It was the 10th of July, 2001, when police in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, received a very panicked phone call from 20-year-old Sef Gonzales. He exclaimed that he had been returning home from a night out with a friend when he uncovered a particularly gruesome scene. As he entered the home, he saw the words: “Fuck off Asians KKK” painted on a wall. This was only an indication of the horrors that would be found inside.
In the hallway, he found his 46-year-old father, Teddy Gonzales, who had been stabbed multiple times in the chest. In the lounge, he found the body of his 43-year-old mother, Mary Josephine Gonzales, who had also been stabbed to death and her throat had been slashed. Then in a bedroom upstairs, he came across his 18-year-old sister, Clodine Gonzales, who was laying face-down with her throat slit. In addition to the brutal murders, the home had been ransacked and racist graffiti had been sprayed on a wall.
The grisly murders would send shockwaves throughout the area which was known for its low crime rate. The idea that somebody could target a family specifically because of their race was unfathomable to the community. There was a collective fear that the killer could strike another home at any time and at night, residents would make sure to double check their locks. “Any murder is a tragedy,” said Superintendent Mick Plotecki, who was heading the murder investigation. “But in this case, three members of a family area dead. I consider it an outrage.”1
After the 1990 earthquake in the Philippines, the Gonzales family had moved to Australia and settled down in the quiet neighbourhood of Collins Street, North Ryde. Here, they set up their own law firm specializing in conveyancing. Teddy worked as a solicitor while Mary worked as a secretary at the family business. Much like his parents, Sef worked at the law firm part time while studying law at the University of NSW. Clodine had been a student at Loreo College. The Gonzales family were devoutly religious and were regular faces at St. Michael’s Catholic Church.2
Initially, investigators were working on the theory that the disturbing graffiti could lead them to the killer. However, they also considered that potentially, the graffiti had been written in an attempt to throw them off the trail of the real killer. Another point of action for investigators was to determine what sequence the murders were carried out in. They believed that Clodine was attacked first in her room and then the killer waited for Mary to return home and then waited again for Teddy to come home.
A couple of days after the murders, Sef would speak publicly for the first time. He said: “Three corners of my world are now gone. The best way I could possibly describe my father is that he was my hero and role model. My mother was the heart of the family. She was the heart of her friends and anyone who knew her. My sister was the life in the family. She was an expert in smiling and made us all believe that life should be taken lightly.” He went on to say that when it was time for him to settle down and have a family of his own, he would name his son after his father.3
Investigators would announce that they had not ruled out any suspect in the murders, including Sef. However, they did say that they were satisfied with his story that he was in the city between 8PM and 11PM, only finding his deceased family shortly before midnight. A friend corroborated Sef’s movements that evening, confirming they had gone for dinner at Planet Hollywood around 8PM and then on to a nearby video game arcade. He confirmed Sef had dropped him home that night and from here, Sef returned home alone to discover the crime scene.
Towards the end of the month, the family were laid to rest. Their funeral was held at Holy Spirit Church where Sef would perform a Capella rendition of Mariah Carey’s One Sweet Day. The three flowered-covered coffins lay side by side at the front of the church while Sef performed a eulogy. He spoke of the “richness” in his father’s eyes before emotionally stating he would never know the meaning of his own name; his father had promised to tell him on his 21st birthday.4
The next year would pass with no public update. However, it soon became apparent that investigators were looking at Sef as the main suspect in the slaughter of his family. They had become suspicious almost immediately due to his peculiar behaviour. He spoke about the murders very matter-of-factly and didn’t display any emotion. As a result, the family’s million dollar-plus estate had been frozen meaning that Sef could not touch a cent. He was also unable to claim victim’s compensation.5
Just a day after Sef went to the media to relay his upset that he was being looked at as a suspect in the murders, he was involved in a bizarre alleged abduction attempt. On 2 June, 2002, an anonymous person called police to report an assault. When they arrived at the scene, they found Sef lying on the side of the road with minor facial injuries. He claimed he was on the way to a video shop when he was attacked and dragged into a car. He claimed a plastic bag was put over his head but he managed to escape.6
Less than two weeks later, Sef was arrested and charged with the murder of his parents and sister. Investigators had uncovered that Sef had been caught by his parents faking his university grades. Moreover, they had rejected his girlfriend. According to the prosecution, these were the two main motives in the murders as well as the motive to inherit their estate which was up to $10 million. On the day of the murder, they alleged that Teddy and Mary had spent the day at the law practice while Clodine was home alone.
