Inquest: Father Wanted To Die -- And Take His Family With Him
The coronial inquest into the tragic murders of Maria Lutz and her two children on Sydney's north shore has found that the children's father wanted to die by suicide -- and take his family with him.
On October 17 of 2016, police officers entered the Davidson home of Manrique and his wife Maria Lutz on a welfare check after Lutz's concerned friend told police that she had failed to turn up to her volunteer shift at the school canteen.
The officers walked into a horrific scene: Manrique, Lutz, and the couple's two children Elisa, 12, and Martin, 11, were found dead in their beds, killed by carbon monoxide poisoning while they slept.
The family's pet dog Tequila had also been overwhelmed by the gas and was found lying besides Martin's bed.
Police officers found two cylinders of carbon monoxide in the garden shed that had been rigged to the house and began pumping the poisonous gas into the house some time before dawn.
Manrique had been quietly constructing his family's death trap for days.
The 44-year-old businessman had obtained the gas cylinders after opening an account with a gas company in the month prior to the murder-suicide.
He persuaded a friend to deliver the cylinders with a lie that they were headed to a building site on the central coast.
While Detective Sergeant Tim Pooley, who led the coronial inquest into the family's death, initially said that he believed Manrique was inadvertently overcome by the fumes while trying to exit the house, Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott's final report ruled his death a suicide.
While Manrique's packed suitcases were found in the house and initially indicated that the father had planned to leave, no further travel arrangements were discovered and it's likely the suitcases had been packed for his frequent travels.
What happened inside the family home?
The Colombian-born parents' marriage had been tumultuous in the years preceding the crime.
The family was deeply in debt as a result of Manrique's flailing business venture and he was pursuing an affair with a 17-year-old woman known as "Jamie" that he had met whilst on a business trip to the Philippines.
Manrique had acted erratically in the months prior to the murder-suicide, engaging in unprotected sex overseas and returning home with a tattoo sleeve winding up one arm.
He told a friend that he had been seeing other women whilst visiting the Philippines and the marriage was no longer working but also noted that it was unacceptable for Lutz to see other people.
He was no longer providing the support Lutz required whilst caring for Elisa and Martin, both of whom had autism and attended St Lucy's School in Wahroonga for children with intellectual disabilities.
The children were both talented artists and Deputy State Coroner Elaine Truscott commented that the works they produced were "astounding" given their ages.
Lutz has also been recognised as a hard-working, devoted and loving mother throughout the inquest and the coroner's report notes that she was an "active member of the community" who "volunteered at the canteen every second Monday".
Truscott commented that it was clear the mother of two "loved her children and had every intention of continuing a very loving, giving and productive life with her children." She had recently become qualified to start work as a special needs teachers' aide.
In the weeks preceding the murders, Lutz had also managed to secure $25,000 in government assistance for Elisa and Martin's care and she was overjoyed at this funding, believing that she had secured a better financial position for her family than they had enjoyed in years.
It was also revealed that Lutz became aware of her husband's affair with Jamie and kicked Manrique out of the home before welcoming him back on October 2 -- just over two weeks before the family's bodies were discovered.
Lutz reported to friends that her husband was suddenly acting like a wonderful father and complained to friends that if he had only picked up his act earlier, their marriage could have been salvaged.
Pooley told the inquest that he believed in this period Manrique had formed a "very clear intention" and his behaviour was a "final farewell" to the family.
Truscott said that Manrique's decision to take his family's lives in addition to his own was an act of "family violence" and the father "did not accept that the relationship was over".
The coroner added that "Maria was the emotionally capable and confident member of the relationship...whereas Fernando probably could not imagine how it would be for him on his own without her support."
Truscott has recommended a consultation process to be conducted by the Therapeutic Goods Administration to add carbon monoxide to Schedule J of the Poisons Standard and place further controls on its availability.