'Perception is power': Friend says killer dad's loving image masked a dark reality

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

A friend of Hannah Clarke, who died after her ex-husband Rowan Baxter set her car alight with their three children inside, has detailed how the dad portrayed a vastly different character online to his true identity.

His image as a loving father to his three children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3, and doting husband to his beautiful wife masked his true colours as a dark, manipulative man, Manja Whaley said.

Ms Whaley claimed this was one of the twisted ways he fooled his family and friends, which helped enable him to continue exerting “power” over Ms Clarke, who he married in 2012.

“The nation is confused. I see questions circulating the internet with how could such a seemingly loving father do such a thing: ‘Was he really like this?’ and ‘His Facebook posts said he loved his children’,” she wrote in a post to Facebook addressed to Ms Clarke a day after her death last week.

“And this is the thing. Perception is power.

“The more he convinced the public of the love for his children and you, the more he was able to exercise his coercive control by isolating you and manipulating others into perceiving him as being a good partner.”

Baxter, pictured with his kids, has been accused of faking his character online. Source: Facebook

The chilling threat he made to his ex

The woman also explained how Ms Clarke revealed to her late last year that Baxter when they first got together told her about a threat he made to his former girlfriend.

“He had told his ex-partner with whom he had a child, that if she was to leave him he would take the child and end his own life and that of the child,” Ms Manja said in the Facebook post.

“He never did, but you told me that this comment has always stuck in your mind,” she wrote.

Siblings Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, with their mum Hannah. Source: Facebook

The woman said Ms Clarke confided in her after they developed a friendship through the gym Ms Clarke ran with Baxter, as they had children the same age who took workout classes together.

Ms Manja had told Ms Clarke she worked for a domestic violence service. She became aware just before Christmas, as it was announced the gym was closing down, that the mum had left Baxter early in December.

Ms Manja said she had talked with Ms Clarke about different types of domestic violence and asked her if Baxter had ever threatened to kill her or the children.

She said he hadn’t, but he had made that one “really matter of fact” comment to her at the beginning of the relationship about the threat to his past partner.

Hannah Clarke with her son Trey. Source: Facebook

The remark was not far from the horrific crime he committed last Wednesday in a Camp Hill street, in Brisbane’s east, as Ms Clarke was driving from her parents’ home to drop the kids at school.

Mr Baxter “ambushed” the family, doused them in petrol and set them alight before taking a knife to his own chest and stabbing himself to death.

Ms Clarke was pulled from the burning vehicle by a witness and sprayed with a garden hose before being taken to hospital where she died hours later.

Rowan Baxter with Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3. Source: Facebook

Rowan Baxter’s Boxing Day kidnapping attempt

Ms Manja said Ms Clarke feared her worst nightmare was coming true while at a park with her children Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3, on Boxing Day last year.

The parents had split by then, and Ms Clarke had agreed to meet Mr Baxter so he could spend some time with his kids.

Ms Manja said Ms Clarke told her Baxter scooped up Laianah and walked away with her while her sister cried out in distress, begging him to bring her back.

“Without any disregard of the emotional damage to the children for taking Laianah away from her mother and her siblings, he proceeded to walk to the car and told you ‘I told you, this is your fault’,” Ms Manja wrote.

Rowan Baxter with his kids and wife Hannah who he killed in a car fire last week. Source: Facebook

“This is the act of a man who believed he owned his children and wife, that they were objects to be controlled.”

Addressing Ms Clarke in the post, and referencing her own role as a domestic violence worker she wrote: “you told me ‘I knew when I met you, I met you for a reason’.”

“I am sorry that I couldn’t do more for you whilst you were going through this horrific ordeal, but I do believe we met for a reason: for me to be your voice when your voice has been taken away from you,” she wrote.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au

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