Treasa Stienhardt with her son Connor Crewther.

PREDATOR: Learning to be a mother again

20th May 2019 1:00 AM
UPDATED 12:31 PM
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This is the final in a five-part series. Read Part 1: Key to My HeartPart 2: Filthy Animal, Part 3: Unlikely Heroes and Part 4: Girl in the Cupboard here and here

WHEN someone dies, the consequences ripple out to parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends.

If that person's life is ripped away in a vicious murder, those ripples extend to the people who found the body, to the detectives who work on the case. On and on those shockwaves flow into the community.

Once that stone is cast, there's something which changes forever in the lives of those mourning a death.

The very fact that the deaths of three women and a child in Rockhampton in the 1990s touched so many people in our community was one of the reasons to tell their stories again.

As a community, we needed to honour the legacies of Julie Turner, Beverley Leggo, Sylvia Benedetti and Keyra Steinhardt.

These women deserve to be remembered as individuals, with their own hopes and dreams and potential for the future.

But there's another reason to tell this story again, to look back when the wounds weren't quite so raw.

The story doesn't end when the case is closed, when the killer is dead, when the news cycle has moved on.

Treasa and Conner Steinhardt at the site where 9-year-old Keyra's body was found. Keyra was murdered by Leonard John Fraser.
Treasa and Conner Steinhardt at the site where 9-year-old Keyra's body was found. Keyra was murdered by Leonard John Fraser. Morning Bulletin Archives

When Treasa Steinhardt lost her little girl on April 22, 1999, she also lost part of herself. While she grieved the tragic murder of her daughter, Treasa also mourned a life she knew she could never go back to.

"I used to be an outgoing person," she said. "My home was always open to everyone. Keyra's death totally took Treasa away. I'm a different person now. And I can't bring that other one back. She passed away when Keyra passed away. But I'm a mum to my son now. It took a while, but I'm there."

Treasa has wounds which will never fully heal, but she has rebuilt her life around that trauma and created a new, loving home with her son Conner, now 22.

Early in this series, Treasa spoke about the challenge she faced in being a mother after Keyra was killed.

This was partly because she felt guilty over Keyra's death and partly because she just couldn't cope with the immense grief weighing down on her.

She had to leave her son with his father and get out of Rockhampton so she could start to face life without her little girl.

Treasa and Conner Steinhardt before Leonard John Fraser's trial in Brisbane. The family were struggling to afford the travel and accommodation costs for the four-week murder trial.
Treasa and Conner Steinhardt before Leonard John Fraser's trial in Brisbane. The family were struggling to afford the travel and accommodation costs for the four-week murder trial. Morning Bulletin archives

"I moved to Melbourne where no one knew me because I felt Rockhampton was pointing the finger at me," she explained.

"'Why's she smiling?', 'Why's she laughing?', 'Why isn't she grieving?', 'Why isn't she doing this?'. The rumours all started. And I couldn't deal with it.

"Connor and I always kept in touch with one another, always spoke on the phone. He would come down to see me and I would fly up to see him and things like that. We had a great bond, a beautiful bond.

"I got in trouble at work because I had a 'no care' factor attitude as you do sometimes.

"They wanted me to go and see a counsellor, so I went to see a counsellor and she was a doctor and she was beautiful, in the way that she, ah, guided me.

"I was on meds to start with and then I went off the meds because when you're on meds, how do you know if you're better? How do I know my brain is thinking right in the way of what I want to choose?"

Treasa coped day by day, locking herself away from the world when she felt the depression engulfing her again.

After a few years in Melbourne, Treasa decided to move back to Queensland.

Rockhampton still held too many bad memories though, so she went a few hours north of Rockhampton to Mackay, where her mum and sister were also living.

She'd only been living there about a month when she heard the news that Leonard John Fraser had died of a heart attack in prison.

"I was so pissed off," she said. "It was like, he only did eight years of service in jail. Well, I want my daughter back. That's not fair. He gets to friggin' rest in peace of whatever that crap is and I still have to suffer."

The news of Fraser's death pushed Treasa back into a dark place and she again struggled to cope with her new reality.

She was seeing a Canadian man who had two children, a boy and a girl. Treasa went over to Canada for a year to live with him and it would prove to be the experience she needed to find her feet again.

"I was still lost, but not in the bad way. I went over there for something different I suppose," she said.

In the years since Keyra died, Treasa had been revisiting every moment of weakness and anger as a parent. The times she yelled at Keyra or gave her a smack during a tantrum.

She'd told herself again and again that she was a bad mother.

But one of her Canadian partner's children, the little girl, was severely autistic.

Being a step-mother helped Treasa feel redemption and realise she could be a good mother to Conner again.

"I think that's what helped me is because for years I had guilt and I hated myself because I hit Keyra, I yelled at Keyra, I punished Keyra and I did all that. So I had all this guilt that I did wrong by my daughter," Treasa said.

But she was doing the same with these two step-children and realising that helped her see she had never been a bad mother.

"She actually helped me and I actually helped her because she got out of nappies, she was able to walk upstairs, she was able to carry her own bags, she was able to eat and she was able to dress herself," Treasa said.

"And she was a smart little girl, just locked away and no one could reach her.

"She had no toys, she only had a bed in her room. So, when I left she had toys, and she had little Barbie dolls, she had beautiful little stuff to play with and she was able to eat and go to the toilet on her own."

When she came back from Canada, Treasa returned to Rockhampton.

Conner was 12 and Treasa made him a deal: if she could get a job within a month, she'd stay.

