We live in the Sef Gonzales murder house
It was the site of one of the nation’s most famous homicides – but it’s home sweet home to this family writes AMELIA SAW
When the door opens to the impressive Sydney home in which student Sef Gonzales bloodily murdered three members of his family, there’s no hint of the sickening crime that shocked Australia.
The walls have been painted a perfect cream, the floor tiles are glossy, and the light, bright rooms have been furnished with an elegant mix of French provincial and contemporary Australian furniture.
It feels like a home. And it should – because it’s where Pat Olivo and her partner Jeremy Mumford have been living with Pat’s son Mitch Grant for the past 13 years.
The walls of this stately home in North Ryde were once witness to blood-curdling screams as Gonzales beat, stabbed and strangled his 18-year-old sister Clodine, mother Mary Loiva, 43, and father Teddy, 46, to death.
Yet today it once again plays host to family dinners and wine and cheese nights with friends, just like many other homes in the middle-class neighbourhood.
“This is my home. I get really annoyed when people ask me about what happened here because it happened before us,” says Pat, who bought the property with Jeremy in 2005, four years after the murders took place.
The family were told about the house’s shocking history before they bought it, but after much consideration they unanimously decided they wouldn’t let its history prevent them from buying their dream home.
“You get a feeling from a house, and it was a really good feeling from the very first time I stepped inside,” insists Jeremy, who works in construction.
It was also a great investment. According to Pat and Jeremy, they were able to purchase the large four-bedroom home for considerably cheaper than the price it would have reached if not for the murders.
Yet the home’s grisly history continues to capture the public’s imagination. True crime fanatics regularly drive past, hoping for an insight into the twisted mind of then 20-year-old Gonzales – a former altar boy so tortured by jealousy, sexual guilt and the high expectations of his devout Catholic parents that he ended their lives.
The Filipino immigrants had worked hard, building a profitable legal practice, and Gonzales hoped to inherit their $10 million estate. It’s understood he killed his sister Clodine to ensure she had no claim on the life of luxury he imagined for himself.
It was about 4pm on the ch chilly afternoon of July 10, 2001, whenwh Gonzales returned home. He armed himself with two knives and a baseball bat, and went upstairs to find Clodine, who was sitting in her room. It was a day after her 18th birthday.
Gonzales brutally murdered his sister then lay in wait for the next family member. At around 5.30pm Mary Loiva came home. Gonzales stabbed his mother multiple times before she died.
An hour passed before Teddy walked into the darkened house, briefcase in hand. Gonzales lunged at him once he entered, and a struggle ensued. However the loving father was no match for his son’s fury.
In a calculated attempt to make the murders look like a hate crime, Gonzales then spray painted the words “F*** off Asians” on the wall.
Pat and Mitch were living just streets away at the time. They remember hearing about the sickening crime, which shocked everyone in their seemingly safe, normal suburban neighbourhood.
A few years later, Pat and Jeremy were driving through the area when they noticed a For Sale sign out the front of the vacant property. “There was small print on it. It said, ‘This is the former home of the Gonzales family.’family. I think it did say they were murdered in the house,” recalls Jeremy.
The note of warning had been put on the sign after the house was bought by a Buddhist Taiwanese couple, who were not informed of its dark history.
When they read about what had happened in their new home in the newspaper, they demanded the agent refund their deposit. As a result, the law was changed in NSW to state agents must disclose any “material fact”, such as a crime or death, before they can sell a property.
However it wasn’t just the savagery of the way Gonzales killed his family that shocked the
‘It was a really good feeling from the very first time I stepped inside’
nation. It was the overwrought show of grief anda calculated lies he constructed in order to try to prove his innoce innocence that made him one of the them most haunting killers in modern history.h
With his family nown dead inside the hous house, Gonzales drove to his friend’s place, and together the boys visited restaurant Planet Hollywood and a video arcade.
He returned home at 11pm and called police in hysterics, saying he’d discovered the slain bodies of his family and claiming he’d chased off intruders.
He ran to neighbour John Caulfield’s home, wailing and recounting the horror of what he’d seen. When they re-entered the house, shocked John watched as Gonzales threw himself over the bodies of his parents, hugging and trying to resuscitate them.
“John still lives across the road,” says Jeremy. “He said Sef was carrying on, he was crying but there were no tears. So he felt something was wrong.”
In the days after the murder, Gonzales made an emotional television appeal, begging the killers to come forward. But he also managed to put aside his grief and met with his father’s accountant within 72 hours of the murders – asking how much money his parents had and if he could access it.
Yet it was what Gonzales did at his family’s joint funeral that continues to haunt friends and family. Standing before the three caskets, eyes closed, he took to the mic to deliver an acapella eulogy of the Mariah Carey/boyz II Men duet One Sweet Day.
Those present can still recall a strange feeling sweeping through the crowd as they watched him perform his ballad. For the police, it simply confirmed what they already knew: this former altar boy was a cold-blooded killer.
After a long investigation, police disproved Gonzales’s alibis, then charged the “charming” student with the premeditated murders of his family.
Gonzales pleaded not guilty on the grounds of mental illness, but psychiatric reports tendered to the court did not back up his claim. In May 2004 he was found guilty of the three murders and sentenced to three concurrent life sentences without parole.
Pat prefers not to know the details of the crimes that took place in the house she now calls home. She thinks it would unsettle her. “Every house has its history and a story to tell, but ours tells a happy story now.
“I know the Gonzaleses were a good family, and would have liked to know we’ve taken over their home and we’ve been very happy here,” Pat says.
However, Jeremy and Mitch were more curious, and watched a program on the murders – while sitting in the very house in which they occurred.
“I used to live in his [Sef’s] room,” says Mitch, who owns a gym down the road. “But it never bothered me,” he adds.
“When I say where I live, people in the area do recognise it and ask me about what happened. They want to know if it’s freaky to live here, but I don’t believe in crap like spirits and the supernatural.”
All three say they’ve never had anything strange happen while they’ve been in the house. No unexplained ghostly changes in temperature, spooky sounds or faces appearing at the window.
Jeremy has slept in the room where Clodine was killed on numerous occasions and has always slept soundly. “Although I often walk in there and see our dog Max just staring at the corner of the room,” he says. Yet when Pat is asked about their dog’s odd obsession, she emphatically puts it down to possums.
The only other time the crimes occur to Jeremy is in the garden. “The murder weapons were never found, so sometimes I wonder what I’ll find when I’m digging…”
‘The Gonzaleses would’ve liked to know we’ve been very happy here’
Gonzales’s act didn’t fool police.
Gonzales feigns grief at an altar set up by his mother at their home. The family emigrated from the Philippines after the devastating earthquake of 1990.