A foren­sic psy­chi­a­trist re­veals his most disturbing case

The Weekend Australian - Magazine - - CONTENTS - Don­ald Grant was the first state di­rec­tor of foren­sic psy­chi­a­try in Queens­land and sat on the Men­tal Health Court for five years. Edited ex­tract from Killer In­stinct: Hav­ing a Mind for Mur­der by Don­ald Grant (MUP, $34), out May 28.

Early in 2011, 36-year-old ­Toowoomba res­i­dent Melissa Englart de­cided that she had to kill her hus­band, Scott. Levi had asked her to do so, and she didn’t want to dis­ap­point him. She loved Levi com­pletely and knew she could trust him with her life. He was not phys­i­cally present at that mo­ment, but he sent thoughts into her mind as­sur­ing her that he would deal with the sit­u­a­tion. Thoughts of her fu­ture life with Levi and her four chil­dren swamped Melissa’s imag­i­na­tion. She pic­tured the pretty farm­house where they would make their fu­ture to­gether. Of course, she still had to work out how to do it. It wasn’t as if she had any ex­pe­ri­ence in such mat­ters. But she tossed up a few al­ter­na­tives and soon de­cided on a plan.

Two weeks ear­lier Melissa had told Scott, 33, to leave the fam­ily home, and he was now liv­ing with his par­ents. He hadn’t worked for two years be­cause of his bad back and had time on his hands, so Melissa rang him and asked him to come around the next morn­ing, a Tues­day, to babysit the two youngest chil­dren, aged four and one, while she took the older two (aged seven and six) to school and did some shop­ping. They would also have a chance to talk about the sale of their house.

As soon as Scott ar­rived, Melissa left to do the school drop-off; she was shop­ping when she re­ceived an­other men­tal mes­sage from Levi ­ask­ing her to kill Scott. At Sub­way, she bought two meat­ball sand­wiches be­fore re­turn­ing home. Ear­lier that morn­ing she had crushed up some of Scott’s painkillers, and now she put the pow­der into his sand­wich be­fore giv­ing it to him. Af­ter a cou­ple of ­mouth­fuls he made a face and said, “This doesn’t taste good. Are you try­ing to poi­son me?” Then he laughed, and she laughed too.

Melissa had to quickly come up with an­other plan. She asked Scott to stay a bit longer, sug­gest­ing they have a bar­be­cue. The two younger ­chil­dren were in the lounge room watch­ing ­car­toons and Scott was sit­ting on a stool at the kitchen bench while Melissa was get­ting things ready for the bar­be­cue. She passed him a carv­ing knife and some sharp­en­ing steel and asked him to hone the blade. When he’d fin­ished, she sharp­ened the knife some more and sug­gested Scott sit at the dining ta­ble. She started mas­sag­ing his head and shoul­ders, try­ing to get him to re­lax by ­mak­ing him think they might have sex. Scott said, “Do you want to get onto the bed?”

It was at that mo­ment Melissa picked up the carv­ing knife and sliced Scott’s neck from left to right. She had killed sheep in the past and knew what it took to cut a throat. Things now hap­pened very fast. Scott was down on the floor on all fours, mak­ing a gasp­ing noise. He’d some­how man­aged to get his hands on the knife, but af­ter a brief strug­gle Melissa re­gained it. Scott didn’t seem to be dy­ing quickly enough, so she pulled his head back by his hair and hacked into the side of his neck.

She con­tin­ued to hold his head off the floor to en­cour­age the bleed­ing, un­til fi­nally he was dead.

Melissa slowly be­came aware that their four‑year-old son had come around the cor­ner of the kitchen bench and was stand­ing there, ­star­ing, not say­ing any­thing. She told him to go back to the lounge room and watch TV. There was blood ev­ery­where, and Melissa wasn’t sure what to do next. She went into the bath­room, re­moved her clothes and put them into a plas­tic bag, and had a shower, scrub­bing the blood from her body. She felt shocked, in a bit of a trance, but she had to get busy. She took Scott’s car keys, grabbed his body by the legs and dragged him out of the house to the car­port, where, with a lot of ef­fort, she heaved him into the boot of his car. She cleaned up the mess in the house and then put the chil­dren into her hus­band’s car, and set out to dump his body.

