Clues found in tragic family road crash
Queensland homicide detectives who are investigating the tragic roadside death of a mother and her four children last week may now be faced with a series of clues that could confirm the fatalities were in fact a deliberate act.
Charmaine McLeod, 35, was behind the wheel of her Nissan station wagon on Monday evening when it overtook one truck, before colliding into another on the Bunya Highway, near Kingaroy.
Strapped into the Nissan's remaining seats were Ms McLeod's four children, Aaleyn, 6, Matilda, 5, Wyatt, 4, and Zaidok, 2.
The truck flipped before both vehicles burst into flames on the roadside.
Emergency crews raced to the site about 7.20pm on Monday evening but were unable to save the young family trapped inside the car.
One of the first police officers on scene told reporters it was one of the "worst accidents I've ever seen".
"This is a catastrophic incident," he said.
"It was a high-speed impact that caused the heavy vehicle to roll over and the woman's car has caught fire."
Assistant Commissioner Stephen Zsombok said the truck driver was the sole survivor of the crash and suffered injuries after trying to save Ms McLeod's children.
"Had burns to his arms and we believe that's from him trying to help as well," he said.
The family of five were more than a three-hour drive away from their Hervey Bay home, and Ms McLeod's husband James.
Since their deaths, the children's devastated father has reportedly started to ask what his wife was doing so far from their home.
Now police are investigating several major clues that could turn this incident into a murder-suicide.
These include an alleged handwritten note, found near the crash site, a lack of brake marks at the scene, and Ms McLeod's online activity.
"FAR FROM HOME"
James McLeod released a statement after the death of his wife and children, saying he loves them "very much, and they will be surely missed with all of my heart".
"They were beautiful souls and were loved by all who knew them," Mr McLeod said.
But according to a report by Nine News, Mr McLeod has also begun asking questions about what his family was doing out near Kingaroy, more than three hours from their Hervey Bay home.
According to the news outlet, Mr McLeod claimed his wife had "no relatives or family out that way" where the crash occurred.
One police officer told media that the Kingaroy area accounted for many crashes, due to the abundance of freeways and highways in the region.
"We have a lot of rural roads in this area as well that can be particular dangerous, especially if you're not familiar with those roads," the officer said.
"Be patient. For the sake of five minutes, don't put your life at risk."
THE ALLEGED NOTE
Since Monday, forensic crash scene investigators and homicide squad detectives have combed the crash site.
During one search, a note, written by Ms McLeod, was found near the family's final resting place, according to The Courier-Mail.
The newspaper reports the note was found by investigators about 200m from the fatal crash.
A Queensland Police spokesman would not confirm that a note had been found at the crash site when approached by news.com.au.
Police are also refusing to officially call the investigation a 'murder-suicide'.
The spokesman told news.com.au that the official cause of death would be determined by the state's coroner, which could take several months.
NO SKID MARKS
Another clue police investigators would be taking seriously was the lack of skid marks on the road before Ms McLeod's car burst into flames.
It is understood that forensic investigators could find no evidence of tyre marks where Ms McLeod's car had been travelling, suggesting she was not using her brakes.
"This evidence, along with an absence of skid marks at the scene, resulted in homicide investigators and other specialist police being tasked to assist," The Courier-Mail reported.
While the investigation is still in its infancy, Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said the circumstances were unimaginable.
"This is just an absolute tragedy that's almost too big for words when you lose a whole family in this way," he said.
"We now have homicide detectives working on this case where there is the potential for an intention for someone to die."
It was clear to the people around Ms McLeod that she had been struggling with the stress of caring for four children.
Ms McLeod posted a photograph of herself to her Facebook page, with an affirmation superimposed over the top to remind herself to look on the bright side of life.
"You are a very sensitive person. It's not that easy being you!" the post said.
"You carry a lot of responsibility and play an essential role in other people's lives, but you are strong and can bear the burden on your shoulders."
The quote concluded: "Never forget how valuable you are!"
Queensland Police confirmed they would not be making any new announcements about the case over the weekend.
