Murder, medicine and motherhood

I went to school with Kathleen Folbigg. Well, she was Kathy Marlborough back then. We weren’t close, but we moved in the same circles. She’s probably the most famous person to attend my high school. Well, she’s definitely the most infamous. That’s because she’s serving 30 years behind bars for murdering her four children. Her first baby, Caleb, lived 19 days. Her second baby, Patrick, lived eight months. Her third baby, Sarah, lived 10 months. Her fourth baby, Laura, lived 19 months. The first three deaths were initially attributed to cot death. When Laura died, the police opened a murder investigation. Kathy’s trial had shades of Lindy Chamberlain to it. She was accused of being cold, not showing enough emotion. Like Lindy Chamberlain, people decided she was guilty before the trial even started. Unlike Lindy Chamberlain, most people still hold that opinion. Last year, Kathy sent me a book called Murder, Medicine & Motherhood. It was written by a Canadian legal academic, Emma Cunliffe. Cunliffe spent six years researching Kathy’s case and concluded she shouldn’t have been found guilty based on the evidence presented in court. I read Cunliffe’s book and it made a very compelling argument. The only thing that still unsettled me was Kathy’s diary. Some of those diary entries were pretty chilling. Kathy explained them to the police, but the tapes cut out at the crucial moment. Kathy chose not to take the stand during her trial. I’ve never discussed the diary with her. Whenever I visit her in prison, we’re surrounded by prison guards, inmates and their families. Letters don’t feel safe either. People have betrayed Kathy before. When she wrote to her step-sister to say the diaries were “not literal”, the letter appeared in a newspaper. Last time we met, I told Kathy she must explain the diary if she gets a retrial. But her chances of a retrial are so slim they’re close to non-existent. Cunliffe has written to the attorney general requesting one, but her pleas have fallen on deaf ears. Why would the attorney general make such a monumental decision without intense public pressure? Certainly not when the majority of New South Welshmen seem so keen to keep Kathy behind bars. I visit Kathy once, twice, maybe three times a year. (I wrote about a typical visit in a previous blog, called Jail Break.) I go because I feel terribly sorry for her. I should visit more often, but life seems to get in the way. Jail is a depressing place, which makes it easy to avoid. When I do visit, I spend a few hours talking to a woman who becomes more institutionalised with each passing year. I have no idea how she’ll cope in the outside world when she’s finally released. But I’m constantly amazed by how positive and upbeat she remains despite her situation. If I was locked up, I’d be a cot-case. I’d be sobbing like Kelli Lane – the one who permanently misplaced her baby, Tegan – does every time I’m there (and probably the other 22 hours of every single day too). Kathy stays strong. Kathy believes in her innocence. Kathy has bunkered down to serve her time with as little drama as possible. When I leave, I shudder and think: “Imagine losing four kids to cot death, being found guilty of their murder and going to prison.” It’s the stuff of nightmares. People are wrongly convicted all the time. Last year, Michael Morton was released after 25 years in prison, when new DNA evidence showed he hadn’t killed his wife. Boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter was wrongly jailed for triple homicide and served 18 years behind bars. Donald Marshall was jailed at age 17 for a crime he didn’t commit and spent 11 years incarcerated. And Lindy Chamberlain spent four years in jail, giving birth as a prisoner. Even if you believe Kathy is guilty, does she really belong in jail? No sane mother would do the things she’s supposed to have done. No insane mother ever gets the psychiatrict help they so desperately need behind bars. But I’m convinced there’s reasonable doubt in Kathy’s case. You don’t throw away the key when there’s reasonable doubt. She should get that retrial. God knows how though.