It only took her one day.

"I lived with his nan until we got our own place and I couldn't live on the northside," she said. "The northside was too painful so we lived on southside and Connor would come and see me nearly every weekend and eventually he ended up moving in with me and we were two peas in a pod."

Eventually Treasa had to confront her fear of North Rockhampton because she had to drive past the spot where Keyra was attacked to get Conner to and from school.

It took about a year for Treasa to cope with this drive and to make it almost daily.

If it wasn't for Conner, Treasa admits she would have avoided that drive forever.

"It's like a fear, you know how people have fear of fire, animals, all that, and it's a process of doing it," she said.

In her years living alone, Treasa had come to depend on routine.

Anyone with a child knows that's near-impossible at times. So Treasa had to mentally adjust to her new life with a child again.

"It was so painful just to, to look back at it now it's like 'oh my god girl, really? You carried on like a 12-year-old kid' but I had to have it to cope with my life, to get on with things," she said.

"And then I come into Rockhampton and I've got this 12-year-old that's changing my lifestyle, it's like 'hold on. This is not what I want. I just want to go to work, come home, play on the games'.

"I would say 'I'm not your mum, I'm Treasa'. Because I still didn't know how to be a mum to him."

It became too expensive for Treasa and Conner to live in south Rockhampton, but she was able to rent the flat above the service station where she worked.

When Conner was 15, he got a job there too. One of Treasa's proudest moment was seeing him graduate Year 12 a few years later.

"I knew that little talk in my head, remember 'Connor will need you when you get older'. He needed me and still does," she said.

Gaming has been a saving grace for Treasa and Conner.

 

Treasa Stienhardt with her son Connor Crewther.
Treasa Stienhardt with her son Connor Crewther. Allan Reinikka ROK090519atreasa4

It started when Conner was still living with his dad and visiting Treasa. He wasn't allowed to play video games at his father's, but it was open slather at Treasa's house.

"Connor couldn't read, so I would buy games that you had to read. And slowly but surely enough he learned how to read and now he has a Playstation 3 Playstation 4 and has PC games and he can read," she said.

"We would lose ourselves in the game, but we still have a connection because we go to the movies, we might go out for lunch, we do things together, I try and encourage him to go out with old school friends but he just needs to lock himself away.

"I'm really proud of him because he's gone to work, he still goes to work even though he does 10 hours a week. I'm really happy that he's doing it.

"We actually bought a house together so I'm teaching him, because I'm not going to be around forever, to learn to pay for houses, how to pay bills. And it's a slow process, it is, but he's learning."

Treasa has rebuilt her life around grief and loss few others can understand. But her family too was never the same.

"Our family used to be really close and it destroyed everything. I've lost my mum, lost my grandma. I've lost everyone. I've only got my brother left and my sister," Treasa said.

"And Connor. God help me if he goes before me. But I try not to think about that."

Leonard John Fraser might be the reason Treasa and Conner's lives changed forever, but this is not his story.

It's about honouring Julie, Beverley, Sylvia and Keyra, and remembering the loved ones they left behind.

This story has not been an easy one to tell but I hope you understand now why it's so important.

We let these stories fade from our memories and get on with our lives believing we're immune from these crimes.

 

Treasa Stienhardt with her son Connor Crewther.
Treasa Stienhardt with her son Connor Crewther. Allan Reinikka ROK090519atreasa1

But we need to remember everyone touched by violent crimes because to live through that takes more strength than most of us can imagine.

"It's sad that it's taken me this long to get to where I am now," Treasa said.

"So anyone that's out there that's really lost, anything, or anything: it's a long process.

"It's not a quick fix. You just, you don't get over it.

"You learn to live with it and if you can find something special about it, hold onto it.

"Because the moment that I had Connor on my lap and I was thinking about taking his life and looking at him, you've got to think about (which I did) it's not their fault and I hear so many parents take their life and their kid's life, but depression is nasty.

"There are times you can't crawl out of it because it's just, it eats you inside. I've been there and I've done a few of them.

"I never drank. Drinking is just a solution of when you wake up it's going to be there. I never did drugs: f**k that.

"It's funny how a circle goes around. I always believe that everything has a purpose and a circle. It's just led me around the long way."

On the 20th anniversary of Keyra's death, the day we released the first episode of this podcast, Treasa saw a blue butterfly land on her car as she walked out of work.

She believes Keyra has never really left her and that each time this story is told it keeps her memory alive.

Keyra would have been 29 this year and I think whatever you believe in, you'd have to agree with me that she would be so proud of her mum and the brother she loved so dearly.

In crime reporting we need to talk about loss and grief and anger. But we also need to examine how people piece their lives back together, how they move forward with grief and rebuild a new life on those sites of trauma.

Rockhampton's changed a lot in the 20 years since these crimes unfolded. We've grown up. There's a few more high rise buildings and our parks and riverbank precincts have been given makeovers.

What hasn't changed is the sense of community. And even though that community can sometimes feel a little claustrophobic, it's still ready to wrap its arms around Treasa and Conner and the families of all these women, to let them know that we won't forget our own.

This is the final in a 5-part series. 

ABOUT PREDATOR: 

This series is based on interviews with Treasa Steinhardt, Snr Sgt Carl Burgoyne, Eddie Cowie, Frazer Pearce and Allan Quinn. Michelle Gately also reviewed original Morning Bulletin reports (with thanks to the History Centre at Rockhampton Library), interview transcripts (provided by Treasa Steinhardt), and court documents.