MUR­DER MOST FOUL

Was re­li­gion the rea­son for the shock­ing way a “won­der­ful” farmer mur­dered his fam­ily? Paul Toohey in­ves­ti­gates

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS -

Could re­li­gious fa­nati­cism be the root cause of the bru­tal mur­der of an en­tire fam­ily

PETER Miles was by all ac­counts not a man of re­li­gion — even if the way he ended seven lives, in­clud­ing his own, car­ried some of the hall­marks of cult-driven evil.

In the com­mu­nity of Mar­garet River, three hours south of Perth, those who knew Miles, 61, call him a “won­der­ful” man.

But how does a won­der­ful man mur­der his wife, his daugh­ter and his four grand­chil­dren?

Did Miles plan to send his fam­ily to a peace­ful af­ter­life des­ti­na­tion? Or did he break down, find­ing this ma­te­rial plane too painful to en­dure? Did he think he was do­ing them a favour?

The mo­tive be­hind the mur­ders on the 12ha hill­side prop­erty on Os­ming­ton Rd, a 20-minute drive from Mar­garet River, is known only to po­lice — if they know it at all.

“I’m an­gry at the sug­ges­tions Peter was mad,” one of Miles’ neigh­bours said. “That’s why I won’t talk to the me­dia.”

The me­dia has not called Miles “mad”; rather, the re­straint is ex­tra­or­di­nary, given the mag­ni­tude of the atrocity — one of Aus­tralia’s worst mas­sacres. The me­dia ex­er­cised sim­i­lar re­straint in 2014, when Raina Thai­day’s sud­den-on­set psy­chosis caused her to stab to death seven of her chil­dren and a cousin in their Cairns’ home. In the name of God.

Po­lice Com­mis­sioner Chris Daw­son lis­tened to Miles’ two-minute good­bye mes­sage to triple-0, made at around 5am on May 11, just be­fore he took his own life. He has cho­sen not make the de­tails public. How­ever, two com­ments by Daw­son stand out: one was that no other party was in­volved and, sec­ond, that po­lice may never un­der­stand why.

Miles, a reg­is­tered gun owner, some­how man­aged to ex­e­cute his daugh­ter Ka­t­rina, 35, and his grand­chil­dren Taye, 13, Ry­lan, 12, Ayre, 10, and Kay­den, 8, as they slept in their beds in an out­house; and his wife, Cynda, 58, in the main home.

It was the deep­est part of night but the fact the kids were sup­pos­edly found “peace­fully” in their beds, it was as though they had been drugged — or Miles had moved with pur­pose­ful and bru­tal ef­fi­ciency.

The com­mon ex­pla­na­tion is that Miles was tak­ing a course of an­tide­pres­sants that did not suit him and his mind had be­gun mis­fir­ing. It’s the an­swer most peo­ple pre­fer: it blames an ex­ter­nal cause rather than the man him­self.

It has been re­ported that the day be­fore the killings, Miles’

wife, Cynda, sent a Face- book mes­sage to a friend say­ing his con­di­tion was get­ting “worse and worse”.

One per­son who does not ac­cept this is Aaron Cock­man, Miles’ sonin-law, the father of the four chil­dren and ex-hus­band of Ka­t­rina. “He has thought this through,” Cock­man said. “He has not snapped.”

Miles had been a dairy farmer most of his life. In 2000, when dereg­u­la­tion hit the in­dus­try, he — like a lot of small-scale farm­ers — was forced off his farm south­east of Mar­garet River. He did not sell up, but leased his share to big­ger in­ter­ests. At the same time, he fell out with his older brother, Shirl, due to dis­agree­ments over the suc­ces­sion plan for the prop­erty — a prob­lem that de­stroys many farm­ing sib­lings. Peter and Cynda — her­self from a long­stand­ing south­east West­ern Aus­tralian farm­ing fam­ily — bought a house in Mar­garet River town­ship in 2001. They would soon be hit by grief when a son, Shawn, com­mit­ted sui­cide by gun­shot.

Ross Wood­house, a for­mer teacher and now one of the area’s big­gest dairy farm­ers, knew Miles all his life. For years they shared a fence and he’d taught Ka­t­rina (“lovely kid”) and Shawn. Wood­house said town life did not suit Miles. “I think his right place was on the farm. Dereg­u­la­tion didn’t help — it took the boy out of the bush.”

Miles taught agri­cul­ture at the lo­cal high school and was known to stu­dents as “Farmer Pete”. Cynda was a found­ing mem­ber of a lo­cal so­ci­ety ded­i­cated to grow­ing or­ganic pro­duce, be­liev­ing that good food could help her grand­chil­dren.

This was es­pe­cially im­por­tant to Cynda given that her daugh­ter Ka­t­rina’s four chil­dren were autis­tic. The older kids had some mi­nor early in­ter­ac­tion at the lo­cal school but due to their spe­cial cir­cum­stances, Ka­t­rina had be­gun to homeschool them from 2009.

Shel­ley Cullen, who knew Cynda through the or­ganic network, said the four chil­dren were “in­tel­li­gent and well-liked. They were much loved by Peter and Cynda. They wanted to feed them or­ganic food.

