When asked to consider someone that we love dearly, most of us have a face that immediately comes to mind. No words could ever express how priceless that person is. They touch our heart and bring value to our life in ways only they can. We have fond memories of them that we will always treasure.
Imagine that person is suddenly gone. Perhaps you feel numb and walk around in a daze, not thinking or feeling anything in particular. You know your life has changed forever. You would give anything to touch them one last time, to hear their voice, and tell them how much you love them. But you can’t.
Now consider how you might feel if the person you love was brutally murdered. Their death is on the front page of newspapers and people are watching it on the news as they eat their dinner, forming opinions and discussing the person you have lost and love so much. Most of us are fortunate that our thoughts and feelings after such an event will remain a hypothetical consideration. Evalyn Clow, however, has firsthand experience that has deeply affected her and her family.
On 21 February 1993, Evalyn’s sister, Karen MacKenzie, and her three children, Danny, 16, Amara, 7, and Katrina, 5, were brutally murdered by William (Bill) Mitchell in the rural town of Greenough, 400 km north of Perth. Mitchell had been abusing cannabis, alcohol and amphetamines throughout the day. Karen was at a friend’s place and rejected his advances. He later drove her home and left, only to return at 3:30 in the morning. Danny went out to investigate why the dog was barking and saw approaching headlights. He was confronted by Mitchell. Armed with an axe, Mitchell cleaved Danny’s head and continued to do so after knocking him to the ground. Leaving Danny to die, Mitchell continued to the house. Karen had fallen asleep watching TV on the floor in the lounge. He raped and sodomised Karen before, during and after death. Mitchell then turned his attention to Amara and Katrina who were asleep in their bedrooms. A judge ordered the gruesome details of their deaths to be kept from the public.
Mitchell initially denied culpability but confessed after a failed suicide attempt. He pleaded guilty to four counts of wilful murder and four counts of sexual assault. He was sentenced to four consecutive terms of life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 20 years. Mitchell received this light sentence due to the influence of drugs and the remorse he showed in court, which was accepted as genuine by the judge.
Evalyn cannot speak highly enough of the work WA Police did to solve the case. She says, “There is no doubt in my mind that the scene they came across disturbed them greatly. I have great respect for all involved.” In a nearby river, divers recovered a blood-stained axe with hair still attached. Tyre tracks, shoe prints, pubic hair and fingerprints became crucial pieces of evidence, including fingerprints derived from some hand lotion, which Mitchell used as a lubricant.
Evalyn was 27 when the murders occurred. She received a call from her younger brother saying that a woman and her three kids had been murdered in Greenough. She tried calling Karen numerous times, only to receive the busy signal or have her calls ring out. Worried, she rang the police, only to have growing concern when they were unable to reassure her that it wasn’t Karen and the kids. Her husband, Graeme, eventually spoke to the police and Evalyn watched with dread as his eyes filled with tears. She says, “I just lost it! I kept saying no, no, no, it’s not!” She had sold some horses the week before and was going to use the money to fund a family visit to see Karen and the kids. Evalyn says, “I feel I have let Karen down by not visiting her before she died and being there when she needed me most.”
Evalyn says she was a “basket case” for the first three years after the murders. She was taking anti-depressants and had been diagnosed with PTSD and Manic Depression. She frequently thought she had seen Danny when she was out shopping. “Danny was living in an unstable environment with my mother,” Evalyn says. “He adored his sisters. He was working and used his savings to move to WA so he could be with Karen and the girls.” Evalyn says Danny was a kind-hearted “rat bag”. Her voice cracking with emotion, she says, “He had gone back to school and was doing quite well. He was a bright kid.” She paused before saying, “They only enjoyed one Christmas together as a family.”
Evalyn and Karen grew up in a family with two brothers. Evalyn says, “It was just us girls against the world. We had an unstable upbringing. Mum was an alcoholic. Karen and I were sexually abused by some male family members.” Karen left home at the age of 14, pregnant with Danny, whom she raised for the first few years before leaving him in her mother’s care and moving to WA. Karen formed a relationship and had two girls, Amara and Katrina, however the relationship didn’t last. She decided to settle in Greenough and do her best with what she had to make a life for herself and her children. Evalyn says, “Mitchell destroyed the dignity of a single Mum doing the best with what she had. My sister had very little confidence. She was not perfect but she adored her kids and was doing the best she could with what she had, trying to establish a good life for her family.”
Evalyn, her husband Graeme, her mother and younger brother sorted through Karen’s house. “The girl’s adoration for their Mum was evident in writings and pictures they had given her,” Evalyn says. “As we were cleaning the house it was obvious what occurred.” She describes sitting on the lounge room floor, looking around thinking about what needed to be done and suddenly realising that she was sitting on a dark patch of blood where her sister had been raped, sodomised and hacked to death. They found Karen’s diaries and poetry, which gave insights into her depression and the repercussions of child sexual abuse in her adult years.
