news

There's a woman's life we must never forget: Karen Ristevski's.

For the past three years, we’ve seen her name in the news headlines and her infectiously happy smile in the few photos that we’ve been privy to.

We’ve become so familiar with the facts of the crime.

Karen Ristevski, 47, vanished from her Avondale Heights home in July 2016 after an argument about money with her husband Borce Ristevski.

Eight months later, her skeletal remains were found in a shallow grave in the Victorian bush. Her body was so decomposed that it could not be determined how she died.

Her husband had always been the prime suspect in her murder, a fact he continuously and vehemently denied for two years, lying to police, family, friends and his own daughter, until the eve of his high profile murder trial.

Last month, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter, finally admitting what so many had long suspected – he had killed his wife.

Yesterday, he was sentenced to nine years in jail with a non-parole term of six years. With time served, he’ll be out in less than five.

Outside court on Thursday, Stephen Williams, the brother of Karen Ristevski, told reporters, “Nothing was going to bring Karen back, but today was about justice, and we didn’t get justice today at all.”

“As a society, in regard to domestic violence, we must, at some stage, take a stand.”

Karen Ristevski did not get justice.

As a society, we feel angry, we feel shock and we feel helpless.

We cannot get Karen back, we did not get justice for Karen, but what we can do is not forget who Karen Ristevski was. We need to remember her story – the one beyond the headlines of her husband’s callous act of violence, the one that tells the story in the picture of a beaming woman who so clearly loved life.

borce ristevski sentence
Sarah Ristevski with her parents Karen and Borce. A photo we've seen countless times in the news.
ADVERTISEMENT

We know Karen was a kind and generous soul who loved working at her fashion business Bella Bleu. Her family and friends all describe her as a person "full of love, life and laughter".

"Karen was such a beautiful, kind, generous and loving person," Karen's cousin Lisa Gray told Fairfax Media.

A close friend of Karen's told news.com.au: "She’s a really gentle soul, she’s never annoyed anyone from my knowledge… She’s so happy-go-lucky and wouldn’t hurt anyone."

"No one ever said a bad word about Karen, you can't," her brother recalled to 9 News. 

It was a kind act to an old school friend with cancer that truly epitomised the loving person Karen Ristevski was known to be.

When Karen learned that an old school friend, Sharon, had been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2013, she immediately reached out, sending her a text to offer what she could - a dress from her boutique shop free of charge - just so she had something to look forward to after her hospital stay.

"I was telling her about this friend that was diagnosed with cancer," Karen's friend Sharryn Hili told The Daily Mail. "She hadn't seen her for over 25 years."

"But she private messaged her and said to her, look, I hear you're going through a really bad time, come into the store and pick out a dress of your choice to make you feel better."

"She hadn't seen her for 25 years!" she added. "But she took the time to send her a message to make her feel better about herself."

'That's what a beautiful soul she is," Sharryn said.

It was just the type of person Karen was - always finding a way to help others wherever she could.

Actor Samuel Johnson, who became friends with Karen when she offered to donate mastectomy-friendly gowns to his sister Connie, described her as a "sensitive, generous, intelligent and kind woman", the Herald Sun reported.

In June 2016, when there was still a glimmer of hope that Karen was alive, Connie Johnson wrote about her friend, telling her Love Your Sister community: "Sam and I are thinking of Karen’s family and praying for the safe return of this beautiful, gentle and loving woman."

"While Sam was unicycling around Australia in 2013 doing events nearly every night, Karen kindly donated mastectomy-friendly frocks from her own designer range so I could feel good at all the fundraisers," she shared online, reported Daily Mail.

"We’ve laughed together, dressed and undressed together, and shared our highs and lows."

borce ristevski latest news
Karen Ristevski was devoted to her daughter Sarah Ristevski. Image: Facebook.
ADVERTISEMENT

We know that Karen was devoted to her daughter Sarah Ristevski, who was just 21 when her mother disappeared.

Stephen Williams, Karen's only sibling, remembered his sister as a dedicated mother who had a "special" bond with Sarah.

"She was very dedicated to Sarah," Williams told 9 News in 2017.

Prior to Karen's body being found, a close friend refuted the theory that Karen could have run away, telling news.com.au: “No, she wouldn’t do that. She wouldn’t do it to her daughter, number one."

“Her daughter was her life. Even if she went to clear her head and she didn’t return right then, I guarantee she would have made a phone call to her daughter to say, ‘I’m going to be away for a night or two’," she said.

Sarah herself spoke about how close her family of three had been prior to her mother's disappearance.

“Growing up as a family, my mum, dad and I were completely inseparable… the love we had for each other was unexplainable,” the now 23-year-old wrote in her character reference for her father in his manslaughter trial.

In his sentencing remarks of Borce Ristevski, Melbourne supreme court judge Justice Christopher Beale also noted Karen's close relationship with her daughter - who did not submit a victim impact statement but a character reference for her father.

“After your wife she is your principal victim and she and her mother were very close,” Beale said.

“I mean no criticism of Sarah. Anyone with a modicum of compassion must understand her predicament is an agonising one. Regrettably, the sentence I must pass on you will add to her grief.”

borce ristevski
Karen met her husband Borce when she was just 16.
ADVERTISEMENT

We also know, most sadly, that Karen loved her husband of 27 years Borce, who'd she first met as a house party when she was 16.

A close friend Anica Naumovski recalled at Karen's memorial service in March 2017 how Karen had spotted the "spunky"  Borce and told him, "I like you, I want you," reported The Daily Mail. 

The pair would eventually marry and welcome their only child Sarah in 1996.

“The love they had for each other and the marriage that they shared is something I hope to one day experience myself,” Sarah said of her parents' marriage.

"It pains me inside to hear all of these untrue claims about my parents (sic) marriage and the love they had for each other from people who were not apart (sic) of their lives," she wrote.

"The circumstances have left me without both of my parents ... all I can do is try to communicate the truth of how good of a dad and husband he was to my mum and I."

But ultimately, it was her husband of 27 years, the one person who she should be able to count on to love her the most, who took everything from her.

At only 47, he took away the many years she had left to be the wonderfully generous friend she was, to watch her beloved daughter grow into an adult - to see her fall in love, to have a family, to flourish in her career - and most horrifyingly, he treated her life with contempt, taking it away, discarding it in such a brutally cruel manner, and refusing to give her family the answers they desperately want.

We sadly may never know why Borce Ristevski killed his wife.

But let's not forget who Karen Ristevski was. She was more than a victim of Borce's violence.

As her headstone reads, she was a "Devoted Wife, Mother and Friend”.

“You touched our lives with your love, laughter, warmth and grace. Your memory will be eternal. Dearly loved, never forgotten and forever in our hearts,” the inscription says.

We need to remember the story of Karen Risteveki. Let us not forget it.

For more on this topic: 

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. You click, we help. Shooting star illustration.

Mamamia is funding 100 girls in school, every day.

So just by spending time with Mamamia, you’re helping educate girls, which is the best tool to lift them out of poverty.

Thanks for helping!

Light blue and pink butterfly illustration. Girl with pigtails sitting at desk writing in notebook. Row of four books.
Three hands holding books
00:00 / ???