One critical component is missing from the Watts Family Murders. It’s this missing link that makes the crime atypical, and Watts himself such an enigma. Intertextuality provides us with some clues to what fits the criminal psychology, and what doesn’t.
The Manrique Family Tragedy played out in a suburb of Sydney, Australia on Monday, October 17, 2016:
A Sydney father who is suspected of pumping lethal amounts of carbon monoxide into his home as the family slept resulting in the deaths of his wife and two children, made multiple trips to a Bunnings store before the deaths, an inquest has heard.
In the days leading up to family’s deaths, Fernando Manrique, 44, visited the store in Belrose in Sydney’s north shore to buy equipment that police believe was used to set up an elaborate mechanism to channel the deadly gas from a garden shed, through the roof and into the house.
Manrique, his wife Maria Lutz, 43, and their two children, Elisa and Martin, were found dead inside their family home on Monday, October 17, 2016.The inquest into the four deaths, which began today, also heard Manrique had been having an affair with a teenager he met in a bar in the Philippines.
Superficially we see more than a few consistencies:
- The murders [and suicide] were carefully planned – that is premeditated – over a few days prior to tragedy.
- The premeditation wasn’t simple.
- The father was having an affair while married, and in spite of being a father to two small children [aged 11 and 12]
But between the parallels there are a few inconsistencies too:
Maria had not been replying to text messages the weekend before and hadn’t dropped her kids at school on the Monday morning. On the morning of October 17, police conducted a welfare check at the home after Ms Lutz’s friend Nichole Brimble noticed the devoted mother had failed to turn up to her volunteer shift at the school canteen, and learnt the children were not at school. Police attended the single-storey home in the leafy northern beaches suburb of Davidson. While officers initially thought nothing was amiss, they soon made the grim discovery of Maria’s body through an open window.
Her daughter Elisa, 12, was beside her in bed, her husband was slumped in a hall while 11-year-old Martin’s body was found in another bedroom. The family dog, Tequila, was also dead lying on the floor close to Martin.
Asked if there was evidence to suggest Maria had a role in her children’s deaths, he said: “She wasn’t involved at all or had any knowledge. Going through phone records no indication with any person of anything like that.” Counsel assisting Adam Casselden said it was likely the family died sometime between 11am on the Sunday and 11am on the Monday, most likely as the mother and her two children slept in the early hours of Monday morning.
A neighbour said they distinctly remembered the barking of a dog from the house at 2.30am.
The couple were childhood sweethearts from their home in Bogota, Colombia. They emigrated to Australia and gave birth to their daughter in 2005 and son in 2006. Both were diagnosed with autism. “Caring for Martin and Elisa was no doubt challenging,” Mr Casselden said. Despite the challenges the care of the children posed, Judge Truscott said there was no indication Maria was involved in her children’s deaths.The inquest heard that, initial speculation that Ms Lutz was aware of Mr Manrique’s fatal plan, would be dispelled by the steps he took to hide it from her, and because of her happiness at securing $50,000 in government funding to help with the care of Elisa and Martin. Ms Truscott said it was clear from the evidence of Ms Lutz’s large network of friends that “Maria loved her life, loved her children and had every intention of continuing a very loving, giving and productive life with her children”.
Indeed, he said the relationship between Maria and Manrique had broken down. “There was very little conversationwith her husband and with conversations with friends she said she has ‘had enough of him’,” Det Sgt Pooley said.
Maria, who used to be a lawyer in Colombia, had given up work to care for her children while her husband had been made redundant. That had seen his income fall dramatically as he helped set up another company, which led him to frequently visit the Philippines. Detective Sergeant Pooley said the couple had just $6 in a family trust, had credit card debts of $28,000, only a few thousand dollars in a savings account and two mortgages, which Manrique had reduced his repayment amounts on.
“I’d say that he was in dire straits and had massive tax issues,” the detective said. Mr Casselden said the couple had a debt to the Australian Tax Office of about $15,000 in September 2016. Despite this, shortly before the family died Manrique wired several thousand dollars to a lover in the Philippines that he met while travelling for work. Mr Casselden said Manrique had met a 17-year-old called Jamielyn in a bar in the Philippines in 2016.
“He confided in a friend his marriage had become strained and he was seeing other women in the Philippines,” he said. Manrique would “hook up” with other women and had been seeing Jamielyn for at least four months on his trip abroad prior to the family’s deaths. (Manrique) said he would buy her a property but never did so. She recalled that he was particularly stressed on a final trip in September 2016.”
“Manrique told [his business partner] Mr McKenzie that he was struggling to hold everything together and said ‘I just need to slow down’,” Mr Casselden said. In the weeks before the family’s deaths, Manrique had left the Davidson home but had returned in early September for a temporary period, he told his wife, while he found somewhere else to live.
Usually distant, Manrique seemed to be a changed man. Maria confided in a friend that “if he had been like this throughout the marriage, I would never have told him to go”.
“Maria described him as ‘father of the year’ during that week,” Mr Casselden said.
The biggest difference?
More: ‘A horrific thing’: the death of the Manrique-Lutz family – Sydney Morning Herald