Man Suspected Of Gassing Family In Murder-Suicide Had Teen Girlfriend, Inquest Hears
Maria Lutz was a cherished friend, other school mums describing her as resilient, strong, passionate, selfless and happy –- despite the many challenges she faced as a mother of two autistic children.
But her husband Fernando Manrique was cheating on her with a 17-year-old Filipina girl and had spent nearly every cent in the family’s bank accounts.
On an October weekend three years ago, he gassed the people he was supposed to love and protect – they died in their beds at the family’s home in the Sydney suburb of Davidson. He collapsed in the hallway – it’s unclear whether he intended to die too, or didn’t get out of the house fast enough.
On Monday, a Coroner was told Maria Lutz had absolutely nothing to do with the murder-suicide plot. Her soon-to-be ex-husband had rigged up a piping system and bought the toxic gas online, without her knowledge.
A Coroner is examining if tighter regulations on toxic gases could have prevented the tragedy, and spared the lives of “three very innocent, beautiful people”.
“The focus of this inquest is the regulation around supply, delivery and or storage of carbon monoxide… of real concern is the relative ease of which Fernando was able to source the carbon monoxide,” Counsel Assisting the Coroner Adam Casselden said.
Children Elisa and Martin had autism and required a huge amount of care, but Deputy State Coroner Eliane Truscott said:
"Maria loved her life, loved her children and had every intention of continuing. There is no suggestion that their deaths involved anything merciful at all."
Manrique – who was the sole breadwinner – was in serious financial trouble.
“I’d say that he was in dire straits... he had some massive issues with the tax office,” Officer in charge of the investigation Timothy Pooley said.
The family trust account contained just $6 and they had tens of thousands of dollars owing on their credit card, plus a massive tax bill. Instead of paying back the ATO, Manrique was sending money to the Philippines to support his 17-year-old mistress, whom he’d met in a bar.
Manrique and Lutz’s marriage had been on the rocks for years, but when Lutz found out about the affair she demanded a divorce. She was planning a future with her children and had even received confirmation the NDIS would provide significant funding.
“She was days away from receiving another letter from the NDIS, another $25,000 for Martin… she was better off than she had been for years,” Detective Sergeant Pooley told the court.
But she still wanted the kids to see their dad, so despite having kicked him out of the house, Manrique returned in early October, 2016.
Over the next fortnight he ordered the gas bottles and went to Bunnings Warehouse four times for supplies, rigging up a dispersion system.
The inquest is expected to run all week.