The Man who Threw his Daughter off a Bridge

Melbourne's Westgate bridge. Image by Pat Scala
Melbourne's Westgate bridge. Image by Pat Scala

The Westgate Bridge in Melbourne, Victoria, has had a long association with tragedy. The 850 metre bridge rises imposingly over the banks of the Yarra River and joins the Western suburbs to the City Centre and is used by thousands of commuters every day. To some however, the landmark structure is not so much a bridge as a sad memorial to the thirty-five men who died when the bridge collapsed during its constructiion in 1970.

It's also the place where, at 9am on January 29th, 2009, "Weekend Dad", Arthur Phillip Freeman, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic on the bridge, suddenly stopped in the left lane, got out of his car with his four year old daughter Darcey and threw her over the bridge, 80 metres to her death. Just minutes before, Freeman had rung his estranged wife with the threat,. "Say goodbye to your children...you will never see them again".

Arthur Freeman. image by jason Southe
Arthur Freeman. image by jason Southe

The story of Arthur Freeman's descent into ruthless, unimaginable violence is a shocking one and part of me didn't want to write it. Even today I'm still affected by it, perhaps because there is something so strikingly and gut-wrenchingly symbolic about that single, terrible act. A supposedly loving father threw his daughter away....picked her up and threw her away, forever.

Yet it's an important issue. Though the method may be unique, the intent is not and Freeman's act is not an isolated one. Late last year, another father, also separated from his family, was convicted of killing his two young sons by driving them into a dam on Father's Day in 2005 and there are reports every year of similar tragedies, apparently stemming form 'spousal revenge'. What drives a man to seemingly seek vengeance on his former partner by murdering their children? It's an impossibly heinous crime..yet it happens. Every year in Australia.

While it is true that women too, have been convicted of killing their own children, it is not usually because they are separated from them or their partners - there are whole other issues at play there that are the subject for another article. No, this is about a portion of men and their inability to cope with separation. What's going on...?

Youthful promise. Arthur Freeman in 1996. Image from the Herald Sun
Youthful promise. Arthur Freeman in 1996. Image from the Herald Sun
Happier days. Arthur Freeman with his former wife, Peta Barnes
Happier days. Arthur Freeman with his former wife, Peta Barnes

The Story

To the world at large, Arthur Freeman was a relatively normal, ordinary guy, - just like the millions of other guys who leave school, get a job, get married and acquire a mortage and children along the way. Perhaps he could be considered even a little more successful than many men; he was an IT professional who had excelled as a database administrator in London. Freeman took sking trips, played weekly tennis and superficially at least, appeared to enjoy his life.

Even after his marriage went pear-shaped, he carried on, at one stage looking after his three children, two young sons, Ben and Jack, aged six and two and four year old Darcey, on his own for a short period. Those who knew him emphasize that Freemon loved his children and wanted to be involved in their lives. He read them bedtime stories, played beach soccer and was described in court as "excessively caring", fretting about their welfare when he wasn't with them.

During the trial however, other, less endearing descriptions of Freeman emerged. The loving Dad was described as "calculating" and a "control freak" who lost the plot after his marriage collapsed. He had trouble accepting the situation and continued to wear his wedding ring even though it was all over. For a while he stayed with friends in London, who declared in police statements that he appeared "clearly depressed", "paranoid" and "obsessive".

Ex-wife, Peta Barnes said during the marriage Freeman had had "mood swings and anger management issues". Shortly after the divorce in 2008, he told a relative his ex-wife would "regret it" if he lost custody. Something anyone might say in a heated moment, yet after the events that followed, it has a terrible, prescient resonance.

The Day

January 29th was a typically hot summer day in Melbourne. The day before Freeman and his wife had been in court fighting a custody battle and Freeman's fear that he would lose the three day a week shared care that he had enjoyed since the break-up, was realised. A psychologist's report had gone against him. The report concluded that Freeman "tended to be irrational and contradictory... and demonstrated passive/aggressive traits and seemed to cause chaos around him". and significantly, it was specifally noted that Darcey was particularly close to her mother..a factor in the final decision. His time with the children was now reduced to one weekend a fortnight, plus a few hours on alternate Thursday nights. It was a 'negotiated settlement' and while Peta Barnes said Freeman appeared "happy" when he left the court, that was not his interior reality. Emotionally, the cuts were running very, very deep.

