true crime

Tara Costigan was murdered in 2015. There's some CCTV footage Heidi Lemon can't look away from.

Tara Costigan was the woman next door.

A hard worker. Quick to laugh and easy to like. She was happy, confident, strong. A woman who always looked after herself and her kids. Close with her family and friends, she was much loved. Then, in 2013, she met Marcus Rappel. 

A local tradie, he was charming and sincere, they dated and fell in love. That should have been the end of a happy-ever-after story. But for Tara, it was much uglier. And for her family, it would be devastating. 

A year later, Tara was pregnant to Marcus. Her family had been worried for a while, but Tara didn't tell anyone how Marcus' jealousy was souring the relationship. She tried to keep it quiet. Despite everything, she never imagined he would be physically violent - he would never hurt her. 

Tara was wrong. On the last day of summer in 2015, she was holding their newborn baby in her arms, when he attacked her with an axe. Her murder seemed to come out of the blue. But as my book The First Time He Hit Her reveals, it did not. 

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The following is an extract from Heidi Lemon's book The First Time He Hit Her. Heidi is in the living room with her husband, watching the CCTV footage of Marcus Rappel driving towards Tara Costigan's house. Here, she writes about what she saw, and what it tells us about the nature of domestic violence.

I sprawl out on the lounge room floor and again watch the CCTV footage of the white ute doing its laps. Matty walks past and pauses. 'Whatcha watching?'

Stripped of context, it's an exceptionally dull piece of film. Simply a ute with darkened windows driving up and down a road. To my partner, it would seem unlikely that this footage is causing my heart to canter, my armpits to sweat, and, at the point when the ute turns suddenly into the driveway, my head to spin with an unexpected dizziness.

I explain what the video is and play it from the beginning. Matty watches silently. 'At this point,' I say, 'Marcus was going off. In a complete state of rage.'

'He had the axe by now?'

'Yeah, he'd just bought it.'

'Mm.' Matty peers at the screen. 'He's not really driving that fast, is he?'

It's a simple observation that takes me by surprise. I've been so mesmerised by the latent horror of the imagery that I haven't even noticed the ute's docile speed - it is going no faster than any of the vehicles that occasionally pass it in the other lane. This little detail brings to mind a point raised by numerous family violence websites: the abuser can control himself, even if he claims otherwise and even if it seems he cannot. Evidence of his self-control lies in the fact, for example, that he would not berate his boss the way he would berate his partner because he understands that there would be serious repercussions. 

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Or, as was the case here, it lies in his preparedness to respect the speed limit even as he permitted his rage to escalate, driving past Tara's house with an axe on the seat beside him. 

The more times I watch the footage - trying fruitlessly to see the driver's face, looking for clues to his mindset in the movements of the vehicle - the more I begin to suspect that it represents some kind of critical juncture between fantasy and reality. When he bought the axe at Bunnings - whether to kill Tara or, as he claimed, to chop up his furniture - no destruction had yet occurred. Had Marcus seized control of himself, the ultimate fate of the axe might have been to roll around with the tradie tools in the back of his ute, its alternative history a mortifying secret known only to himself. As he made each pass of Tara's driveway, he was filled not only with terrible rage but with that particular breed of anguish the existentialists both celebrated and cursed - the anguish of understanding one's freedom, of beholding the literal turn in the road which, if taken, will change everything. 

At one point, this anguish seems to become visible: shortly after the ute's arrival onto Duggan Street, it slows almost to a stop at the driveway leading into Tara's complex. Even watching it now, for a few instants, anything seems possible - the driver is quite clearly torn between two desires, two routes. Then, painfully slowly, the ute moves past the driveway and continues down the road.

To my mind, the CCTV footage illustrates the time at which something was decided. The perpetual to-ing and fro-ing of the ute is, I figure, a sign of the wretched battle being waged within its driver - a struggle that pitted furious instinct against untold repercussions, and against basic human decency. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

You can buy Heidi Lemon's book, The First Time He Hit Her, right here, or at any good bookstores.

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