46 thoughts on “Murder, medicine and motherhood

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  1. speaking of kathy not being able 2 show emotion… i was talking to her on the phone as she was leaving court 1 day & she said ‘i wish i could laugh’… i wanted 2 know y she said such a random statement… ‘one of the photographers taking pics of me was walking backwards & fell over a garbage bin… but, if i laugh, theyl report that im callously laughing as i leave court’…

    i am not overly concerned with how she copes when she does get out – she’s always made the best of any situation she was in with her big loud laugh, that she still has, even in gaol…

  2. Lindy only got off in the end because of compelling new evidence (discovery of Azaria’s matinee jacket in an area full of dingo lairs). Hard to see how such evidence would emerge for Kathy. I haven’t read the Cunliffe book but am sure it does make a compelling argument. Evidence or testimony that isn’t cross-examined often does. Still, as you say, I’m not sure jail is the right place for her.

  3. Great blog. The question is though, who cares enough to take up the fight for a woman they don’t know? We are all too consumed in our own mediocre lives to bother spending the time to help someone else out. It takes an exceptional person who is prepared to put themselves second to fight for the rights of others. Having said that, it also only takes one to get thousands involved. With the power of todays social media, surely it couldn’t be that hard.

    1. hi bea… kathy only has 3 old school friends 2 start the fight for her… if we can get others to take the time to read this book, they would have all the info needed to add their voices 2 ours – asking for a retrial…

  4. I am also one of the 3 friends who has stuck by Kathy all these years. She does not deserve what is happening. She is very down but tries so very hard to keep a brave face for us all and herself. She deserves better than she is getting now. She is and has been a model prisoner. She deserves more voices of support. The current simplistic and narrowly researched mainstream public view needs to be changed and we are working on a strategy to change it. Anyone in terested in working toward putting up their hand to help do this should contact either Alana, Megan or myself and we will start a contact list…..You only need to start the dialogue with your friends and their friends etc. She deserves that much and I am sure any of you reading this can give that much if you can just take a little bit of time to review the case and the evidence at hand. There is reasonable doubt. There is a miscarraige of justice, and she does deserve a dialogue to prove that this is the case. We would love it if anyone out there is willing to help start the dialogue…..

  5. I’ve been going back through your posts gradually. I found my way to this one thru your link this morning. I remember the Kathleen Folbigg case quite clearly. She certainly sounded guilty in the media. But hey… that doesn’t mean a thing.

    I’m still trying to figure out how I fell about it. I know your posts aren’t there to draw attention to your kind nature in visiting her BUT I must say I’m well impressed at you and Tracy and whoever else, taking the time to show this woman friendship. Everyone needs and deserves love.

    1. That’s a big job. My back catalogue is extensive. Hey, I’m not expecting people to accept Kathy is innocent. All I want them to accept is that she had an unfair trial. If she gets a fair one and is found guilty, so be it.

      1. That’s exactly what your post communicates. An excerpt of the book sounds like exactly the kind of thing one would come across in The Good Weekend. No? It’s such an intriguing case. I cannot begin to imagine how Kathleen must feel. Speaking of unfair trials there was a feature on the inconclusive death row inmates in the US in last weekend’s paper. Chilling.

  6. I borrowed Cunliffe’s book from the Uni of NSW Library. To find what libraries in Australia have the book, google “trove” then type in the author’s or book’s name. Interesting that the prosecutor of Kathy Folbigg (and of recently-freed Gordon Wood, Keli Lane and the first trial of recently-freed Jeff Gilham) has recently had prosecutorial misconduct charges made to the Legal Services Commissioner by Gordon Wood’s lawyers. The freeings of Wood and Gilham followed huge amounts of work by groups of friends and family in both cases – the key element being that in both cases an organised group of non-legal helpers went through the evidence to check if it was fiction or fact.

  7. I also went to school with Kathleen Folbigg, she was in my year at school however we did not travel in the same circles. I must admit I was convinced Kathleen was guilty based on what was portrayed by the media all those years ago.

    Currently I am doing a Uni degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice and a mutual friend of Kathy’s on my facebook page asked me to peruse the book Murder, Medicine and Motherhood written and researched by Canadian legal academic, Emma Cunliffe. As I knew Kathy I was eager to read what Cunliffe’s research revealed.

