Pictured: Baxter alongside one of his daughters flexing their muscles
A failed NRL player who burned his entire family to death after his wife left him was a master manipulator who tried to control every aspect of her life.
Rowan Charles Baxter, 42, ‘ambushed’ his estranged wife Hannah Clarke, 31, as she drove their kids Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3, to school in Brisbane on Wednesday morning.
He dived into the car, doused them in petrol and set it ablaze, burning all four to death while stabbing himself in the chest until he died next to the car.
Hannah’s parents Lloyd and Suzanne Clarke told Daily Mail Australia on Thursday that although Baxter entered a downward spiral after she left him with the kids, he was always a menace.
They said Baxter was controlling and emotionally abusive from the start of their relationship 11 years ago – when Hannah was just 20 – and tried to isolate her from friends and family.
‘We always had misgivings about him,’ Mrs Clarke said as the couple stood next to a table with two framed photos of Hannah and her children either side of a bouquet of flowers.
‘He was always controlling, he ruined her relationship with everyone, even tried to get her away from us.’
Baxter couldn’t stand how her daughter, a champion athlete who won gold medals in trampoline, would outshine him
Baxter often expressed his adoration – both for his wife and his children – all over social media (Pictured with his two daughters)
Baxter holding the couple’s son Trey and Hannah with daughters Aaliyah, six, and Laianah, four
‘We’d go down to the coast and if they turned up and saw us there, they would go to another beach.’
Baxter breached a domestic violence order weeks before he committed the quadruple murder-suicide.
He was due to face court again on April 8 after a magistrate ruled he was free to return home during his initial hearing on January 29.
Less than a month later, he would commit his unimaginable act of evil.
Mr Clarke said few people knew what a monster Baxter really was because he was able to convince everyone he was ‘hard done by’ and that he was the good guy.
‘Rowan was very good at manipulating people into doing what he wanted, he could put the tears on in a pinch and make you feel sorry for him,’ she said.
Left: Hannah Clarke pictured with her ‘main man’, son Trey in a beach snap. Right: Mrs Baxter on her wedding with her husband
Burned-out wreck: Rowan Charles Baxter, 42, and his three children, Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, all died when the family’s white SUV was set alight at Camp Hill
Hannah Clarke survived the initial inferno, which killed her three children, Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three on Wednesday morning, but died in hospital
Hannah’s parents Suzanne and Lloyd Clarke said Baxter had spent months stalking Hannah, tracking her phone and tormenting her in the lead up to the horrific murder
‘He makes people think he’s a nice guy, then he sponges off them and burns them when he’s done with them, and moves on.
‘He sponged thousands off us and Hannah.’
Mr Clarke said Baxter couldn’t stand how her daughter, a champion athlete who won gold medals in trampoline, would outshine him.
‘He was jealous of her sporting success and when she beat him in crossfit. He had a chip on his shoulder because he didn’t make it as an NRL player,’ she said.
Mr Clarke said Baxter was the main trainer but his wife was far more qualified because he ‘couldn’t pass the tests’.
Inferno family: Hannah Clarke and Rowan Baxter, with their three children (from left to right) Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey
Baxter flooded his Facebook site with photos and videos of his children, describing them as ‘my world’
‘Rowan didn’t like that he couldn’t control Hannah with us and her brother because we saw right through him,’ he said.
‘He had to win at all costs, being a sportsman and a personal trainer and all that.
‘Over the 11 years of marriage he wore her down. He split her apart from her brother. Since we got her out they’ve reconnected and have a great relationship.’
Hannah finally had enough in November and, with the help of her parents, secretly left her husband and took the three children with her.
‘She had to get the kids and just go without saying anything, because he was such a control freak and would get into her head space and she would give in,’ Mr Clarke said.
Baxter’s New Years’ Day post: The killer former NRL player brought in the new year with this post of his children in the shallows. ‘Goodnight ratbags always in my heart,’ it was captioned
Bodies were seen being loaded into the back of a funeral van on Wednesday afternoon, the family’s burnt-out Kia Sportage can be seen in the background being examined by police
On Thursday morning dozens of family and friends visited the scene of the tragedy to pay tribute to Ms Clarke
Without Baxter being able to control the situation anymore, all hell broke loose and he entered a spiral of increasingly erratic actions before Wednesday’s horrific murder-suicide.
‘Everything got worse after she left as he couldn’t control the situation anymore,’ Mrs Clarke said.
Her husband added: ‘He thought he was hard done by and wanted 50 per cent of custody and we knew that couldn’t work, the guy didn’t work, he couldn’t support his own family. It started getting ugly.’
Baxter, a New Zealand Warriors castoff, was occasionally allowed to see the children on weekends, but there was always tension, and even one assault, on drop offs and pickups.
Aaliyah (left), six, Laianah (right), four, and Trey (centre), three, were killed in a quadruple murder-suicide on Wednesday morning when their father set their car alight on their way to school
The Clarke’s heartbroken dog Savannah gazes skyward after ‘losing everyone she loves’ in horrific car inferno
The pet dog, Savannah, was taken in by a trainer who worked at Rowan Baxter and Hannah Clarke’s gym and rushed to rescue the animal when he heard about the inferno at Camp Hill, in Brisbane.
