The murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children at the hands of her estranged and dangerous husband, Rowan Baxter, was the crime story that rocked Australia in early 2020. The young mum was burned alive when Baxter ambushed her and the kids on the way to school on February 19 2020. She was being coercively controlled by the man who had terrorised her for years.
Rowan Baxter jumped in the front seat of Hannah’s car, ordering her to drive down the road. Before he set the vehicle alight, he poured petrol over his estranged wife and their three young children, Aaliyah, Laianah, and Trey. Baxter then committed suicide by stabbing himself. Twice in the abdomen and once through the chest. He also suffered burns.
Hannah Clarke’s Story Opened A Can Of Worms About Coercive Control
The Hannah Clarke story has opened a dialogue about a relatively unheard-of form of domestic violence: Coercive control.
While the Spartan Initiative is focused on male domestic violence, coercive control can happen to anyone. The death of Hannah and her children put a bigger spotlight on the subject.
What Is Coercive Control?
According to Relationships Australia – Victoria, the Coercive Control definition is as follows:
“Coercive control is a pattern of controlling and manipulative behaviours within a relationship.”
The Signs Of Coercive Behaviour
There are 12 signs of coercive control, including:
- Isolation from family and friends
- Monitoring of daily activities
- The denial of freedom
- Severe criticism and bullying
- Control of finances and access to money
- Coercing victim to do all domestic tasks
- Making any children in the relationship be tuned against the victim
- Control over health and the victim’s body
- Attempt to turn the tide by making false allegations about how much time the victim spends with loved ones
- Forcing Sex
- Intimidation of all forms
Rowan Baxter’s Background
A native New Zealander, Rowan Baxter had a history of domestic violence. He admitted to a friend that he had planned to kill his first wife and their son but never did. While there is not a ton of information on what he may have done, it was made public and is referenced in the 9Podcast, Hannah’s Story that he had allegedly once placed a note on his previous partner’s car saying he had hoses that he was going to use to “end the three of them” if she ever left him.
Hannah was aware of the story, but it was unclear whether or not he told people to get them to comply with what he wanted. A cousin of Rowan’s, Sandra Taylor, told The Daily Mail after the Baxter family murder-suicide that Baxter was a serial cheater and had hundreds of mistresses. He showed no remorse.
Rowan Baxter: Monster In Gym Clothing
According to many people in Rowan’s life, he never took accountability for anything. He was obsessed with control, making Hannah Clarke’s life a living hell.
Hannah’s best friend, Nikki Brooks, said Rowan was a narcissist. Nat Clarke, Hannah’s brother, said he was cut out of his sister’s life by his brother-in-law when he stood up to him over inappropriately using his new car.
Multiple women in Hannah’s life, including her mother, Sue Clarke and sister-in-law, Stacy, said that Rowan hated strong women. This is backed up by Nat, who said that Baxter was what he referred to as the alpha male, a man who thought he was never in the wrong and that he had an issue with his mother-in-law.
Alana Hampson, a cousin of Rowan’s, told the NZ Herald that Baxter exhibited cruelty as a teenager. She even added that she was estranged from the Baxter family as she hated what they stood for.
Coercive Control Manipulation Tactics Used By Rowan Baxter
Rowan was a manipulator who would do anything to show himself as the victim. He even fooled Hannah’s dad, Lloyd, by bursting into tears so that he could be allowed to see the children on Christmas.
Hannah became aware that Rowan was somehow getting information about her whereabouts. As it turned out, he had bugged her phone and her car. He also would dictate what his wife could and couldn’t wear. Early in their marriage, she was told pink was a kid’s colour.
Rowan also turned Hannah against her brother, and she almost wasn’t invited to Nat and Stacy’s wedding. When Sue heard what was happening, she ordered Nat to make up with his sister, which he did. Hannah and Nat didn’t talk for two years.
Other Coercive Control Domestic Violence Tactics
While Baxter’s coercive abuse of Hannah wasn’t physical, it was emotional, sexual and mental. He would order her to have sex with him every day. When she didn’t enjoy it, Rowan wouldn’t be happy. If she refused him, he would complain. As Hannah told her mother, it was damned if she did, damned if she didn’t.
