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Kathleen Folbigg ‘Australia’s Worst Female Serial Killer’ Pardoned After 20 Years

It's a huge U-turn on this infamous case.
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The woman previously considered to be ‘Australia’s worst female serial killer’, Kathleen Folbigg, has been pardoned and released after being found guilty of killing her four children and spending 20 years in jail.

NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley shared the news following the preliminary findings of the most recent inquiry into the case. Headed up by retired chief justice Commissioner Tom Bathurst KC, Daley said it was Bathurst’s “firm” conclusion that there is reasonable doubt about Folbigg’s convictions. Folbigg has always maintained her innocence.

If you aren’t across the case, Kathleen Folbigg was convicted of killing her four children—Sarah, Caleb, Laura and Patrick—aged between 19 days and 19 months, between 20 February 1989 and 1 March 1999. She was arrested after her husband found diaries that allegedly pertained to the children’s passing (an element of hot contention in the case). 

Folbigg has always maintained that their deaths were the result of natural causes, but she was jailed in 2003 with a 40-year sentence and non-parole period of 30 years, after being found guilty of three counts of murder and one of manslaughter.

A later appeal reduced her sentence to 30 years, with a non-parole period of 25 years. This would mean she was due for release in 2028.  

Now 55, a second inquiry into her convictions began in November 2022. In late April, 2023, during the closing of the inquiry, Counsel Assisting the Inquirer Sophie Callan SC, said: “On the whole of the body of evidence before this inquiry there is a reasonable doubt as to Ms Folbigg’s guilt.” 

That reality has now come to fruition, leaving her free to go.

(Credit: Image: Justice For Kathleen Folbigg)

The key to the case has been the discovery that Folbigg and her two daughters (but not her two sons) shared a rare gene mutation called CALM2G114R, which Ms Callan said may cast doubt over her convictions for the girls.  

In the inquiry, Ms Callan also mentioned medical evidence of seizures and epilepsy casting doubt over the convictions for the sons. 

From Daley’s announcement, it’s clear that despite the pardoning, her criminal convictions have not yet been quashed.

“The only body that can do that is the Court of Criminal Appeal,” he said. “That is a discussion for another day.”

There may be other legal avenues that Ms Folbigg could look down, including potential compensation for her incarceration. Until then, she will “not have to serve the rest of her sentence.”

Attorney-General Daley admitted that despite this closure to the case, the tale itself remains a devastating one.

“I have to say we’ve got four little bubbas who are dead, a husband and wife who lost each other, a woman who spent 20 years in jail, and a family that never had a chance.

“You’d not be human if you didn’t feel something about that.”

Commissioner Bathurst’s full report will take some time due to the volume of evidence and material involved in the case. 

What Did Kathleen Folbigg Write In Her Diaries? 

The children’s death notices in the paper.

The second inquiry into Ms Folbigg heard evidence of her psychiatric state, particularly regarding her diaries.  

The contents of these diaries were covered in Australian Story. One entry about Laura read: “She’s a fairly good-natured baby. Thank goodness. It has saved her from the fate of her siblings. I think she was warned.”

Another, “I feel like the worst mother on this Earth. Scared she’ll leave me now like Sarah did. I knew I was short-tempered and cruel sometimes to her, and she left. With a bit of help.”

And while pregnant with Laura, “This time I am going to call for help, this time I’ll not attempt to do everything myself any more. I know that that was my main reason for all my stress before and stress made me do terrible things…” 

Folbigg told the program that the diaries were written in the depths of emotion and maternal grief, “from a point of me always blaming myself”. 

“I blamed myself for everything. It’s just I took so much of the responsibility, because that’s, as mothers, what you do.” 

What Happened To Kathleen Folbigg’s Children? 

The four children. (Credit: Image: Australian Story)
  • Caleb (Feb, 1989): Aged just 19 days, Kathleen found her child dead in his cot. It was attributed to Sudden Infant Death Syndome (SIDS).  
  • Patrick (June 1990): Patrick was found unresponsive in his cot in October, but was managed to be revived. Doctors couldn’t determine the cause. He was diagnosed with epilepsy, but in February 1991 he was again found unresponsive in his cot and unable to be revived. Doctors said he suffered a cardiac arrest, but the cause was unknown.  
  • Sarah (October 1992): Sarah died in August 1993, and her death was attributed to SIDS.  
  • Laura (August 1997): Laura lived longer than her siblings, and died in March 1999. The child was deemed to have mild myocarditis, but her cause of death was unknown. 

The last inquiry into Folbigg in 2019 upheld her convictions. 

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