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Fernando Manrique murdered his wife and children. But there are signs he didn't mean to kill himself.

When news broke in 2016 that an entire family had been found dead in their northern Sydney home, headlines told of a tragic murder-suicide. Fernando Manrique had rigged their Davidson house with a system of pipes through which he pumped dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, thereby poisoning his wife, Maria Claudia Lutz, and their children, Martin, 10, and Elisa, 11.

Before long, a narrative was constructed around the revelation both children lived with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There were suggestions in the media that perhaps Maria and Fernando had struggled with their high-care needs, that it all became too much. But as well as being damaging to the Autism community, this story never seemed to reconcile with the devoted, caring, advocate Maria’s friends knew her to be.

And indeed, a coronial inquest currently taking place into the case is uncovering a different story. As well as revelations that Fernando was having an affair with a teenager in the Philippines, evidence has emerged suggesting the 44-year-old may have planned to make it out of the house alive.

Speaking to Mamamia‘s daily podcast, The Quicky, The Daily Telegraph journalist, Ava Benny-Morrison, who has been attending the inquest, said police have uncovered multiple pieces of evidence that may indicate the father didn’t intend to die that day.

“They included that there were two suitcases packed with men’s clothing found in the house. His passport was also found there, too. He had transferred several thousand dollars to a teenage girlfriend that he had in the Philippines not long before he died, and his body was found in the hallway face down, whereas his children’s bodies and the body of his wife Maria were found in the bedrooms,” she said.

“He’d also only hooked up the gas to filter down into two of the bedrooms and the fans were turned on at the highest speed in those bedrooms, as well.

“He’d also burnt his hard drives and his computer, which had a lot of photographs of his family on there. It was initially thought that that was just a final act, I guess, as to get rid of any evidence of the family – another cruel act. But it also could have been him covering his tracks. You’d think that he would have been researching how to hook up this gas system that he did, as well.

“So there are a number of unanswered questions, I think, and we may never get the answers.”

The Manrique/Lutz family in 2008. Image: Facebook.
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Benny-Morrison said the Counsel Assisting the Coroner presented these details and offered two interpretations: "[Fernando Manrique] could have been sending the money off to his girlfriend as a last act before he died, or he could have been planning to go over there as well to continue his life with her."

Friends and colleagues had certainly noticed a change in the Colombian-born man prior to his death. While his wife was fighting to get National Disability Insurance Scheme funding for their children, he had become suddenly focused on his appearance, he got tattoos, lost weight and became detached, disinterested.

"We've heard about text messages and emails to his friends and business associates that give us a bit of an insight into the fast-paced indulgent life that he was living," Benny-Morrison said. "He was sleeping with different women in the Philippines and Vietnam. We reported on an email on the weekend where he was talking about getting supplies of Viagra,  asking colleagues where he could get facial injections in Southeast Asia as well when he was away on his working trips."

When Maria declared she wanted to end their marriage, he pleaded to stay for two more weeks to find somewhere else to live. It was in those weeks that he began rigging the pipes.

"I don't think any of Maria's friends could ever have imagined he was going to do what he did. And particularly in the months after their deaths racked their brains looking for any signs whatsoever," she said. "But one comment that her friends did make to me is on that morning when Maria and the children's bodies were found and word got back to them, their first thought was Fernando has killed them."

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