Warning: This Article Contains Graphic Details of Domestic Violence and Murder
In one of the most horrific cases of Domestic Violence on record in Australia, Hannah Clarke and her three small children were burnt alive when ex-husband, Rowan Baxter leaped into her vehicle before dousing the family in petrol and lighting them on fire.
Hannah had been leaving an escalating domestic violence situation with Rowan Baxter and was living with her parents at the time. Baxter had a history of domestic violence and coercive control.
Hannah Clarke did everything right – and still ended up dead.
Today we share with you the steps that led to the horrific day in February 2020.
About Hannah Clarke
Hannah Ashlie Clarke was born on the 8th September 1988 to Lloyd and Suzanna Clarke. Hannah had one younger brother.
Hannah was school captain at her high school and when she was 16 years old, represented Queensland for trampoline. Hannah started coaching the trampoline team at the local Carindale PCYC, and then when she finished high school, she taught Kindy Gym at the PCYC.
Background on the Baxter Family
Rowan Baxter was a narcissistic, short-tempered obsessive gym junkie who was a hothead and was never ‘in the wrong’. From Tauranga in New-Zealand originally, Baxter was into porn at a very young age and treated his mother with disrespect. Baxter’s father was imprisoned for sexually abusing his sisters.
When Baxter was in his 20’s, his mother died of a brain aneurysm which affected his mental health. For a period, Baxter trained with New Zealand NRL team the Warriors.
Baxter’s married his first wife and had a son. But the relationship soured and his wife wanted to leave the relationship. He showed up to her home, left notes on her vehicle and even planned to ‘end it’ with a hose pipe that he had in the boot of his vehicle. When Baxter threatened this, his wife remained with him.
Baxter and his wife and son moved from New Zealand to Australia in 2007.
Relationship Between Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter
Baxter started working at the PCYC as a boxing instructor. It was during one of these classes that Hannah met Rowan. Rowan’s son was one of the children in boxing class. Baxter was still married at the time and still living with his wife. Hannah was still living at home with her parents.
Although Baxter told Hannah he was separated from his wife, he was still living in the same home and his wife was aware of his relationship with Hannah. It was only after meeting Hannah that Baxter finally agreed to a separation.
Four months after meeting, Baxter moved out of his marital home, and six months into their relationship, Hannah became pregnant. Although Hannah wanted to keep the baby, Baxter told her she was too young and the pregnancy was aborted.
Hannah again became pregnant, and the pair were married 2012. Their first child, Aaliyah was born in April 2013. Shortly after their marriage, Baxter started dictating what Hannah could and could not wear. She wasn’t allowed to wear shorts, short skirts, or the colour pink. She wasn’t allowed her own Facebook Page and Baxter openly criticized Hannah in front of her family which affected their relationship. Baxter started demanding daily sex.
Hannah gave birth to a daughter, Laianah in 2015, and then a son, Trey in 2016.
The couple purchased a gym using funds provided by Hannah’s parents, Lloyd and Sue. However, the gym struggled. Baxter was not a good at balancing the books. Baxter was also blunt with clients, often calling them ‘Pigs’.
The relationship started to decline even further when Baxter worked at the gym three days per week, and Hannah was doing numerous classes at the gym, looking after the children, still working at Athlete’s Foot, and also studying a marketing course. Baxter constantly criticized the state of the house and asked her what she did all day.
He also interfered in the relationship between Hannah and her family. He treated her parents with disdain, even though they had invested money into his business. He refused to allow Hannah to spend Mother’s Day with Sue, instead demanding that they spend the day celebrating his dead mother.
Escalation of Behaviour
On the 18th May 2019, Hannah called her mother Sue after a huge fight with Baxter. Hannah told Sue that she had refused to have sex with Baxter, and he smashed her watch and had left the house. Hannah had noticed that a hose was missing and was concerned that Baxter may cause harm to himself, so Hannah’s parents drove around Capala and Carindale looking for him.
When Baxter finally returned home, he told Hannah that he had intended to kill himself.
In November 2019, Hannah was chosen to compete in a Crossfit competition as part of a team, together with a male member of the gym. Baxter failed to qualify for the team and encouraged Hannah to drop out but she refused. He punished Hannah by making her take a gym class on the morning of the first day of the competition. On returning from the gym class, both Baxter and children were missing from the home and Baxter had his phone switched off. Frantic, Hannah was vomiting with worry. When Baxter finally returned a text message, he stated that he couldn’t believe that she would participate in the competition without him. He refused to tell Hannah when he would be home with the children.