In a sad Instagram post, Savannah is seen with two other dogs gazing towards the sky.
‘She’s made some new friends after losing everyone she loves,’ the post by Dave Kramer who is now caring for the Baxter’s pet, said.
Murdered woman Hannah Clarke’s friend Dave Kramer shared a photo to Instagram of the family’s dog Savannah surrounded by new canine friends after ‘losing everyone she loves’
Dave Kramer shared the photo of the sad dog to Instagram as he continues to reel from the tragedy that has rocked Australia.
Mr Kramer broke down as he visited the scene of the tragedy on Thursday. He had Savannah by his side.
Savannah often appeared in social media photos with the young children who adored her.
Mr Kramer – who was a trainer at the Baxter’s Integr8 Fitness Gym and a close friend of the family – also paid tribute to his murdered friend and her children.
‘I still don’t want to believe it. As I wake up this morning with their family dog laying in my bed, I realize this isn’t just a nightmare, and all I can do is lay here, cuddle her and cry,’ Mr Kramer wrote.
‘Hannah was an amazing woman and she was a pillar of strength to so many others.
‘If she even sensed someone was a little down, she’d know exactly how to brighten up their day with her one of a kind voice and big smile.’
Aaliyah, 6, sits next to her good friend Savannah on the couch in one of many adorable photos of the pair
‘He kidnapped (one of the kids) on Boxing Day and took her interstate to Pottsville (in NSW) for four days until the police got her back,’ Mrs Clarke said.
‘He stayed with a mate who was an absolute animal and sent Hannah a disgusting email blaming her for everything.’
Hannah explained in a series of messages to a friend how Baxter managed to grab her child and run away for days on end.
‘He took her off me in the street because I said the kids couldn’t stay with him until we had a court order,’ she said.
‘He got the s**ts and picked her up and threw her in his car.’ In another conversation, Hannah said: ‘I’m so glad I got out when I did. I’m safe, I’m with my parents who are very, very normal. I’m just so glad I got out when I did.’
Text messages sent by Hannah Clarke to a relative in the weeks after she fled her violent marriage and moved in with her parents
Baxter kidnapped one of the couple’s children on Boxing Day last year. Hannah revealed the details of it in a text message to a relative
The shocking murder-suicide that has left Australia reeling unfolded just metres from the home of Ms Clarke’s parents on Raven Street, Camp Hill, as she drove her children to school
Hannah with her mother Suzanne Clarke. Mrs Clarke and her husband Lloyd said they have struggled for months to keep the killer father away from his estranged wife and children who was stalking them and even kidnapped one of the kids
Three weeks ago – the last time the children stayed with Baxter at the former family home 3km away – the two got into an argument as he dropped them off.
Baxter assaulted her in the Clarke’s front yard by grabbing her by the wrist and twisting her arm behind her back, hurting her shoulder.
The couple said he was charged with assault.
‘He was supposed to drop the kids off at 9 o’clock but everything has to be on his terms so he arrived at 9.15. He was incredibly petty,’ Mr Baxter said.
There was more drama when he picked them up days earlier, which Mr Clarke said was a window into his mind.
‘He wouldn’t even look Hannah in the eyes. Hannah took the kids out and said that one of them had an ear infection and needed to take medication and he wouldn’t even listen,’ he said.
The Baxter children Laianah, four, and Aaliyah, six holding Trey, three
One of Hannah Clarke’s friends doubled over in pain as she visited the scene of the murder in Brisbane. She cried at the memorial which has been building up since Wednesday
‘He was trying to rush the kids into the car and Hannah said “hey how about a kiss goodbye from Mum?” and Trey jumped out and gave her a hug.’
Mr Clarke said Baxter didn’t check if Trey was buckled back in, drove a little down the road , stopped, got out and buckled him up, then ‘sped off like a lunatic’.
Baxter’s Facebook page was filled with sweet snaps of his children, videos of them at play, and declarations of love – but it was all an act.
‘Everyone thought they had a great family because he projected this image on social media with all these sweet pictures and saying he couldn’t live without her,’ Mr Clarke said.
‘It was all a facade. He said he was a good father and he loved his kids, but how can you love them and do something like this?’
Mrs Clarke added: ‘He was on social media every night [making himself look like a loving father] so Hannah got a lot of trolls sending her nasty thing, but they didn’t know the story.’
Facebook takes down killer dad’s profile after his page was inundated with people branding him ‘scum’
After the horrific murder-suicide, Baxter’s Facebook page was flooded with thousands of hate messages.
‘Enjoy hell, you dirty, evil, possessive b*****d,’ one person wrote.
‘Eternal suffering is still not enough for you.’
‘I am atheist, but with my heart I hope I am wrong and that there is a hell for monsters like this,’ another woman wrote.
‘He deserves to burn for eternity. Rest in peace the mother and the three beautiful innocent children. So sickeningly sad.’
