Maria Lutz and Fernando Manrique had a tenuous marriage that was in “serious trouble” before they were found dead in their Wahroonga home in October, an investigative piece by Ava Benny-Morrison for the Sydney Morning Herald claims.
Manrique’s long business trips and the difficulty of raising two young intellectually disabled children – Elisa, 11, and Martin, 10 – drove a wedge between the pair, close friends told the publication. Often, they said, the father would opt to travel overseas for the school holidays rather than spend time with his children, both of whom had autism.
“[Maria] would never have time to organise respite because it would be a last-minute thing – he would just go,” close friend and fellow mother at St Lucy’s, a special needs primary school, Peta Rostirola said.
"She kept saying, 'I have to untangle everything and it is taking me ages because I have to finish my study, deal with the kids and Fernando is away all the time.'"
'Untangling everything' reportedly involved Lutz, a trained criminal lawyer, consulting a solicitor in August 2015 about how to make the separation from her high school sweetheart as smooth as possible for her children - a meeting she never told Manrique about.
"She couldn't afford the emotional upheaval of presenting that to him because she needed to deal day-to-day with what she had," Nichole Brimble, friend and canteen co-worker, told the publication.
While the fractured marriage was well-known between the tight-knit group at St Lucy's, Manrique's possible mental health struggle was not - the only time Lutz alluded to it was a comment about her husband being "not in a good place".
One incident on August 17 this year, just two months before her family's tragic death, saw Lutz declare to friends she was getting a divorce.
Benny-Morrison writes that Lutz needed to take Martin to a specialist appointment that afternoon, yet despite calling her husband "three or four times" to ask him to pick up Elisa from school, Manrique refused. Martin quickly grew so ill he fainted and Lutz was forced to call triple-0. Lutz's last request from the back of an ambulance to pick up Elisa was denied by Manrique, who reportedly told her he was 'too busy in a meeting' to collect his daughter.
"Maria was done, that was the last straw," Rostirola said. "It wasn't anything about Maria wanting him there for her; she wanted him there for the kids and he just couldn't even do that."
Despite the rift between them, friends say Manrique was floored by Lutz's suggestion of a separation.
"He was completely shocked at the fact their marriage wasn't working," another friend Kerrie Dietz said.
Manrique is said to have told Lutz he would stay at home for the school holidays to help her with the children and organising the house before he moved out.
Lutz told her friends Manrique became highly engaged in family life, and was "continuously present" around the home.