The evening after the court case, he returned to his parents beachside home, where his children had been staying. The next morning Freeman was frazzled - it was Darcey's first day at school and he had no time to make lunches for her and her six year old brother. Sensing his stressed mood, his father Peter offered to drive the kids but Freeman refused and strapped his children in the back seat of the car.

Along the way Freeman spoke to his sister and a lady friend in London, Elizabeth Lam, on his mobile phone. He was upset about the custody outcome and vowed to pursue the matter through the higher courts. Lam noted that he also mentioned that there had been "lots of angry women in the courts who weren't very supportive of fathers".

As usual the Westgate bridge was congested with peak hour morning traffic - Freeman's heavy, emotionally charged anger must have been building up with a volcanic force and as he waited in the slow traffic, he made the threatening call to Peta Barnes. Minutes later, he parked his four wheel drive in the left hand emergency lane, close to the highest point of the bridge. Coaxing Darcey out of the car he carried her in his arms to the top of the bridge and threw her over the rails. Darcey fell 80 metres into the dark, murky waters of the Yarra but did not die immediately. Water police tried desperately to revive her but she died a few hours later in hospital,

As Freeman drove away across the bridge, his six-year-old son Ben was distraught, begging his father to turn back because, “Darcey can't swim''. Ben's calls fell on deaf ears, as Freeman appeared to be a trance. He drove on to the CBD and tried to hand his two year old son to security gaurds at the Commonwealth Law Courts. Those who saw him later that day describe a wreck of a man - shaking and weeping uncontrollably and too distressed to communicate.

Convicted

it's very hard to have any compassion for a man like Freeman, to not view him as a monster..an abhorration of what it means to be human. He is a monster, but a human monster, the creation of which needs to be dissected. Nor is he an abhoration, in so far as he is not alone in the severe psychological reactions that propelled him along a path of extreme violence with immeasurably tragic consequences. There is a small portion of men who, after losing the families which have defined them, get very angry..so angry, they kill. Sometimes they kill their former partners, sometimes their children, sometimes both and sometimes they kill their families and themselves. Freeman's state of mind and the conditions around his separation and relationship with his children needs to be understood, so that there is a chance that something, anything may be done to avert such a thing from ever happening again.

Arthur Phillip Freeman must now live with the incalculable misery he has caused himself and others - and if he really was a loving father - it's a misery that must permeate every cell of his being, every waking moment. The consequence of one moment's abandonement to extreme anger and vengeance. During his trial, Freeman's defence of madness was rejected by the Supreme Court and he was sentenced to life in jail with a non-parole period of 32 years. According to newspaper reports, he spends most of his time growing tomatoes in the prison garden.


Darcey
Darcey

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Comments 42 comments

Beth100 profile image

Beth100 5 years ago from Canada

Disturbing. I am at a loss of words over these horrific crimes. There is no sense in enacting these crimes. Ruthless. Saddening.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Beth, I know. It's a terrible story. Thankyou for reading.


MazioCreate profile image

MazioCreate 5 years ago from Brisbane Queensland Australia

This was such a tragedy. I can remember when it was first reported on the news and I was shocked by the totally callous behaviour of this person. I have always wondered why it is necessary for people who are depressed because of marriage issues that they murder their children rather than taking their own lives? Go figure!


jrsearam profile image

jrsearam 5 years ago from San Juan, PR

I hated reading this Jane. It broke my heart.


drbj profile image

drbj 5 years ago from south Florida

A distressing, spellbound article, Jane. My concern is for his son, Ben, now 8 years old, who watched his father kill his innocent little sister. What nightmares is that child living through?


Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 5 years ago from Nashville, TN

So disturbing. I have mixed feelings about the death penalty, but in a case like this it seems appropriate. Very well written btw.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Mazio, I know what you mean. It seems it's the revenge element and a kind of 'punishment'. They want their wives to suffer for the hurt that's been done to them. They must be so clouded by anger and emotion that they can't reason.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

jrsearm, it is so heartbreaking...one of the saddest stories I have ever heard and not easily forgotten.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

drbj..I had the same reaction...it tore me apart emotionally to think about that little boy. It's about as deep a betrayal of trust as you can get. How could he do it do them?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks Stan...but y'know I don't think there'd be anything to be gained by imposing the death penalty on this guy. It wouldn't bring Darcey back,and would be in itself, just another act of vengeance.


