Kathleen Folbigg may not have spent the last 18 years behinds bars had the jury been told at least eight families around the world had suffered multiple sudden infant deaths, as world-leading scientists continue their quest to prove her innocence.
The woman considered to be Australia’s worst female serial killer and ‘most hated woman’ was jailed in 2003 for the murders of her children Patrick, Sarah and Laura – aged from eight months to 19 months – between 1991 and 1999.
She was also found guilty of the manslaughter of her first-born child, Caleb, who was just 19 days old when he died in Newcastle in 1989.
Folbigg, 53, has always maintained her innocence and has the support of dozens of scientists and medical experts who have called for her to be pardoned from her 30-year jail term.
Following her most recent unsuccessful appeal for freedom, she has written a four page letter to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman urging him to ‘soften his heart’ as she pleaded again to walk free.
At Folbigg’s trial in 2003, expert witnesses for the prosecution told the court that they didn’t know of a single family in the world where three or more babies died suddenly of natural causes.
What the jury didn’t hear is the same tragedy had happened to at least eight other families overseas.
Kathleen Folbigg (pictured) has spent the last 18 years behind bars for the deaths of her four children – crimes she strenuously denies
Australian National University Professor of Immunology Carola Vinuesa was among the scientists tasked with analysing Folbigg’s DNA and that of her four deceased children.
‘At the time of Kathleen’s trial, even though it has just been discredited, it still permeated the idea that four deaths in a family is just too rare,’ she told 60 Minutes.
‘Well, we know it isn’t. These things happen.’
A genetic mutation called CALM2 G114R was found in Sarah and Laura’s DNA, inherited from their mother, which can cause sudden cardiac arrest in infants.
Scientists in multiple countries ran biochemical and electrophysiological tests to prove the deadliness of the mutation.
The peer-reviewed findings were published in a world leading paper by Oxford University stating the mutation had 90 to 95 per cent chance of causing potentially fatal disease.
Professor Vinuesa believes ‘it’s very likely’ that the Folbigg daughters died of a cardiac arrhythmia which led to sudden death.
‘If that is not reasonable doubt, I don’t know what is,’ she said.
A genetic mutation called CALM2 G114R was found in Sarah (right) and Laura’s (left) DNA. Laura died aged 19 months in 1999, and Sarah died at 10 months in 1993
Professor Carola Vinuesa (pictured) is among the scientists who have advocated for Katheen Folbigg’s release from jail
‘The paper itself was co-authored by 27 scientists from seven different countries with experiments performed in at least four countries’
‘The science was very strong. To date, there hasn’t been a single criticism of the science.’
She is backed by Professor Peter Schwartz who’s regarded as a world leader in cardiovascular genetics.
‘The third and fourth deaths in that family were caused by calmodulin mutation,’ he said.
‘To find that is a smoking gun. It’s hard to imagine it would be something else.
Scientists said the boys also had mutated genes which caused fatal epilepsy.
Caleb (left) who was just 19-days-old when he died in in 1989. Brother Patrick (right) died a year later aged eight months
KATHLEEN FOLBIGG’S LETTER FROM PRISON
Writing to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman:
‘To them [the scientists], this isn’t only about helping Kathleen Folbigg, but rather about a need for scientific proof to be listened to, respected and heeded.
‘I pay homage to all scientists involved.
‘They have removed the stigma of being perceived as an evil monster, removed the anxiety and fear that I have suffered every day for over 30-odd years.
‘Following the petition for a pardon, my day-to-day existence has changed. I now receive massive support from so many people.
‘For over 30 (years) I have grieved the loss of my children. As it shall be for forever more.
‘As you are aware, I have ALWAYS PROTESTED MY INNOCENCE.
‘In 2003, I followed advice and decided to stay silent throughout my trial.
‘I suffer every day over doubting that decision. I continue to pay a heavy price…
‘(My supporters) have known me my whole life, not just a decade of it, and have witnessed the love and care for my children. Also my devastating grief.
‘Please soften your heart.’
Former NSW District Court chief judge Reginald Blanch QC in 2019 found significant investigations had failed to find a reasonable natural explanation for any of the deaths of Caleb, Patrick, Sarah and Laura.
He ruled that it was beyond reasonable doubt that Folbigg was guilty.
Folbigg’s own explanations and behaviour in respect of her diaries, which weren’t available in any of the mother’s criminal appeals, made ‘her guilt of these offences even more certain’, Mr Blanch concluded.
Folbigg’s legal team has since sent her diaries to US research psychologist Dr James Pennebaker, who believes they show no premeditation for murder.
‘There was no evidence for some kind of somebody who is devious, who is certainly planning to kill anyone,’ he said.
He was shocked to learn that a judge couldn’t find any reasonable doubt regarding her guilt by taking her diaries into account.
