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A mollycoddled, twisted loser: Why Robert Farquharson killed his 3 sons.

This Father’s Day marks 10 years since Robert Farqhuarson drove his car into a farm dam and killed his three children. It was a crime so shocking that it’s a struggle to comprehend how or why it could have happened. In her new book Why Did They Do It, respected journalist Cheryl Critchley and esteemed psychologist Dr Helen McGrath dissect some of the cases that stunned Australia and take us inside the minds of Australia’s most unlikely killers. Robert Farquharson is one of them.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007), the divorces of 52,399 Australian couples were ?nalised in 2005. As a result, almost 105,000 people had to deal with the sadness, pain and loss involved in separating from a partner and starting a new life. Divorce is never easy and can be acrimonious. But most separating parents manage to set those feelings aside and put their children ?rst when it comes to custody arrangements or choosing a school. They also try hard to keep the kids out of any arguments.

Not Robert Farquharson. He seethed with resentment. Rather than make the best of an unpleasant separation, he was consumed with exacting revenge. In his mind, whatever happened was Cindy’s fault. So he killed his boys to pay her back and tried to pass it off as a horrible accident, hoping to forever be seen as ‘poor Robbie’, the loving father who lost his children after his wife dumped him for another man.

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What could put such an idea into a father’s mind? To most people he knew, the mild-mannered Farquharson’s actions on the evening of 4 September 2005 were completely out of character. But when you dig deeper, it becomes clear why he acted the way he did. Genetic and environmental factors combined to produce this tragic outcome. These factors included a limited education, a relatively low level of intelligence, living in a small community, an overprotective upbringing and a personality disorder that left him unwilling and unable to cope with life’s ups and downs.

As the youngest of four children, Farquharson was indulged and mollycoddled by his mother and older siblings. He lived at home until he met his future wife, and was comfortable with Cindy taking on most of the responsibility for their shared life. She took the lead in many of their life decisions, which suited a partner who was spoiled, immature, dependent and reluctant to take on adult responsibilities. On the surface he was a quiet, likeable country bloke, but underneath he was an angry and inadequate man with no con?dence or resilience and few life skills.

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Unable to run a successful business, Farquharson was the archetypal ‘loser’, hiding behind his more competent wife. It suited him to let the more socially outgoing and capable Cindy act as his ‘shield’. For her part, Cindy probably felt she could help the apparently inoffensive and pliable Farquharson to become more like the kind of man she wanted. When it was clear that he was not prepared to act as a mature adult and left most of the work and responsibilities to her, she realised that she didn’t love him and asked him to leave.

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Robert's three sons

Robert Farquharson’s pattern of behaviour is consistent with a diagnosis of an avoidant personality disorder (AvPD). People with an AvPD are painfully self-conscious, perceive that they are inadequate and inferior to other people, avoid jobs requiring signi?cant interpersonal contact and unfamiliar social situations and are hypersensitive to actions or comments by others that could be seen as mocking, disapproving or rejecting.

People with an AvPD often seek social situations that minimise potential embarrassment or rejection. Some who observed him socially said Farquharson sometimes gravitated towards playing with kids at social functions. Children make fewer social demands and it was safer for him than participating in sustained adult social contact and conversation.

Farquharson also had a background that research suggests is fairly typical of someone who develops an AvPD. As a child, he had limited athletic skills, was protected by older siblings, small for his age and had bad eyesight, as well as an awkward gait due to ?at feet. As an adult he was chubby and a smoker. His mother appears to have shared some of his traits and may have used alcohol to cope with her anxiety.

'My run-of-the-mill extended family is filled with secret children.'

Farquharson probably started showing signs of a personality disorder while still at school, where friends say he regularly sniped at girls. Men with an AvPD are often especially angry at women and girls, whom they perceive to be easier targets.

Farquharson ?ts into the con?icted AvPD subtype. Such people seek out a stronger and more con?dent partner on whom they become dependent, but at the same time they resent this dependence. They tend to use passive- aggressive tactics to express their hostility. Some of Farquharson’s many passive-aggressive acts included:

• Refusing to mind his children post-separation, even when Cindy needed to go to hospital.
• Planning to verbally provoke Stephen Moules into hitting him so that he could have him charged with assault (according to his psychologist, Peter Popko).
• Relentlessly teasing his boys and calling them names, even when his own parents told him to stop.
• Grabbing Cindy’s breasts whilst she had a hot pot in her hands and then saying, ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ when she objected.
• Complaining of unfair demands being made of him when this wasn’t the case.
• Threatening, after the separation, to move to Queensland and have no contact with his children (‘Then you’ll be sorry’).
• Failing to complete tasks or do his share of the work around the house.
• Sulking a lot like a spoiled child.
• Telling his children that Cindy loved Stephen’s children more than them (in order to alienate them from her).
• Telling people his kids had told him they didn’t like Stephen.
• Making threats towards Cindy and Stephen such as: ‘I have contacts – don’t underestimate me.’
• Exaggerating or lying about times when Cindy did not comply with agreed pick-up times in order to make her look bad in the eyes of other people.

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Farquharson and his boys

He also lacked resilience, a common feature of most personality disorders. At one stage, Farquharson’s own father actually thanked Stephen Moules when he told Farquharson to grow up and move on.

Other signs that he lacked resilience included:

• Living at home until he was well into his twenties and having his lunch made for him.
• Wildly throwing a hole-digging tool at work when he couldn’t operate it.
• Attacking a lawn mower when it wouldn’t work for him and having temper tantrums.
• Avoiding having Bailey overnight so he didn’t have to change nappies.
• Inappropriately crying on Stephen Moules’s shoulder and complaining about his life after he and Cindy had separated.

