Satanic Panic: He’d been a soldier and a circus freak. Now Frank Costal is a high priest of Satan, ready to do the bidding of his dark lord.
The War Next Door: For years, neighbors Bob and Glen had been at each other’s throats, trading barbs and insults. Their cold war is about to turn hot.
Loser: James was the deadbeat of the family, the failure, the loser. Now, he’s ready to prove everyone wrong. He is good at something. He’s good at murder.
Cemetery Road: A serial killer is stalking the tiny Australian town of Bowraville. Three children are already dead. How many more have to die?
Home is Where the Hate Is: Hard to imagine that a man could do something like this to his wife, let alone his two innocent children.
Tennessee Twist: A teenage couple goes missing in Tennessee. No one has any clue what happened to them. Then body parts start showing up.
Once Bitten: A young woman is savagely murdered on the day she moves into her new house. It will be a while before police find her killer. He lives next door.
Murder Most Vile Volume 45
One of those following the breaking news that day was 51-year-old Carol Quinn. Carol was particularly moved by the story. Her grandchildren Keiren, 8, and Jade, 7, were around the same age as Sarah Payne. With her blonde hair and bangs and big toothy smile, Jade even bore a slight resemblance to Sarah. Carol could not imagine how that little girl’s family could cope with such a tragedy. An involuntary tear trickled down her cheek just thinking about it. If something like that were to happen to her grandchildren, she didn’t think that she could bear it. She was contemplating that terrible idea when the phone rang.
The person on the other end of the line identified herself as an administrator at Standens Barn Lower School. She was concerned that Jade and Keiren hadn’t been to school in the past week. Calls to the children’s parents had gone unanswered. Did Carol know what was going on?
The call alarmed Carol, especially since she had been trying to reach her daughter all week and had been unable to do so. Her calls had gone straight to voicemail. At first, Carol had not been overly concerned. Claire’s husband, Phillip, worked nights as a forklift driver, and so the family sometimes kept odd hours. This call from the school, though, put a troubling spin on things. As soon as Carol hung up the phone, she called her husband, Harry, at work. Harry listened to her story with growing unease. Then he told his boss that he needed to take the rest of the day off.
Still, Carol clung desperately to the hope that there was some innocent explanation behind all this. On the 12-mile drive to her daughter’s home, she tried several times to reach Claire and got nothing. By the time that Harry pulled the car to a stop inside the private estate on the outskirts of Northampton, her nerves were shattered. Harry must have felt it too, because he told Carol to stay outside while he entered the house alone. Just moments later, he re-emerged, all of the color blanched from his face. “Don't go in there,” he told his wife. “She’s done something to herself.”
But Carol was never going to be restrained, not at a time like this, not by mere words. “No, she hasn’t!” she yelled as she pushed past Harry and entered the house. The smell should have alerted her immediately to what awaited her. Claire was lying on the kitchen floor, a pool of black blood congealed around her. Beside her was the corpse of one of the family’s little apricot poodles, Dandy. The gruesome sight barely registered with Carol before her brain sent an alarm signal. The children!
Then Carol was running, sprinting down the corridor toward the children’s rooms. What she found was something inconceivable, a nightmare made reality. Keiren and Jade were both in their beds, but they were barely recognizable as the grandchildren that Carol so cherished. Rigor had set their faces in stone, the agony of their death throes caught in freeze-frame, their complexions an unearthly, mottled purple. Jade looked like she was screaming. Carol let out an anguished cry that gave voice to that expression.
Claire Austin, her children, Keiren and Jade, and the family’s pet poodles, Dandy and Sooty, were dead. The only survivors of the massacre were the family cat, Snoopy, and the children’s father, Phillip Austin. Snoopy was found wandering the neighborhood. Phillip was missing and considered the prime suspect in the triple homicide. Already a search had been launched. It would endure for three days before the fugitive was found, sitting in his car in the Lake District, bleeding from self-inflicted wounds to his wrists.
Phillip Austin had always been a man with anger management issues. Claire had known that early on in their relationship. But Claire was young and in love and she was pregnant with Keiren. Walking away was not an easy option. A year later, in 1993, Jade arrived. That same year, Claire and Phillip were wed.