At this point, she re­ceived an­other men­tal ­mes­sage from Levi, telling her to drive to the farm where they would live their fu­ture life to­gether, a lovely acreage in the Great Di­vid­ing Range 20km out­side Toowoomba. When she got to the farm she stopped the car half­way up the drive­way, told the chil­dren to stay in­side, then got out and dumped Scott’s body un­der a lan­tana bush. Then she went to col­lect her older chil­dren from school. Run­ning a bit late, she was thank­ing an­other mum who had stayed be­hind to mind them when her four-year-old sud­denly piped up: “Mummy killed Daddy.” Melissa was stunned, and there was an awk­ward mo­ment be­fore she laughed and said, “Oh, kids and their imag­i­na­tion!”

That evening, she was bathing the kids when Scott’s mother rang, ask­ing where he was. Melissa said she didn’t know, that she hadn’t seen him since that morn­ing. At 7am the fol­low­ing day, the po­lice ar­rived. They saw that Scott’s car was there, and when they looked in­side they found his wal­let. Melissa said she had no idea where he could be.

Af­ter the po­lice had left, Scott’s par­ents and his sis­ter came to the house. Melissa then re­ceived fur­ther in­struc­tions from Levi: he told her to tell them the truth. When Melissa walked up to the gate, Scott’s fa­ther said, “You must know some­thing.” She replied, “I’ve killed him. OK? Now f..k off !”

While Scott’s par­ents called the po­lice, Melissa put all four chil­dren into her car and drove off to­wards the farm where she’d dumped Scott’s body. Levi had spo­ken to her some more and she’d de­cided she should show the chil­dren their fa­ther’s body. That would rid them of the demons she’d come to be­lieve were in­side their bod­ies. When they ar­rived at the lan­tana bush, she got the kids out of the car and made them stand be­side Scott. Melissa said sim­ply, “Look.” The chil­dren just stared at their fa­ther’s body, si­lent, ex­cept for the seven-year-old, who said, “Oh no!”

Af­ter a minute or two, Melissa walked the chil­dren up to the farm­house. She told them this was going to be their new home. It was then that Levi told Melissa she had to sac­ri­fice the chil‑ dren, “like Abra­ham and Isaac”. She was con‑ fused. She walked the chil­dren down to a dam be­hind some trees but felt un­able to harm them, de­cid­ing in­stead to leave them there so Levi could de­cide what to do with them – al­though some­where in the back of her mind she had the idea that they would be OK.

Melissa drove home, stop­ping four times along the way to dry-retch. She ar­rived to find the po­lice wait­ing for her. They ur­gently wanted to know where the chil­dren were and Melissa told them she’d left them at a dam; the hot, tired and ­dis­tressed chil­dren were even­tu­ally found there.

Af­ter in­ter­view­ing Melissa, po­lice charged her with mur­der, plus three counts of en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren by ex­po­sure – re­lat­ing to the three youngest – and one count of leav­ing a child un­der 12 unat­tended. Dur­ing the in­ter­view, Melissa re­ferred to the chil­dren as “the spawn of Satan”. I was asked to as­sess Melissa about seven months af­ter the of­fence. When I ar­rived, she was sit­ting in a court­yard wear­ing a yel­low ­sun­hat and read­ing a book. She was slim, with a freck­led face and auburn hair. Dur­ing the in­ter‑ view she was friendly and co­op­er­a­tive. She told me that up un­til two years be­fore Scott’s death, she’d worked as an en­rolled nurse at the Bail­lie Henderson Hospi­tal – a psy­chi­atric fa­cil­ity – in Toowoomba. She’d left that job when she was ex­pect­ing her youngest, but had then en­rolled to do stud­ies to com­plete a Bach­e­lor of Nurs­ing. She’d had to sus­pend those stud­ies about a month be­fore the killing be­cause she wasn’t able to con­cen­trate and wasn’t cop­ing.