Hannah was never involved with any man during her marriage to Rowan or after. He made the accusations on his own accord. He didn’t like her talking to other men, and he was always jealous and was free to cheat on her and was always jealous.
These are just a handful of the coercive and controlling behaviours Rowan displayed. He was also paranoid, so he asked friends to spy on Hannah to catch her having a non-existent affair. He even made up a lie to access the neighbour’s CCTV cameras.
The Repeated Theme Of Murder/Suicide Threats
A common theme that plagued the Baxter family was Rowan’s fantasy of murder-suicide.
As mentioned, he allegedly threatened to murder his first wife and their son before taking himself out with them. He would eventually act on this but on Hannah and their three children. During the Inquest, CCTV footage was played of Rowan at Bunnings buying the petrol container, a bottle of methylated spirits, and zip ties that would be used in the murder of Hannah and their children.
Friends of Rowan were always worried that he might kill himself.
Control And Anger Issues
According to the NZ Herald, linked earlier in the article, Rowan Baxter had deep-seated anger issues.
It is alleged that in 2004, when Rowan was still residing in New Zealand, he quit playing rugby union to join the Mt Albert Lions Rugby League club. The Bay of Plenty team had declined Baxter a spot on their team due to believing he had anger issues as he had been caught up in two brawls while playing for Te Puke in the early 2000s.
In the present, the more he loses control of the situation with Hannah, the more frantic Rowan becomes. A couple of days before the murder-suicide, he called the kids in tears, trying to play on their sympathies.
The coroner in the Inquest said that Rowan Baxter did NOT have a mental illness. However, he was a master manipulator. She also said that there is nothing anyone, not the family, friends Hannah or the police, could have done differently to prevent him from killing Hannah and the children.
According to Nat during the Hannah’s Story podcast, Rowan Baxter always thought that rules didn’t apply to him, hence why he broke the DVO on multiple occasions.
A key aspect of Rowan Baxter’s side of the story is that he constantly blames Hannah Clarke for everything. This was evident in the letter found on Baxter’s phone after the murder-suicide. This also feeds into what friends had said about the perpetrator not taking accountability for anything, saying he did nothing wrong and then complaining when no one takes him seriously.
It has been said that Rowan was raised in a family that treats women like sex toys. This information comes from Sandra Taylor, one of the cousins of Baxter’s that we mentioned earlier, who spoke with Channel 9 after the murder-suicide.
Rowan Baxter Childhood
Rowan also manipulated people into taking his side by posting non-stop pictures of his kids on Facebook. He did this to make himself look like the one who was suffering. As Sandra mentions in her interview, Baxter’s views came from his father and grandfather, generations of Baxter men who saw women as either prostitutes or domestic housekeepers.
What Are Examples Of Coercive Control?
Examples of coercive control that were found in the Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter case include, as per KHQ Lawyers:
- Rowan’s need for control, so controlling what Hannah wore.
- Having a shared Facebook account – Hannah had to shut hers down.
- Isolation from friends and family.
- Baxter caused Clarke to get a bruise on her leg when she was pregnant with their second daughter, Laianah, after he slammed the back gate on her leg, which she told her mother.
- Rowan Baxter only worked three days after their son Trey was born, while Hannah Clarke, having just given birth, was doing a marketing course, running classes at their gym, and looking after the kids.
- Rowan would rebuke Hannah for the “pigsty” of a house and question why she hadn’t spent the whole day cleaning.
- Rowan wouldn’t talk to Hannah for several days whenever she refused sex.
- Baxter went missing in 2019 when Hannah refused to have sex with him, which led to a massive fight. He took off, taking a hose with him. Hannah, terrified, spent hours looking for him, and when she found him, he claimed to have attempted suicide. This, a side note, is similar to the story about him wanting to kill his ex-wife and son with a hose.
- Tracking Hannah’s car and other movements.
- Repeatedly breached the DVO that the police had placed on Hannah’s behalf.
- Refused to sign a parenting plan.