Friend of Australia's worst female serial killer opens up
A CLOSE friend of Australia's worst female serial killer claims Kathleen Folbigg is a "well-respected" prisoner who "still laughs and finds amusement in the mundane".
Newcastle mother Megan Donegan, 50, told news.com.au she visits Folbigg, 51 - who is half way through serving a 30 year sentence for killing her four children - in Sydney's Silverwater Women's Correctional Centre a few times each year.
"When I visit her there's half a dozen other prisoners in the room, sometimes there's (convicted child killer) Keli Lane, and the guards walk past and will joke with her," Ms Donegan said.
"She has a good relationship with other guards and the prisoners respect her."
But it's the pair's weekly phone calls that Ms Donegan looks forward to most. Inmates are allowed just six minutes for each conversation. Ms Donegan says they pack a lot into those calls, because Folbigg is someone she can "talk to about anything".
"She has the biggest laugh," she said.
"Of course she's depressed where she is but she's not letting it eat away at her.
"She can laugh about things we're talking about and find amusement in the mundane."
Ms Donegan met her friend while they were both Year 7 students at Newcastle's Kotara High School in the 1980s.
In that time, she's only ever seen her cry once.
In 1999, Folbigg allegedly took Ms Donegan by the hand and led her into her dead daughter Laura's bedroom at the infant's wake in Singleton, near Newcastle.
"After we were at the church funeral we went back to Kathy's house where there was a house full of people," Ms Donegan told news.com.au through tears on Thursday.
"Kathy's not the type of person who was comfortable crying in front of people. She doesn't like people seeing her emotions.
"So she dragged me into Laura's bedroom so she could cry, then washed her face, and walked back out."
But it wasn't the first time Folbigg had been through a tragic ordeal of this nature.
Laura was her fourth child to die in mysterious circumstances. At 19 months old, Laura had lived longer than her sister Sarah who died aged 10 months in 1993; and her brothers Patrick who died aged eight months in 1991; and Caleb who lived for just 19 days in 1989.
The first few deaths were initially deemed to be caused by Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
"She was concerned when pregnant with (her second child) Patrick," Ms Donegan said.
"She was super excited to be having another baby (after her first child died) but she was afraid of it happening again. "She was apprehensive as any parent would be after having lost a child."
Folbigg went on to lose another three children, including Patrick, but it wasn't until her youngest child Laura's death that suspicion arose. Not only was Laura at an age outside of the range typically associated with SIDS, but she was now the fourth child of Folbigg's to die in mysterious circumstances on her watch. None of the children lived long enough to ever know the other but the similarities in their deaths were remarkable.
All four children were found dead by their mother. And they were all found to have died suddenly from "cessation of breathing" but post-mortems failed to establish the cause.
No forensic evidence was found that could prove any of the children were murdered. But the circumstantial evidence was enough to ultimately convince the jury Folbigg was guilty of the crimes.
FOLBIGG 'DELIGHTED' OVER INQUIRY
Folbigg is now the subject of an inquiry into the deaths of her four children after new evidence emerged that has raised questions about the case against her.
She remained behind bars in Silverwater Correctional facility - where she has spent the bulk of the last 15 years - as the first directions hearing for the matter was held in Sydney on Thursday. She is said to be "delighted" the inquiry is underway because it could ultimately lead to her convictions being overturned and her early release from prison.
Folbigg was found guilty on May 21, 2003 of killing her four children and maliciously inflicting grievous bodily harm on one of them over a 10 year period.
She was sentenced to 40 years' jail - later reduced on appeal to 30 years - of which she has so far served half. She is eligible for parole after serving 25 years.
Folbigg has always maintained her innocence but having exhausted the appeal process, her legal team lodged a petition in 2015 to the NSW Government for a judicial review. Their argument is that the evidence at her trial was flawed and fresh forensic opinion shows natural causes are a plausible explanation for their deaths.
Counsel assisting Gail Furness SC said the crown case at trial was "circumstantial" and consisted of four areas of evidence: the circumstances of each child's death, coincidence evidence, medical evidence and Folbigg's own diaries.
