Two years on, we are kind of adjusting to this as the way life is.

"The first Christmas without her was hard, no one wanted to celebrate special occasions without her.

"How do you celebrate when it's left a big big hole in our family?"

Now, Ms O'Brien, as she awaits the birth of her second child, is essentially just a girl who misses her mum.

Her baby daughter will carry Ms O'Brien Maw's name as her middle name, in tribute to the grandmother she never met, something that makes Ms O'Brien's voice crack as she speaks.

"My son really was her world, she loved us kids but the way she was with him she adored him and he's the same it's her," she said.

"One of the proudest moments of her life was becoming a grandmother, so it's pretty hard, because they had a really good bond.

"Now I'm pregnant with a little girl and she's not here to meet her. It's horrible."

- news.com.au

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