This was never going to be an easy marriage. Phillip was a control freak and a bully and Claire wasn’t one to be pushed around. She stood her ground when she needed to, leading to frequent clashes. There were break-ups and make-ups. Phillip attended anger management classes off and on, and the couple was in marriage counseling for a time. Neighbors would recall that Phillip was always pleasant and friendly with them but that they often heard him yelling at his kids. Claire confided in friends that he was hard on the children, especially Keiren, and sometimes resorted to physical punishment. She told the same friends that they had marital and financial problems but were trying to work things out. In April 2000, the family enjoyed a vacation together that seemed to ease the growing tensions. Just six weeks later, Claire and the children would be dead.
But what had triggered this massacre? What had turned a tetchy, occasionally abusive husband and parent into a mass murderer? Phillip Austin told investigators that it was his wife’s nagging that set him off. “She started hassling me and arguing and that. I just turned on her,” he said, as though that justified the extreme violence he’d wrought. He was then asked why he’d killed Keiren and Jade. Surely, they had done nothing to deserve such terrible deaths. To this, Austin offered a response that was both mundane and chilling. “It sort of came to me that I had killed her, so I went upstairs and killed my children.”
Further probing by detectives would unravel how the tragedy played out. Austin had worked his usual shift the previous evening. Claire, who worked part-time for the local council, did not have an assignment that morning and was at home. The children had already departed for school when the argument broke out between their parents. It escalated quickly when Austin picked up a mallet and struck his wife several vicious blows to the head.
Claire collapsed to the floor. Then Austin was on her, ripping off her bra, knotting it around her neck, pulling it tight. Claire was throttled into submission before he took a knife and started stabbing her, using so much force that the handle snapped off. Then, with the mother of his children bleeding out on the floor, he took up the mallet again, chased down the family’s beloved pet poodles, and clubbed the terrified animals to death.
But Phillip Austin was still not done with carnage this day. He now took a shower, washing his wife’s blood from his body. Then he dressed and spent several hours in the house before heading out to pick up Jade and Keiren from school. The children were surprised to see their father. It was usually their mom who picked them up. Nonetheless, they were delighted when he suggested that they spend some time together.
We don’t know all of their movements that afternoon, but we do know that Austin stopped at his bank and withdrew £700. We know also that he took the children for a fish and chip supper. It was early evening when they got home. Jade and Keiren were steered away from the kitchen where their mother lay and sent directly to bed. They were ushered off to sleep with a dose of Nytol, an over-the-counter sleeping aid. That made it easier for their father to murder them.
Eight-year-old Keiren Austin was strangled with a pair of toddler reins. His sister Jade had her young life snuffed out with the belt of her dressing gown. Despite the sedative they were given, there was evidence that the children woke while their father was attacking them. It is distressing to imagine their terror and confusion in their final moments. Here was a man they trusted, a man they loved despite his frequent mistreatment of them. Why was he hurting them? What had they done wrong?
His family was dead, his wife brutally butchered, his children strangled. Phillip Austin now packed a bag, got into his car, and drove away. He spent the next ten days on the lam, living in boarding houses in Brighton and Scarborough, while the bodies lay undiscovered. Then the story was all over the news and he knew that the police were hunting him. That was when he drove to the Lake District and made a half-baked attempt at suicide. Like others of his ilk, Phillip Austin was quite capable of hurting others, less proficient when it came to self-harm. After treatment for his superficial injuries, he was charged with three counts of murder.
Yet even now, Austin was scheming, trying to wriggle his way out of the consequences of his actions. At his initial court hearing, he entered a plea of not guilty on the grounds of diminished responsibility. Later, he changed that plea to guilty and was sentenced to three concurrent life terms. Given the heinous nature of his crimes, the parole period was generous. For butchering his entire family, Austin would have to serve a minimum of 20 years.
Phillip Austin became eligible for parole in 2021 but was turned down by the review board. A request to be moved to an open prison was also rejected, amid a public outcry. Carol Quinn, now in her 70s, remains determined to keep him behind bars.
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