Killings put mental health services in dock
The Waterlow Killings: A Portrait of a Family Tragedy A Double Spring: A Year of Tragedy, Grief and Love
By Pamela Burton Victory Books, 272pp, $29.95 By Juliet Darling Allen & Unwin, 224pp, $24.99
IMAGINE you’ve given in to feelings of violent rage for much of your life. Dark moods have exploded into psychotic episodes. You’re good-looking, in line for a family baronetcy and have always had access to money, creative minds and connected people. And yet you’re a paranoid schizophrenic and the voices in your head won’t let up.
At a family gathering on November 9, 2009, you feel compelled to grab a carving knife and stab your father — art curator Nick Waterlow — and your married sister Chloe, injuring a toddler niece in the frenzy. There’s blood everywhere. Even as you attack your father, he insists he loves you. What do you do next?
According to the reconstruction of events in Pamela Burton’s The Waterlow Killings, Antony Waterlow just walked up the street from his sister’s house in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, his black T-shirt coated in blood. When the 42-year-old noticed a motorist staring, he mimed making a phone call.
Waterlow quickened his pace and ducked into a familiar park. For the next two weeks he hid in a garage at the back of a residential property, eating preserved peppers and onions that he found in storage and urinating into a plastic bag. Meanwhile, a police manhunt was under way with at least 80 false sightings.
When Waterlow emerged, he headed for a nearby ATM, withdrew $600 from accrued Centrelink payments and caught a taxi to Colo Heights, about 90km northwest of Sydney. The driver was pleased to have such an expensive fare. Shortly before he was dropped off, Waterlow asked to stop at a service station to buy water and supplies. He continued on and made a shelter in the bush behind a vacant lot.
Two days later he walked back to the service station for more supplies and bought a pair of sunglasses. A local resident recognised him from the news and police were alerted.
After an attempt to evade arrest, Waterlow threatened to self-harm with a steak knife. The officers calmed him down and he asked about the ‘‘ situation’’ of his father and sister. Eighteen months later, Waterlow was found not guilty of murder due to mental illness. The wounds to his niece were deemed reckless rather than malicious; she was caught in the crossfire. Burton writes: The tragedy is that before Antony killed, his treating psychiatrists were not convinced he had schizophrenia or posed an unacceptable danger to others. Those who examined him afterwards had no doubt.
Waterlow knew how to present well under examination and consistently refused antipsychotic medication. He couldn’t be forced to take it without being scheduled into supervised care. Even increasingly urgent appeals from family and friends with evidence of violent behaviour and death threats did not persuade the doctors to recommend scheduling.
There would have been few places to put him. The mental health system has long been deinstitutionalised, with asylums shut down and the management of patient care handed back to families and the community, without sufficient support mechanisms. There’s a chronic shortage of secure beds. Even low-rent boarding houses largely have disappeared, some redeployed more profitably as backpacker hostels.
Burton, a former barrister, highlights how an inadequate mental health system failed to prevent a family tragedy. She also unravels the peculiarities of the criminal justice system when dealing with insanity pleas. The Waterlow Killings is a well-researched account of once-charmed lives turned shockingly sour.
The family seemed to have it all. Nick Waterlow was a leader in his profession and the children — Antony, Luke and Chloe — grew up with every advantage. Their mother was Rosemary ‘‘ Romy’’ O’Brien, a vivacious beneficiary of the Breville appliances fortune. A year after she died of cancer in 1998, Nick Waterlow met and fell in love with artist Juliet Darling. Antony, Luke and Chloe, now adults, didn’t welcome the new relationship.
Darling’s A Double Spring is an elegy to a great love ripped from her grasp, a grief memoir with moments of ineffable sadness. She tells her version of events, honouring the union of mind and body she shared with Waterlow for more than a decade.
Darling displays a sharp eye for description,