When I asked Melissa to tell me what she could re­mem­ber of the pe­riod lead­ing up to Scott’s death, she said she thought things were fairly ­nor­mal un­til about six months be­fore­hand. She re­called that she’d started to spend hours surf­ing the in­ter­net, looking at con­spir­acy sites, and had be­come para­noid about “Lu­cife­ri­ans” (devil wor­ship­pers). She’d also de­vel­oped some strange ideas about vac­cines; she’d come to be­lieve “they” were killing peo­ple through vac‑ cines in an at­tempt to de­pop­u­late the planet. When I asked who “they” were, she in­di­cated “the rich elites who were per­se­cut­ing Chris­tians”. She re­garded those peo­ple and their aims as “the New World Or­der”, and had be­come con­vinced they were com­ing to get her and her chil­dren. She’d then started to be­lieve her com­puter, car and house were all bugged.

Melissa had talked to Scott about these fears, and she thought that al­though he was ini­tially scep­ti­cal he’d started to be­lieve her a lit­tle. How‑ ever, she didn’t tell Scott about her be­lief that she had spe­cial pow­ers, in­clud­ing the abil­ity to cast out demons. She thought she was a prophet or some­thing sim­i­lar. These ideas be­came ex­tremely in­tense in the fort­night be­fore Scott’s killing, which is when Melissa started hav­ing an au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tion that she iden­ti­fied as “Levi’s voice”.

Levi – the real Levi – was an evan­ge­list who worked with a lo­cal Pen­te­costal church with which Melissa and Scott had be­come af­fil­i­ated. Some years ear­lier, the cou­ple had been hav­ing mar­i­tal prob­lems and Levi had come to their house to coun­sel them. Melissa came to like Levi

very much; she found him warm and good-looking. As she be­came more para­noid in the months be­fore the mur­der, she sent him a mes­sage say­ing that she loved him, and al­ways had. In re­sponse, Levi blocked her on Face­book and there was no fur­ther com­mu­ni­ca­tion, ei­ther di­rect or indi­rect, un­til she started hear­ing his voice in her head.

This voice started urg­ing Melissa to sep­a­rate from Scott, which she did two weeks be­fore the killing. She talked back to Levi in her head, as if he was stand­ing next to her. How­ever, Melissa made no at­tempt to con­tact Levi in re­al­ity – she didn’t need to, not with all the con­ver­sa­tions she was hav­ing with him in her mind. She con­tin­ued to hear Levi’s voice af­ter she’d been ar­rested and locked up in the Bris­bane watch-house.

Melissa was trans­ferred to prison and seen by a psy­chi­a­trist. Her thoughts were dis­or­gan­ised and of­ten went off at tan­gents. She ex­pressed a whole range of re­li­gious, spir­i­tual and per­se­cu­tory ­delu­sions. The psy­chi­a­trist could see that she was out of touch with re­al­ity and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a range of psy­chotic symp­toms, in­clud­ing com­mand au­di­tory hal­lu­ci­na­tions, delu­sions, thought dis­or­der, and pas­siv­ity phe­nom­ena – the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing con­trolled from out­side one’s own body and mind. Her wildly vari­able emo­tional state was also typ­i­cal of acute psy­chosis. Melissa had no in­sight into her own state and for two days re­fused to take any med­i­ca­tion to help ­con­trol her psy­chosis and ­set­tle her emotions.

Melissa had never be­fore shown any hint of vi­o­lent be­hav­iour, but her mother had noted some par­tic­u­larly un­usual ideas and be­hav­iour in the weeks lead­ing up to Scott’s killing. Melissa had got rid of her chick­ens, claim­ing they’d been fed too many hor­mones (which was not true). She also got rid of her dog for un­known rea­sons, done the same with her favourite horse’s sad­dle and bri­dle, and talked about hav­ing to stock­pile baked beans for hard times.

She’d be­come pre­oc­cu­pied with re­li­gious ideas and ob­sessed with the in­ter­net, and slowly with­drew from her friends. She talked about home-school­ing her chil­dren, be­came very con­cerned about vac­ci­na­tions and food tam­per­ing, and had some weird idea about Mus­lims joining the Pope. Her gen­eral prac­ti­tioner said Melissa’s psy­chotic ill­ness “came out of the blue”; yet the GP, along with one sis­ter and Melissa her­self, were able to throw light upon a very rel­e­vant his­tory of men­tal ill­ness in Melissa’s fam­ily.