‘I find that remarkable and I would urge them to look at the diaries in a different light,’ he added.
Professor Vinuesa was among 90 scientists who signed a petition lodged with NSW Governor Margaret Beazley AC QC earlier this year which called for Folbigg’s pardon and immediate release.
‘I think it’s distressing, it’s shocking really. I think it should bring an embarrassment to Australians like myself,’ she said.
‘But I still have the hope that, you know, like Australia of high integrity, this evidence, since the inquiry, and say that it’s time to have the science prevail, and listen to the science.’
Following her latest unsuccessful bid for freedom, Folbigg has written to Mr Speakman about the overwhelming support she’s had from the public and how her day-to-day existence has changed her following the petition for a pardon.
She paid tribute to the scientists in the four page handwritten letter obtained by The Australian.
‘To them, this isn’t only about helping Kathleen Folbigg but rather about a need for scientific proof to be listened to, respected and heeded,’ she wrote.
‘They have removed the stigma of being perceived as an evil monster, removed the anxiety and fear that I have suffered every day for over 30-odd years.’
Folbigg maintains her innocence and spent the last three decades mourning the loss of her four babies.
She also expresses her regret at not give evidence in person at her trial, a decision she continues to pay a heavy price for.
‘(My supporters) have known me my whole life, not just a decade of it, and have witnessed the love and care for my children. Also my devastating grief,’ Folbigg wrote.
‘Please soften your heart.’
Kathleen Folbigg (pictured at a 2019 hearing) has written a four page letter to NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman pleading for help
Until now, US mum Meredith Schoenherr has never spoken publicly about the tragic death of two-and-a-half-year-old son Jack from a rare genetic mutation in 2013.
It was the same type of abnormality found in the Folbigg girls.
‘I was so excited that he was sleeping late for once in his life, but I went into the bedroom and when I went to roll him over, it was very obvious that he was gone,’ she told 60 Minutes.
She recalled how close the authorities were to taking Jack’s baby sister away from her and her husband Todd, who were interviewed separately at the hospital shortly after their son’s death.
‘She separated us and had us each tell our story of what happened,’ Ms Schoenherr recalled.
‘I was so in shock, it didn’t really occur to me at that point that they were investigating us.’
‘In the early days, nobody had any answers, which was very frustrating.’
Kathleen Folbigg (pictured with baby daughter Laura) has always maintained her innocence
She felt sick to her stomach after hearing Folbigg’s story and shudders to think she too could have been jailed over Jack’s death.
To be jailed for so many years for it, on top of losing her children, it’s really hard for me to even try to comprehend how much that must hurt,’ Ms Schoenherr said.
Lifelong friend Tracy Chapman said being jailed for the deaths of her children have had a devastating impact on Folbigg.
‘She’s cried a river over it because, she didn’t kill her children, even though she knows she didn’t have a hand in killing her children, she carried a genetic mutation that has done just that, anyway, she said.
She remains hopeful her friend will see eventually see justice.
Otherwise everything I ever believed in the Australian legal system goes out the window,’ Ms Chapman said.
Kathleen Folbigg (pictured) has paid tribute to the scientists advocating for her release from jail in a letter to the NSW Attorney-General
A TIMELINE OF MAJOR EVENTS IN KATHLEEN FOLBIGG’S LIFE
* JUNE 14, 1967 – Kathleen Megan Donovan (later Folbigg) born
* JANUARY 8, 1969 – Folbigg’s mother murdered by her father
* 1987 – Kathleen marries Craig Folbigg
* FEBRUARY 20, 1989 – Caleb Folbigg dies aged 19 days
* FEBRUARY 13, 1991 – Patrick Folbigg dies aged eight months
* AUGUST 30, 1993 – Sarah Folbigg dies aged 10 months
* MARCH 1, 1999 – Laura Folbigg dies, aged 18 months
* OCTOBER 24, 2003 – Folbigg sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder, non-parole period is 30 years, later reduced on appeal to 25 years
* JUNE 10, 2015 – NSW Governor David Hurley receives petition for review of convictions based on forensic pathology findings
* OCTOBER 28, 2018 – Inquiry into convictions opens
* MAY 2019 – An international medical registry reports that two US children have died of the mutation found in Sarah and Laura
* JULY 2019 – Inquiry finds no reasonable doubt to Folbigg’s convictions. Validation of Folbigg mutation could not be completed before end of inquiry
* NOVEMBER 17, 2020 – Likely role of CALM2 mutation in Sarah and Laura’s death confirmed in world leading study
* MARCH 3, 2021 – Petition for Folbigg pardon sent to NSW Governor Margaret Beazley
* MARCH 24, 2021 – NSW Court of Appeal dismisses challenge to Blanch Inquiry, stating its conclusion was not at odds with the evidence
Jurors never heard key evidence before sentencing ‘child-killer’ Kathleen Folbigg