But in the days since the crash, police have urged members of the public to seek help from Lifeline or Beyond Blue if they were struggling.
"These types of things, you don't recover from for years and it does have a traumatic effect," one police officer told the media.
"The effects of this will be felt within the community and it will certainly be felt within emergency services that attended the scene, it was very confronting for them."
Weeks before her death, Ms McLeod uploaded an agitated post to her local church, the Bayside Christian Church in Hervey Bay.
The post stated she wouldn't recommend the Church to anyone, and had honestly "tried to fit in" there for 17 years.
"I feel (that) if you can't, or don't grasp God/healing etc. when they think you should have, then you just get left behind," she wrote.
She also claimed she had been a victim of domestic violence in the past and had been left "with nothing and 4 children".
"You would think there would be support/help, but very very little," Ms McLeod wrote.
"They (the Church) were always too busy."
There is no suggestion that the domestic violence was perpetrated by Mr McLeod.
Ms McLeod also claimed the Church didn't offer her or her children "one piece of clothing or a piece of bread … let alone shelter."
"I feel as if I've done it alone … these are the things Jesus did, he ate with the less fortunate," she wrote.
"I've asked for prayer before surgery and yes, I've had a lot of surgeries but they don't, they do for others though."
The Bayside Christian Church responded to Ms McLeod's post, reminding her that she had been associated with their organisation for more than 15 years.
"We have … provided many hours of support whenever she needed it," the response said.
"People were in contact with Charmaine right up until last week.
"Our door was always open to Charmaine whenever she needed help and she (k) new that."
The Church held a memorial service for Ms McLeod and her four children on Wednesday and invited members to leave floral donations at a cross erected at the Church in her honour.
"If you would like to come and lay flowers, reflect, grieve - We welcome you. We will miss them all dearly," the Church said.
The Church has since received severe backlash from the public, who claim Ms McLeod was let down by the Church when she needed them.
"This lady was OBVIOUSLY desperate, and reached out to you people!" one woman wrote.
"You say you were there for her, and helped when needed. She posted how she was feeling so no you did not. Shame on you."
A Church representative responded to the criticism, saying Ms McLeod had experienced many "ups and downs" over her 15 years at the Church.
"Unfortunately people's lives and situations aren't always black and white," the representative said.
"We were always reaching out to Charmaine and offering to help as much as she would allow us to."
"You are right, God is merciful and gracious and we helped her as much as we were able. Thanks again for your concern."
Mr Stewart said the family's deaths hadn't been added to the national road toll yet and that there were particular rules that determined a traffic crash.
"There are very different rules, and that's why we now have homicide detectives working on this case, where there is a potential that there is an intention for someone to die," he said.
"This will take some time."
This week on Queensland roads has been the deadliest of 2019 with 12 lives being claimed on the state's roads.
The worst crash was the McLeod family crash when the car the 35-year-old mum was driving slammed into another truck, killing herself and her children, near Kumbia, northwest of Brisbane.
Homicide detectives and specialist forensic crash officers will continue to work at the scene to investigate the fiery Monday night crash.
Police are also questioning why the 35-year-old mum was driving three hours away from the family's home in the Hervey Bay suburb of Eli Waters.
Preliminary investigators also told The Courier-Mail yesterday they were unable to find any skid marks on the road.
Road Policing Command superintendent Dave Johnson yesterday said Queensland Police were conducting a "thorough investigation" in the horrific crash.
"There is a further investigation to determine the positioning of the vehicle and why it was on the road at the time and where it was and what other circumstances, if any, are known to police in that matter," Mr Johnson said.
"Police are doing a very thorough investigation and putting a lot of resources towards that as everybody in this room knows, it was a tragic circumstance for all those involved at the scene and for all those first responders that attended the scene as well.
"It was absolutely horrific carnage that they came across and the loss of innocent lives."
Police did not give a timeline on when their investigation would be finished but said it was a "priority".
"There's a number of police involved in the investigation at various levels and various specialist groups and they're looking at all angles of the investigation and at what's caused that crash to occur."