￼Reaching up, my mum Rose unscrewed the light bulb in our bedroom.
‘Why are you doing that?’ I asked. ‘Never you mind!’ she snapped.
She always made sure it was pitch black when she put me, my big sister, Heather, and little brother, Stephen, to bed. It stopped us getting up.
She did other cruel things too, like beating us for no reason.
In time, my sister Tara came along, followed by Louise, then two more sisters and a brother.
We had very few toys so we invented our own games.
When I was eight, we found a cupboard full of women’s clothes and shoes and used to play dress up. Mum didn’t seem to mind. ‘Waste not, want not,’ she said.
We also had an older half-sister, Anne Marie, who lived with us. She was Dad’s daughter from his first marriage to Rena and she always seemed unhappy.
Then there were the people who rented upstairs. ‘The bloody lodgers,’ Mum and Dad called them.
They were mostly young women, and after they’d gone we’d have to scrub the room. Dad wasn’t violent like Mum, but he was strange. He made crude comments about people’s private parts and watched porn in the lounge room.
As Heather and I approached our teens, he even tried to grope us.
Then one day, I went swimming with Anne Marie and she told me she’d been sexually abused by Mum and Dad. She said it had gone on for years and warned me they might try to do the same to me.
Horrified, Heather and I started sleeping fully clothed. But then Heather changed. She’d sit on a chair rocking back and forth, hardly ever smiling. ‘Are you all right?’ I’d ask. ‘Yeah,’ she’d say.
When she turned 16, she lined up some work as a cleaner at a holiday camp, but the day before she set off, the job fell through. Distraught, she cried all night.
When I got home from school, she was gone. ‘The job at the holiday camp,’ Dad said, ‘it was back on.’
‘That’s great, isn’t it?’ I said, looking at Mum. But she didn’t answer.
Months, then years, passed with no word from Heather and Dad said she’d got mixed up with drugs.
When I was 20, Mum called to tell me Dad had been arrested for sexually assaulting my sister Louise, 13. I was horrified, but the case collapsed when she refused to give evidence.
Now though, the authorities were taking a close look at our family.
One day, the police suddenly arrived. Dad was arrested and officers began searching the backyard. It felt like a bad dream.
‘I’m afraid your father has admitted to murdering Heather,’ Dad’s lawyer told us. ‘He’s agreed to show them where she’s buried.’ I couldn’t comprehend it.
Horrifyingly, excavations revealed more than one body. ‘I’d never have imagined he’d do something like this!’ Mum said.
Two months later though, police came for her, charging her with the murder of a lodger called Lynda Gough.
Then more horror unfolded. Dad’s first wife Rena had been found dismembered and dumped in a field. And Dad’s step-daughter, Charmaine, eight, was found buried under the kitchen floor of a home Mum and Dad used to rent before I was born.
More bodies were discovered in fields, in our yard and under the basement where I’d slept. The clothes we’d played dress up in had belonged to some of the victims.
Mum was charged with 10 murders, Dad with 12.
Waiting for the trial, I heard Dad’s name on the car radio. He’d taken his own life in his cell. I felt devastated that I’d never know a loving dad.
Then in November 1995, Mum appeared at court and I went along. I heard their victims – some teenagers, all female – were lodgers, nannies, students, hitchhikers and runaways. They were tortured and subjected to brutal sexual assaults by Dad and sometimes Mum. Some were mutilated, many were decapitated.
Anne Marie detailed the shocking abuse she’d suffered.
The prosecution said Mum and Dad had strangled and dismembered Heather after sexually abusing her. Mum was found guilty on all 10 counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison. I still believed she was innocent – that it had all been Dad, so I visited her in prison and she wrote letters.
When I fell pregnant, I wished I could ask Mum’s advice. It must be really rotten for you when you need a family member to talk to or you need Mum to sound off to... she wrote. Love you and I want to do anything I can do to help.
As the years passed though, I realised how controlling and manipulative Mum was. She’d been dubbed the most evil woman who had ever lived.
I’ve read about Stockholm syndrome, where a person can become emotionally dependent on the person who is holding them hostage. I realised I was an emotional hostage to Mum. Now we no longer speak.
Despite everything, I have built a life for myself. I’m married, my daughter Amy is a young woman and I have a son, Luke, nine. I still want to believe Mum is innocent, but I just can’t any more.
Love as Always, Mum xxx by Mae West, is published by Hachette Australia RRP $32.99.
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