As parents, we would do just about anything to protect our kids. Even if that means protecting them from themselves. Of course, no matter how much we may try, we have to understand that they are their own people and will make their own decisions, regardless of how we feel.
This sad story is one about a mother’s choice to try and protect her son no matter what, even when he did everything in his power to make that task impossible…
It was a grim Friday indeed when police arrived at the little home in Hamlyn Terrace, Wadalba, to investigate the mysterious death of 26-year-old Digby. Regardless of the copious amounts of prescription drugs and alcohol in his system, all indications were that he suffocated to death. Yet with no signs of injury, the police assumed foul play to be involved. And there was only one suspect home that night.
Led Her Out
Wearing a forensic tracksuit, Susan, a mother-of-two, including the deceased Digby, was led out of her home in handcuffs soon after his discovery. The police were all but certain that despite Susan’s reputation around the neighborhood as a kind, good-natured woman, she had been directly responsible for Digby’s death. Yet, how could she have been?
Many of Susan’s neighbors couldn’t believe that a woman like her would ever think of killing her own son, especially not after she’d spent half-a-lifetime caring for the troubled young man. Digby had been in and out of mental health facilities for years and though they thought the move to Sydney might help him cope, things only seemed to get worse.
Divorce and Death
They had started out badly for the family too. In 2005, Susan and her husband divorced. They split custody of their two sons, but things with her ex husband never seemed to improve in the slightest. The next year, Susan’s ex killed himself, which left her as the sole caretaker for Digby, then a normal lad, and his younger brother. Things were ok, but that was about to change…
In 2008, Digby Dowdle found himself in a serious car accident. He survived, but sustained extensive brain damage that ended up drastically changing his personality. He had become violent, even physically and verbally abusive to his mother. Soon enough he turned to drugs and alcohol to soothe his headaches and mood swings.
Taking its Toll
As the months wore on, Digby’s condition was taking its toll on his mother. His violent outbursts became so frequent that it became difficult for her to hide them. Her boss began to notice random injuries pop up. She would come in with choke marks on her neck and scratches on her face. Still, she was trying her best given her situation…
Trying her Best
Soon the scratches became cigarette burns and black and blue bruises. Things were getting worse and even at her best, Susan Dowdle was losing the uphill battle. Nevertheless, she was unceasing in her support of the boy and relentless in fulfilling his needs and best interests. Though this may have only made things worse.
It was Digby’s dependence on drugs and spirits that was hitting the family the hardest. Susan tried to get him into a number of drug and alcohol programs, to no avail. She even went so far as to consider getting him into more than one mental health facility, but in the end, she found herself alone in trying to help him. And she still had to take care of his brother too…
Digby’s drinking problem began soon after the accident. He’d drink in the morning, throughout the day until he passed out. When he did manage to rise out of his stupor, he’d wander the neighborhood, getting into fights with neighbors, and sometimes ending up in either police custody or the hospital.
As if the brain damage, fighting, alcoholism and addiction weren’t enough, Digby was also suffering from severe depression. It was a condition that would soon begin to affect his mother as well. Like a virus, the depression seemed to creep around the Dowdle household, affecting all of them and making things ten times worse…
Asking for a Ride
On the day Didby died, he called up his mother at 3 pm. He was drunk and he wanted her to take him to the beach. At the time, his younger brother’s girlfriend, who was with her at the time and aware of the situation, asked Susan if she should take him. Susan knew if she didn’t he’d find them and make things much worse.
Begging for Help
When they were at the beach, Susan Dowdle called her family doctor for help. “I have Digby with me, Digby is drunk. Can you write me a prescription for a sedative? I can’t manage him on my own…” She added a further plea saying, “The psych hospital can’t help us, the police can’t help us. We are looking into having him admitted to involuntary drug and alcohol treatment at the North Shore Hospital.” Digby would never make it there…
Luckily, her doctor helped her out and got her the prescription. She took Digby home, made up a bed for him, and they had a glass of bourbon and coke together to calm him down. After he was calm, she administered the sedative and recorded it, just to keep track so she didn’t accidentally give him an overdose. She was very careful about making sure of that.
Stop the Pain
At 11pm that night, she texted her partner Sam with a matter-of-fact message. saying: “He’s dead” she said. Sam asked her who she meant and she replied with, “My son, my mess.” As it happened, the police were absolutely right. The overworked mother had placed a plastic bag over his head in order to, as she put it, “Just stop the pain”…
Because of all the legal issues in the case, Susan Dowdle was held in prison for several years before the hearing took place in Newcastle, Australia. It was presided over by Justice Peter Hamill, who at it’s conclusion expressed his sadness at the dreadful series of events that led up to Digby’s death.
Judge Hamill actually likened the whole situation to a similar one in 2004 involving a woman named Daniela Dawes, another mother who killed her autistic son while living with major depression. He believed that it was incomprehensible that all of this could befall a family and he seemed to allege that Susan’s response was somewhat understandable…
“I suspect the person who grieves Digby the most is in fact sitting before me in the dock.” said the judge as he pronounced judgement. Looking back to her first discussion with police, you can easily see what he meant. “I think as a mother I don’t know there was that, there was, there was that, I’ve reached out for years and years and years and watched his pain, pain, pain, pain,” she had said at the time.
Though Susan Dowdle was ultimately sentenced to three years in prison, she had already served two of them non-parole while awaiting trial. This meant that she had spent more than two years in custody and was ready, as far as Hamill was concerned, to be released immediately. “I am satisfied that Ms Dowdle has been punished enough,” Hamill said, but with a caveat…
We Must Remember…
Judge Hamill’s final words at the trial were meant to show everyone involved that manslaughter, as Susan was charged, was one of the most serious crimes known to law. Yet because of her situation, he felt compelled to impose a custodial sentence as opposed to a release on good behavior type deal.
“Sympathy which is legitimately aroused,” explained the judge. “Leniency and compassion that should properly be afforded, must never mask the objective gravity of any offense of homicide, especially a homicide such as this one, where an offender has set about to take human life and acted with an intention to kill.” Wise words to be sure.