This week saw the sad news of the suicide of Olga Edwards, 36, a solicitor from Sydney.
This is a domestic violence related suicide, a toll that is not tracked in Australia (nor many countries). Research done in the UK a number of years ago indicated three women per week were committing suicide to escape domestic abuse, in a country that sees two women per week murdered. An attempt to extrapolate suicide data with the connection to domestic violence has been done in Australia, with a figure of four women per week committing suicide (DV-related)—but this extrapolation includes exposure to childhood experiences (victim or witness), and is probably overstated. The most likely estimate would be one to two women per week, using the average of just over one woman per week killed, and the UK DV-related suicide data. It has only been in recent years that more accurate recording of the homicides related to domestic violence has been uniformly tracked—but the full toll remains hidden until suicides are recorded in the same way. This is not something that can be done by general research, as the media agreement is not to report on (suspected) suicides unless of a famous person.
In Olga’s case, it was the execution of her two children, Jack (15) and Jennifer (13) Edwards, back in June of this year, by the man they called “Dad”. John Edwards, 68, tracked down where Olga and the children were living. Hired a car so the children would not recognise him, timed his double murder at a time when he knew the children would be home alone, not long before Olga returned from work. Edwards then returned to his home and committed suicide. Olga discovered her children shot to death at their home.
This execution was carefully planned by the perpetrator. In May (either this year or last year, conflicting reports) Edwards successfully completed the handgun licence in order to legally obtain the weapons used. This was not a spur of the moment lapse of judgement. In January of 2017 Edwards had attempted to join a club in order to gain the handgun licence, 18 months before the shooting. Edwards was rejected back then, due to club officials finding Edwards to be ‘not of good character’, and so did a number of other clubs subsequently. He determinedly pursued the licencing process until he was successful.
Part of the character requirement was in not being subject of an AVO in the ten years prior to the application. I gather, working backwards from the information available, the ten years expired by 2017-2018, so the AVO was likely issued before 2008—when the children would have been aged five and three. This is a long-standing case of domestic violence, with reports that he was “tough on the children, particularly Jack”.
Apparently there was no AVO in place at the time of the homicides, however, it was reported that Edwards had become “recently estranged” from the children, ie, they no longer wanted anything to do with him. He is also reported to have ceased employment in 2016. This year Olga had “radically transformed her appearance” by cutting her hair short and dying it blonde.
Prior to that, was apparently a two-year “custody battle” over the children that had ended with Olga retaining sole custody of Jack and Jennifer, with Edwards not allowed access to the children (an unusual result). One has to question why this “custody battle” went on for so long, given the long-standing history of domestic violence. This should not have been such a long battle, particularly with an early-issued AVO (which were more uncommon at that time).
The large age gap between Olga and Edwards is another feature very commonly seen in domestic violence cases, in this case, about 22 years. Olga would have been around 20 at the time of marrying Edwards. Quite the young bride, and a foreign national, to Edwards’ 42 years of age.
At this point, people may be assuming that the estrangement from the children ’caused’ Edwards to annihilate his children. As it turns out, Edwards was previously married to another woman, and they had a daughter and a son in the 1980s. Edwards left this first family around 2001 and apparently had nothing more to do with them. The children from the first marriage being around the same age as Olga. Being alienated (by his own actions) was not a cause for murdering his children.
In fact, Edwards was described as “a loner, who was anti-social and abusive to his children”. I would submit that vindictiveness, callousness, and pre-meditated revenge against Olga was the motive for murdering his two children. To leave her in unbearable pain for the rest of her life was his goal. This type of vindictive family annihilator will frequently pick Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, the spouse’s or children’s birthdays as the day for the execution, for that added layer of pain and reminder of his actions. Edwards’ plan was very premeditated, given he wrote a number of letters to relatives “in the event of his death”.
Yet with all this history, the abandonment of the first family, a young wife that took out an AVO on him early on in the marriage (she was a solicitor after all), his continued abusive and controlling acts against the children, this still ended up being, to use the media euphemism, a two-year “custody battle”, as if both sides were to blame equally. This is in spite of Australia’s Family Court having a “Best Practice” guide to cases involving domestic violence. They still cannot see what is before them. The old “children need fathers” mentality is strong within the Family Court (here and in other countries) when it has been shown that continued, often unsupervised, contact with an abusive parent has adverse effects on children’s well-being (including murder), and in many cases, against the children’s wishes to have contact with the abusive parent.
Male abusers use the Family Court’s ‘blindness’ to further exercise control over the estranged woman. Most of the cases before the Family Court are either domestic violence or child sexual abuse cases—because normal non-abusive couples after the breakdown of a marriage usually manage to sort out an equitable arrangement between all parties, including the children’s well-being. In these cases the involvement of the Family Court is just a box-ticking exercise to ensure proper arrangements and care and financial support has been decided.
Rosie Batty has also spoken out about some of the failings of the Family Court, and Olga’s frustration with the Family Court and previous police handling of her situation. A two-year “custody battle” takes its toll, even for a smart, educated solicitor, who has familiarity with the law and courtroom proceedings.
If a woman such as Olga cannot get the Family Court and police to listen to her, what hope does the average woman? Particularly if she is suffering PTSD due to the abuse.
This was a long road to Olga’s suicide. Losing the children she fought so hard to keep safe from an abuser took its toll on her. Olga’s suicide came just a week after her mother returned to Russia after an extended visit to support her. The financial pressure of not being able to return to work after the murder of her children was additional pressure.
It is time for the Family Court and police to listen to women, and their children. To stop assuming that women are fabricating “tales of abuse”. To stop forcing children into continued contact with the abuser. To recognise that the court are being used by abusers for abuse by proxy (see Lundy Bancroft‘s “Why does he do that?“).
In Part II of this post, I will continue with what happens when, after “The System” fails them, women take matters into their own hands.
Rest in peace Olga. This should never have happened to you or your children.