Condemned for her lies: Camila Zeidan catfished her friend Renae Marsden for 18 months until her suicide death in August 2013, a coroner ruled
The grief and expectation was palpable as Camila Zeidan stepped into the witness box at an inquest into her ‘best friend’s’ suicide.
It was a hot February day, almost seven years since hairdresser Renae Marsden, 20, had plunged off a Sydney cliff after enduring an 18-month-long ‘catfish’ relationship with Camila.
Now Camila found herself at New South Wales Coroners’ Court, summoned to explain how and why she had deceived Renae by posing as her long term internet boyfriend, ‘Brayden Spiteri’.
The day she took her own life, Renae was devastated that ‘Brayden’ had broken up with her.
Given Brayden was a fictional online personality entirely invented by Camila, Renae’s family have been searching for answers ever since.
The victim’s loved ones, including her mother, stepfather, two brothers, teenage sister and cousins, hoped Camila’s testimony would finally bring out ‘the truth’. Or at least, a glimmer of remorse.
Instead, Camila told ‘ultimately nothing but a pack of lies’, deputy state Coroner Elaine Truscott has found in a scathing ruling.
Dressed in a black sweater and utterly expressionless, Camila sat on the Coroner’s right that afternoon earlier this year and claimed, to gasps, that Renae was ‘in’ on the whole fake relationship.
Camila Zeidan (right) invented ‘Brayden’ Spiteri to catfish ex-girlfriend Renae (left), who died by suicide on August 5, 2013
A picture Renae Marsden believed was Brayden Spiteri. It is a picture of another man
Brayden, she claimed, had been created by the two of them so they could have a secret lesbian romance, away from others’ disapproving eyes.
‘We both agreed we were never going to be accepted in a relationship, like, we weren’t ever going to be accepted together,’ she said.
‘So we created the character so that no one would find out.’
‘Full of lies’
EXPLAINED: THE BRAYDEN SPITERI CATFISH SAGA
This is a picture of the man Renae believed was Brayden. But it was not – and instead a photo of a random man Camila had grabbed off social media
It is without dispute that before Renae took her own life, Camila posed as Renae’s boyfriend online – and then broke up to her.
Camila ripped photos of another young man she had once met at a nightclub from Facebook and dubbed him ‘Brayden Spiteri’.
Renae wasn’t allowed to meet him. He was supposedly a prisoner in Goulburn jail over the manslaughter of a friend, who apparently died in a car crash.
He couldn’t take visitors, but somehow had ready and near-constant access to a mobile phone.
The imaginary character became Renae’s love interest, even her obsession, despite some friends questioning whether he was real.
At the same time, Renae had a fraught real-world friendship with Camila.
Camila was accused in court of following her to the shops and barraging her with abuse.
One morning, Renae woke up with 54 missed calls from Camila.
The inquest heard evidence from Renae’s mother that Camila sometimes sat out the front of her house in her car.
When Renae finally rejected Camila’s controlling friendship, in August 2013, Camila ripped Brayden away from her. Brayden ‘broke up’ with Renae – breaking her heart.
Renae drove to a notorious suicide hotspot in Sydney’s east that afternoon, sent heartbreaking final messages to her mother, Brayden and Camila, and took her own life.
The inquest into Renae’s death didn’t begin until the beginning of 2020 – more than six years later.
The Coroner considered whether Renae had realised she had been catfished at the time she took her own life, but Ms Truscott ruled that was ‘unbeknown to her’, despite a failed call to Goulburn prison the day of her death.
Despite the audible sobs from Renae’s relatives at the back of the courtroom, Camila continued to assert that Renae knew she was play-acting as Brayden.
Camila claimed text messages which appeared to show Renae thought Brayden was a real, living person was just her being ‘in character’.
Camila told the court she ‘couldn’t remember’ denying to police that she was actually Brayden – despite investigators locating ‘his’ phone at her house.
And she claimed the reason why she had Brayden break up with Renae was simple: it was all getting too much.
‘I had been away (on holiday) – I just didn’t want to do this character thing with her anymore,’ she told the court.
Her evidence distressed the Marsden family. Some wept and a couple couldn’t handle listening to it.
But it was a different feeling – relief – felt by the Marsden family this week as Coroner Elaine Truscott condemned Camila’s evidence as ‘full of lies’ this week.
‘Her evidence was full of lies and she was painting a cover story over why and how Brayden Spiteri was created,’ Ms Truscott ruled.
Ms Truscott said Camila had ‘exacted her ultimate revenge by making Brayden break Renae’s heart’ after Renae severed her longtime friendship.
‘Camila knew that terminating the relationship would leave Renee devastated,’ Ms Truscott said.
A scathing Ms Truscott said Camila seemed ‘completely unaffected’ by the lies she told from ‘the beginning to the end’ of her testimony.
Texts sent by Renae – where she even planned to hold a wedding for when Brayden got out of prison – ‘speak for themselves’, the Coroner said.
They showed Renae ‘had no role in the creation of Brayden and she believed that he was a real person’.
The coroner described how Camila had tried to cover up what had happened immediately following Renae’s tragic death, by destroying the evidence.
‘After Renae’s death, Camila kept her Brayden character, denied being Brayden, destroyed the Brayden phone and sim card and minimised the period during which she was Brayden,’ Ms Truscott said.
The only reason for her actions ‘was to avoid being revealed as the person who had caused Renae the hurt and heartbreak that led her to take her own life.’
The coroner found: ‘Renae Marsden deliberately slipped from the clifftop with the intent to end her life after the termination of a relationship with a person whose identity and intent were, unbeknown to her, a fabrication created and perpetrated for the purposes of exercising coercion and control over her by a known person, who engaged in conduct known as “catfishing”.’
Renae Marsden’s fiery texts after copping abuse from Brayden for ‘questioning my life’ (left and right)
So why hasn’t she ever been charged?
To Renae Marsden’s family, it boggles the mind to think Camila has not faced criminal proceedings as a result of the fake relationship.
‘I lay awake at night thinking about it,’ said Mark Marsden, Renae’s father. ‘I have for six, seven years.’
‘She (Camila) has gone through all the investigations. She’s gone through a coronial inquest.
‘She’s been condemned from peer to post – yet (there’s) nothing on her.
‘It beggars belief, to some extent … whatever avenue they look at, for whatever reason, the police don’t seem to be pressing any charges.’
Mr Marsden’s family have called for the kind of abuse Camila inflicted upon Renae to be made a criminal offence in its own right.
Several members of the family, including Renae’s brother Luke and mother Teresa, were visibly emotional after hearing Camila Zeidan’s testimony. They have been waiting seven years
Devastation: Monique Marsden (on left), Renae’s 14-year-old sister, after Camila gave evidence. On right, the heartbreaking final text Renae sent her mother, Teresa
And in her findings, the Coroner recommended the government review how the law responds to ‘non-physical forms of domestic and family violence’.
She said the review should examine if widening the definition of domestic violence ‘would capture the conduct Camila engaged in by catfishing Renae’.
The coroner stopped short of recommending catfishing be made a crime without further investigation.
Mr Marsden said he hopes the inquest findings will help any case against Camila, by finally laying out the details of Renae’s convoluted ordeal.
Meanwhile, Mr Marsden said he and his wife, Teresa, say they won’t stop until the law is changed.
‘We’re not going to rest,’ he said.
For confidential crisis support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.