In 1993, a 31-year-old mother and her three children were slaughtered in their remote rural property located in Greenough, Western Australia. The murders were extremely heinous and a result, many in Australia called for the return of the death penalty.
It was the 21st of February, 1993, when farmhand William Patrick Mitchell spent the afternoon getting high on cannabis and amphetamines. He had also spent the afternoon drinking alcohol. Later that evening, he drove over to the home of 31-year-old Karen MacKenzie who he was an acquaintance of.
When he pulled up outside their rural property near Greenough, located around 400 kilometres north of Perth, Karen’s 16-year-old son, Daniel, came outside to greet him. Mitchell approached the teenager and brutally bludgeoned him to death on the driveway with a tomahawk. He then proceeded into the home where he killed Karen with blows to the head and neck as she was asleep on a mattress on the lounge room floor. Afterwards, he raped her body three times.
Inside the home, Mitchell found Karen’s two young daughters – 7-year-old Amara and 5-year-old Katrina. Disturbingly, Mitchell would not spare the two young girls from the bloodshed. Amara was sexually assaulted before being killed while Katrina was killed in her bed.
Police would be alerted to the murders when a friend found Daniel’s body on the driveway of the home. Too afraid to proceed through the home alone, he contacted police. One of the first responding officers was Sergeant Bryan Jones. He would be the first officer to find the grisly scene inside the family’s home.
A five-week investigation would ensue and early on, investigators struggled to find any evidence which could lead them to the mass murderer. On a bedroom door, however, they found a manufactured substance which would later be identified as Sorbolene cream and in the middle of the cream, they were able to find a preserved fingerprint. The door was removed from the crime scene and driven to Perth for examination.
Mitchell, along with 72 other acquaintances of the family, had been interviewed in the immediate aftermath and when he provided a fingerprint, it came back as a match to the fingerprint on the bedroom door.1
In September of that same year, William Patrick Mitchell would plead guilty to the four murders. He also pleaded guilty to sexually interfering with Karen’s body and sexually assaulting Amara. When the murders were reported in the media in the aftermath, details of the crime would not be released because of how horrendous they were. In fact, some details would remain suppressed. When the details were finally publicised, the nation recoiled in horror and many called for the death penalty to be reinstated in Australia.
Mitchell would be sentenced to life imprisonment. When handing down the sentence, Mr. Justice Neville Owen said that the murders were so serious as to “almost defy description.” He went on to state that the four victims were completely innocent and defenceless against the attack and that the murders had been accompanied by “sexual activity of the most depraved kind.” While Mitchell was sentenced to life imprisonment, it was announced that he would be eligible for consideration for parole after twenty years. Under the new law, Mitchell could have been sentenced to prison for the term of his natural life. The prosecution had argued for a no-parole option.2
Just the following year, a full bench of the WA Supreme Court ruled that Mitchell will never be released from prison. The WA director of public prosecutions had appealed against the original sentence and in a 2-1 vote, they ordered that he spend the rest of his life behind bars. He would be the first West Australian to be sentenced to true life imprisonment under the stronger laws. 3 Two years later, however, this ruling was overturned, meaning that one day Mitchell could be up for parole with his first parole hearing scheduled for 2013.
In 2007, Karen’s mother, Barbara Marchant, would issue an appeal for authorities “to throw away the key” so that she could live the rest of her life without the fear that one day, Mitchell would be a free man. “Fourteen years on and I’m still angry,” she said. “My life is spent always wondering if he’ll be release. We have no proof that he’s not going to be let out… for all know he could walk out and could kill someone else and I would hate for somebody to have to go through what we went through.”4
Then just three years later, Australia would be horrified to learn that Mitchell had been downgraded to a medium-security prisoner and moved to a regional jail. He would be transferred from Casuarina Prison to Bunbury Regional Prison. Fear swept over the community that this indicated that Mitchell was being prepared to be released back into the community.5
Mitchell’s parole hearing rolled around in 2013. Before the hearing was scheduled, there was an online petition opposing his release which garnered over 1500 signatures. The petition had been arranged by a childhood friend of Amara. Local MP Ian Blayney would table the petition in WA’s lower house, stating: “People are very upset about the prospect of this man being released.” According to WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan, some of the officers who responded to the crime scene were still haunted by what they had witnessed and said that he didn’t doubt the parole board would take this into account.6
In October of that year, the parole hearing considered Mitchell’s case and would send their report to the WA Attorney-General Michael Mischin. It would be his decision whether Mitchell would be released or not. Ultimately, he would decide that Mitchell could not be released from prison. In 2016, Mitchell was up for parole once more. By this point, there was an online petition opposing his release which had garnered over 18,000 signatures. Karen’s sister would write a letter to the parole board.
“My two youngest daughters were very similar ages to Amara and Katrina and as I have watched them grow over the years I continually think of what sort of life my nieces would have had. They were very happy little girls who adored their mum and brother. They had beautiful smiles and had the innocence of life stolen from them in a most barbaric way. I cannot ever forget the way in which they died. Children are so defenceless and pure of heart, I do not understand how anyone with any sense of right or wrong could do what was done to them.
My nephew Danny was a real rascal but he had a heart of gold. He would never have let his Mum or sisters get hurt if he could help it. He was a strong young man and was over six-foot tall. If he had known what was going to happen to him when he went outside that night to see who had driven up their driveway he would have fought with all his might to protect his family. My sister had him when she was very young and when Danny was two years old she left him with my mother, my two brothers and I to take care of. Just before Danny turned 16 he said he wanted to go and live with his Mum and sisters in WA. He had decided that he wanted to make his Mum proud and he was enjoying his new life with them.
Karen went through many difficult times and had to fight hard to achieve what she had in life until Mitchell cut her life short. She wasn’t perfect, but she overcame many obstacles to get to the point where she was buying a house to make a home for herself and the children. I was very proud of what she had achieved. It was always Karen and I against the world when we were children. She was the best sister, always looking out for me and keeping me safe when we were young. When we were older I got to return the favours over the years but it kills me to know that I wasn’t there to help protect her and her family when she needed me most.”7A portion of the letter Karen’s sister, Evalyn Clow, wrote to the parole board
Once again, Mitchell would be denied parole, which meant that he would be eligible for parole in 2019. However, in 2018, new laws would be introduced which meant that mass murderers and serial killers would not be considered for parole for period up to six years. Beforehand, they would be able to apply for parole every three years but under this sentence administration amendment, that was increased to six years.
Karen’s sister, Evalyn, has said that she will fight until her last breath to keep Mitchell behind bars. “Mitchell knows what I think,” she said. “I told him as long as I’ve got breath left in my body, I’m going to do everything I can to keep him inside.”
- Sunday Times, 10 September, 2000 – “When Killers are Snared by Science”
- The Age, 15 October, 1993 – “Axe Killer Sentence Gives Hope of Parole”
- The Age, 30 April, 1994 – “Axe Murderer of Family to Die in Jail”
- Sunday Times, 20 May, 2007 – “Throw Away The Jail Key”
- Sunday Times, 14 February, 2010 – “Security Eased On Axe Killer”
- Daily Advertiser, 29 June, 2013 – “An Angry Petition to WA Parliament is Trying to Ensure”
- Sunday Times, 25 September, 2016 – “Brutal Murderer Makes Case for Freedom”