Her ma­ter­nal grand­mother had suf­fered from post­na­tal de­pres­sion and some ma­ter­nal aunts had also suf­fered from de­pres­sion and been on an­tide­pres­sants. But it was Melissa’s mother who’d been most se­verely af­fected. At age 36, the same age at which Melissa had be­come ill, the mother had been di­ag­nosed with ei­ther bipo­lar af­fec­tive dis­or­der (pre­vi­ously called manic de­pres­sive ­psy­chosis) or schizo-af­fec­tive dis­or­der (with fea­tures of both bipo­lar dis­or­der and ­schizophre­nia). She had a number of episodes of ill­ness, man­i­fest­ing in bizarre ideas and dis­turbed be­hav­iour. Within two weeks of Melissa be­ing treated in prison, she stopped hear­ing Levi’s voice and her delu­sional be­liefs started to dis­ap­pear. With this came the re­al­i­sa­tion of what she’d done.

She felt a huge sense of shock and dis­be­lief. Even seven months af­ter her ar­rest, when I saw her, she still found it hard to be­lieve what had hap­pened. The fad­ing of the psy­chosis was re­placed by de­pres­sion, tear­ful­ness, and a feel­ing that ev­ery­thing was get­ting on top of her. She told me that she would never re­cover from the shock of what she’d done dur­ing the deep­est throes of her ill­ness. Her ac­tions had greatly ­trau­ma­tised her own fam­ily and Scott’s, and left her sep­a­rated from her chil­dren, with great un­cer­tainty as to whether she’d ever be able to have a mean­ing­ful re­la­tion­ship with them again.

At the time I as­sessed her, Melissa was hav­ing weekly vis­its from mem­bers of her fam­ily. It was clear that all these peo­ple loved and ap­pre­ci­ated the woman she had been be­fore and af­ter the tragic episode of ill­ness that had taken her ­hus­band’s life and shat­tered her fam­ily. Melissa’s chil­dren were in the care of Scott’s fam­ily. Melissa had been al­lowed to send them, via her fam­ily, presents and also mes­sages in which she told them how much she loved them.

It was grat­i­fy­ing to see how com­plete a ­re­cov­ery Melissa had made with treat­ment. ­Get­ting con­trol of the symp­toms had been ­rel­a­tively straight­for­ward in her case; in other words, her ill­ness was in re­mis­sion, fully ­con­trolled, be­cause of her treat­ment reg­i­men. She was found to have been un­sound of mind at the time of the of­fences un­der the Men­tal Health Act. As such, she would be de­tained with no im­me­di­ate leave. Her progress to grad­u­ated leave and an even­tual re­turn to com­mu­nity treat­ment would be de­pen­dent upon the treat­ing psy­chi­a­trist’s ad­vice.

With­out the ill­ness, this mur­der would never have oc­curred. It was a clas­sic il­lus­tra­tion of the power of a psy­chotic ill­ness to com­pletely sub­vert the nor­mal func­tion of the mind and re­sult in be­hav­iour that is out of char­ac­ter and un­pre­dictable. Melissa re­sponded to delu­sional re­al­ity as if it were true. Her nor­mal good judg­ment was de­stroyed by her ill­ness.

Was Scott’s death pre­ventable? Prob­a­bly not, even with the great­est fore­sight. Given her ­fam­ily’s his­tory of men­tal ill­ness, it is pos­si­ble that ­Melissa’s ill­ness could have been treated sooner, and that might have pre­vented the fi­nal out­come. But that would have re­quired a de­gree of in­sight that Melissa had lost very early in the process, and she would not have co­op­er­ated. And her ­pre­vi­ous high level of func­tion would have meant it was hard for those around her to take too ­se­ri­ously the early signs of de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.

It is easy to look back with the wisdom of hind­sight and say some­thing should have been done. It is a lot harder to pre­dict a dis­as­ter when you are in the midst of the events that come be­fore it.

It il­lus­trates the power of a psy­chotic ill­ness to com­pletely sub­vert the nor­mal func­tion of the mind In­sights: Dr Don­ald Grant

Clos­ing in: a de­tec­tive ap­proaches Melissa

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