21 September 2004

--- What Drives A Son To Kill His Own Family?

NOTE: Due to the graphic nature of this post, I would like to advise those with weak and faint hearts to refrain from reading it. If you insist and get offended in the process, do not blame me for not warning you.

I'm sure you've heard already.

Filipino-born Sef Gonzales, 23 years old this year, was sentenced to three life terms in Australia for the barbaric slaughter and "for callously stabbing, bashing and strangling" his then 18-year-old sister Clodine, his 43-year-old mother Mary Loiva, and his 46-year-old lawyer-father, Teddy, "one by one at intervals of an hour or more," on a wintry and rainy July evening at their North Ryde home in Sydney.

The Australian media have many descriptive terms for Sef and I would like to elaborate on them so you can understand the personality of this troubled young man even more.
  • He was, and is called a "great performer" and a "liar," because of the web of lies he told to police, family and friends on the night of the murder and up until at least six months later. His lies included being with a prostitute at a Chatswood brothel called La Petite Aroma on the night of the murders. It turns out the prostitute he was supposed to be with did not work on the night of the murders. He was a master fake emailer having faked emails about a month after the murders to implicate a well-known wealthy businessman from the Philippines. In his attempt to poison his family, he sent fake letters to a food manufacturer claiming to be a disgruntled employee who had contaminated three of its products, and to the Australian Federal Police and the Quarantine and Inspection Service warning them of the contamination. He also admitted to faking his own abduction two weeks after the murders, claiming his captors warned him to withdraw the reward he offered for his family's killers and not speak to the media. He was found later with a plastic bag over his head claiming he had been hit on the skull with a piece of wood. However, the hospital where he was taken found no signs of bodily injury.

  • He was, and is called an "angry amateur killer," and a "monster," because of the manner he murdered his family. Of all those writers following the Sef story, both Aussie and the local press, there is one I like the most. Lee Glendinning of the Sydney Morning Herald has the most vivid account of the gruesome murder:
    "There were thunder claps in North Ryde the wintry (rainy) night in July that Teddy Gonzales was driving home from work. The home phone went unanswered when he tried ringing. The family's dream home --- decorated by his wife and complete with an altar at the top of the stairs where the family prayed to Our Lady Queen of Peace --- sat opposite the home of the children's grandmother, Amelita Claridades.

    "Teddy arrived at 4:30pm. Sef stood in the wings of the doorway, wearing his father's shoes and a fresh tracksuit to hide the blood of his mother and sister. He had been waiting for 2 hours. The moment his father walked through the door, Sef stabbed him in the back, severing his spinal cord. He fell to the floor in partial paralysis, his white business shirt soaking with blood.
    Sef then stabbed his father's heart, again and again.
    (Before this) he had slashed the throat of his mother, who had struggled, and bashed (with a baseball bat)and strangled and stabbed his 18-year-old sister Clodine (who just celebrated her 18th birthday the previous day). The family's six dogs were either locked in the laundry or upstairs or chained up outside.

    "After the murders, Sef changed his clothes and continued with his plans. He sprayed the racist slur 'FUCK OFF ASIANS. KKK' on the living room wall. This, he hoped, would tip off visitors, entering in through a door he left open, something terrible had happened and throw police off his track. However, he left a trace of the paint on his jumper, crucially the only piece of evidence to definitely place him at the scene.

    "Just before 7pm, a neighbour, John Caulfield, heard a noise across the aluminium sheeting kept between the two houses. Police believe that it might have been Sef leaving the scene, taking away three bloodied tracksuits, two kitchen knives, his father's shoes and a pair of gardening gloves. They believe he cleaned himself up at a nearby primary school. The murder weapons are still missing.

    As arranged, Sef arrived at 8pm at the house of a mate, Sam Dacillo, a few blocks away, ready to go out to dinner. It was during their drive to the city, before the bodies had been found, that he advanced his false alibi, telling Sam he had spent the afternoon driving around Blacktown looking for a friend's place.

    But unknown to him, a client of his father's had dropped documents in the letterbox between 4:10pm and 4:30pm and saw a green Ford Festiva in the carport with the number plate SEF80G (Sef's car; this places him in the scene of the crime). His aunt, Emily Luna, also saw (his) car when she arrived after picking her son up from after-school care at 6pm. As she rang the doorbell he had stood to the side of the door.

