by ALANA HOUSE
I went to school with Kathleen Folbigg. She was Kathy Marlborough back then. She’s probably the most famous person to attend my high school. She’s definitely the most infamous.
That’s because she’s serving 30 years behind bars for murdering her four children.
Her first baby, Caleb, lived 19 days. Her second baby, Patrick, lived eight months. Her third baby, Sarah, lived 10 months. Her fourth baby, Laura, lived 19 months. The first three deaths were initially labelled cot deaths. Then when Laura died, the police opened a murder investigation.
Kathy’s trial had shades of Lindy Chamberlain to it. She was accused of being cold, not showing enough emotion. Like Lindy Chamberlain, people decided she was guilty before the trial even started. Unlike Lindy Chamberlain, most people still hold that opinion.
Kathy has been in jail for 10 years now. That’s 3650 days behind bars, with another 5475 days still to serve. A mind-numbing monotony only relieved by the occasional two-hour weekend visit from a friend or the Salvos.
I started writing to Kathy in jail. Eventually I began visiting her too. And we became friends.
Last year, Kathy sent me a book: Murder, Medicine & Motherhood, written by a Canadian legal academic called Emma Cunliffe. Cunliffe spent six years researching Kathy’s case and concluded she shouldn’t have been found guilty based on the evidence presented in court. It makes compelling reading.
Cunliffe, to her credit, hasn’t stopped at writing a book about Kathy’s case. She’s speaking to barristers and law firms, searching for experts prepared to work pro-bono to fight for Kathy’s case to be reopened.
In addition to the points Cunliffe raises in her book, there have been calls for a review of all successful cases – including Kathy’s – run by Crown prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, following criticism of his handling of the Gordon Wood case.
And new research has suggested a link between SIDS and beta-casomorphin-7 (BCM-7) – an ingredient contained in the infant formula Kathy fed her babies.
Since the release of Cunliffe’s book, I’ve seen a faint glimmer of hope in Kathy’s eyes when we meet. I’m ashamed to say I only visit her three or four times a year, despite the jail being only 45 minutes away. I should go more often but life and family commitments seem to get in the way.
Prison is such a depressing place, it’s easy to avoid. When I do visit, I spend a few hours perched uncomfortably on a bolted-down metal stool chatting to someone who becomes more institutionalised with each passing year. A woman whose life has been reduced to a shared cell, television, $18 a week pay for performing “gardening duties” and handful of books.