Ms Furness said the main report relied upon in the application for the judicial review was an undated, 91-page paper by forensic medicine Professor Stephen Cordner from Monash University.
"He concluded that there is nothing from a forensic pathology viewpoint to suggest that any of the children had been killed," she said.
"He opined that there are identifiable, natural causes of death for two of the children, Patrick and Laura, and natural causes are a plausible explanation for the other two deaths, Caleb and Sarah, and the acute or apparent life- threatening event concerning Patrick."
She also highlighted a 2015 report from a mathematics professor which concluded "the jury was almost certainly misled" by expert statements "regarding the rarity of multiple SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)".
Ms Donegan has been unwavering in her support for Folbigg from the start. She told news.com.au she had "never once" doubted the convicted child killer's innocence.
"We spent so much time together she became like an extra person in my family," Ms Donegan said.
"She came to my nieces' and nephews' christenings. And we'd go for a drive on Sundays and have a picnic. She was always with us. Even now, she is the godmother of my eldest child."
Ms Donegan is adamant that she hasn't fallen victim to a cunning killer's manipulative ways.
"She's not manipulative at all," she told news.com.au.
"She's the most open person. If she'd (killed the children) she would have written it in the diaries."
THE DIARIES: 'ALL I WANTED WAS HER TO SHUT UP'
Folbigg's estranged husband Craig, the children's' father, testified against his former wife during her trial. Her foster sister Lea Brown also testified for the prosecution.
But it was Folbigg's damning diary entries that detailed her dark thoughts and revealed she was "short tempered and cruel" to her babies, which ultimately secured her convictions. One of the entries said her daughter Sarah "left … With a bit of help".
"With Sarah all I wanted was her to shut up. And one day she did."
A later entry about her daughter Laura read: "Wouldn't have handled another like Sarah.
"She saved her life by being different.
"She's a fairly good-natured baby. Thank goodness. It has saved her from the fate of her siblings. I think she was warned.
"I actually seem to have a bond with Laura. It can't happen again. I'm ashamed of myself."
Folbigg spoke publicly for the first time since her sentencing in August this year after she consented to a phone conversation with friend Tracy Chapman being recorded. It was then broadcast on the ABC.
During the call, Folbigg said the diary entries could be explained because she had been referring to herself in the sense of taking "on that responsibility so heavily with each child" as their mother.
"Why didn't I see this coming? Why didn't I see the signs? Why wasn't I paying more attention?" she said.
Folbigg, who as a young girl witnessed her father Thomas 'Jack' Britton stab her mother to death, has previously acknowledged she was considered by some to be Australia's "most hated woman". In one of her diary entries she wrote: "I am my father's daughter."
Ms Donegan told news.com.au she believed Folbigg's diaries contained "no admission of guilt" over her children's deaths.
"There is mother's guilt … plenty of that," she said.
The inquiry into Folbigg's case is expected to run for six to 12 months in Sydney before former chief judge of the District Court, Reginald Blanch AM QC.
FOLBIGG'S LIFE IN PRISON
According to Ms Donegan, Folbigg now works "in a room called the Reception", as an inmate at Silverwater Correctional Facility.
"It's her job to receive prisoners there," she said.
"She has no access to computers, it's more that when a new prisoner comes straight from the courts, they might be there for drugs or assault, she's the one who has to make sure they have the clothes they require before they are processed into the jail.
"She sees nearly all the women when they come in … she is the type of person who needs to be working."
NSW Corrective Services declined to comment on the matter, citing privacy reasons, when contacted by news.com.au.
According to Ms Donegan, Folbigg is incarcerated in a section with women who are also serving time for crimes against children and "where about half a dozen of them share a kitchen".
"She's a well respected prisoner," Ms Donegan said.
It's a long way from the suburban home Folbigg once shared with her husband and children.
"She was a good cook and a prolific reader," Ms Donegan said.
"She had a nice house. It was always tidy. I never saw any alarm bells."
- With AAP