In 1990, a massive earthquake hit Baguio City in the Philippines. Ten-year-old Sef Gonzales tried to flee the crumbling hotel that was owned by his family, but his foot got trapped amongst the rubble. On hearing his son’s cries, Teddy Gonzales bravely rushed back in and pulled his son to safety, saving his life. Later, he and his family emigrated to Australia.
One wintry evening in July 2001 in North Ryde, New South Wales, 21-year-old Sef Gonzales had gone home shortly before midnight after dinner with a friend. As he entered the front door of his affluent suburban home, he found his father Teddy, mother Mary Loiva Josephine and teenage sister Clodine in a pool of blood covered with multiple stab wounds. On the wall of the living room were the words “F*** OFF ASIANS. KKK” scrawled in spray paint. Sef dialled Triple Zero crying into the phone, “My family’s been killed.”
It seemed racism was the primary motive for the killings. He later told his neighbours that he tried unsuccessfully to resuscitate his family, but the authorities found this puzzling. There was barely any blood on him – save for some on the soles of his shoes and a few spots on his trousers – when the police and the ambulance arrived a few minutes later.
Gonzales showed no signs of distress and never described how he felt to the authorities. In a soft voice, he merely described how he had found the bodies and appeared strangely calm throughout the various police examinations.
On the day of the funeral, as the bodies of his family lay in their caskets, his family and friends felt an eerie chill. As Gonzales delivered the eulogy for his father, he closed his eyes and began singing the Mariah Carey, Boyz II Men duet, One Sweet Day without any music accompaniment.
Gonzales had a sweet and innocent face, but by all accounts, his life was controlled by his close-knit Filipino family and devout Catholic upbringing. The pent-up tension was starting to take its toll on the young man. A few months before the murders, his family had threatened to disown him. He was also about to be expelled from his second attempt at a degree due to bad grades.
Reports also emerged that a neighbour had seen him on the night of the murders, fleeing the house around 7pm. Police theorised that he did this to clean himself and to get rid of the two kitchen knives, the murder weapons. He told his dinner companion that he was out all day driving around Blacktown, searching for his friend’s house. Little did he know that both his father’s client as well as his aunt had seen his green Ford Festiva in the driveway of his house earlier that day, destroying his alibi and arousing the suspicion of the authorities.
Shortly after the murders, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that Gonzales had placed deposits on luxury cars and moved into a fancy apartment in Chatswood. He even advertised to sell his parents’ cars, without asking permission from his grandparents, suspicious behaviour for a grieving son. The police discovered that Gonzales had been planning to kill his family for some time. He had been extensively researching the Internet for poisonous plants and had tried unsuccessfully to poison his mother earlier that year.
Following his trial, Gonzales, dubbed the “Baby-Faced Killer”, was given three life sentences in 2004 for the murder of his father, mother and sister. Murdering his entire family − that was how Gonzales had repaid his father for saving his life, all those years ago.
The Expert Opinion
“There are expressive and instrumental motives when it comes to murder. The expressive motives are basically due to uncontrolled and volatile emotions while the instrumental motives are due to some benefits or gains. In some cases, it can be a mixture of both with one leading to another. Sef’s case has a “planned” element, a key sign of an instrumental motive,” says Dr Mohammad Rahim Kamaluddin, Criminologist, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia.