03 March, 2010

A Manipulative Attention-Seeker - Part II

At about 4:00 in the morning on April 6th David Barac arrived at Ashfield Police station in Helen Cusack's car. He was interviewed by Detective Sergeant Mellini about her disappearance. David said Helen had arranged the meeting in Canberra to talk about their situation, and he travelled down by bus to meet her at the Greyhound terminal. He said that Helen booked and paid for his ticket, and he was going to get some papers from the Department of Immigration, as well as a resume and a drug and alcohol certificate. He said they met up and talked, then went to a motel, where Helen rang her friend Erica.

David said that he and Helen had sex, but afterwards they had a fight about her family. He left Helen in the hotel room in Watson and drove away in her car. He said he was sorry he had left her and was worried about her. David was then asked about the cut on his hand, and he said he hurt it in a park in Rozelle when accidentally smashing a beer bottle, after returning home from Canberra. David then appeared to become ill and said "you just want me to say I killed and buried her" to which D.S. Mellini replied "no-one's said anything about killing and burying Helen." He was taken to hospital.

David was placed under arrest for breaching his parole conditions, one of which was to stay away from alcohol, and sent to Maitland Correctional Centre. A listening device was placed in his cell om 23 April and monitored for the following week. He was interviewed by Detective Sergeant Brian McDonald of the AFP on 26 April but again denied any knowledge of his wife's whereabouts. However the listening device recorded several important conversations between David and his cellmate Becerevic.

David admitted to Becerevic that he killed Helen and dumped her body at Mooney Mooney. He said Helen was his wife, and that she had been very cross, abusing him over money. He admitted that when he put Helen in the boot of the car while she was still alive and conscious, so he stabbed her again. David then made what was described as "a chilling request", asking Becerevic, when he got out, to make sure Helen's body would never be found. He referred to Helen's death and her body in a "dramatically callous fashion", urging Becerevic into the gruesome task of disposing of the remains. David drew him a map so he could find the body, and they worked out a code so Becerevic could write to him and let him know when the job was done.

After listening to these conversations police found Helen's body off the old Pacific Highway at Mooney Mooney, about 4km north of the Brooklyn Bridge. The white shirt and grey suit Helen had taken with her in the car were found 35m away, stained with her blood. When Becerevic got to Blacktown Court on 3 May, he handed the police a note saying he had information about Helen Cusack. He also gave police David's hand-drawn map and code.

The post-mortem revealed Helen had died from knife wounds to the chest and neck. There were four notable bodily injuries caused by knife wounds, with matching holes in her clothing. David had told Becerevic that he'd taken a knife with him to the hotel room, and that he'd brought it from home. Douglas Kuhl noticed around April 6 that a kitchen knife with a 9-inch-long blade was missing from his Rozelle kitchen, where David had been staying until Sunday 2nd April. The knife had been last seen on about 30 or 31 March, when Kuhl had been sharpening it. No-one else in the house had taken the knife.

Helen's car was thoroughly inspected and her blood was found in the boot and the inside of the car, and her hair was found in the spare-tyre well and surrounding area, as well as on the rear parcel shelf of the hatch, and the hinge.

Detective Sergeant Llewellyn began to interview David at Maitland Police station on 2 May. David told him that he really loved his wife, but that her family had caused the break-up. He said her brother had turned her against him, telling her things that were untrue, to stop her from seeing him, and that the brother had threatened to kill him unless he stayed away from Helen. After receiving legal advice David then terminated the interview. The only other accounts he gave of the events were to his jail psychologists, which were varied, but can be reasonably summed up:
They had left Canberra at about 4:00am and were travelling back to Sydney when a violent argument developed between them. In various accounts this fight either started at the hotel, after 20 minutes, or after an hour and a half. He said that "she wanted to have a baby". When asked who began the argument he said "both went the same way - I was suicidal... she wanted a child but wanted to die too". He said that she had wanted to die "when we were making love in Canberra". Apparently he did not know why she wanted to die but "I said to her the same". They were "sick of the family interrupting, only six weeks after marrying".

