Warning: distressing content
John Edwards sent detailed instructions to a private investigator on where to find and surveil his estranged wife to "see if she meets up with a boyfriend" a year and a half before he murdered his children in Sydney, Australia.
Police believe the private eye Edwards spoke to in December 2016 was disgraced investigator Brett Sutcliffe, who lost his licence in 2008 after being busted lying to a 77-year-old woman who later spotted him on TV.
Edwards, a retired financial planner with a long history of domestic and family violence, was 68 when he gunned down Jack, 15, and Jennifer, 13, at the West Pennant Hills home they shared with mother Olga on July 5, 2018.
He then drove home and killed himself. Olga took her own life five months later.
Court documents obtained by NCA NewsWire reveal the full extent of how Edwards wielded private investigators to stalk and terrorise Olga and an adult daughter, who can't be named, in the years before the murders.
Edwards emailed an organisation called SpouseBusters on December 13, 2016, with detailed instructions of where to find Olga, what she looked like, and the kind of surveillance he wanted done, the documents reveal.
"At this state I am thinking Friday 16/12/16 after work – to see if she meets up with a boyfriend – but at this time of year she may just go to a work related Xmas party," he wrote to a man named Shane Johnson.
"Surveillance again on Sunday evening 17/12/16 – based on the assumption that if she is in a serious relationship she will spend Saturday night with him – either by going out, or at his place, or him coming to her place."
He wrote he would "really like to know if she takes my kids with her" if Olga went over to a man's house.
Invoices reveal he paid A$2823.64 to SpouseBusters for surveillance of Olga over three Friday and Saturday nights in December 2016.
After Jack and Jennifer were killed, police received an anonymous tip that Edwards had used SpouseBusters, and identified Brett Sutcliffe as the former holder of a licence revoked in 2008, court documents say.
According to court documents, Sutcliffe registered SpouseBusters and was licensed as a private eye in 2006, but two years later his career came crashing down after Pauline English, 77, asked him to move from a disabled parking zone during a stake-out.
Sutcliffe refused and even sent the woman a letter claiming she had "wrongly interfered" with an AFP investigation.
But English later recognised him in a current affairs story about SpouseBusters and he lost his licence after being convicted of falsely representing an official and using the postal service in a menacing way.
Sutcliffe's file in the police database indicated a "lengthy adverse history" of unlicensed surveillance, and noted he "uses the alias of Shane Johnson", according to the statement of Detective Senior Constable Scott Tindale.
A former associate told police in 2011 that Sutcliffe operated SpouseBusters under the assumed name Shane Johnson, and another swore a statutory declaration in 2013 that Sutcliffe had told him "Shane Johnson is an alias I use".
The man pictured on Shane Johnson's LinkedIn page can also be found on stock image website iStock, where it sells for A$36 with the caption "Mature businessman with arms crossed".
The same man also features on a website for New Jersey planning officials, a blog promising help with marriage problems, and as a model for hair powder that claims to conceal bald spots.
When Tindale emailed Sutcliffe asking for information about his dealings with Edwards, Shane Johnson replied, stating he had "personally dealt" with Edwards.
When Tindale suggested a meeting, Johnson wrote back, "I won't be able to meet face-to-face."
He described the surveillance as "uneventful" and sent police information including two invoices, five photographs of Olga and some field notes.
Neither Shane Johnson nor Brett Sutcliffe responded to questions from NCA NewsWire.
SpouseBusters was not the first private detective agency Edwards hired to keep tabs on family members who wanted nothing to do with him.
After her children were killed, Olga showed police an email chain that Edwards had forwarded to her in July 2016 after they had separated and she and the children had moved out.
It contained emails between Edwards and Sydney Private Investigations, an agency he contacted in July 2010 about surveillance on his adult daughter, JC.
The firm sent him JC's married name, her husband's name and employment details, and their residential address in November 2010, according to the statement of Senior Constable Michael Dimech.
"It even disclosed that they may be away as their mail is being collected for them," Dimech wrote.
Six months after the agency sent those details to her father, JC reported to police that she was being stalked by Edwards and sought an Apprehended Violence Order (AVO).
Dimech wrote that police believed Edwards may have forwarded the emails to Olga as a message to let her know she could be located.
How Edwards obtained a piece of paper with Jennifer's movements written on it, which enabled him to stalk her home from Pennant Hills station and kill her and her brother, remains a mystery.
Police investigated if he had again hired a private investigator, but only hit dead ends.
Shane Johnson told police that Edwards' last contact with SpouseBusters was in December 2016.
Women's Safety NSW chief executive officer Hayley Foster told NCA NewsWire family violence perpetrators frequently used private investigators, sometimes very openly, as it was not against the law.
"At the moment, the offence of stalking, you have to have the intent to cause fear or physical harm … and that can be a really big sticking point," she said.
"The law needs to catch up and start to realise that ongoing surveillance of any form is unacceptable and it forms that pattern with other types of conduct … like social isolation, or degradation, or assault, intimidation.
"Those sorts of things combined is really the common experience of domestic abuse victims."
Foster said criminalising coercive control, which encompassed forms of family violence such as emotional and financial abuse and controlling behaviour, could help to protect women.
DO YOU NEED HELP?
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• 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:
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633, www.2shine.org.nz
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843, www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450, www.areyouok.org.nz