Harrowing new details have emerged of the final evil act of a man who tried to stop them from rescuing his estranged wife and three children from the burning car he set alight.
The inquest into the deaths of Hannah Clarke, 31 and her children Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three began on Monday, two years after they were doused in petrol before the family car was set alight in Brisbane’s south in a crime that shocked Australia.
Ms Clarke’s estranged husband Rowan Baxter died at the scene from self-inflicted knife wounds while he tried to stop neighbours from dousing the flames.
The first witnesses at the scene in Camp Hill took to the stand on Monday to give their traumatic accounts of the tragedy.
They described Ms Clarke’s chilling screams and how Baxter tried to stop them from extinguishing the flames as his children died in the back seat of the burning car.
Witnesses also recalled Baxter’s calm but menacing demeanor in his final moments alive.
Hannah Clarke (pictured) and her children Aaliyah (left), Laianah (right)and Trey (middle) were doused in petrol by her estranged husband before being burned alive
Kerry Fernandez was among the residents confronted by Baxter as they battled to extinguish the burning car.
‘(I saw) a really burnt person,’ she told the inquest.
‘It did occur to me this is the guy. I looked him up and down first … is he any danger to me?
‘I thought he’s so badly burnt, he’s no threat to me, I’m going to be fine.’
Ms Fernandez recalled how Baxter dived back into the burning car as she aimed the extinguisher towards the vehicle.
‘His demeanour had changed,’ she said.
‘He was not wanting me to put the fire out. If I went to the right side he followed me there, if I went to the left side, he followed me there. He was growling or something. There was not words coming out … I felt like he was almost guarding the car.’
Counsel assisting Dr Jacoba Brasch warned attendees at the inquest, which included Ms Clarke’s parents Lloyd and Sue that some evidence will be confronting and traumatic.
Reece Gourlay saw Baxter menacing his neighbour Ms Fernandez.
‘The way he was pacing around the car was making it difficult for my neighbour who was trying to put the fire out,’ he recalled
‘He looked like he was trying to get in the way of that.’
The inquest into the deaths of Hannah Clarke and her children Aaliyah 6, Laianah 4, and Trey 3, (all pictured) began on Monday
Mr Gourlay recalled the horror of seeing Baxter dive into the burning car and emerge with a knife.
He rushed to his neighbour and told her to run as Baxter crouched to the ground hind them and stabbed himself in the heart.
‘I immediately then realised that this isn’t somewhere I want to be,’ Mr Gourlay said.
Ms Fernandez will never forget Ms Clarke’s chilling screams and the ‘deadpan’ look in Baxter’s eyes.
‘When you feel like you’ve lost a child for 30 minutes and you can’t find them … (like) nothing I’ve ever heard before,’ she told the inquest.
‘I can’t explain it. But I knew I was looking at a domestic violence situation.’
She was on the phone to triple-0 when Ms Clarke’s car exploded into flames.
‘It was something that the whole suburb would have heard,’ Ms Fernandez recalled.
‘I said you’re going to need the fire brigade, ambulance, everyone.’
Samantha Covey was driving her children to swimming lessons when she came across Ms Clarke’s car engulfed in flames.
She found Ms Clarke lying on the grass near her car suffering from severe burns to her entire body – saying ‘my kids, someone get my kids’.
Ms Covey recalled her harrowing conversation with Ms Clarke, where her only concern was for her children as they waited for paramedics to arrive.
‘I can’t believe he’s done this. I’ve got a DVO I can’t believe he’s done this. Where are my babies, where are my kids? How could he do this. That’s my babies in there,’ she told Ms Covey.
Witness Samantha Covey (pictured) recalled how Hannah Clarke screamed for her kids
She recalled the dying mum asking for her children and how Ms Clarke described in harrowing detail how she had valiantly tried to fight off her ex.
‘(Hannah said) he dropped the lighter. I tried to fight him. I even ripped his shirt, I couldn’t get to him, I couldn’t stop him,’ Ms Covey recalled.
Baxter suddenly ‘dived’ into the car before getting out again when she turned the fire extinguisher on him.
‘His demeanour had changed,’ Ms Clarke told the bystander.
‘He was not wanting me to put the fire out.
‘If I went to the right side he followed me there, if I went to the left side, he followed me there.
‘(I thought) he’s just proven he’s got brute strength.’
Sue Clarke (pictured on Monday) has heard harrowing accounts from witnesses at an inquest into the deaths of her daughter and grandchildren
Hannah Clarke’s father Lloyd Clarke was also at the inquest to hear the harrowing evidence
Michael Zemek was washing his car that morning when he heard a car pull up outside his home, followed by Ms Clarke’s screaming: ‘Call the police, call the police. He’s trying to kill me. He’s put petrol on me.’
Baxter was sitting in the front seat with his estranged wife.
Mr Zemek couldn’t see or hear children, but Baxter was holding Ms Clarke in a bear hug with both arms around her, as if trying to keep her in the car, Mr Zemek said.
‘What I saw at this time was Baxter essentially had Hannah in quite a bear hug, both arms around her, he was sitting, they were both in the front seat,’ Mr Zemek told the inquest.
‘He was sitting on his side and she was screaming.’
He described Baxter’s demeanour as ‘controlled’.
‘It was just a constraining hold and I guess sort of my impression was he had more of a resigned look on his face,’ Mr Zemek recalled.
‘As I approached the car, as I approached the window, it just went, it just went bang.
‘It was just a bang and a blackness sort of hit my face. I sort of turned my head around briefly… when I came to look up, the whole of the inside front was ablaze.’
Hannah Clarke’s only concerns were for her kids Aaliyah , six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three
He also recalled Ms Clarke’s harrowing words to him while she was ‘head to toe in flames’ as he tried to extinguish the flames with a garden hose.
‘I didn’t save my kids, I couldn’t save my kids,’ Ms Clarke told Mr Zamek.
‘And I was thinking, because I hadn’t seen the kids or heard the kids I didn’t appreciate that they were there.
‘I thought maybe they’d been killed somewhere else.’
Ms Clarke managed to give a statement to police at the scene before she died in hospital hours later.
Her parents Sue and Lloyd have since become outspoken advocates against domestic violence and established the Small Steps 4 Hannah Foundation in their daughter’s honour.
Dr Brasch warned the inquest will also hear ‘chilling audio’ of Baxter contacting a behaviour change program hours before the tragedy
‘I’m not the one who has the problem,’ Baxter was heard telling the operator.
‘Sixteen hours later, he did the unimaginable,’ Dr Brasch said.
The inquest will also be shown CCTV of Baxter in Bunnings looking at mower fuel before buying a jerry can which was eventually used to carry out the tragedy.
Ms Clarke’s father Lloyd said outside court he hoped the inquest would determine how the system let his daughter and grandchildren down.
‘(So) they can put new procedures in place … so people won’t have to go through this terrible thing,’ he said.
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Hannah Baxter, 31, and her children Aaliyah, 6, Lainah, 4, and Trey, 3, died after they were doused in petrol and set alight in Brisbane in February 2020. Pictured is the burnt out car