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Call Me Cruel
A Story About Murder and the Dangerous Power of Lies
By Michael Duffy
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2012 Michael Duffy
All rights reserved.
John Edwards' nightmare began when his phone rang at midday on Saturday 8 May 2004, and it has continued to this day. When he thinks about his life now, he divides it into the time before that and the time after.
John had three children, Leanne, Michael and Kylie, all in their twenties. They lived on the Central Coast near their mother, Carol, from whom he was long separated. It was Michael on the phone, ringing to say they hadn't seen Kylie since she'd gone away over a week earlier to stay with friends for a few days.
This was a worry, but not as much as it would have been with many people. Kylie, who was twenty-three, was something of a mystery to her family; for her to stay away without telling them was not necessarily cause for alarm. Until recently, she'd been married and living in Sydney, and they knew little of her life down there. A few weeks before, she'd walked out on her husband, Sean Labouchardiere, and also on the nursing course she'd just started, and come up to stay with her grandmother Louisa at Erina. She had no children and was not working. When she left ten days before, she hadn't said who she'd be staying with or for exactly how long. It was in keeping with her character that she'd change her plans and forget to call; her grandmother believed there was a new man in her life.
That was the positive view. But on the other hand, Kylie had been planning to go to Moree by train that morning with an uncle and aunt to attend a cousin's engagement party. The relatives had called Louisa to say Kylie had not turned up at Central: she'd missed the train, despite buying a ticket weeks ago. That was less like her, and this — along with the amount of time that had now passed without any communication — was why Michael had decided to call his father.
John considered what Michael told him. He felt uneasy, but he was not going to panic — he was not the panicking kind. John was fifty-one in 2004, an ex-soldier, still fit and tanned. Since leaving the army he had held responsible positions, run businesses and dealt with crises and people under pressure. He loved his daughter but was fully aware of her private nature, and her sometimes headstrong behaviour. Still, there was enough that was odd about the whole thing to make him uneasy, and he decided to drive up to Erina and talk to other members of the family to obtain more information. In the army John had worked at Victoria Barracks in a top-secret job in communications; he knew the value of intelligence.
The first part of the trip took him through the tangle of roads in the city's west until he reached the F3, the big freeway connecting Sydney with the Central Coast. As he drove, he thought about the last time he'd seen Kylie, five weeks earlier. She'd come to visit him in Parramatta, where he worked with a company that helped people find jobs. He thought about her smile, because with Kylie the thing everyone noticed about her first was her smile — not just a grin but a big, toothy smile. She had inherited it from him.
When she was a child it had been a great smile, gaining her the nickname 'Smiley Kylie'. With her light-brown hair and chubby cheeks, that look in her brown eyes showing utter contentment, complete trust, she was everything you hoped a daughter might be. John remembers her as a happy child who would always hug people when she greeted them. But just before she turned five, John and Carol had separated, and before long Carol took up with a man named Robert McCann, a criminal and a man of violence, who had turned her life inside out. The children had gone to live with their grandmother but they'd continued to see their mother and McCann, and what he did to her. The effects had been particularly bad on Kylie.
When she came out of her childhood, the smile was still there but it was very different, showing a lot of strain. If you knew the story of her life, you might say she'd been wounded and had not recovered. She was just above average height and slender, with an open, bright face and hair, dyed blonde now, usually at shoulder length. She had a lively personality, although sometimes she could be moody.
John loved her more than ever and he hated what had happened because of the divorce and her mother's decade of abuse by McCann. You could see from Kylie's smile that she desperately wanted to be happy, but things had occurred that made her doubt whether anything good in her life would last. For a while there, in the early days of her marriage to Sean, the family had thought she might have broken through into a new life. But it had all gone bad, although they didn't know why. It was as though the past had reached out and pulled Kylie back.
When they'd met, Kylie told him she was leaving Sean. John had been surprised. On Christmas Eve the couple had invited the family to their townhouse at Sylvania for a meal, and as far as John could see, everything had been fine. And now this. He wondered if their separation had anything to do with their failure to have a baby. This mattered a lot to Kylie: she'd actually made a nursery in the spare room not long after the wedding, even stocking it with nappies and baby lotions. But they hadn't been married much more than a year: it seemed early to cut and run. Maybe something else had happened, but Kylie hadn't offered any more information.
