Mum accused of killing disabled children for cash
A GOLD Coast mother tortured and murdered her disabled children as part of a calculated and premeditated plan to make money from their deaths, police have alleged.
Police will allege Maree Mavis Crabtree, 51, gave her children prescription medication to keep them bedridden, eventually caused her son and daughter to overdose, and then staged their deaths as suicide.
The extraordinary investigation gained momentum last year following the death of Crabtree's 26-year-old son Jonathan, who was found dead at the family's Riverstone Crossing home in July.
It is understood Jonathan appeared to have consumed a fatal concoction of prescription medication but police will allege his death was staged. They will claim a suicide note was forged.
Jonathan is believed to have collapsed while using an iPad, and died quickly.
Police picked up "inconsistencies" during their examination of the crime scene.
His overdose came five years after the death of his sister Erin, whose body was found while the family was away on a cruise.
It is understood Erin, who required a feeding tube, had been left alone, and a family friend asked to check in on her.
But the friend found Erin dead, propped up in her bed.
Police now claim the 18-year-old disabled woman was dead before the family left for their cruise, murdered by her mother.
As well as murder, Crabtree has been charged with the torture and grievous bodily harm of another relative. Police allege the abuse has been ongoing for seven years.
The relative is now in the care of the Office of the Adult Guardian, has regained health and is eating normally.
It was while police were investigating the death of Erin and Jonathan that they discovered Crabtree's alleged financial motivation.
Gold Coast Detective Inspector Mark Thompson said police will allege Crabtree murdered Erin and Jonathan and tortured another relative for financial gain.
"It's extremely traumatic to us as investigators to see what has happened to these children over an extended period of time," he said.
"I've used the word 'premeditated' and that's exactly what it is.
"It was calculated and it was executed with an end goal in mind and we will be alleging that financial gain, a significant financial gain, are the motivators for these crimes."
Police have also charged Crabtree with two counts of fraud and two counts of attempted fraud, alleging her dishonesty dates back to 2010.
In one case, Crabtree received insurance payouts of $567,863 between 2011 and 2013.
The payouts, which are the subject of one of the fraud charges, are believed to relate to her son's 2009 car crash.
The crash left Jonathan with a brain injury. He soon became addicted to the prescription drug Tramadol. In 2015, Jonathan robbed a Southport chemist at knifepoint, demanding their supply of Tramadol.
Police now believe Jonathan committed the robbery under instruction from his mother. She has been charged with one count of armed robbery.
"The allegations are that mum counselled her son to commit that armed robbery - or in other terms, that she has asked him or put him up to committing that armed robbery," Det Insp Thompson said.
In 2015, Crabtree told police investigating her son's robbery that he was suicidal and had been "brought back to life" multiple times.
Jonathan allegedly attempted suicide after being granted bail, with police finding a note.
Police have also alleged Crabtree committed fraud a second time, of an undisclosed sum, between October 2010 and December 2012.
They have further alleged she attempted to dishonestly claim a payout of $125,000 from one of the deaths and $238,000 from a permanent disability claim.
Det Insp Thompson said this was not a case of a stressed mother committing murder out of compassion for her disabled children.
"The deaths themselves, we will be alleging, were financially motivated," he said. "These acts haven't been compassionate acts of a stressed mother or a mother at her wit's end. We will be alleging that these are premeditated direct acts of murder that were perpetuated on the victims."
A friend described Jonathan as "the most loyal sweetheart guy ever".
"He's kind hearted and loved helping people out and (was) willing to put his life on hold to help people," she said. "He's the most loyal, faithful person I've ever come across."
The friend said Jonathan and Erin had been very close and he had been devastated by her death.
"He always talked about how close they are together… it breaks my heart," she said.
"They (were) really close, like best friends. He missed her so much."
It is understood the children had not had any contact with their father for some time.
The Crabtree family moved to the prestigious Gold Coast suburb of Riverside Crossing in 2011 and were well known in the community.
They moved house but remained in the suburb after Erin's death.
The surviving relative ran a rescue service for small animals and was known for caring for a menagerie of birds, rats and guinea pigs.
"I will love and care for your loved pets as my own, they will live out their lives in a loving, caring environment," she wrote online.
Crabtree left the family home after the death of her son and had been living in Coorparoo with friends. She was arrested yesterday morning at that house and briefly appeared in court yesterday afternoon.
Det Insp Thompson said police wanted to speak to anyone who knew the family.
"We're asking anyone with any knowledge whatsoever … from any state in Australia, from anywhere in Australia, anywhere in the world, who may have knowledge of this family, or any of the actions of any member of the family, to come forward," he said.
"The health and wellbeing of these children we believe were impacted because of the guidance that the children have received from their matriarch, their mother.
"The family dynamic was harmful to those children."
Hearing over in minutes
MAREE Crabtree's tiny frame was almost lost in the Brisbane Magistrates Court dock yesterday.
She became one of hundreds who have sat in that glass box, staring out at the magistrate, police officers, lawyers, media and curious onlookers.
Crabtree's eyes darted around the room and she attempted to cover her face with the sleeve of a prison-issued jumper when she first appeared just after 1pm.
But that stint before Magistrate Anthony Gett was short-lived.
He did not have the paperwork, and in any case it was time for the lunch break, so she was taken back down to the cells.
Almost an hour later she was brought back into the court.
Crabtree's eyes were still darting around the room and her small, birdlike frame was even more noticeable without the jumper, as she wore a white T-shirt and beige shorts.
Police officers, journalists and other interested parties had been waiting all day to see the woman accused of killing two of her children in a horrific manner.
Hers was one of the last cases to be heard for the day, and she did not utter a word as she was led in and out of the room.
People accused of murder are rarely required to say anything on that first day in court.
Crabtree was led away in minutes.
It was an anticlimax, but a pivotal moment in a case that was five years in the making, with the potential to take years more in the courts.