David said the argument went for a good fifteen minutes "till I decided OK now is finished". She said "yeah". He said that's when he stopped the car at the side of the highway. He said "I was, this is what I can't remember, drink and cocaine and all that... I think I want - the voices started calling me". He told another doctor it was "Satan's voice... it was like I was possessed... Everything went black".

He went to the boot of the car, "I had to pull the knife from there". He said this was because "I want to kill me". He said the knife was always in the car as he worked as a cook and always had to have cutlery. He said he started to slash himself, to show Helen how much he loved her, and that he did not want to live without her. He showed the Doctors a very small scar on his left wrist and also one which was "scarcely obvious" near his right elbow.

Helen apparently panicked at this behaviour and told him to stop. He said he dropped the knife and she grabbed it, and a struggle broke out between them. He then had the knife in his left hand when 'she pushed my hand'. He demonstrated how the point of the knife had been pushed towards his throat by his wife and he had put his right hand in front of it. He showed Doctors an irregular scar on the palm of his right hand.

When asked why she had picked up the knife he said "I think she was doing to do to herself". He also said that she was going to stab his neck, because "I wanted to die still". David then demonstrated how he had stabbed her with what appeared to be several backhand blows with the knife held in his left hand pointing downwards. He had done this as "she wanted to die too". He said that she was dead when he stopped. He said he was confused and mixed up, and could not believe what he had done. He said he was not in his normal mental state.

David was asked what happened next. He said Helen was still in the passenger's seat of the Mazda, slumped back on the seat. He decided to try and look for a hospital as she had "lost her voice" and was not breathing. Instead he drove all the way back to Lilyfield Road in Rozelle with the body of his wife in the boot of the car.

He saw his friends and told them he had a fight with someone. He said one friend took him to Newcastle. Helen's car had been left in Rozelle with her body in the boot. He said he wanted the police to find it there. He told a friend, Troy, what he had done, who told him "he did not want to hear about it". David returned to Sydney, returned to the car (with the body still in the boot), drove it to Newcastle and dumped the body on the way, at Mooney Mooney. He then continued his journey to Newcastle and spoke to Peter Hillman, another friend, and the next day returned to Sydney where he handed himself in at the Ashfield police station. He said the car was left at the police station.

David pleaded guilty to murder. At the sentence hearing, the Crown submitted that the maximum sentence of life imprisonment should be imposed, bearing in mind David's attack upon his former wife, and the fact that the killing was clearly premeditated - he had lured her away under false pretences, and taken a knife with him. The Crown also pointed to the many inconsistencies in David's versions of events.

David told the court he was born in Peru in 1966, and began using cocaine, cannabis and tranquilisers during his teenage years at school there. He began using heroin and acid in Israel in the 1980's. He said his father abused drugs and alcohol and frequently assaulted his mother. He said he often turned to religious communities, in particular the Pentecostal Church. He stated that he had been hearing voices from the age of 13, and had been placed in a psychiatric hospital in Peru after he heard voices telling him to shoot people. In Israel he had heard voices telling him to destroy a disco, and had spent six months in a psychiatric hospital as a result. None of this could be independently confirmed.

David's medical files noted that he had a possible antisocial personality disorder, often making up 'facts' about himself. He would often state that his brother committed suicide, or his father committed suicide, or his sister attempting suicide. He would also state that his mother was dead in Columbia, although it appeared she was alive and living in Israel. This was confirmed by his psychologists, who described him as demanding, impulsive, prone to attention-seeking behaviour often accompanied by requests for medication. All agreed that there was no evidence of psychosis. They felt that his claims of hearing voices were manipulative and attention-seeking. He had a tendency to get very angry when things did not go his way:
"He is a person who is highly jealous, possessive and insecure, the subject of a pattern of self-pity, dejection and stubbornness punctuated periodically by angry outbursts. [I do] not accept his instances of hearing voices or assertions of being led by Satan and that his personality disorder makes him extremely susceptible to rejection and thus feelings of depression, fear and anger. Since his separation from Helen, [he] appears to have been attempting strategies to be reunited with her."

