Mass murders could be ‘copycat phenomenon’
IN THE early hours of May 11, as farmers in the rural West Australian town of Osmington started to snooze their alarms, they were startled awake by gunshots shattering the country's peace and quiet.
Neighbours later told reporters they thought it was a farmer shooting kangaroos, a common practice to protect crops. The truth was much worse.
Grandfather Peter Miles, 61, had grabbed one of his shotguns, walked to the shed where his daughter and her four children lived and murdered all of them.
He then walked back to the family home and shot his wife Cynda, before sitting on the porch and taking his own life.
What West Australian police didn't realise at the time was that the shooting, Australia's worst since the Port Arthur massacre of 1995, would mark the beginning of a horrific four months for the state and its force.
Last Sunday afternoon Anthony Robert Harvey, 24, handed himself in to police at a station in the state's Pilbara region, giving them information that took Perth detectives to a home in the northeastern suburb of Bedford.
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Inside the home, detectives found the bodies of Mr Harvey's partner Mara Quinn, 41, their three young daughters and his mother-in-law Beverley, 73.
As Western Australia reels from another apparent domestic violence crime, experts have expressed concern the three tragedies in such a short spate of time could be linked to the "copycat phenomenon".
Research shows "copycat phenomenon" is prevalent in suicides, where one person taking their own life can trigger others to follow. The same trend can follow in domestic violence crimes.
Murdoch University criminology associate professor Guy Hall said human behaviour "follows patterns" and, even with crimes, "people follow".
"There is a possibility of the copycat phenomenon with crimes but it is a rare event," Professor Hall, who was a senior clinical psychologist in West Australian prisons before working as a criminologist, told news.com.au.
"(Domestic violence) murders are typically very rare events, fortunately. They are dreadful but rare, which means whenever you see a movement in an event like that small number look large.
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"There's clearly a problem with violence perpetrated against women; that's undeniably true and the fact that males kill females, it's rarely the other way around, is undeniably true.
"It's rare that women will kill their children just to get back at their partners. Men will kill their own children just to teach their partners a lesson."
As well as the "copycat phenomenon", experts suggest the three home tragedies could be the result of a contagion effect.
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"This is undoubtedly a cluster," Mr Greensmith said. "It's horrifying and traumatic, but not a surprise."
Exactly two months after the Osmington shooting, and two months before the Bedford tragedy, police had been called to yet another horrific home crime scene where a 19-year-old man allegedly killed his mother and two siblings.
Teancum Vernon Petersen-Crofts was charged with murdering mum Michelle and his brother Rua, 8, inside their Ellenbrook home before fatally wounding his sister Bella, 15. She'd made it into the backyard but died on the way to hospital.
The home where the Ellenbrook homicide took place is less than a half-hour drive from Bedford.
In July, a day after the Ellenbrook deaths, WA Police assistant commissioner Paul Steel mourned the two tragedies - 10 dead in two months - and said it had sent "shockwaves" through the state.
Despite that, it was less than two months later that WA Police were walking into the Bedford home - where police say the Quinn family had been laying dead for days.
According to domestic violence group the Red Heart Campaign, Mara and Beverley Quinn are the 52nd and 53rd women killed in Australia this year. Charlotte, Beatrix and Alice are the 16th, 17th and 18th children to die in 2018.
Every time a person dies from domestic violence, a conversation is had about how those accused of the often in-home crimes should be treated.
Prof Hall said the "good bloke narrative" was especially harmful.
"We need to stop doing that … we need to stop saying that these are nice people. The courts are complicit of it, I suspect unwittingly," he said.
"The way they explain it - that the offender was an otherwise good person - is bulls**t. What makes more sense is if they say, 'This is a terrible crime, there is too much of it and you are going to be held accountable. Quite clearly you're not a good person, you just killed your partner.'"
Speaking on the ABC, Domestic and Family Violence Services WA spokeswoman Kedy Kristal said the country needed to realise domestic violence was "an endemic and insidious problem throughout the whole of Australia".
WA Police attend about 150 domestic violence incidents a day, and across the country statistics show one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner.
WA Police commissioner Chris Dawson confirmed yesterday the five deaths meant 23 people, 19 of whom were women and children, had died in family-related homicides so far this year.
In total in 2017, 11 people died as a result of family-related homicides.
A week before the Bedford tragedy, another Perth mum was allegedly killed by her partner.
Police found Carlisle mum-of-two Fahima Yusuf, 32, buried in her backyard, later arresting her husband for the crime.
"We cannot sit around thinking we all don't have a part to play in this. We do," Ms McGurk said.
"As a community, and as government, we must stay focused on changing the conversation that allows family and domestic violence to go unchallenged, to be misunderstood and even ignored.
"With statistics like this, you can understand how WA has the second-highest rate of reported physical and sexual violence perpetrated against women in Australia, second only to the Northern Territory."
If you or anyone you know is affected by this story, call Crisis Care Helpline on 1800 199 008, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyondblue on 1300 224 636. And if you or anyone you know is impacted by sexual assault, family or domestic violence, call 1800 737 732 or visit www.1800RESPECT.org.au