True Crime

Desperate for his baby, so why did he murder her?

At first, Muriel's daughter said her boyfriend was just shy. But then his behaviour took a sinister turn...

Muriel Jurd, 61, Cessnock, NSW

My stomach sank as I heard the buzzing sound. It was him again. I just knew it.

My daughter Jodie, then 27, and I were busy shopping, but her boyfriend kept messaging her mobile. ‘He just wants to know when I’m coming home,’ Jodie reassured me, smiling. Was I wrong to worry that he’d already sent her 10 texts?

When Jodie first told me she had met someone, I was thrilled. She was a loving aunt to two nieces and three nephews, and really wanted a family of her own. I knew that she’d be the perfect mum – she doted on her younger brothers, Heath and Greg, and was so caring she’d trained to be a nurse.

Catching up with us each week for Sunday dinner, she’d rarely arrive without lollies or gifts for the kids. That’s just the type of person Jodie was.

Was I wrong to worry that he’d already sent her 10 texts?

So when she brought Robert Bretherton home to meet us, we were all rather surprised. While Jodie was bubbly and kind, he hardly spoke a word.

‘He had a tough childhood,’ she explained. ‘He doesn’t understand what it’s like to be part of a close family.’ My husband Norm, 60, and I gave him the benefit of the doubt and tried to make him feel welcome.

But gradually, we started noticing changes in our girl. Jodie usually took pride in her appearance, but she started to dress down. And whenever we had family functions, Robert made excuses not to come.

Muriel with Heath, Jodie, Greg and Norm.
Me, Heath, Jodie, Greg and Norm

Soon Jodie was distancing herself and she confessed that Robert would throw tantrums if he didn’t get his way. We were worried, but our girl’s kind heart meant she was quick to forgive.

A few years later they moved in together, and soon after they bought a home in Bellbird, NSW. But Robert’s strange behaviour continued. ‘I don’t understand why you need to spend so much time with them,’ I heard him hiss to Jodie one day while we visited.

I knew the strain was hard for her to bear, and I was so sad when Jodie told me they’d been trying for a family without success, too. My girl wanted to have a baby with Robert so badly she paid for IVF out of her own pocket to make their dreams come true.

She fell pregnant 10 times. But each time she miscarried after a few weeks and she’d call me in tears. It was simply heartbreaking.

We were worried, but our girl’s kind heart meant she was quick to forgive.

One Christmas, Jodie said that Robert had got so angry he’d burned all her favourite ornaments and her beautifully decorated tree. And when her nieces and nephews asked to visit, he told them they couldn’t. ‘The way you look at them is the way you should look at me,’ I overheard him yell one night. Why was he so jealous?

I wished Jodie would just walk away from him – but my girl had never been one to give up. So, in 2010, she and Robert planned a five-month make-or-break road trip around Australia.

Not long after they returned, they did decide to end their relationship and I couldn’t help but be relieved. But Jodie was incredibly sad and vulnerable.

Robert Bretherton

‘Please don’t go back to him,’ I begged, but a few months later they made plans to reconcile.

They saw a couples’ counsellor and decided to divide their property and assets as they worked on their problems. If only I could have foreseen the horror to come, I would have done anything to stop it.

On November 16, 2011, I was getting ready for bed when I got a call from a friend. ‘There has been a stabbing on Cruikshank Street in Bellbird,’ she told me.

Jodie’s street. I raced to the phone to check she was okay, but there was no answer – so Norm drove over to her house.

‘Please don’t go back to him,’ I begged.

When he got there, he was met by a horrifying scene. The whole house was swarming with emergency services. My worst fears had come true. Jodie had been stabbed and Robert had been arrested.

He’d been found next to her body and had confessed. The paramedics did their best, but it was no good. Jodie was gone.

At Jodie’s funeral 10 days later, 500 people turned up to say farewell. Seeing how many lives she’d touched, I just wanted to scream why? Jodie had wanted Robert’s children – and this was how he had repaid her loyalty.

Jodie with her brothers, Heath and Greg
Jodie with her brothers, Heath and Greg

It was two years before we got any answers. In September 2013, Norm and I gathered the courage to go to Newcastle Supreme Court to see our girl’s killer face to face. Robert Bretherton, 38, pleaded not guilty to murder, but guilty to manslaughter.

He said that he had been substantially impaired due to an abnormality of the mind at the time. The court heard he and Jodie fought over property settlement before Bretherton stabbed her 12 times.

But that wasn’t the only horrifying discovery.

The prosecution revealed Bretherton had been using dating websites to meet other women during the time he was with Jodie. When I heard the rat had even got one girl pregnant, I felt sick.

My worst fears had come true.

The jury rejected Bretherton’s manslaughter plea and found him guilty of murder. He was sentenced to 21 years in jail, and I felt relieved knowing he’d faced justice for what he’d done.

But nothing will bring back our girl. Two years on from her death, it’s still such a struggle. We just hope that by sharing her story, we can make a difference.

Jodie’s already helping others. A refuge was opened in her honour to support vulnerable women in the Hunter Valley. If just one person reading this finds the courage to seek help then our daughter’s death won’t have been in vain.

Originally published in that’s life! Issue 44, 2013.

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