According to the timeline of the prosecution, after leaving the law practice at around 4PM, Sef came home and killed his sister. She had sustained blunt force trauma from a baseball bat and her neck was “compressed.” In addition, her throat had been slit. Sef then waited downstairs for his mother to return home and stabbed her to death in the lounge. After killing his mother, Sef lay in wait for his father to return at around 7PM and he too was stabbed to death. All three victims had defensive wounds to their arms, indicating they had put up a fierce fight.7
An investigation into the family’s background uncovered that Sef had been failing in university and Clodine told their parents. They threatened that if Sef did not improve his grades then they would take away his car. It would be discovered that Sef was a pathological liar, not only to his family but to everybody who knew him. He had claimed that he was a successful businessman, model and singer and even set up a phony “fan” website for himself. On one occasion, Sef had even lied about having cancer.
In addition, investigators had reached the conclusion that Sef had faked his own abduction as well as sent himself two threatening emails. The purpose was to try and make it appear as though the killer of his family was coming after him as well.8
Before standing trial for the murders, it would further be uncovered that Sef had attempted to kill his family once before. Just days before the murders were carried out, Mary was hospitalised with acute food poisoning. Sef had engaged in an extortion campaign against a major food and beverage company and threatened contamination of their products.9
The murder trial would begin in May of 2004. More about the earlier poisoning plot would be divulged. Sef had researched poisons and purchased poisonous seeds which he then used to extract poison. He then poisoned Mary but she survived the attempted murder. Just the following week, he would succeed in killing both of his parents as well as his sister.
Much of the testimony during trial focused on Sef’s alibi. A number of neighbours would report seeing his car in the driveway and while he had been with his friend from 8PM onward, he needed an alibi for earlier in the day. Sef claimed he had been with a sex worker but this sex worker would come forward to state that this was a lie.10 Evidence would also be presented which showed that blue paint used to scrawl the racist remarks at the Gonzales home would match a blue spot found on one of Sef’s jumpers
The prosecution believed that one of the reasons Sef annihilated his family was for their inheritance. Just three months after the Gonzales family were killed, Sef put down a deposit for a $175,000 car. He told the salesman at the Lexus dealership that he was to inherit some family money but after handing over the $5,000 deposit, he was unable to pay the rest because he was the main suspect in the triple murder. In addition, immediately after the murders, Sef attempted to sell items that belonged to his family, including jewellery and watches. He sold a white Mitsubishi Pajero registered to Mary for $45,000 and then a Toyota Celica registered to Teddy for $23,500.11
Ultimately, Sef Gonzales would be found guilty of the murder of his parents and sister. He would be sentenced to three life terms without the possibility of parole. Outside of court, Sef’s aunt, Emily Luna, said: “It’s actually a very sad day because we love Sef very much… We will always love him.”
- The Australian, 12 July, 2001 – “Police Cautious on Racial Motive in Murders”
- The Daily Telegraph, 12 July, 2001 – “Triple Killing Robs Sef of his Whole Family”
- The Courier Mail, 14 July, 2001 – “Son Pays Tribute to Slain Family”
- The Daily Telegraph, 21 July, 2001 – “Sef’s Song of Farewell”
- The Sunday Telegraph, 1 June, 2002 – “I Didn’t Murder My Family”
- The Sunday Telegraph, 3 June, 2002 – “What Now? Sef’s Been Abducted”
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 May, 2004 – “The Monster Child Sef”
- The Daily Telegraph, 22 March, 2003 – “Son Killed Family Over Faked Uni Grades”
- The Daily Telegraph, 17 May, 2003 – “Deadly Plot”
- The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 September, 2004 – “Life the Only Sentence for Heinous Murders”
- The Sunday Telegraph, 6 May, 2004 – “Shortly After His Family Were Murdered, Police Claim Sef Gonzales was Ready to go on Spending Spree”