Hannah Clarke told her mother and friends she feared for her life in the weeks before her estranged husband set her car alight, killing her and their three children, an inquest has been told.
“When he kills me, he’ll be in jail and what happens to the children?” the 31-year-old asked her mum Sue Clarke in a conversation about making a will the week before her death on February 19, 2020.
“I know in my heart he’s going to kill me,” she told friend Lynne Kershaw numerous times.
And in a chilling note found after Rowan Baxter’s death, he wrote: “I’m finishing your game. I don’t want to play anymore. I have told the kids that you loved them. They will miss you, I’m sure.”
Hannah treaded carefully around her controlling husband for years, while he treated his family as possessions and his three children – Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey – as pawns, Mrs Clarke told the inquest in Brisbane on Thursday.
The inquest has been told Baxter frequently threatened to take his own life during their marriage, wanted sex every day, called Hannah a “fat pig”, wouldn’t let her wear shorts or pink clothing – “because that’s for children” – and had to win races with his young kids.
“She was always walking on eggshells and trying to toe the line,” Mrs Clarke said.
She said Baxter also treated her terribly from around the time Laianah was born.
Baxter once dropped Mrs Clarke on her face while training in the gym, cutting her lip.
He thought it was hilarious, telling her to “harden up”, Mrs Clarke said.
“He lacked empathy with everybody,” she said.
Best friend Nicole Brooks told the inquest of Hannah saying she was choked by Baxter when he was “full of adrenalin” after a jujitsu class and telling her: “You have no idea what I’m capable of.”
Baxter continued to see the children after the couple separated, but on Boxing Day in 2019 he fled with Laianah, disappearing for more than two days.
Police intervened, returning her to Hannah.
Mrs Clarke said Aaliyah was frightened after the abduction, needing to be constantly reassured she wasn’t going to her father’s house.
“Even then when she did have to go she’d be on the footpath crying, not wanting to get in the car and clinging to Hannah, and he (Baxter) would grab her by the arm and fling her to the car and say ‘get in the bloody car, I’m your father’,” Mrs Clarke said.
After Hannah first talked to police in early December, she seemed to understand what she was experiencing was family violence, even though Baxter hadn’t physically assaulted her.
Ms Brooks went to police on February 13 because of their fears.
“I said, ‘I’m sure he’s going to take them out’,” Ms Brooks told the inquest.
But officers said they couldn’t do anything until Baxter “does something”.
“I said, ‘What if you don’t get a second chance?'”
Baxter got into Hannah’s car just after she left her parents’ Camp Hill home to take the children – aged six, four and three – to school.
He poured fuel inside and set it alight.
The badly burnt adults escaped the vehicle, but Baxter, 42, stabbed himself with a knife, dying nearby.
Hannah died later the same day in hospital.
Asked about Baxter’s actions that killed her daughter and grandchildren, Mrs Clarke said she didn’t think he knew how to love.
“His form of love is as a possession,” she said.
Mrs Clarke told the inquest Hannah was “a beautiful soul”, bright, bubbly and full of empathy.
She wanted people to know her daughter was strong, loved her children and “would have fought anyone to save them”.
Mrs Clarke said Aaliyah was articulate and bright, a strong child who stood up to her father, while Laianah, who they called Little Middle, was a “little dynamo”.
Trey was the apple of his mother’s eye and a mummy’s boy, she said.
Mrs Clarke said focusing on Hannah’s legacy and giving her a voice helped her get out of bed each day.
She hoped for more understanding and awareness about family violence, including through advertisements and education campaigns.
The inquest continues.
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