Evalyn believes the word closure has been defined by those who live in ignorant bliss. Since the murders, it has been a continuous battle just to survive life. She has not slept properly since the event. At the time of being interviewed she had been awake since 1:30 am and had just returned home from work. She longs for a normality that most take for granted. Evalyn says, “We often ask ourselves when Mitchell’s crimes will stop impacting our life. When will it end?” Her family has been forced to endure pain beyond comprehension and be left with a daily existence that entails emotional exhaustion, various moods, stresses, and a lingering possibility of Mitchell one day being granted parole. She is unable to see or touch people she loves dearly, her kids have been deprived of growing up with their cousins, and she can only wonder what Karen’s kids would have done with their lives. She says, “There are good days and bad days. Anniversaries and birthday’s are especially hard. Katrina would have been 28 recently, on 26 October.” She and Graeme have been through some very testing times that would have destroyed most marriages. A particularly testing time came in 2013 when Mitchell was first eligible for parole. Evalyn was trying to keep Mitchell in jail, maintain family life and fulfil a high-pressured job. Evalyn says, “Graeme is my rock. I love him so much.”
Evalyn believes she is a much stronger person as a result of Mitchell’s crimes. “I accepted mistreatment from people when I was a child,” she says. “I have recognised my own strength through what has happened. I love to encourage people and help them to be proactive and positive in situations that are beyond their control. The past is irrelevant when it comes to making something of our lives and ourselves.” A turning point in her life was in 1996 and she came to the realisation that Mitchell had not only destroyed Karen’s life but was destroying her own. At this point she vowed to dedicate her life to preventing Mitchell from being granted parole. He was rejected when he became eligible for parole in 2013 and will be reconsidered in 2016. Evalyn says, “He will be reconsidered every three years and can start applying up to a year before.” He is detained in Bunbury Prison, a minimum security facility 180 km south of Perth.
Through victim-offender mediation, Evalyn requested a meeting with Mitchell. In 2010 he agreed to a visit. She says, “There was a storm the night before. I stood on the beach with the wind in my face and asked Karen for the strength to say what I had to without showing weakness.” She continued, “His everyday appearance amazed me. You wouldn’t imagine an average looking person to have done what he did.” While the occupants of the room couldn’t see out, the guards standing outside could see in. “Mitchell was looking down and breathing nervously. He instantly looked up when I thanked him,” Evalyn says. “I looked him in the eye and said I wasn’t there to ask him why but to tell him who Karen was as we were growing up and how important she was to me.” Mitchell apologised and said that he was a changed person who had done everything right in prison. Evalyn says, “He has no reason not to appear as a changed person. People want to kill him for what he’s done. He’s protected. He has psychological assistance, food, clothing, and opportunities to be educated. My family and I are left with nothing. We struggle to make ends meet.” After the meeting, she found the acting prison boss’ demeanour to be offensive. She says, “He greeted the mediators and ignored me when I was introduced.” The prison informed the mediators that they didn’t want the meeting to occur. “He gave no consideration to me and just asked how Mitchell was,” Evalyn says.
Evalyn wishes the public were made aware of the details of how the girls died, especially Amara. She believes this would greatly assist in keeping Mitchell behind bars when he is reconsidered for parole every three years as the public outcry would be great. “How can you do that to a 7 year old child?” she asks. “Some people say ‘he’s done his time’. Mitchell is 44, young enough to start a relationship, father children and create a life for himself while my family has been stripped of one? Where is the justice for Karen and the kids?” When asked why she believes some hold this opinion she says, “They think his substance abuse had a lot to do with what he did. He was out on parole after been imprisoned for attacking female armed with a knife and rope,” she says. Around the time of the murders he had 14 other charges including burglary and assault. “If he was of unsound mind at the time, how is it he could think to take an axe and dispose of it afterwards? How could he have made his way to Karen’s isolated property? Would he have been able to testify in detail about what he did?” Evalyn wonders why someone can be sentenced for longer than 20 years, which Mitchell received, when they have killed one person and not four.
If she had one last chance to see Karen, Danny, Amara and Katrina just one more time Evalyn says, “I will just hug them, tell them how special they are to me and that I love them.” She says she talks to them often and finds peace in knowing they are aware of her thoughts and feelings for them but it would mean so much to be able to physically touch them and say it to their face. Evalyn hopes this article will inspire others to keep fighting, not give up, believe in themselves and keep going with life regardless of the good and bad.