One of my clearest childhood memories is family barbecues.
My parents, Altun and Cemil, were great hosts.
Dad was charming – the life and soul of the party. But sometimes our visitors saw flashes of his darker side.
Whenever I or my younger siblings, Asli, now 22, and, Burak, now 19, misbehaved he’d seethe with anger.
No matter how small the mistake, he’d scream at us.
Sometimes he’d be like any other dad, but behind closed doors, he’d fly into a rage.
An older man, he was already 50 when he married my mum, who was only 23.
They’d met in Turkey when he’d returned to look for a wife after his first marriage broke down. With four children already, he didn’t want any more.
Mum’s first husband had divorced her because he thought she couldn’t get pregnant.
Dad and Mum wed and moved to western Sydney. And a year later, Mum found out she was expecting me. Asli and Burak soon followed.
An arm injury meant Dad couldn’t work, so he was often around. If he thought we’d done something wrong, we’d be punished.
He even made himself a special stick, so he could whack us when we were out of his reach.
We lived in fear.
Dad spent a lot of time gambling while Mum worked three jobs to make ends meet.
Loving and gentle, Mum would do anything for us.
As well as having a temper, Dad constantly accused Mum of having affairs. He claimed she’d cheated on him with the postman, the bus driver, even the neighbours.
He’d make the wild accusations in front of other people too.
As kids, we used to laugh it off. ‘It’s so ridiculous,’ I said.
Mum had never even looked at another man. But Dad refused to believe her.
By the time I turned 13 in 2005, there were worries about my father’s mental health.
He talked about hallucinations and had been in and out of hospital.
Then one afternoon, our lives changed forever.
My father was on leave from a mental health unit and was supposed to be staying with a relative. But he showed up at home instead.
While I watched a movie with my siblings, Mum started making dinner.
But just as she put the frying pan on the stove, an argument broke out. ‘I want money to go back to Turkey,’ Dad demanded.
Mum refused. Then he accused her of cheating again.
As screams and shouts came from the kitchen, Asli, then 11, Burak, then seven, and I went to intervene.
There was a kitchen knife in my dad’s hand. Frightened, we shouted for him to stop, but he didn’t listen.
Then suddenly Mum made a strange yelling sound like I’d never heard before.
We looked on in horror as she suddenly slumped to the floor in a pool of blood.
She’d been stabbed three times, twice in the heart.
‘No,’ I screamed.
Terrified, we kids ran to our neighbour, who phoned Triple-0. Meanwhile, Dad, covered in blood, calmly walked to a nearby shop.
He smoked a cigarette and waited for the police to come.
Although he’d been violent, we never thought he’d kill. I was heartbroken. How could he do this to my beautiful mum?
As police searched through Mum’s belongings they uncovered a shocking secret.
Hidden in the lining of her handbag was a bundle of papers. My Life in Marriage Mum had scrawled in Turkish.
It was a carefully written record of how she’d suffered at the hands of my father.
I was stunned. Had she known he might kill her?
Did she want the world to know in death what she hadn’t been able to say in life?
Tragically, we’ll never know.
The next few months, we suffered unimaginable grief.
Then in August 2006, my father Cemil Guler, then 66, of Fairfield, NSW, appeared before NSW Supreme Court.
He pleaded not guilty to murder.
Psychiatrists said he was suffering from a disorder such as ‘morbid jealousy’, where a person has delusional beliefs that their partner is unfaithful.
They also said he could have a paranoid schizophrenic illness.
The judge, Justice Michael Grove accepted that Dad had intended to kill my mother, Altun, when he stabbed her. But he was found not guilty, by reason of mental illness.
Instead of going to jail, Dad was placed in a mental health unit.
I was devastated.
How could jealousy be a defence for something so horrific? It didn’t make sense.
Growing up without my mother was tough, but I went on to study at university in Canberra, where I met my wonderful partner David, 30.
As an adult, I read the court records I’d never seen as a teenager.
They showed Dad had a history of violence with his first family, even stabbing his former wife in the hand.
He once beat my mother so that she lost a baby he believed wasn’t his.
Why isn’t he in jail?
A lack of conviction meant he’s still my mum’s next of kin. We had to fight to inherit the home she’d worked so hard to buy.
I want the law changed to stop morbid jealousy being used as a defence.
I also urge anyone who suspects domestic violence is occurring to do something about it, before it’s too late.
I now live with David, Asli and Burak, and we’re an incredibly close family.
We’re determined to keep fighting so no-one else has to go through what we did.
If you have been affected by domestic violence, contact the Domestic Family Violence Counselling Service on
1800 737 732.
What is morbid jealousy?
Sufferers of morbid jealousy, also known as Othello syndrome, have a psychological disorder in which they believe their partners are being unfaithful without any proof.
In 2014, Margaret Tannous, from Bankstown NSW, was beaten to death with a broom handle by her husband of 18 years, George Tannous.
The court heard Tannous was controlling and accused his wife of being unfaithful. The defence and prosecution agreed he was suffering from morbid jealousy.
He was found not guilty of murder by reason of mental illness.
In July 2015, a South Australian woman was sentenced to 12 years in jail for the attempted murder of her estranged husband.
Justice John Sulan ruled that morbid jealousy explained much of the woman’s conduct, when she stabbed the man twice in the neck.
Originally published in that's life! issue 24, June 16 2016.