true crime

Cassie's husband threatened to punch her during labour. Months later, he met Kylie.

Warning: The following deals with domestic abuse.

Less than a day after giving birth to her son in 2017, Kylie was forced to check out of the hospital early to drive her newborn's father to eat chicken at a restaurant in Sydney's Kings Cross. 

Connor* complained that she couldn't walk properly down the street. He'd also made sure she didn't get any pain relief or an epidural while at the hospital.

Two days later, after asking him to hand her a breast pump, Kylie says she copped three punches to the head. As she told Mamamia, he'd been beating her, threatening her and abusing her since she fell pregnant. 

Two years earlier, it was Cassie who says she was being threatened with a punch to the face by the same man for being "annoying" as she rode contractions in a birthing suite. 

The only reason Connor's fist didn't connect, she explained, was because a midwife happened to walk in.

***

"How do you want to die?"

It took less than four months of being in a relationship with Connor for Cassie to feel so defeated, depleted and broken that she would reply "I don't care, you pick," when asked how she'd like to die.

They were standing beside Sydney's Warragamba Dam at the end of a secluded pathway. 

"Do you want me to smash your head into a rock or do you want me to drown you?" she recalls Connor asking.

"I just looked at him thinking are you for f**king real? And I just in my head couldn't compute...I'd just had enough already, and I said, 'I don't care, you pick'. And that obviously wasn't the reaction he wanted. He wanted me to fight and beg for my life, and he wanted to be able to torture me with it," Cassie told Mamamia.

Cassie met Connor in 2013. Within months she was a shell of her former self. Image: Getty.

"But I just, I didn't want to be a part of him anymore. I didn't want to know him anymore. And I thought if the only way to get out is to die, I'll die. I don't want to do this. This is not the life I wanted."

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Furious at her response, Cassie says she was marched down the path and raped in the front seat of her car. 

Her story, and that of Kylie's, are explored over three episodes titled Control, the latest investigation on the NSW State Crime Command podcast, hosted by Walkley award-winning journalist Adam Shand. 

 

When Kylie and Cassie first met Connor, he was charming. The alleged violent physical and sexual abuse came later, after he'd coercively controlled away his victim's sense of self, confidence, safety and agency. Both women say he was a master manipulator, cementing himself in their lives before they could even comprehend what he was capable of. 

In 2013, travel agency manager Cassie was considering moving to America. She was turning 30 that year, and wanted a new adventure. 

She met Connor online while scouring forums for tips and tricks for moving to the States. They clicked instantly. He was interesting and intriguing, and within a few short months Cassie found herself on a plane to meet him in person.

As she told Mamamia, it was like a scene from the movies. He met her on the street outside his house and picked her up and spun her around before giving her a big kiss. The next few days were perfect. 

"It was just all fun. He was super sweet. He cooked for me. We talked about everything. We were in bed all the time just talking about life and goals and the future and everything. And you're like, oh, my gosh, is this for real? I have never had this before. He was all in," she told Mamamia.

By the September of that year he'd moved to Australia and Cassie, keen to integrate her new boyfriend into her life, invited him along to social events with friends. 

"You keep taking me out and showing me off like I'm some sort of trophy, what do you think this is? I'm not here for this. You need to treat me better than that," he told her.

Feeling bad, she cut back on their social outings. It would be the first of a number of manipulative tactics he used to bring her under his control. 

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Cassie says it took six weeks of him being in Australia for him to hit her. He'd spotted her ex at a wedding and accused her of cheating, forcing them to leave straight after the formalities had finished. 

"My brain moved slower than my head. It was the weirdest feeling. And I was just in shock. I was just in such disbelief, no one had ever done that to me. He was like 'I am so sorry, I've never done this before. Please forgive me.' So I pretended it didn't happen... hoping he was telling the truth," she said.

Watch: The hidden numbers. Post continues after video.


Video via Mamamia.

They got married in the November so that Connor's visa would allow him to stay. But after the wedding, Cassie says things escalated quickly.

