From the one who is doomed to the death of his children, to discharge his duty with knowledge
Facing justice, Kathleen Volpig strikes back if she kills each of her four children:
– Did you kill Caleb?
– Did you kill Patrick?
– Did you kill Sarah?
– Did you kill Laura?
It looks like a movie story. About a life that is a series of tragedies.
- When Kathleen was 18 months old, her husband stabbed her mother to death. She grew up sometimes living in institutions for minors, sometimes with a foster family.
- They married in 1987, at the age of 20, and had their first child, Caleb, in 1989.
- A year later, the Australian became pregnant again. The other boy: Patrick, who died at the age of eight months.
- In 1992 there was a third pregnancy and a third death: Sarah was ten months old.
- The fourth daughter, Laura, born in 1997, who was one and a half years old, also died.
The first three deaths were initially attributed to sudden infant death syndrome. It was the fourth death to raise suspicion: a coroner described the cause as “undetermined”.
Cases went to court.
The mother was the only person in the house when each child died.
The plaintiffs in the case went so far as to say that it would have been easier for the pigs to fly than for four children of the same family to die of natural causes so early and over such a long period of time.
While still married to Kathleen, Craig Fulbig turned over his wife’s diary to the police, with notes that made him suspicious of her. In one of the clips it says: “With Sarah, all I wanted was to shut her up. And one day I did.”
Kathleen has always denied the allegations.
In 2003, Kathleen, at the age of 36, was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Sixteen years later, with Kathleen still in prison, a character entered this story that completely changed everything: science. One researcher, when conducting genetic testing, sequencing the genomes of the children and the mother, questioned the Australian court’s decision – and argued that Kathleen should be released.
It was the beginning of the turning point in the case.
A young lawyer came to me to talk about this case that he saw on TV. He asked me: ‘Carola, do you think there could be a genetic reason why these babies died? Has technology advanced for us to investigate this? ‘. And yes, technology has advanced a lot from conviction in 2003 to now. I thought it was worth moving on and said “yes,” says Carola Fenosa, a scientist and director of research.
From blood drawn from a heel prick test, Carola discovered that Kathleen’s two daughters – Sarah and Laura – carried a hitherto unknown variant of the Tranquility Gene 2.
This gene regulates a protein called calmodulin, which plays an important role in sodium, potassium and calcium levels — all of which help maintain healthy heart function. Variations in this protein can lead to irregular heartbeats and sudden death.
Carola even found out that a similar species had been found the previous month in a family in a city in Europe. A 4-year-old boy died suddenly and the 5-year-old sister went into cardiac arrest. This case was used by Kathleen’s defence.
Scientists also discovered that sons Caleb and Patrick had rare variants of another gene, BSN – which is associated with epileptic conditions.
Twenty-seven researchers published the evidence in a paper presenting the results of the whole-genome sequencing of Kathleen and the children.
The findings convinced 150 of the world’s leading scientists, including two Nobel Prize winners, who signed a petition to reevaluate the issue.
The justice ended up deciding that there were “reasonable doubts” about Kathleen’s guilt and that the children could, yes, die of natural causes.
Kathleen is released in early June.
“My eternal gratitude goes out to my friends and family, especially my best friend Tracy and her entire family. Without them, I would not have survived this ordeal,” Kathleen said.
She spent twenty years in prison. The system has failed her at every turn. How would you feel if I were you? asks Australian lawyer Rhanee Rego.
The ex-husband said that although justice decided to release Kathleen, he does not change his mind. Craig even refused to give defense samples of his DNA.
Friend Tracy Chapman said Kathleen is baffled by the novelty of cell phones, twenty years later – delighted, for example, that you can make video calls.
She slept for the first time in a long time in a real bed. I made tea in real china cups, with real spoons, which seems pretty basic to all of you. We eat pizza and garlic bread… She just wants to live the life she’s been missing out on for the last 20 years.”
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