Not long after, Baxter caught Hannah speaking to the male member on the phone one night, he went ballistic and accused Hannah of having an affair. She believed he was tracking her phone calls.
Hannah then took the steps to initialize a separation. She advised her parents and they started preparing their home for Hannah and the kids. Hannah moved out of the family home on the 5th of December 2019 and moved in with her parents.
Baxter was furious. He called her multiple times per day and told Hannah she was hurting the children.
Hannah attended the Carina Police Station on the 6th of December 2019 to obtain a details on how to get DVO. She changed her phone number as Baxter had been harassing her.
In order to keep the peace, Hannah took the children to visit Baxter, but after a few hours, he refused to let Hannah take them home and went to put the children to bed. Hannah called her parents to assist. When they arrived, he told the Clarke’s that Hannah was ‘crazy and just making things up’. When they went to take the children, Baxter cried. So the children were left at the premises overnight with their father.
The next morning, Baxter bought the children home and told Hannah he had had a ‘Mental Health Assessment’ and that she should come home with the kids. She refused and returned to her parent’s home.
Baxter Kidnapped Their Daughter Laianah
On Boxing Day in 2019, Baxter brazenly kidnapped their daughter Laianah after a parental visitation where he took the kids skateboarding at a local park. Baxter had asked Hannah if he could have the children for the night. When Hannah disagreed, he took off with the little girl.
Witnesses to the blatant abduction said that the other children were crying and screaming ‘No.. stop’. as Baxter walked ‘very quickly’ towards his vehicle. He threw the child into the car, unrestrained, and took off to New South Wales.
As there was no court order in place or child protection orders to legally stop Baxter from taking Laianah, it was difficult for the Police to intervene. When Police asked why Hannah had not taken out a DVO on Baxter, she told them she was worried that it would antagonize the situation.
Detective Sergeant Harris stated in the inquest:
“Unfortunately it’s very black and white and my role as a detective is to investigate crime… I’m not a social worker. It was done to cause maximum impact to Hannah, it was disgusting, but the criminal code is the criminal code.”
Baxter held onto Laianah for three days, demanding to Hannah that the couple have the same level of access to the children. Hannah feared taking out a domestic violence order against Baxter because she was scared of retaliation. Once the child was returned to Hannah, a protection order was issued by Police and the couple was assessed as ‘High Risk’. Baxter could not go within 100 meters of his children.
Detective Sergeant Derek Harris of the Morningside Child Protective Investigation Unit instigated a ‘Child Harm Referrel’ after Laianah’s abduction. The referral was to determine any identifiable offenses committed against children, and the findings are presented to the Department of Child Safety.
Baxter contested the DVO in court on the 8th January and the parenting plan was discussed. A temporary protection order was issued that he was not to contact Hannah unless it was to contact the children or arrange contact with the children. But Baxter continued to contact Hannah and follow her.
So Hannah applied for stricter conditions on the 20th of January. But Baxter again fought the DVO telling the courts Hannah was only doing this to get the kids back and he would seek remuneration of costs incurred. A mediator was put in place to discuss the couple’s parenting plan. Baxter accused Hannah of having an affair with Senior Constable Kent who was dealing with the matter.
Hannah was then advised by her solicitor not to continue contact with Baxter, but he continued to break the DVO in place. He assaulted Hannah on the 1st of February spraining her wrist. Police visited Baxter and then attempted to issue a DVO against Hannah.
It was at this stage that Hannah told a friend at Crossfit soon after ‘I am scared that Rowan will hurt the kids to hurt me.’
The Lead Up to the Killings
A few months before the killings, Police pulled over the family’s vehicle due to expired registration. Baxter was at the wheel, Hannah was in the passenger seat. When officer’s told the couple that the registration was 82 days overdue, Baxter snaps at Hannah:
“Don’t talk to me about it, cause it’s your car’
Hannah apologizes profusely to the officers, whilst Baxter continues to blame Hannah for the mishap. A Police bodycam filmed the whole altercation. We have shared the footage below:
Rowan Baxter planned to kill his family. He had purchased zip ties, a jerry can, three Kinder Suprises. He waited outside Hannah’s parent’s house for Hannah to leave. He knew exactly when Hannah would be leaving, as he had placed a tracking device on her vehicle and had been monitoring her whereabouts.
At 4pm on the day before the murders, Baxter called a Men’s Hotline, a counseling service to talk about his recent separation. He laughed with the counselor as he spoke about his situation.
“It’s not my idea (the separation), but apparently I have to do it” he joked.