Stan Fletcher profile image

Stan Fletcher 5 years ago from Nashville, TN

I see your point, and that's why I struggle with the death penalty.... the question is, "is it vengeance?" I suppose it might be for the family. But for society as a whole, I'm not sure if its not just punishment. If you commit certain acts, you will be put to death. Not with any vengeance or emotion. You made a choice, and now you get what you knew beforehand you would get. In this case, death.

Again, I'm not saying that I fully stand behind this view. I'm just thinking out loud for the sake of argument. However, I will say this, and I believe it strongly: If he were to be put to death, there is NO moral equivalence between his death and his daughters. Her death is completely and forever unjustified by any measure. Killing him would not be the same as him throwing his daughter off the bridge.

One more backtrack: I've always believed in redemption, and by killing someone you take away that possibility.

Tough issue.

One last thought - he should NEVER be considered for parole. That's the one issue I have with his sentence.


PaulaHenry1 profile image

PaulaHenry1 5 years ago from America

It sounds as if he may have had bi-polar or paranoid major deppressive disorder. It sounds like there were many signs that were left ignored. I am not excusing his behavior at all mind you- I am sobbing looking at that darling girls photo and cant help but think what could have been going through her mind as her FATHER did this to her....very saddening. I will hold my children very close tonight.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Stan, it is a tough issue. I agree that it would not be the moral equivalent but what purpose would the death penalty serve if not one of retribution and vengeance? Since he is already locked up it wouldn't make society any safer and as you said, you can't have the death penalty and the possibility of redemption.

To claim life imprisonment is not "just punishment' is simply to argue an eye for an eye, which is pure vengeance. I don't understand how compounding one death with another can create any sort of just moral balance? I'd argue it's better to break a momentum of violence than continue it for no other reason than retribution.

Anyway, what greater punishment could there be than for this man to live in isolation from everything that means anything to him and for the rest of his life to be haunted by the misery of his own actions?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Paula, yes I think you're probably right. There were signs that all was not right with this man - that he wasn't coping with the break-up and had anger problems. But then, I suppose many people get depressed and angry after a separation so 'rationalisations' are made. I don't know. One thing is certain..he was definitely a f*cked up individual.


ajcor profile image

ajcor 5 years ago from NSW. Australia

Unfortunately while he can claim to be or indeed is, a f*cked up individual he has managed in fell swoop to a f*ck up his ex-wife, children and both sets of parent's lives...No excuse for his behaviour - if anyone had to go he should have taken the long jump himself...what a beautiful little girl who is now lost to everyone in her family...so sad.


futonfraggle profile image

futonfraggle 5 years ago

This is such a sad story. Thank you for giving us the background story of the events that led up to this. It paints a picture of a very troubled man.


MPG Narratives profile image

MPG Narratives 5 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Such a sad story and such a beautiful little girl lost forever. Also, the families have to struggle with this the rest of their lives. So unfair for all. Great account of this story Jane of a "loving" dad pushed to the brink.


workingmomwm profile image

workingmomwm 5 years ago from Kentucky, USA

Shades of Medea, except reversed, and the revenge is a little different.

I think it's a shame they were going to separate him from his children in the first place because he tended to be irrational, contradictory, and passive-aggressive? Both of my parents are like this at times (who isn't, honestly?), and no one ever took me away from them. Of course, they didn't throw me off a bridge, either, but I'm sure there were times they wanted to.

Tragic tale. And, yes, disturbing. Interesting, but disturbing!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

ajcor, was he mad or just bad? I don't know but I wish he had just jumped on his own. In such cases they don't though, because it seems to be all about causing hurt to those who they perceive have hurt them.I can only assume they have some sort of sense of entitlement they feel has been violated..or something like that. It's hard to fathom. Could it be that once they lose control of their wife and family, they think being able to inflict suffering upon them is a way to regain it?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

futonfraggle..thanks for reading.Yes, definitely troubled, You can sense his life(and mind) unravelling.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Mpg...I can't imagine how a mother could ever get over this. It's unbearable. And if he has any sort of lucidity, Freeman must find it torture to be alive.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

workingmomwm, i wonder whether or not shared custody would have saved the situation. Freeman would still have been a dodgy proposition I think. The psychologists were right about him...but then he should have had help, not been left to fester.

