Warning: This story contains distressing content
A friend of murdered Brisbane mum Hannah Clarke says the fitness trainer confided in her about the decade of abuse she suffered at the hands of her Kiwi husband.
Chillingly, Rowan Baxter allegedly warned Clarke at the start of their relationship that he had told his previous partner — with whom he had a child — that if she left him, he would kill their child and himself.
On Wednesday morning, the controlling 42-year-old ambushed Clarke near her parents' house in Camp Hill, dousing his estranged wife and three kids with petrol and burning them to death in the family SUV, reports news.com.au.
• Murdered mum Hannah Clarke's inspiring post: 'I am not a victim'
• Car-fire murders: Former Warrior Rowan Baxter's wife Hannah Baxter dies after fire that killed couple's three kids
• Car-fire murders: Killer who torched his family was a 'master manipulator', victim's parents say
• Car-fire murders: Rowan Baxter pledged to love wife Hannah and family - he killed her and three kids after they fled
A witness reported Clarke jumped from the burning car and screamed, "He poured petrol on me."
Six-year-old Aaliyah, four-year-old Laianah and three-year-old Trey died in their car seats. Baxter fatally stabbed himself at the scene, while the 31-year-old mum succumbed to her injuries in hospital later that night.
In a letter on Facebook "to the most courageous woman I know", Manja Whaley said she first met Clarke as a client at Integr8 Fitness, the CrossFit gym the couple ran together in Capalaba, in September 2019.
She said the pair had children the same ages and quickly became friends.
"You gave me so much comfort as a mother of three who knew what this was like," she said in the post, which has been shared more than 6000 times.
"That's who you were — warm, caring and someone that anyone would feel instantly comfortable with to show their vulnerable side."
Whaley, a domestic violence worker for 10 years, said the announcement was made just before Christmas that the gym was shutting down.
When she reached out to Clarke, she told her she had left Baxter on December 5.
"You confided in me about the family violence you had experienced for the past 10 years," she wrote, adding that at first Clarke was "confused and told me that you had never thought of being in a domestic violent relationship as you explained 'he never hit me'".
"We talked about the different types of violence including financial abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse and you experienced all of them," she said.
"I asked you if he had ever threatened to kill you or the children and you told me he had not but there was one thing he had said, really matter of fact, when you first got together 10 years ago and that was that, 'He had told his ex-partner with whom he had a child, that if she was to leave him he would take the child and end his own life and that of the child.' He never did but you told me that this comment has always stuck in your mind."
In early January, Baxter was slapped with a domestic violence order by a Brisbane court for kidnapping one of their children and taking her interstate against Clarke's wishes.
Whaley's post shed more light on that incident.
"Just after Christmas you had to take the necessary steps to keep your children safe after their father took Laianah on Boxing Day of 2019 from the park where you had met him so he could spend time with the children," she said.
"You told me he picked Laianah up and started walking away, you asked him what he was doing and told him that your car was the other way, all whilst Aaliyah was distressed crying for her father to put Laianah down."
Baxter, without any regard "of the emotional damage to the children for taking Laianah away from her mother and her siblings", walked to the car and said to Clarke, "I told you, this is your fault."
"This is the act of a man who believed he owned his children and wife, that they were objects to be controlled," Whaley said.
"This is not love, this is coercive control — the act of threats, intimidation, assault and humiliation or other abuse that is used to harm, punish or frighten their victim. In this case to frighten his own children and wife. He is NOT the victim."
Speaking to Nine's Today this morning, Whaley said "just because you haven't been beaten doesn't mean that there is no domestic violence".
"There was the checking of her accounts on Facebook, the accusations of her cheating. She would get dressed and she would be picking up her clothes and he would say things to her like, 'Look at your stomach, that's just disgusting'," she said.
"And some of the things that she would explain was this excessive control, the sexual abuse daily, and if she wasn't to have sex with him, he would punish not only her but also the children. She wouldn't be allowed to go to the gym which was not only her passion but her outlet. The children wouldn't be allowed to go to the beach on a Sunday and that's something they did every Sunday as a family."
In her letter, Whaley said Clarke's "voice needs to be heard, your story be told when your voice has been taken away". "The truth needs to be told," she wrote.
"The decision made yesterday by Rowan to take your life and that of your three children results of a belief system that you needed to be punished for leaving the relationship. This was not an act as a result of mental health issues or financial problems, this was a premeditated, deliberate decision to end your life and that of your beautiful babies."
Clarke's parents have described Baxter as a "master manipulator" who controlled every aspect of her life.
Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke told The Daily Mail he had been controlling and emotionally abusive since the start of the pair's relationship 11 years ago – when Hannah was just 20.
"We always had misgivings about him," Suzanne Clarke told the site.
"He was always controlling, he ruined her relationship with everyone, even tried to get her away from us. We'd go down to the coast and if they turned up and saw us there, they would go to another beach."
She said Baxter was "jealous of her sporting success" and "had a chip on his shoulder because he didn't make it as an NRL player".
Earlier, Hannah Clarke's sister-in-law Stacey Roberts said Clarke's parents had "exhausted themselves" trying to "help Hannah escape this monster".
Police have urged anyone with information about the Baxter family dynamic to come forward and speak to them.
"Our investigations have shown us quiet clearly that there is a palpable sense of grief and mourning amongst the community," Detective Inspector Mark Thompson said.
"We have reviewed some of the social media and public commentary that we've seen from the community."
SEXUAL HARM - DO YOU NEED HELP?
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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - DO YOU NEED HELP?
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
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• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice:
• National Network of Stopping Violence:
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent.
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