For the first time since finding her daughter dead in their Wangaratta home in October 2015, the mother of murdered schoolgirl Zoe Buttigieg has spoken publicly.
“I will never ever forget that image, that image is stuck in my head forever,” Janelle Saunders told Nine News about the moment she found Zoe’s lifeless body under the bed sheets in the 11-year-old girl’s bedroom.
“She was very pale, her lips were blue.”
Saunders had not yet seen the worst of it.
“The worst was pulling the rest of the doona down and she had no clothes on, and I just remember screaming ‘where are her pants, why doesn’t she have any clothes on’,” Saunders said.
“I thought ‘this can’t be happening’.”
Watch Janelle Sanders speak about finding her daughter in the video below.
The night before the horrific discovery, on October 24, 2015, Saunders invited a small friends to her home for a dinner party.
Mid-way through the night, one of the guests, Bowe Maddigan, then aged 30, disappeared.
“We looked everywhere [for him],” Saunders said. “We looked outside, we looked out the back, checked all the rooms, every room but hers. And that decision haunts me every day because if I’d opened that door, she’d still be here.”
Nine News released never-before-seen footage of Maddigan speaking to police shortly after Zoe’s murder, on October 28, and admitting to the murder.
Maddigan – who had only left prison three weeks earlier – described the act as a “bad movie” and said it “made him feel sick” to think about his crime.
“I couldn’t stop the button, I couldn’t pause the button, I couldn’t rewind the button,” he said. “I had to sit through a horror movie.”
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Addressing speculation that Saunders was neglectful, Nine News reporter Alexis Daish told Today the backlash Saunders received on social media after her daughter’s death was unfair.
Parents were quick to criticise the mother for having a party at her home (Saunders admitted to consuming a small amount of cannabis but very little alcohol) and failing to check on Zoe. Daish says these assumptions were exaggerated.
“Zoe’s mum has suffered in silence,” Daish told Today this morning, News Corp reports. “There was a whole lot of mis-portrayals over what happened that night and a lot of exaggerations.”
“As if losing your daughter in that way isn’t hard enough, people really thought of her as a neglectful mother. I tell you now, that could not be further from the truth.”
Last December Maddigan received a life-long prison sentence after he pleaded guilty to murder and committing an indecent act with a child under 16. His non-parole period is 28 years.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated Saunders lived in Melbourne. Her home was in Wangaratta.