It would be hard to know what to do but I don't think the answer is necessarily to give them what they want. Men who aren't coping with seperation clearly need plenty of support and help and any signs of excessive anger should be taken very seriously.


Thelma Alberts profile image

Thelma Alberts 5 years ago from Germany

Hi Jane! It´s a very sad story to read but I had to read it til the end of your hub. That poor boy who witness how his sister was thrown off a bridge by his father. Horrible!!! I hope the boy has a lot of support from the government.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Thelma, I hope so too and thanks for reading.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Jane - so professionally written. I just can not - no matter what - imagine feelings over coming me like that. This happens a lot in America too and it's mind boggling. I also can't imagine what that man must think about every day. I don't know how he can live with himself.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

RH..as far as Freeman goes, I should think it was torture to be alive.But then who knows what he's really thinking.

The truly awful thing is, as you mention, that he's not the only one. Other people do this kind of thing. I'm not sure if there'as a solution but we really need to put some resources into prevention here...these men aren't holding it together.

BTW, thanks for reading


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

And when I think about it - I can not recall hearing about these kinds of things - say 20 years ago? There have been a couple of American women that have done simply unexplainable acts too - Susan Smith, Andrea Yates - now the Casey Anthony trial is all over the media. So bizarre! The world just did not seem so scary when I was little.

Btw - you're welcome - really interesting topic - sadly another problem that really needs an answer.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

RH..Yes, women kill children too but I think generally for different reasons, not for revenge on a spouse. No less tragic though, for sure. It's all awful.


RealHousewife profile image

RealHousewife 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Yes - that is a head scratcher - so evil and hateful. And you think - if they would have just gotten over the jealousy they could have had new chances for relationships. I'm sure the ex spouse does receive the pain they hoped it would inflict.


sonia05 profile image

sonia05 5 years ago from india

Very well-written hub! The act of Arthur Freeman is the height of insanity! killing a child,whether one's own or other's is a cruel act and i wonder how he manages to sleep and how he remains sane after committing such a crime! He was facing a crisis situation then but what about his present and future? what about guilt pangs? Also,his act must have had a deep and negative impact on his son who witnessed the crime!


dahoglund profile image

dahoglund 5 years ago from Wisconsin Rapids

It is sad. I would guess some sort of mental illness that was triggered by events. That someone described the man as a control freak is a clue, I think. Control freaks can be merely annoying as long as they get their way. It depends, I suppose, on the extent of the characteristic.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

RH, definitely!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

sonia, thanks for your comment. I don't know how he can live with himself either. It's an incredible act and yes, especially terrible for the little boys. He didn't look ahead at all it seems. I believe he had the idea of revenge in the back of head and on that particular day he just sort of snapped and did it.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi dahoglund...yes I agree. I really think the control freak aspect is the key. He couldn't bear the fact that he had lost control of his family and this was a way to exert some sort of control still.


KidsPartyFavors profile image

KidsPartyFavors 5 years ago

I felt sorry for the little girl, it is such a tragic story! I feel really bad about this!


workingmomwm profile image

workingmomwm 5 years ago from Kentucky, USA

Jane: Yes, he definitely should've gotten help, but so very few people ask for help of that sort when they truly need it. And even if you do ask for help, you don't always get the best (at least that's been my experience - had one counselor hit on me and a few others throw up their hands in despair).

And, of course, the most popular treatment now is to just dish out pills willy-nilly. Maybe that's what they should've done to poor old Freeman. Gabapentin is especially effective for dulling the senses. ...

Uh, sorry Jane. I didn't mean for this to turn into a rant against mental health professionals! I'll stop now.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks for reading and commenting KidsParty. It's impossible not to feel bad when you hear this story isn't it?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

workingmum...rant away, it's ok with me. It's true, many people don't ask/wont accept help. You're p'robly right about the variable quality of treament too. Sounds like you copped a couple of dodgy counsellors there. Apparently anyone can call themselves a "counsellor" in Aust. without any specific training even.

Maybe an anger management class AND pills for Freeman.I don't know, i'm no expert.


workingmomwm profile image

workingmomwm 5 years ago from Kentucky, USA

Thanks, Jane! Counselors without any training at all, huh? Now that's a scary thought!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

It is workingmom!


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 5 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Nicely told but but a sad bit of business all round. I voted up.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Rod, it's shocking I know. Thankyou for reading

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