About halfway through John's trip to the Coast, there occurred the first of what were to be several coincidences in the story of the last weeks of Kylie's life. Not long after the Calga Interchange, the broad freeway dips and sweeps across the Mooney Mooney Bridge, reputedly the tallest in the southern hemisphere. Years later, it would turn out to be linked to Kylie's disappearance. It's even possible John drove over his daughter's grave, seventy-five metres below, on his way north that day, although that grave has never been found.
But all that lay ahead. For now he just concentrated on the road, worked his way up to the Gosford exit and turned off onto the long highway that runs down to the Coast. He intended to talk to the family and search Kylie's room, try to find out where she was. He was going to use all his skills to find her and bring her back, make sure she had another chance. Make some sort of recompense for leaving her all those years before, when he'd walked away from Carol. Everyone deserved another chance, but Kylie deserved one more than most.CHAPTER 2
In the photos of John and Carol Edwards' wedding in Sydney in 1973, John looks happy, with a huge smile pushing his narrow cheeks into long creases. Carol, a short, solid woman, has her thick, dark hair rolled back above her forehead, and her fluffy white dress covers every inch of skin except her face and hands. She seems happy too, although there's a hint of wariness in other photos from around this period, which was to become more evident with time.
Before long, they had three children: Leanne in 1975, Michael in 1977, and Kylie Maree Edwards, born 16 September 1980. Carol became pregnant with Kylie by accident, and the couple's relationship deteriorated as the pregnancy progressed. Carol was a fragile woman who sometimes found the challenges of motherhood overwhelming. John was away a lot on military exercises, and she spent much time at the home of her parents, Louisa and Harry Windeyer, at Villawood in Sydney's west so they could help with the other children.
Kylie was a demanding baby. She rarely slept and she cried constantly, refusing to be with anyone but her mother. John was posted to New Guinea for three months, and Carol recalls being like a zombie. She moved back to the home of her parents, who grew close to the children; Harry called Kylie his sweet pea.
Soon after John returned to Australia, he was posted to Watsonia in Melbourne. The family went with him but Carol found it tough, having no family support and little time to make new friends. Life is often hard for army wives, and having three young children made it worse. Kylie was frequently very ill with tonsillitis, almost dying several times due to breathing difficulties. Louisa would fly down from Sydney to help Carol cope. John continued to be away from home frequently on army matters, and in April 1985 he announced he was leaving Carol. She packed her bags and took the children back to her parents' place.
Once settled in, she began to go out to a local club, the Chester Hill RSL, and made some friends. This was a new experience for her: she'd never smoked or drunk alcohol before, and since getting married at nineteen and having children, she'd almost never had the time to socialise. Now, at the age of thirty and with her parents available for babysitting, she was determined to make up for that.
But Carol was hurt and vulnerable, and had little experience of men. Within a few weeks she met Robert McCann and found herself attracted to him, even though he was ten years her junior. McCann wanted someone he could dominate, and Carol was perfect. After all the years of doing the right thing while bringing up the children, often feeling lonely, her self-esteem was low. Only a few months after separating from John, she left her parents and went to live with McCann, taking the children with her.
Before long he was hitting her. An officer from the Department of Community Services (DoCS) found out and said the department would remove her children if she stayed with him, because of the danger he posed to them. Carol felt she was being forced to choose between her children and the man she loved. She felt she'd been pushed around all her life, and now, when she'd finally found a chance of happiness, someone wanted to take it away from her. So she abandoned her children. In early 1986, Michael, Leanne and Kylie — aged eleven, nine and six — went to live with their grandparents in Villawood.
Carol says the decision to leave her children was a traumatic one, which she now deeply regrets; today she finds it hard to understand what she was going through at that time. One thing she does know is that DoCS' concerns were justified: years later, Kylie told her that McCann had already assaulted her twice by this time, once holding her out an upstairs window by her ankles and threatening to drop her, and once throwing her down a flight of stairs. At the time these attacks happened, Kylie was just four or five years old.
