Warning: Distressing content
A Kiwi mate of killer dad Rowan Baxter reached out to him just days before the horrific killings after noticing obsessive social media posts about the former athlete's children.
New Zealand-born Baxter ambushed his estranged wife in Brisbane on Wednesday on the school pick-up run, dousing her and their three children with petrol before fatally stabbing himself.
The children - Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3 - died in the family car after it burst into flames on a quiet suburban street in Camp Hill in Brisbane's east.
Hannah Baxter, 31, escaped the car but died at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital.
Her brother Nat Clarke today said the family had tried desperately to save her from her "monster" husband who had kidnapped one of his young daughters on Boxing Day and taken her interstate.
Auckland-based former Mt Albert Lions rugby league club president Tony Sadgrove said he could sense trouble due to Baxter's "obsessive" Facebook posts.
"I smelt something bad coming because he was posting so regularly - like daily," Sadgrove said.
"He was really throwing it out there how much despair he was in. He was constantly reinforcing his love for his children and the anguish he was going through by being separated from them."
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Sadgrove posted a message on Baxter's Facebook page just days before Wednesday's horrific murders, but questioned whether someone closer to him or the authorities might have been able to do more to intervene.
"This was a guy publicly displaying all the traits of a bad ending," Sadgrove said.
"I reached out to him to give him advice on hanging in there and try to focus on work and other things."
But Baxter only gave a brief reply, saying, "Thanks for reaching out bro".
Sadgrove never met Hannah and didn't know the circumstances of their split. But he'd had another family member commit suicide over a relationship breakdown and was worried Baxter might hurt himself.
He had no idea something so horrific could take place.
"You can feel for people's angst and agony about being separated, but nothing can justify these kinds of acts. I was gobsmacked," he said.
Sadgrove first met Baxter at the Mt Albert Lions rugby league club where the former Tauranga sportsman played from the early 2000s to 2006 as part of the nationwide Bartercard Cup.
A former rugby winger, Baxter was a "highly competent", aggressive and athletic player with an intense personality.
"He was always positive - he was intense, but not to the point of being intensely aggressive - he was more like, 'Come on let's get it done' and chatty as well.
"But he has obviously carried something dark in him."
Baxter made the Warriors 2005 NRL squad but didn't play first grade for them, before moving to Australia.
Sadgrove stayed in touch over Facebook, watching from afar as Baxter married and had children.
In one Facebook post, Baxter can be seen throwing his young son high into the air, and Sadgrove commented to say it was a bit over the top.
"That kind of tells you the kind of intense guy he was - he was unbelievably physically capable and wanted them to be like him," Sadgrove said.
It became apparent to everyone that Baxter's family life had changed in recent months as he publicly posted about loving his children but being forcibly kept from them, Sadgrove said.
Hannah's brother Nat Clarke wrote on Facebook that their parents had given everything to try to help her "get away from this monster".
Hannah's parents Suzanne and Lloyd Clarke told the Daily Mail that Rowan was a "control freak" and had kidnapped one of his small daughters on Boxing Day last year and taken her interstate for four days until police returned the child to the Clarke house.
"She had to get the kids and just go without saying anything, because he was such a control freak and would get into her headspace and she would give in," Clarke said, describing an 11-year controlling and abusive marriage which ended last November.
He also revealed his sister's last words before Baxter managed to ambush and murder his family.
"I'm so excited, this year will be great," she had said.
This was after Hannah had fled Baxter and their marital home, taking their three children to live at her mother's house in the southeastern Brisbane suburb of Camp Hill.
- additional reporting news.com.au.
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