“They had some dif­fi­cul­ties at school and they were help­ing Ka­t­rina with the home­school­ing. They re­ally were beau­ti­ful and not no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent to other kids. But the school sys­tem they found hard — they were very sen­si­tive to sounds and stim­uli and it was felt they were bet­ter in a quiet en­vi­ron­ment.”

Miles nursed deep wor­ries.

Ac­cord­ing to Aaron Cock­man, his old­est son Ry­lan was not ex­pected to live beyond mid­dle-age. Miles had al­ready lost Shawn and now an­other son, Neil, was fac­ing re­nal fail­ure and needed a kid­ney trans­plant. Added to this, Ka­t­rina’s re­la­tion­ship with Cock­man had dis­in­te­grated. Miles had taken over re­spon­si­bil­ity as the main male fig­ure in the chil­dren’s life.

In late 2014, Miles ac­ti­vated the dream he shared with Cynda to get back to the land. He sold the farm for $1.35 mil­lion and put the Mar­garet River house on the mar­ket, which later sold for $560,000. They bought the Os­ming­ton Road prop­erty in De­cem­ber 2014 for $820,000 and quickly set about plant­ing fruit trees.

Friends dis­pute that Miles was de­lib­er­ately iso­lat­ing the fam­ily. They say he wanted the grand­kids to have peace — and to pro­vide an es­cape for Ka­t­rina. In Oc­to­ber 2014, just be­fore she moved out to the farm, Ka­t­rina posted a poem on Face­book, telling of the fear of hear­ing a car ar­riv­ing, of be­ing hit and hu­mil­i­ated in front of her chil­dren.

Aaron Cock­man re­ferred to his fam­ily-law trou­bles in his ex­tra­or­di­nary me­dia ap­pear­ance 48 hours af­ter the mas­sacre. He said he had never vis­ited the kids on the new farm. “I have had so much anger ever since I was cut off from my kids, so much anger,” he said. “That was due to Peter and Cynda mak­ing sure I was cut off from my kids.”

Ka­t­rina, mean­while, felt the farm was work­ing for the kids. She re­ported to a home­school­ing site that one of her sons, who had is­sues with fine-mo­tor co-or­di­na­tion and visual track­ing, was mak­ing “amaz­ing” progress. She said she was “just so proud of his achieve­ments”.

Cock­man said an in­de­pen­dent psy­chol­o­gist’s re­port had al­lowed a court or­der to be re­cently var­ied so he could see his kids again, un­der su­per­vi­sion; and he re­futed “ac­cu­sa­tions I was abu­sive and all that”.

The com­ments were both con­fus­ing and re­veal­ing — and caused a lot of con­jec­ture. Cock­man called Miles “an awe­some man” who be­fore the bit­ter­ness was “like my best friend”.

And there was this about Miles: “He didn’t snap, he knew what he was do­ing. He did it re­ally well. If some­one was go­ing to do it, I trust he did it right and he did it right.”

There was no sug­ges­tion of Cock­man’s in­volve­ment — Com­mis­sioner Daw­son had said: “I wish to strongly em­pha­sise po­lice do not be­lieve any other per­son is in­volved with th­ese crimes.”

Cock­man was raised by Je­ho­vah’s Wit­nesses and though not an ad­her­ent, he main­tained some of the be­liefs (lo­cal Wit­ness leader Ian Horner said Cock­man at­tended the lo­cal King­dom Hall only oc­ca­sion­ally and “Ka­t­rina had a look many years ago but took it no fur­ther”).

Faith might ex­plain why Cock­man came across as both in­con­solable yet ac­cept­ing of the deaths, which he didn’t see as deaths at all.

He said that “the kids went to sleep and now they are noth­ing. But to them they are al­ready in a new sys­tem.”

The New Sys­tem is a be­lief held by Wit­nesses that there will be an Ar­maged­don fol­lowed by a res­ur­rec­tion in which the good will rise from their tombs and live for­ever, while the bad will be judged and damned again.

Only the Wit­nesses will sur­vive the end-times an­ni­hi­la­tion (the date of which they have wrongly fore­told on sev­eral oc­ca­sions). Those who have al­ready left this life — such as the four Cock­man chil­dren — are asleep in an empti­ness with­out pain or plea­sure. They will, ac­cord­ing to the be­lief, live again.

Cock­man had such lim­ited con­tact with Miles in re­cent years, he was not in a po­si­tion to truly know what was go­ing through his mind. Of many ques­tions that re­main, you are left won­der­ing whether there was any fore­thought in the de­ci­sion to name this pretty lit­tle hill­side prop­erty “For­ever Dream­ing”.

Peter Miles. Foren­sic po­lice at the Mar­garet River farm­house. Pic­ture: Sharon Smith

The Miles fam­ily at the lo­cal agri­cul­ture show.

Ka­t­rina Miles and her four chil­dren Ry­lan, 12, Taye, 13, Ayre, 10, and Kay­den, 8. Aaron Cock­man at the funeral.

Aaron Cock­man (cen­tre) leaves the funeral of his chil­dren.

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