Losing her mother in this way, and later realising more fully how Carol had chosen her lover over her children, must have been deeply traumatic for Kylie, in ways most of us can only imagine. Leanne believes Kylie was probably more affected by it than she and Michael were, but has no idea to what extent. She doesn't know if anyone ever sat down with Kylie at the time and explained what was happening and why their mother had left. But the effects were deep and permanent: Kylie was a victim of life long before she became a victim of Paul Wilkinson.
Louisa brought the children up for the next decade. She performed the job almost single-handedly, because Harry died the following year. John had access to his children every second weekend. When Kylie started in kindergarten at Villawood East Primary School, she became hysterical every day when Leanne — who was an older pupil at the school — left her at 9.00 a.m. This went on for weeks, until the teachers prevented Leanne from waiting with her outside the classroom. After that, Kylie seems to have calmed down and enjoyed primary school. She grew closer to her grandmother, who provided an emotional and physical refuge from which the child was able to observe her mother's tortured second marriage.
A question raised years later by people familiar with Kylie's disappearance is why she would have entered an abusive relationship with a man like Paul Wilkinson. One possible reason is that as she grew up, her main experience of a relationship between a man and a woman was her mother's with Robert McCann. It lasted ten years, and Kylie visited her mother often, encountering McCann and seeing what he was doing to her. Maybe this conditioned the expectations she came to have of adult relationships. McCann was, after all, the man her mother loved — indeed, he was the man for whom she had abandoned Kylie and her other children.
McCann's father had been in the air force, so the family moved around a lot in his youth. When he was fifteen his parents separated, and the next year he was convicted of multiple crimes — mainly stealing cars — and sent to Mount Penang Juvenile Detention Centre. He was a violent youth: one of his thefts had involved force, and in the year he met Carol he was charged with attacking another woman.
Carol and McCann married in March 1987. They both had jobs, she with the NRMA and he as a station assistant with the railways. She found him completely dominating. If a night went badly on the poker machines, he'd lock her out of the house. He took most of the money she earned and used it for drinking and gambling, and he insisted on seeing her financial records to make sure she was handing over everything. The couple spent their nights and weekends at clubs, drinking and playing the machines, except for the times he would head off into the darkness to do a bit of 'midnight shopping'. He would steal cars and buy wrecks of the same models, swapping the plates and chassis numbers before selling them on.
In 1988 McCann stopped working for the railways and Carol and he were evicted from their house in Villawood. He started committing more crime, culminating in an ambitious attempt to rob the cash box on a train. In January 1989, he and a partner, who was dressed in a guard's uniform, turned up on Platform 24 at Central Railway Station. Somehow the partner was able to take the place of a rostered guard on the service that collected the takings from railway stations, and he smuggled McCann on board.
Train 60A travelled to Bondi and down through the Shire to Waterfall, then back towards the city. Staff at each station put bags of cash in the locked steel box, and between stations McCann used tools he had brought with him to try to unbolt it from the floor. The getaway car was parked at Tempe, but when the train arrived there the box was still attached, so they went on, eventually throwing it off near Erskineville Station and jumping after it. The partner kept watch on the box, which was later found to contain $53,247.41, while McCann raced off to collect the car.
But they were caught, and in July McCann pleaded guilty to this and other offences; he was sentenced to seven years' jail, with a non-parole period of three years. It would have been longer except that McCann had given information to the police.
The next three years provided Carol with a respite, but when McCann got out of jail she took him back and the cycle of violence recommenced. Kylie — who hated the man and couldn't understand why her mother stayed with him — was now eleven.
Fortunately for the children, Louisa continued to provide an emotional centre for their lives. She later described Kylie as a private child who didn't like being told what to do and was snappy at times. She was a bit of a wanderer and could be unsettled, and liked doing things on her own. Outwardly she was an average sort of girl, not doing too well academically but enjoying sport, for a while playing with the Birrong Sports Netball Club. She was a happy-go-lucky kid in a casual world, wearing brightly coloured T-shirts tucked into loose shorts, usually with thongs. Her light-brown hair was cut just above her shoulders.