There were disturbing similarities with David's attack on his first wife - in both cases the relationship had broken down, the offences were premeditated and involved him arming himself with a knife, "with revenge in his heart". He also showed a complete disregard for court orders restricting his behaviour, be it the use of alcohol, or approaching his wife. Therefore the prospect of him re-offending once released seemed high.

Further: "He tends to be rather histrionic, manipulative and over-embellishes." They agreed his stories needed to be corroborated before they could be believed. It was concluded that "it was at least possible that he was attempting to simulate a major psychiatric disorder". None were prepared to say they would support a defence of mental illness.

David Barac was sentenced to 30 years in prison, with a non-parole period of 20 years. The earliest date for his release is 25 May 2017. However the Judge was at pains to note that there was no guarantee he would be released on this date unless the authorities were of the view that he would be appropriately rehabilitated, and would comply with supervision orders. He would be 61 years of age.

Postscript: In 2004 a three-year visitation ban was imposed on Ms Mercedes Barac (presumed to be a relative) for smuggling contraband items to David in Lithgow Jail. In 2002 CDs were found in an underwear parcel, and again in 2004 a mobile phone was seized, also hidden in underwear. Mercedes claimed she made a mistake. She applied to have the ban lifted in the Supreme Court, however it was rejected.


  1. Helen was my friend, I worked with her at Junee Correctional Centre. It is a shame something unfortunate has not happened to the piece of filth who did this to her. What a tragedy, a waste of a beautiful person.

    RIP Helen, my friend love from Christine

  2. I was one of many, many of Helen's friends from our university campus college days in the late 1980s/early1990s. Also, our two families knew each other quite well, as we were regional neighbours (Cusacks from Junee area, us from Gundagai area), although we lost touch once my family moved to Canberra and abroad. Because of this, and the fact that my profession has taken me well away from contact with other mutual friends over time, I only just found out about this tragedy a couple of days ago. I am still coming to terms with it.
    I thank the author of this blog for providing a detailed and factual account of what was finally uncovered about Helen's awful, undeserved demise. I also thank a mutual college friend (cheers, Ben) for bringing this to my attention via his own posting on Facebook about the sad passing (and 10th anniversary thereof) of another mutual college friend. Without his links to this blog, I would still be in the dark about Helen.
    Finally, I would like to pass my most sincere condolences on to Helen's family. I extend my sympathies to all those other friends she had since we all parted ways in the early 1990s including the commenter above, who obviously experienced the warmth Helen had to share with those around her.
    So, even though it is almost 19 years since Helen was taken from us, I too wish to invoke my own treasured memories of Helen from the time I knew her.
    May she continue to Rest In Peace.

  3. I would like to make a correction. Mercedes Barac is no relative of David Barac, she is his third wife. They knew each other from Newcastle and he has been allowed to marry her even while incarcerated.

  4. I knew David Barac when he was married to his first wife, J. who child minded our 4 year old. He was a friendly man, slightly eccentric, but hard working and sociable. We played on the same Sunday football team at Bellmont NSW. Over time his personality changed. He became, intense, anxious and found God, but not in a good way. He also became abusive to J. We had to change child minder when he beat up his wife. She subsequently moved away with her daughter, changed her name and moving probably saved their lives. I have to say, it is truly shocking how far downhill he went. We were good friends for a while and I would never have had him down for a murderer when I first met him. It's all very sad.

    J, I hope you're well, wherever you are. My family, C and E, returned to London. C passed away in 2007. E is happy and healthy and about to turn 27. Hope it's all good for you and your daughter, S.