“So much of my life has been turned around in five minutes. I never thought my wife was capable of doing this.”
He also tells the operator he wanted to go on a 10-week behavioral change program. The operator gave Baxter the numbers of other support services to call. Baxter does call these numbers, but as they were busy at the time, the calls were unanswered. Baxter left a message.
By the time the service called Baxter back (at 12.01pm the next day), the family was dead.
The Day of the Murders
Hannah popped out of her parent’s home to purchase coffee at 6.30am. She sat on the end of her mother’s bed whilst they enjoyed their coffees together. Sue Clarke kissed her grandchildren before Hannah put them in her car preparing to take them to school.
Trey was in the middle car seat, Aaliyah was sitting behind Hannah, and Laianah was in a booster seat behind the passenger seat. Whilst still in the driveway, Baxter jumped into the passenger seat of Hannah’s car and told her to drive. Hannah screamed for him to get out of the car. He was holding a petrol container. Hannah screamed for him to get out of the car.
Baxter demanded that Hannah drive, and she made it approximately 200 metres before reaching Raven Street in Camp Hill. Michael Zemek was in the driveway of his home washing his car. Hannah pulled her vehicle over towards Michael and screamed out the window ‘Call the Police, he’s going to kill me. He’s poured petrol on me.”
Baxter was physically restraining Hannah so she couldn’t get out of the car. Hannah rolled around trying to extinguish the flames engulfing her and her children, whilst Baxter ‘Growled’ and guarded the burning vehicle to prevent help. He was holding Hannah in a bear hug.
When another witness came to the scene with a fire extinguisher, Baxter jumped out of the car and followed them around, intimidating them.
Then the car erupted in flames. Hannah got out of the car and was on fire, she was screaming that there were children still in car. Mr Zemek told Hannah to get on the ground and he grabbed his hose to put the flames out, he also screamed for his daughter to call 000.
The vehicle started to roll back when it exploded.
Hannah remained lucid enough to tell emergency services when they arrived ‘My babies are in the car. My ex-partner told me to pull the car over. Then he squirted petrol on us and threw a lighter at the car.”
Whilst Hannah was finally being treated by emergency services, Baxter was seen obtaining a knife from the vehicle. He walked up onto the footpath and fell to his knees. He had a knife pointed at his stomach. A bystander yelled at him to drop the knife, but then he fell forward onto the knife, before laying in the fetal position on his side.
The fire brigade put the fire out and Hannah was taken to the hospital. Hannah told first responders that the children were still in the car.
She managed to do this even though her whole body was burned. The only place on her body that wasn’t burnt was the soles of her feet.
Plan A and Plan B
Coroner’s findings speculated that Rowan Baxter had both a ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’ for the murders. ‘Plan A’ being to use the zip-ties and petrol to kill Hannah, and abscond with the children. But when Hannah fought so hard in the vehicle, he took ‘Plan B’ which was to kill them all.
The Legacy of Hannah Clarke
An inquest into the murder of Hannah Clarke and her three children revealed that Rowan Baxter was ‘pure evil’ and would have killed her, no matter what. Sue Clarke, Hannah’s mother stated at the inquest:
“Every now and then I think a true monster is born, and you can’t stop them”
“He was just one of those people, so callous and used everyone as a pawn in his monstrous ways”
New coercive control laws are being considered by the Queensland Government in light of Hannah’s death.
The Aftermath of the Murders
Hannah Clarke was laid to rest with her three children in a single white coffin.
Hannah’s parents Sue and Lloyd remain in the same house, the children’s room has remained untouched, with toys still strewn around the room.
What Happened to Rowan Baxter
Baxter committed suicide at the scene of the crime and died from his injuries. Hannah survived long enough with her devastating injuries to 97% of her body to tell emergency services who did this to her and her children before she passed away.
Inquest into Hannah Clarke’s Death
An inquest was held into the deaths of Hannah Clark and her three children that recognised Hannah’s ‘Astounding bravery’ and stated that it was unlikely that anyone could have stopped Rowan Baxter’s murderous plans.
Coroner Jane Bentley stated:
“Baxter was not mentally ill, but a master of manipulation. I find it unlikely that any further actions taken by police officers, service providers, friends or family members could have stopped Baxter from ultimately executing his murderous plans.”
Coroner Bentley recommended that Police training was required to prevent similar deaths from occurring. The training included a five-day face-to-face training program for specialist domestic violence police officers, a mandatory face-to-face domestic violence module for all officers, and state government funding for men’s behavior change programs in prisons and communities.