A change occurred at the end of primary school. Kylie wanted to go on to Bass Hill High School, like all her friends, but Louisa insisted she go to Chester Hill High School because that's where Leanne and Michael were. (Leanne had started out at Bass Hill but switched because it was too rough.) At Chester Hill, Kylie became a rebel. When Leanne was sixteen she moved into a spare room in Louisa's garage and her friends would come over, some of them boys with cars. Over the next few years, Kylie was always trying to go out with the older kids. She showed off and sought their attention, but she didn't seem to have too many friends of her own.
Carol says that Kylie went off the rails in high school. She started skipping classes and Louisa was unable to control her. Often she would stay out until midnight. When she was thirteen or fourteen, she began to sleep over at the house of a boyfriend, Troy Myers, at Regents Park. For several years she lived there or at Louisa's, depending on the state of her relationship with Troy. His mother, Maxine Cahill, became a good friend, and Kylie called her 'Mum'.
Cahill doesn't remember a lot about Kylie at that age. She does recall that she knew how to have fun. They would all go driving together with music blaring out, and Kylie could be cheeky. She might call out to a man walking his dog, 'It's not nice to take your wife for a walk!' She was popular with boys but didn't have a lot of boyfriends. Later in her adolescence, she was interested in a policeman from Bass Hill but it didn't go anywhere. She didn't drink a lot or smoke, and had stopped playing much sport, although for a while she was a cheergirl for a rugby league team.
Kylie, says Cahill, 'loved to laugh and was very trusting. She trusted too much, believed everything people would say.' It was an observation others would make in the years to come.
Excerpted from Call Me Cruel by Michael Duffy. Copyright © 2012 Michael Duffy. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Setting up Geoff,
The man who told stories,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
"...one of the most disturbing things about this story is not only that he [Paul Wilkinson] left a trail of broken careers and marriages and lives in his wake - a trail of misery an devastation- but that he almost got away with it." p5This quote from Call Me Cruel aptly describes why this case is so fascinating. It took five years to bring Paul Wilkinson to account for the murder of Kylie Labouchardiere, and he did very nearly walk away. This book tracks the case from the moment Kylie disappeared until Wilkinson was convicted of her murder. A sad tale of a vulnerable woman whose poor choices led her into the arms of her killer, Call Me Cruel includes the known facts and evidence police painstakingly gathered, the story of the grief felt by Kylie's family and some conjecture about what exactly happened to Kylie, whose body has never been found.Kylie Labouchardiere was just 25 years old when caught a train from the central coast to meet her lover, Wilkinson and was never seen again. Their affair had begun only a few months earlier after an encounter in the hospital where Kylie worked and Wilkinson was a patient. Unhappy in her marriage to her Navy husband, Kylie was susceptible to Wilkinsons charm that disguised his penchant for lies and manipulation. At the time an Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer (ACLO), though on stress leave, Wilkinson lured Kylie into his life by pretending to need her help with a case and quickly began a sexual relationship with her despite having a wife and brand new baby at home.On the night she disappeared it is believed that Kylie, who had just discovered she was pregnant, was expecting Paul to leave his wife and move with her to Dubbo to begin a new life.Kylie's murder is undoubtedly a tragedy, and it was made worse for her family by the difficulties police had in proving a case against Wilkinson. Despite the suspicions of the investigators, Paul was arrogantly certain that they would never tie him to Kylie. But as a man who thrived on attention and manipulation he was unable to resist the drama of the case, repeatedly insinuating himself into the investigation with elaborate lies and fantasies which grew and changed over time, placing him more firmly in the frame as a suspect despite the lack of physical evidence. It is rare that a killer is convicted without a body though there is no doubt Kylie was murdered by Paul Wilkinson. In the end is was one of the more than 20,000 text messages that he exchanged with Kylie over a period of less than four months that proved to be the piece that led to Wilkinson admitting (though later rescinding) his guilt.In his murderous wake, Kylie was not Wilkinson's only victim - Kylie's broken family, his own wife and son and a police officer he involved in his fantasies accusing him of outlandish crimes all paid a price and continue to do so, for his selfish decisions. Oblivious, Wilkinson refuses to reveal where Kylie was dumped and cares not at all for their misery.Michael Duffy, a journalist and fiction novelist, has told the story of the investigation with sensitivity and respect striking a balance between dry facts and high emotion. Call Me Cruel is an interesting look at a victim, her murderer and the procedures of the police in a homicide case.