    One of the key points in my studies is how media shapes public perceptions of crime based on scare tactics, generalisations and omissions of vital evidence in order to sell papers and increase ratings. Tabloids rely on the fact that their audience always wants someone to pay, especially when its such a moral betrayal of human nature.

    Now armed with this new found knowledge I have required via my studies, I sat down and read the book. I am now convinced Kathleen did not get a fair hearingl based purely on EVIDENCE revealed by Cunliffe that was omitted in the trial. My opinion is that Kathleen was destined to pay to hush the public outcry guilty or not. How sad is it that Ms Folbigg is quite possibly never destined to have a retrial due to the massive exposure this case attracted. Quite frankly, I have lost faith in our legal system if evidence can be manipulated in order to get a desired outcome.

    I will now be utilising this case as part of my studies and suggest the book be used as required reading as part of the curriculum in my degree.

    I know that it will take pressure from the public to get a re trial for Kathleen however as one of the posts stated… who is going to rally around Kathleen for a retrial when the general public do not know her (apart from what media have stated), may have not read the book by Cunliffe and have no interest in doing so. Most people will take the path of least resistence and let sleeping dogs lay!

    1. What is needed is a rallying point – someone that those of us interested in this wrongful conviction can email, to get together and work out what to do.

      There’s the new SIDS research from Poland last year, which fits very well if the four Folbigg children are used as a case study to figure out what SIDS is. There’s other SIDS research from recent years that makes the lead-up to each death more consistent with SIDs than it was in 2003. There’s emerging scientific evidence that their father’s hereditary OSA should not have been glossed over in the Folbigg appeal as if it was irrelevant. As well as Cunliffe’s book, there’s academic articles about this case by people like Belinda Morrissey (Monstrous Semantics), Ilya Scher, Jane Goodman-Delahunty and Sharmila Betts. And there’s more, too. An organised cohesive effort that includes Cunliffe’s book as part of a whole process could succeed.

      1. hi peter… i had to google OSA, to find out it was, as i suspected as i read your post, sleep apnea… as well as going 2 school with kath, i was very close to kath & craig for many years (theyr my 20 year old sons’ godparents)… after their 3rd child sarah died, & craig was pursuing medical reasons & whether they would be able to have a healthy child, a genetic specialist (cant remember his name) spoke to them about craig’s sleep apnea & that it could be hereditary & linked to the cot deaths – this was a driving force behind them working to conceive laura – i remember vividly sitting in their family room at their singleton house when craig was almost giddy with excitement telling us about it…

        im looking forward to finding out more about this… thanx for your post!

      2. In the Folbigg appeal write-up (available online, but 70 pages to wade through), Dr Chris Seton (surely the same guy you mention, from Westmead Hospital – a decade later he’s a SIDS bigwig expert), mentions Craig’s OSA in passing as an irrelevancy. The moment I read that is the moment when I “knew” 100% for sure (well, 99.99%, nothing is ever 100%) that Cunliffe is on the right track in her book.

        I may be a bit muddled in this explanation ….

        There’s evidence emerging from scientific studies in Poland, Russia and Czech Republic that A1 beta-casein in infant formula (like the Infalac or Enfalac given to Caleb et al just before they died) produces beta-casomorphin7, which for some kids such as probably those with OSA, seems to be very dangerous indeed. Beta-casomorphin7 has opiate qualities and I think the Polish study last year indicates that it can cross the BBB (blood brain barrier) in large amounts which is scary. The Polish study’s number of ALTE (SIDs-like) kids was too small to make definite conclusions, but I think this may be the start of perhaps solving SIDS.

        That’s part of the reason why you may have seen large amounts of A2 (i.e. free of BCM7) milk at Coles, IGA and Franklins recently. One problem with all this is that Aussies might prefer their scientific evidence to come from Western countries. Adequate evidence may take a year or more, who knows, but there are ways of encouraging such scientific studies to be done in the right countries asap. There are other problems too.

