What Makes a Man Do It?

Feb 26 2012

Kate Kyriacou's excellent article in the Brisbane Advertiser, February 24, 2012 tries to make some sense of the ultimate act of revenge.


IT was dark outside when Danielle Lees woke and reached for her mobile phone.

It had only been hours since she last saw him, but something made her dial her husband to see if everything was OK.

By the time the call connected with Jason Lees' mobile, both he and their son, Brad, were already dead.

Danielle, a psychiatrist, had been staying with her parents on the Gold Coast.

Neighbours say the couple appeared to have separated, but Jason, a former international rugby union referee and respected teacher at Brisbane's prestigious Churchie school, drove out on Sunday to meet her for lunch. He left again for home in the afternoon, taking Brad with him - the two-year-old was a regular attendee at his school's kindergarten.

It was about 2am when Jason strapped Brad into the car, loaded his bike and drove from their Seven Hills Queenslander to Kangaroo Point in the city's east.
There was time to change his mind as he took the child from the car, secured him to the little seat attached to his mountain bike and rode on to the Story Bridge. Time again to turn around as he emptied his pockets and placed his phone and possessions on the footpath.
Instead, he gathered his son in his arms and leapt over the side.
Craig Cooper, sitting on his balcony, heard a scream and saw something fall from the bridge.
It's a scream he has heard over and over.
Another witness was walking home from a night at the pub when he saw Jason leap over the ledge, killing his child in the same moment that he took his own life.
Police found the 40-year-old and his little boy where they landed on the lawn of Captain Burke Park.
A crime scene was established and investigators frantically tried to contact Jason's family in Canada to break the horrible news.
Back in Seven Hills in suburban Brisbane, the Lees house stands as a sad monument to the smiling little blond boy, with a child's play pool in the garden and a tiny chair and table by the front door that still holds crayons and drawings of spiders and sunshine.
Neighbour Marlene Stephens remembers waking in the early hours of Sunday morning to the sound of doors opening and closing at the Lees' house. She thought maybe Jason was leaving to catch an early flight out of Brisbane airport. Now she knows the noises she heard were that of a father readying himself to commit an unspeakable act.
Not all was fine at home, Ms Stephens says, recalling the day she saw Jason sitting on the back steps in tears, his little boy trying to comfort him.
"I remember the little boy came down and wrapped his arms around him - I'm always going to remember that image," she says. "I wish he had told someone, confided in his own dad."
Within hours of their deaths, Daniell's Facebook page shut down. She visited the neighbours and asked them to respect her privacy.
As the details of her husband's terrible crime emerged, those who knew him defended him.
Churchie principal Jonathan Hensman paid tribute to the Year 6 teacher and accomplished sporting coach.
"It's not the sort of thing you expect to come to school with on a Monday morning, so it has been difficult for our school community to handle this," he says.
In the shadows of the giant bridge where Jason jumped to his death and killed his son, friends have left flowers and cards.
Jason's family in Canada is struggling to understand how their much-loved brother and son could do something so terrible.
One family member asked the public to consider that while his actions were "inexcusable", there was a part of it that people "might understand".
Debbie Kirkwood, a researcher from Domestic Violence Resource Centre Victoria, has written a paper on parents who kill their children in the context of a relationship breakdown.
She says she began the research after the murder of four-year-old Darcey Freeman, whose father threw her from Melbourne's West Gate Bridge during a custody battle.
"What we've found is that there are gender differences," she says.
"With mothers, often their primary motive is suicide because they are having difficulties providing for their children after separation and they feel they can't cope and that there is nobody else to care for the children.
"They are often also concerned about the impact of their suicide on the children.
"With men, it is not so common for them to be the primary carers of children after separation, so the cases we looked at involved many where revenge appeared to be the motive."
Dr Kirkwood says in many cases, the father had never been violent or abusive towards the child before killing them.
"It's often not about the child," she says. "A lot of the research shows that in some instances, parents are just not able to accept the separation and they are angry about it.
"The thing we need to remember is that if people are separating and having difficulty coping, there is help out there."
For Dionne Fehring, this week's tragedy was yet another reminder of the horror she endured when police broke the news that her children Jessie, 19 months, and Patrick, 12 weeks, had been murdered by her estranged husband during a custody battle.
Ms Fehring says the pain Danielle would be suffering brought her own pain to the surface.
"That woman is obviously going to be tortured with this for the rest of her life," she says.

"She'll be thinking `if only I hadn't said that, or done this, if only I'd done something different'. That's what I went through when my kids died, but at the end of the day it's just a terrible, terrible crime."
Bond University forensic clinical psychologist Dr Bruce Watt says "filicide" - or the act of killing your own child - is extremely rare.
He says an average of 25 children are killed by their parents each year in Australia.
"What we do know from studies around parents who kill their own children is that there are often higher rates of mental health disorder, including depression, and higher rates of marital discord, which can include separation and divorce as a precursor," Watt says.
"There is often a feeling of isolation and a lack of support by the perpetrator and sometimes there are motives around revenge and jealousy."
Dr Watt says it is important to ask people if they are OK during relationship breakdowns and to take any mention of suicide or harm towards children seriously.
"There have been cases where people have vocalised those thoughts and they weren't taken seriously," he says. "It's very tragic when that occurs."