Hannah Clarke killer’s brag as coroner brands murderous ex as ‘master of manipulation’

Hannah Clarke’s killer ex-husband was a “master of manipulation” who duped close friends, family and professionals into supporting him while meticulously planning the murder of his former wife and children, a coroner has found.

The disturbing portrait of the murderous Rowan Baxter was revealed as deputy state coroner Jane Bentley handed down her long-awaited findings into the deaths of Hannah and her children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3.

Even before the horrifying act in February 2020, Baxter spun a web of lies of Hannah treating him badly, feeding into a complex where he believed he was the real victim.

Hannah Clarke and her children (pictured) were killed by her estranged husband Rowan Baxter after he doused the family car in petrol and set it alight in February 2020.
Camera IconHannah Clarke and her children (pictured) were killed by her estranged husband Rowan Baxter after he doused the family car in petrol and set it alight in February 2020. Credit: News Corp Australia

Ms Bentley found Baxter made ludicrous claims that Hannah was “crazy”, depressed and having a relationship with someone at the gym in an attempt to portray his ex-wife in a negative light.

She said this was done to try and garner support after Hannah left him.

“He contacted family members, friends, old neighbours, ex-gym members and associates that he had not been in contact with for years,” Ms Bentley said of Baxter.

“He attempted to get them on side and blamed Hannah for the separation and his inability to see his children.”

Even with a protection order in place, Baxter was still able to work around police’s attempts to keep him in check.

Rowan Baxter pictured on CCTV buying fuel cans and zip ties at Bunnings before the murders.
Camera IconRowan Baxter pictured on CCTV buying fuel cans and zip ties at Bunnings before the murders. Credit: Supplied

He breached the order a month before killing his family by twisting Hannah’s arm when she discovered explicit pictures of herself in his car.

When told the order was still in place and he could not breach it, Baxter told officers: “I’m very smart about what I do.”

Hannah, Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey were killed by Baxter on February 19, 2020 when Baxter ambushed the family on their way to school.

After dousing the family car in petrol, he set it alight.

The children died almost “immediately” from inhalation of fumes and burns. Hannah died from multi-organ failure as a result of the blaze and Baxter died from a self-inflicted stab wound after the attack, Ms Bentley found.

Over the two-week inquest in March, the court was told Hannah’s marriage to Baxter was defined by his controlling and abusive behaviours.

Some of these included controlling what Hannah wore and who she could see, demanding sex from her every night, berating her body image and at times becoming physically abusive.

He would also frequently “use the children against her”, such as by becoming aggressive towards them if Hannah refused to comply with his demands and threatening to take them away from her.

The coroner found Baxter (left, pictured with Hannah and her children) was a “master of manipulation” who elicited support from old friends and professionals after Hannah left him.
Camera IconThe coroner found Baxter (left, pictured with Hannah and her children) was a “master of manipulation” who elicited support from old friends and professionals after Hannah left him. Credit: News Corp Australia

In her findings, Ms Bentley described Baxter as a “master of manipulation” who killed himself in a “final act of cowardice”.

Associates and friends of the killer had described him as “controlling and driven”, competitive, someone who always painted himself as the victim, short tempered and “an incredibly insecure person who put on a ‘macho’ front and only felt valued when he perceived himself to be superior to others”.

In text messages to a friend, Baxter called Hannah “a joke”, “f–n disgraceful” and a “f–n c–t of a thing”.

One friend stopped communicating with him upon realising talking to Baxter was “feeding into his victimhood mentality”.

A coroner has recommended changes to domestic violence training and support in the wake of the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children.

“Baxter made numerous appointments for counselling and with doctors – all of these actions were designed to assist him to contest the DVO and get what he wanted from the Family Court process,” Ms Bentley said.

“He did not have any real wish to obtain counselling or address his problems. He manipulated doctors and psychologists.”

Ms Bentley found there were missed opportunities by police to keep Baxter accountable, citing their response to his breach of the domestic violence order.

The court on Wednesday was told there was inadequate training for police officers around domestic violence.

Ms Bentley made four recommendations, including the Queensland government funds the QPS to provide a “five-day face-to-face domestic violence training program for all specialist domestic violence police officers”.

Leave a Comment