He allegedly broke her nose because she was late home from work.

She says he twisted her arm behind her back so hard she thought it was splintering. She'd told him she was going for a run and he accused her of going to see another man.

He'd regularly tell her she had to lose weight, and that she was "so lucky" to be with someone so sexy and intelligent. 

Cassie says he urinated on her in the shower. Choked her. Pulled clumps of her hair out. Criticised her. Threatened her.

"By Christmas I had suffered more bashings than I ever thought possible. I'd been raped more times than I could count. And it was just getting worse. He wasn't allowing me to eat. I wasn't allowed to have my own bank accounts. I wasn't allowed to go to the toilet without permission. Even at work, he would ring me and if I was on a toilet break and if he knew that I'd gone to the toilet, and I hadn't asked him permission, I was in trouble," she told Mamamia.

It was around Christmas 2013 when Cassie found herself driving, broken, to Warragamba Dam. Unbeknownst to her, she was pregnant at the time. But as she told to Mamamia, the beatings didn't stop when he found out, in fact, her son was used as leverage. 

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"He'd tell me if anything happened to the baby it would be my fault and he'd kill me for it," she said.

In the week before Cassie finally mustered up the courage to leave, Connor had reportedly been torturing her with a single sentence. He allegedly said it multiple times a day, even waking up in the night to lean over her and repeat the mantra.

"He would say to me, 'I will happily go to jail for killing you. Because I'll have the memory of breaking your neck to keep me company'. I just knew that I couldn't let my little baby grow up in a world where I wasn't there for him. And that was his role model. I just couldn't do it anymore."

"There are no words to explain how manipulative he is and how believable he was." Image: Getty.

Two of her friends came to the house, loaded up three cars with belongings and drove her to the police station. Cassie was granted a domestic violence order, but Connor kept stalking her, turning up to her parent's house and demanding to see his son. 

Cassie's case went to court, but Connor was acquitted of any wrongdoing in July 2016. While pursuing criminal charges, Cassie was also going through the Family Court. She'd managed to get her entire story on paper in the latter, but not at the police station in relation to the charges she was pressing against Connor. There she'd only told individual stories of abuse, she hadn't been given the chance to paint the whole picture. Connor's lawyer used it against her, telling the magistrate there were inconsistencies in her story. 

"My case then didn't match up, so the judge was like, well, this creates reasonable doubt. Because of that - he got let off."

As Senior Constable Lesley King explained during episode three of the podcast, "one of the things I say to (victims) is, the court process today [is a] process where the prosecution have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt what happened to you. It's a high bar, and it's a high bar for a reason, because in our society we don't want to see any innocent people wrongly convicted.

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"And if a court does find this person not guilty, that doesn't mean that what you say happened to you didn't happen to you, that just means that we weren't able to prove it today. That shouldn't mean that when something else happens tomorrow, you shouldn't report it. Because tomorrow a new investigation commences. You might feel disappointed today, but that doesn't mean you weren't believed, it means the prosecution simply weren't able to prove it to that very high standard that we are required to prove criminal offences."

"It's so hard because I know why women stay."

Kylie was in the courtroom when the verdict 'not guilty' was read out. Connor thought she was in the room supporting him, but secretly she was hoping for a conviction so her nightmare would be over.

She remembers thinking, "how have you got this so wrong?" And on the way home from the courtroom, Kylie says Connor made her pull the car over to the side of the road so he could "beat the hell out of me."

But she ultimately used Cassie's experience with the courts to build her own case against their alleged shared abuser and successfully lock him away. But not before she too was subjected to horrific abuse.

Kylie met Connor in early 2016. She was 36, divorced and swiping on Tinder for a fun relationship to keep her company. She remembers thinking Connor seemed so normal, almost boring. But once they started casually dating it didn't take long for him to "push his way" into Kylie's life.