  8. I must say my first impulse to the Lindy Chamberlain story as a then young mother was ‘as if a dingo would take a baby’! Young, naive, with little knowledge of dingo behaviour I went with the masses. I read several books regarding her case during the course of the extensive legal procedures that followed and came to the decision that Lindy and Michael should never have been convicted of those crimes based on the evidence provided. I also became convinced of their innocence based on many things but most memorable to me was a discussion I had with my brother in law and his wife who had been to Ayers Rock around the same time and had pictures of dingoes wandering through the same campsite as well as a picture of a tent that had been ripped by a dingo trying to get food.
    I must admit that, although not without some probing and reading (and not ust of newspapers – they lie), I came to a decision that Kathleen was also probably guilty – after all 4 cot deaths was unheard of. I know Megz and I know she is very passionate about anything she takes on but I also know she isn’t a stupid follower who will join a pack just on someone’s say so. Therefore, I will read this book and should I come to the decision that Kathleen was convicted unfairly I will gladly add my voice to the move to have her retried.

    1. At a Kakadu camping trip, our guide at the campfire one night told us about his girlfriend quitting her job in protest at the removal of evidence in the Chamberlain case, to protect the tourism industry. I have to omit details in a public forum in order to protect her privacy. The public love to blame the mother.

      I thought Gordon Wood was guilty until I became aware of information that has not yet appeared in public – more details available if you want.

      The most I’ve heard of is 5 cot deaths in one family (link available if you want). If you must use “statistics”, then this discussion by a maths professor might be worth a look:

  9. Alana – I had never heard of Kathy Folbigg until 2 years ago (not being a follower of sensationalist media), so my answer is No – I am new to the case.

    I was one of a group of five people involved (behind the public scenes) in checking the expert evidence in the very successful recent Gordon Wood appeal.

    Our attention was drawn to Kathy Folbigg when I stumbled across your blog, triggering an intensive study of her case by three of us in the last month. We had already read Emma Cunliffe’s book last year due to similarities of its material (expert evidence which collapses under scrutiny, prosecutorial method, probable diary entry manipulation and mistranslation, media coverage) to much of the material in the Gordon Wood appeal.

    In passing, there’s heaps more info on the opioid peptide BCM7, e.g. one study found that schizophrenics have unusually high quantities of BCM7 in their urine, and there was a 2003 Four Corners show about it. Alas, the possible (probable?) link between SIDS and BCM7 hasn’t made it into the Aussie media except for this 2011 article in The Age:

    1. Thx so much for your feedback, Peter. We are seeing Kathy on Saturday and will discuss the points you’ve made with her. I’ll be in touch.

  10. Hello – it’s wonderful to hear that there are some people who have been sticking with Kathleen Folbigg. Well done. I haven’t yet read the book but at the time of the conviction I thought it was flawed and have felt very, very troubled since. Unfortunately, life and small children took over, but I started thinking of Folbigg this week after the Chamberlain inquest.

    The main problem as I see it is that a person could be convicted of something because no one had every heard of such a thing happening before (ie the supposedly one in a million or so chance that you could have 4 children die from SIDS.) The presumption of innocence is reversed in cases such as this, much the same as it was in Lindy Chamberlain’s case. No one countenanced that a dingo could take a baby, therefore the onus of proof shifted to the Chamberlains to prove that it had, or that there was an alternative explanation. When they failed to do this, they were convicted as this was seen as the only likely explanation. In these cases it is very difficult for a person to prove that the event occurred. As we have seen this week in the Chamberlain case, it has taken them 32 years. The idea of having 4 children die through natural circumstances is so horrifying that it is much easier for human nature to believe that there was foul play involved. Just like it was horrifying to think of a dingo taking a 9 week old baby. In these cases, I think people almost hope that the mother did it because they can’t imagine how awful for her it would be if she hadn’t.

