Innocents betrayed by a mum
May 23, 2008 12:00am
"DEAR Mum, I love you because your funny, your butifull and I like you the way you are . . . and the great things you do."
Like most nine-year-olds, Matthew Fitchett adored his mother.
On September 5, 2006, he wrote the innocent note that was left on his parents' bedside table near a photo of him with his big brother Thomas.
A day later, Matthew struggled as the woman he loved more than any other — the one who was supposed to protect him — murdered him.
Unlike Matthew, 11-year-old Thomas didn't struggle when his mother used a sock to strangle him.
A qualified nurse, Donna Fitchett first plied the boys with a cocktail of drugs about 10am, telling them they were going on an exciting trip and they needed to take some travel medication.
But Matthew had begun to wake by the time she got to him and he struggled against her as she suffocated him — with Fitchett taking a break only to put the family rottweiler Gemma outside when it tried to stop her.
Once they were dead, she cleaned and changed the boys "so nobody would think they weren't well looked after".
It's hard to know how she filled in the rest of her day. She says she never planned to be still alive when her husband arrived home about 6.30pm.
When David Fitchett walked in the door, the house was dark and his wife was in her bra and underpants. She staggered around and was unsteady on her feet, continuously dropping and picking up some A4 sheets of paper.
Mr Fitchett tried to help her
but she kept telling him to leave her alone. She told him the children were at a friend's place and asked him to ring her sister "because I need to know they're OK".
"She walked up the hallway and I just heard this loud crash and I thought she's fallen over, something has gone wrong. So I've walked up the hallway to find her having fallen into the table just inside the bedroom door," Mr Fitchett said.
He went to help her, turning on the bedroom light only to find Thomas lying "as white as a sheet" on the bed.
"I think my wife killed my children," Mr Fitchett told a triple-0 operator in a frantic call moments later.
Later Donna Fitchett told emergency services workers who tried to treat her self-inflicted wounds that her husband had come home too early. "Just leave me alone. Why can't you just let me die? I don't want to go to hospital, I killed my boys," she said.
Donna Fitchett suffered post-natal depression with both her sons and had been taking anti-depressant Zoloft for four years. She had been seeing psychologist Patra Antonis for 15 months for marital difficulties.
Two weeks before murdering her children, Fitchett had a phone consultation with her psychologist because one of the boys had stolen strawberries meant for a family meal.
"Donna was very distressed about what that may have meant for the family, that the child would do this and deprive the others, that is, the not sharing of the strawberries with the remainder of the family," Ms Antonis said.
Donna Fitchett had firm views on parenting. She read books such as Parenting from the Inside Out and believed people were products of the parenting they received.
One of her sisters, Susan Buckley, described her as a loving, kind and compassionate mother who did everything for her boys.
"She went everywhere with them, taught them everything. She rarely let them out of her sight," Ms Buckley said.
But Fitchett believed her husband didn't love the children and even had a falling out with another of her sisters, Louise Mitchell, over her views on parenting skills.
"(T)here was an incident where a friend of mine, a male friend who was a single parent, had allowed his children to sort out a fight, a physical fight, and I said well, he allowed that to happen because he thought that boys will be boys and they will sort that out," Ms Mitchell said.
"She said that that was child abuse and that it should be reported — and this man was a very loving father — but in her eyes it was child abuse and she said that I needed counselling and I was angry," Ms Mitchell said.
"We sort of had a very big argument and she was very irrational."
At the time, Fitchett was reading books on personalities, conspiracies, myths and legends. The day before the murders, she told Louise that the Howard government had put Martin Bryant up to the Port Arthur massacre and that a former BHP employee killed Harold Holt.
She was "just a shattered mess of a person that I knew", Ms Mitchell said.
Fitchett had told her husband on the Friday before the murder that, after 12 years of marriage she was leaving him and taking the boys with her.
She told him he was a passive-aggressive person, he was not communicating with her in the way she needed him to, he couldn't care for the children and she just couldn't live with him any more.
In his evidence, Mr Fitchett recalled that on the Saturday night she told him: "The boys are really looking forward to Father's Day and you'd better make sure you enjoy it because it's the last one that you'll have with them."
Ms Fitchett was busy that weekend as she went on a cleaning frenzy. She filled five garbage bags with the boys' clothes. She blacked out the faces of her parents and father-in-law in a photo and gave away a coin box and jewellery.
Their marriage certificate was later found sitting on a garbage bag on the back veranda of the family's Balwyn North home.
Mr Fitchett, meanwhile, took the boys bowling for Father's Day. They had a terrific time. By that time, Donna Fitchett claims something snapped.
Dr Deborah Leach said: "She described wanting to keep her children safe from abuse and pain and she was not able to protect them."
Donna Fitchett kept Thomas and Matthew home from school on the Monday. That night — the night before she murdered them — she visited her sister, Louise Mitchell.
Donna Fitchett was upset because Thomas had decided that if his parents separated he wanted to stay with Daddy.
At 5.37am the next day, Donna Fitchett was up and on the computer, sending an email to two of her sisters, Susan Buckley and Maree Ryan.
"My darling Maree," she wrote at 5.45am."I'm sorry I won't be joining you for Christmas this year, I'll be there in spirit."
Prosecutors say it was hours after Matthew and Thomas were dead that Donna Fitchett took Rohypnol, and it wasn't until Mr Fitchett got home that she slashed at her wrists.
It was, the prosecution said, premeditated and planned to the most minute detail. She had clearly been making preparations since the Friday.
What must she have thought when Matthew gave her that childlike note of love?
Whatever she thought, when David Fitchett discovered his sons were dead, it still sat on the bedside table just near Thomas's body — a piece of paper engraved forever with her callousness.