Prior to the deactivation Baxter’s Facebook page had been turned into a memorial page
Another added: ‘Such horror. There’s a dark place in hell for someone who sets their children on fire. Bless their and their mother’s souls. They deserved so much more.’
By Thursday night the Facebook page was removed from the site.
Daily Mail Australia understands the account was removed as it breached Facebook’s Violence and Criminal Behaviour policy.
Prior to the deactivation Baxter’s account had been turned into a memorial page.
Ms Clarke’s has not yet been given the same treatment.
She stood back up and sought comfort in another woman, reaching out to embrace her with tears streaming down her face
Police attend the scene of a car fire which claimed the lives of an entire family of five
Hannah continued to be the best mum she could to her ‘two princess and a prince’, and took them to Sea World with her parents on the weekend – their last family outing.
Just a few days later, Baxter somehow managed to get into Hannah’s car as she left her parents’ house for the school run.
The car travelled around the corner into Raven Street, in Camp Hill, where he doused everyone in flames and set the car alight.
Hannah was able to escape, but was so badly burned her skin was literally falling off through holes in her scorched active wear.
The children burned to death inside the car as neighbours tried in vain to rescue them from the inferno and Baxter did his best to hinder their efforts with a knife.
Then Baxter, horribly burned by the flames himself, plunged the knife into his chest and dropped dead next to the car.
Hannah Clarke died just hours after her babies were doused in petrol and burned alive by her estranged husband Rowan
Hannah Clarke was desperate to save her babies even when covered in flames with her skin melting off
Hannah’s parents are still searching for answers about how Baxter managed to get inside the car and set it on fire.
They said he wasn’t allowed with in 20m of her after an earlier assault, and they didn’t see him that morning and have no idea why he was there.
‘We still don’t know how he got so close. He’s obviously ambushed her somehow, I’m sure she would not have stopped for him, she would be more likely to try to run over him,’ Mr Clarke said.
‘He had to hurt us because we’d beaten him. He was sprialling and had run out of people to sponge off. Looks like all of a sudden he decided there was only one way out.’
The couple believed Baxter was obsessively tracking his estranged wife’s phone and location by hacking her device – forcing her to frequently change her passwords.
BRISBANE MURDER-SUICIDE: HOW COWARDLY RAMPAGE UNFOLDED
Queensland Police officers are called to a family violence incident that allegedly involved the couple.
WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 19 – EARLY MORNING:
Ex-NRL star Rowan Charles Baxter, 42, is spotted filling a jerry can with fuel at a local service station.
Baxter dives into his estranged wife Hannah Clarke’s white Kia Sportage as she was preparing to do the school drop off on Raven Street, Camp Hill, a wealthy suburb of Brisbane.
He douses Ms Clarke, 31, and their three children – Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three – in petrol and sets the car alight.
Neighbours hear an explosion which sounded like a ‘gas bottle’ blast. At least four explosions followed.
Baxter grabs a knife from the SUV and stabs himself in the chest.
He tries to stop neighbours from saving his wife and children before dying in the street.
Ms Clarke escapes the burning car and screams: ‘He’s poured petrol on me.’
Horrified witnesses see her skin peeling off her body.
One heroic neighbour hoses her down in an attempt to save her life and suffers burns himself.
She is rushed to Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital in a critical condition.
Ms Clarke dies in hospital from the horrendous burns she suffered in the quadruple murder suicide.
WHO WAS ROWAN BAXTER?
Rowan Baxter was an ex-NRL player once contracted to the New Zealand Warriors.
He was a member of the President’s Selection 2005 pre-season team and worked in the sports and fitness industry for the last 20 years of his life.
He was raised in Tauranga, on New Zealand’s North Island, before moving to Australia.
Baxter lived in Brisbane alongside his wife, Hannah, and three children until as recently as late last year, when the couple separated.
The 42-year-old opened a gym, Intergr8 and CrossFit SMC in Capalaba, with his wife, but the pair closed it down as they worked through their split.
Ex-Brisbane Broncos players Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillett have been known to train in the gym.
The ex-sportsman’s business website described him as an accomplished body weight trainer for NRL and AFL teams.
Unsuspecting family and friends believed he was a loving and dedicated father.
Mourners pay their respects at a makeshift shrine near the scene. Mothers were seen kneeling by the flowers with children
They said he sent Hannah suspicious attachments and ‘knew things he shouldn’t have known’.
‘He was going through her phone and tracking her whereabouts. It was really scary,’ Mrs Clarke said.
Mr Clarke gave a heartfelt thanks to everyone who responded to the horrific car fire and pledged to express his gratitude in person in coming weeks.
‘I’m so thankful to the neighbours and the tradies who tried to help my girl, for trying to save her,’ he said.
He wished a speedy recovery to heroic neighbour Michael Zemek, who got Ms Baxter to lie down and roll to smother the flames, then sprayed her with water from his garden hose.
Mr Zemek is recovering in hospital from burns to his hands and face he suffered while trying to save Ms Baxter.
‘T-R-E-Y, love you to the moon in back’, Rowan Baxter wrote – before killed his children, wife and himself. A friend, Joey Abraham, told him ‘chin up, everything will work out’