    I would like to help so if you could add me to your email list that would be great. Sally

    1. u make an interesting statement sally – the idea being that 1 in 1 trillion (which , you are correct, that figure was made up & not actual, the ACTUAL incidence is much much lower) that you had 4 children dieing from natural circumstances – now, to all the ppl who have their mind made up – just say that IS true, to have that happen, be living with all that grief, & then be put in gaol… surely with that thought in mind & this books new look at the case, kathy deserves just that – a new look, & with the advantage of almost 10 years of medical advances, etc…

      1. I’ve just been reading Judge Coldrey’s 24/10/07 comments at, when Coldrey effectively threw out the case prosecuting Melbourne mum Carol Matthey before her cancelled trial in 2007.

        Matthey is free now. I found that the parallels with the basic facts of what happened in the Folbigg case are incredible, except for the different legal outcomes. Four Matthey children died of SIDs and/or natural causes. By late 2007, Melbourne law was up to the task which Sydney law stuffed up a few years earlier.

        Four of Carol Matthey’s young children died of natural causes between December 1998 and 9 April 2003.
        Then May 2003 was when Folbigg’s prosecutor said at the Folbigg trial: “”lightning does not strike on the same place four times …. there has never, ever been before in the history of medicine … any case like this. It is preposterous. It is not a reasonable doubt. It is a fantasy.”

        Something that had just happened in Victoria is a “fantasy” in NSW?

        Folbigg lost two appeals in 2005 and on 16 May 2007. If Coldrey’s 24/10/07 comments had preceded either appeal, I think there was some chance of reason, reality and evidence replacing suspicion and errant opinion in her legal case. Having lost two appeals, she entered legal limbo where one can no longer appeal. I think she was a victim of unfortunate legal timing.

      2. My reading of the situation is that, as the appeal process has been exhausted, the only hope of having the case looked at is if the NSW Attorney-General recommends it. And I imagine that that would take either new compelling evidence or public support for such a reexamination.

    1. Alana – would you be able to pass on my email address to Peter – i would like to contact him directly. Many thanks

  11. Has anyone started an online petition for Katleen to put pressure on the government to have a new look at her case?

      1. There is no doubt about it. A petition, a facebook group and a twitter account. She needs all the help she can get. And in this day and age, word about this injustice should be got out. I agree about the diaries maybe making people think twice, but christ some ot the things I have scrimbled on paper in anger or depression or whatever could have been construed to mean the most awful things. They, in my opinion should not have been the basis of the case against her. Those diaries and the wrong, (now proved to be) medical expert opinions buried her. Let’s unbury her. And quick.

  12. I have started following (& backreading) this since signing up and, although I’m not ‘social media’ savvy enough to start one, I certainly would be more than happy to sign one.

      1. I have read the book and have a few comments to make but its probably best in a closed forum – so if you were able to set up a list Alana that would be great. I imagine just a list of people’s emails would be fine to start with. To garner signatures we’d need a website but i’m sure that can be managed pretty easily. The Jeff Gilham one is simple, but pretty effective I would think.

      2. A word press site is easy peasy to set up and apart from the domain name and hosting, I would suggest hostgator, does not cost much.



    ASIN: B008R3M4E2

    This is a new book out today published on Amazon. The last chapter is dedicated to Kathleen Folbigg and details in layman’s language, why her conviction was wrong, and the injustice of her appeals. It also says that if Kathleen had been tried in the UK she would be a free woman today.
    This book is easily affordable for anyone. If you want Kathleen freed, get your friends to buy it. Spread the word on facebook etc
    She also has a poll where you can vote if you believe Kathleen should have a re-trial.

    1. Thanks Sam, I’m waiting for delivery of Murder, Medicine & Motherhood and I’ll have to order this one as well. The more I research, the more I’m finding out just how much of an injustice was done to Kathleen. Count me in if there is anything we can do.

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