When Cindy left her husband, the situation deteriorated. He had lost both of his ‘shields’: his mother and then his wife. When he no longer had Cindy to take responsibility and the initiative, he became lost and couldn’t move on. He felt humiliated and angry at what he perceived to be the unfair division of their assets.

‘My terrified daughter sat on the stairs as I was arrested for ice.’

His anger increased when he discovered that Cindy had started a new friendship with Stephen Moules. Living in a small town ampli?ed this humiliation, because his family was quite well known and he could not hide. Farquharson’s personality disorder reduced his capacity for dealing with the situation rationally or re?ecting on his own behaviour. To him, it was all Cindy’s fault for ‘treating him like shit’. With little or no empathy for his boys, he probably assigned them some of the blame as well.

Everyone else was at fault except him.

Image supplied.

In the lead-up to his crime, Farquharson cultivated the image of himself as a victim. He moped around town, arousing the sympathy of many locals, and began to complain of coughing problems, taking about eight days off work with a supposed throat infection. In one instance, he lay on the ground in front of a neighbour during an apparent coughing ?t. All of this could easily be faked – there are many internet sites that show how easy it is to fake a cough. Farquharson even turned up in court on crutches on the ?rst day of his appeal, having supposedly had a severe coughing ?t in jail that made him fall of his chair and break his leg.

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A work supervisor told the jury at his trial that two days before the boys died, Farquharson had a sudden coughing ?t so severe that she feared he might be having a stroke. But he didn’t pass out.

That week he told a friend of thirty years that he had had a coughing ?t while pulling into the local roadhouse in his car. When he came to, he said, his car had stopped. However, he later told police that his ‘passing out’ at the dam was the ?rst time it had happened; clearly, he had real dif?culties keeping his story straight and remembering to whom he had said what. He appeared to be setting the scene for his horri?c plan to murder his children. By moping and playing the wronged husband and father, he made people feel sorry for him and take care of him, believing him incapable of murder.

This strategy worked with some locals, but the jury saw through it.

Related: Is your partner okay? The warning signs of 4 mental illnesses.

In killing his boys, Farquharson believed he had come up with the perfect solution to his problems: he would pay Cindy back for humiliating him and leaving him to cope on his own, wreck her relationship with Stephen and dodge his parental and ?nancial responsibilities. Farquharson appears to have gained enormous satisfaction from being the ?rst person to see the look of horror on Cindy’s face when she found out that her three sons were dead. It is very dif?cult to imagine any other motivation for his insistence that he be driven to Cindy’s house before alerting emergency services.

Cindy speaking to reporters following the trial

Before he sentenced Farquharson to a life sentence without parole after he was found guilty at his ?rst trial, Justice Philip Cummins said: ‘You wiped out your entire family in one act. Only the two parents remained: you, because you had always intended to save yourself, and their mother, because you intended her to live a life of suffering.’

Compared to other people, those with any type of personality disorder have a limited capacity for empathy. Farquharson’s murder of his children was unbelievably cold-blooded and devoid of any empathy at all. As he planned his crime, he was able to remain calm even when imagining the terror and pain he would see on his children’s faces.

Did he picture this terror but decide to continue anyway? Or did he just smile at the thought of how Cindy’s face would look when she found out they were dead? Did he revel in the thought of how much better he expected life to be without his responsibilities, while others took care of him in his ‘bereavement’? It is beyond the comprehension of most to imagine how this man was able to plan all this and then watch as the car began to sink. Even then he did not change his mind, leading experienced coroner Dr Iain West to remark, ‘In the 30-odd years I’ve been doing this job I have never, ever come across anything more horri?c’.

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Farquharson’s limited capacity for empathy, coupled with his relatively low level of intelligence and education, also made it impossible for him to predict how somebody would react if they really had been involved in an accident that killed their children. Therefore, his behaviour was totally inappropriate and signalled his guilt to others.

Nor did he have the capacity to memorise his story and stick to it; his ever-changing versions of events was another clear indicator of guilt. He also failed to realise that Greg King might tell police about the speci?c threat he had made to kill his boys.

Where the three boys are buried.

Almost two-thirds of people who kill their children also suicide. Those who don’t are less likely to have a mental illness.

Farquharson had no signs of mental illness. He simply continued his long-standing pattern of feeling inadequate and inferior and blaming others instead of looking inwards to see what personal improvements he could make to his behaviour and thinking patterns. Farquharson saw himself as the victim and created a ‘show’ designed to harm Cindy. In his eyes, it was her fault: ‘Look what you made me do!’ But he failed to anticipate that others would see through his story.

Although they couldn’t prove it, it was obvious to police and most others closely involved in the case that Farquharson had researched conditions he claimed to have experienced, such as ‘cough syncope’ and ‘grey out’. He also failed to realise how thoroughly traf?c accident investigators would research his car’s movements into the dam.

Nothing added up and, in the end, two juries didn’t believe his lies and saw ?t to convict him. Robert Farquharson will forever be known as a man who killed his three sons.

While Jai, Tyler and Bailey will never be forgotten, the residents of Winchelsea are doing their best to move on. But locals are still haunted by what happened down the road from their historic main strip.

‘That dam just gives you the horrors every time you look at it,’ says one local. ‘I would like to see it ?lled in. It just upsets me every time it comes up on the telly and all the kids’ faces come up. It’s still the same. You’ll never, ever forget.’

This is an edited extract from Why Did They Do It? by Cheryl Crtichley and Dr Helen McGrath published by Pan Macmillan.

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