    "Police believe he had never wanted to be the one to 'discover' the bodies of his family. When he returned home at 11:45pm there was no movement and he knew he would have to begin the act.

    He called triple-0 three minutes later (Australia's 911 number, I guess), wailing 'My family's been killed.'

    When ambulance officers arrived minutes after midnight Sef had told neighbours how he hugged the bodies and tried to resuscitate them and prevent the flow of gushing blood from Clodine's side. But there was barely any blood on him, save for the soles of his shoes and small spots on his pants. He says perhaps it washed off in the drizzling rain or when he sat down in shock, placing his hands on the frosty grass."
  • He was also described as a "tiny green Buddha," incapable of expression and emotion throughout the funeral, the trial, the conviction and the sentencing. Once more, Lee Glendinning had a nice account of this "tiny-green-buddha-image" of Sef:
    "Sef has not talked about how he felt on that night. He has described finding the bodies but seems incapable of feeling. In court and at the funeral,
    despite his crumpling face, no tears came. During points of intense cross-examination, he could not articulate any feelings past panic.

    "When he sat up late in the night telling friends what he saw that evening, he spoke softly about each thing he saw, but never about how he felt.
Another excellent chronology of the Gonzales murders has been compiled by the Inquirer and can be found here.

And so, dear readers, I ask you the question, what drives a kid to kill his own parents?

To all parents out there, how well do you know your kids?

Do you know their thoughts, their desires, their joys, their sadness, their hates, what they think of you as parents, and their true ambitions in life?

Do you know them well enough that you have no worries whatsoever that one day they will plan to kill you?

Filipinos are known for close family ties, the concept of extended families, and hence, I would like to believe that Sef is not alien to Filipino family values. Sef was not born in Australia. He was born and raised here, in conservative Baguio City, before his dad Teddy decided to migrate to Australia in 1991, after the July 1990 Baguio earthquake which destroyed the hotel they owned. If he is 23 today, he must have been around 10 or 11 years old when they migrated.

Justice Bruce James, the one who sentenced Sef to three life terms, said Sef had two motives for the murders:
  1. "(Sef) Gonzales, who was doing poorly at university, was fearful his ambitious parents would take away his car and other privileges." Again, according to Glendinning's report:
    "Sef was facing expulsion at his second attempt at a university degree, devastating to Teddy and Mary Loiva Gonzales (Sef's parents), who would talk often about how they planned for him to become a heart surgeon and later about how he would take over the family law firm.

    "Whichever child had performed well at school would always be the centre of discussion at extended family functions. The other would be relegated. It was always a contest and thus a constant and desperate need for approval grew inside Sef from when he was young.

    "In the months before the deaths he had provided a flurry of medical certificates to lecturers complaining of upper respiratory infections, attempting to sit supplementary exams to do anything to change the four fails he knew would be arriving in the mail on July 20 --- the day his family was buried.

    "In the meantime, he began to attempt to create a fake academic transcript to show his parents and offered to do the same for Clodine, but she refused, revealing his forgery to their mother. His parents threatened to take away his privileges, his generous allowance and the use of his Ford Festiva. Before the murders, they limited his car use so significantly that Sef had to take the bus to university, which he hated.

    "He had also broken up with a girl he adored, managing to woo her away from her boyfriend for two weeks before she went back, leaving Sef distraught. So strong were his feelings he had given her a promise of engagement: a necklace engraved with the letter G, and had introduced her to his mother. But, as she had often done before, his mother disapproved. This time it was because she said the woman, four years older than Gonzales, was too old. Four days before the murders, Gonzales argued with his mother, who said Gonzales would not be welcome in the family if the relationship continued."

  2. "He (also) wanted to inherit alone and without delay their property in Australia and the Philippines, worth about US$1.5 million." Glendinning's report said:
    "On top of this he (Sef) believed he deserved to claim his inheritance early and cut his sister, who was due to return to Melbourne the next day, out of the deal. Somehow he believed he was entitled to a privileged existence."

NEXT on Part Two:
  • The psychological background of those who commit parricide

  • Does Sef deserve all the blame for this gruesome massacre?

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