"They say that your first date with a narcissist is one of the best dates you'll go on," Kylie told Mamamia

After that things moved pretty quickly, and months in Connor brought up the topic of kids. In hindsight Kylie thinks it was a tactic to lock her in.

Kylie met Connor months after Cassie escaped. Image: Getty.

"He was like, 'don’t you want kids to look after you when you’re older? I will have a kid with you!' I kind of got swept up in the whole, maybe I should... this could be my last chance. So I sort of went with it. I stopped the pill and four weeks later I was pregnant," Kylie told Mamamia.

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Kylie says the abuse started when she was six weeks pregnant. As she told Mamamia, she was dragged into an alleyway behind some businesses and beaten. She was terrified, but also embarrassed, ashamed and shocked, and found herself getting back in the car with him after it subsided.

Kylie remembers the emotional abuse being worse than the physical, recalling incidents where she was locked naked and pregnant on her own balcony for hours or was told constantly she was fat and needed to lose weight.

All up Kylie was with Connor for around 13 months, escaping when their son was six weeks old. She remembers the little boy happily playing all day, only to start crying hysterically as soon as he walked into the house. 

It ended with an assault so violent it would get Connor locked up. He'd demanded at six-weeks post-partum that they have a threesome. If they didn't, Kylie said he threatened her parent's life.

When the other girl arrived at the house, Kylie refused, and was beaten so badly with her son in her arms she was hospitalised. One of the officers who attended the scene, Senior Constable Amy-Lee Austin, described to the State Crime Command podcast that Kylie's injuries included swelling and bruising on her right eye, blood coming out of her ears, a bite mark on her neck, lacerations on her cheek and blood all over her upper body. 

Listen to episode two, Kylie, below. Post continues after podcast.


Cassie had sent Kylie a message when she first heard she was dating Connor, warning her. But she just brushed it off, thinking she must be a 'crazy ex'. Once Kylie escaped, the two women connected and have been in eachother's lives ever since. 

Kylie won her case. Connor was sentenced to two years for domestic violence causing grievous bodily harm, and then deported back to America towards the end of 2019. Both the police and court process were complicated, arduous and stressful for both women, but as Kylie told Mamamia, "It’s so hard because I know why women stay. But until you call the police you’re never going to get out."

Cassie's son, now six, and Kylie's son, aged four, adore each other and catch up once a month. Kylie says she has put her abusive relationship with Connor behind her. She's blocked it out so much she doesn't even remember what he looked like.

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Cassie is studying to become a prison psychologist. She's hoping that helping one male perpetrator will ultimately have a bigger impact than helping just one female victim. 

NSW Police respond to more than 140,000 domestic and family violence incidents every year. As the NSW State Crime Command podcast explains, we aren't suffering from a new epidemic, it's always been here. But reporting has increased in recent years, partly because victims have more confidence in police when they make reports.

"Reporting domestic violence is the first step to breaking the cycle of violence and control that abusive partners try to exert," Assistant Commissioner Leanne McCusker, Corporate Sponsor Domestic and Family Violence, tells the podcast.

"Police will do whatever they can to support victims of domestic violence and also try to ease the fear of retribution and the guilt and shame felt by so many."

As Kylie adds, "until you make that decision to call the police, you're never going to get out of it because until the police are involved, you're just going to keep going back and they're not going to stay away."

'Control', an investigation by the NSW State Crime Command podcast, is available on the LiSTNR app or wherever you get your podcasts.

Anyone with information about domestic and family violence incidents is urged to contact Crime Stoppers: 1800 333 000 or visit the crimestoppers website affiliated with their state. Information is treated in strict confidence.

If you have experienced domestic abuse, support is available. Call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) to speak to a trained counsellor.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

If you are worried about your own behaviour in a relationship, please contact Men's Referral Service on 1300 766 491.

May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month and, at Mamamia, we're sharing women's stories of bravery and courage. If you have the means, please donate to RizeUp to help women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence.

*Name changed for legal reasons. 

Feature image: Getty.