Polite texts that hid dad’s deadly plan
It was more than five years ago that the bodies of four-year-old Eeva Dorendahl and her father Greg Hutchings were found in the shade of a pandanus bush among the sand dunes of the Tweed Coast.
On Tuesday, the disturbing details that led up to that haunting discovery in northern NSW's were laid bare in the findings of an inquest - but it is still unclear how the young girl and her father died.
The inquest heard that Eeva had been visiting her father, 35, for the Christmas break in 2013. They were staying at the home of Mr Hutchings' mother Diana in Pottsville before the dad and daughter suddenly disappeared on January 11, 2014.
Eeva's mother and Mr Hutchings' ex-partner, Michelle Dorendahl, had dropped her little girl off with her dad at Nambour railway station, two-and-a-half hours' drive away, before Christmas. It would be the last time Michelle would see either of them in person.
The inquest heard that, by 2011, when Eeva was two years old, the relationship between the parents was "irreconcilable" and they separated.
"From that time, until the tragic events of 11 January, 2014, there were periods of contact and communication, but the relationship between Greg and Michelle was strained and emotionally difficult," coroner Teresa O'Sullivan wrote in her findings today.
However, in the days that led up to the disappearance, a Mr Hutchings sent a series of polite texts and emails to his ex-partner, that police said "gave no indication that he was an immediate danger to Eeva or himself".
After what his mother described as a "lovely Christmas", Mr Hutchings was sent a message from his ex-partner on January 8 asking what time she could pick Eeva up at Nambour station.
The following day, he replied: "Hi Michelle, Sorry grandma was on my phone and I didn't get your msgs (sic) til (sic) after Eeva's bedtime.
"She is fine and happy, but I've been up all night vomiting and with the runs. I can't do 9 hours public transport today.
"You're welcome to come pick Eeva up at Pottsville today or I will bring her to Nambour tomorrow or Saturday when I'm better. Happy to pick Eeva up a day or two later next visit to make up the time.
"Not withholding so don't make a big deal out of it, just let me know. Skype around ten am if you like and call whenever you want. Sorry again for the muck around, I think it was something I ate. Truly, Greg."
The following day he sent her another message.
"I've had another rough night but a bit better than the last one. Eeva has been up and is a bit cranky but not sick- Im letting her sleep in for a bit," he wrote. "Let me know it you want to come pick Eeva up today, otherwise we'll be on the train to Nambour tomorrow."
Ms Dorendahl skyped Eeva later that day, and it was the last time she saw her daughter alive.
The next day, when Ms Dorendahl was driving down to pick Eevie up, she received a text from Mr Hutchings, which read: "Taken Eeva to the river mouth next to the park at Postville (sic). Call when you get here if you don't see us".
However, when Ms Dorendahl arrived in Pottsville, Mr Hutchings' mother said her son and granddaughter were not at home.
Police began searching for the pair that same day, but the coroner said there was "no doubt that the gravity of the circumstances were not entirely obvious early in the incident".
This was because Mr Hutchings had "failed to return Eeva previously, had been polite to Michelle Dorendahl in recent texts and emails and lived with his mother in a house that was orderly".
It would be 17 days before the State Emergency Service searchers were able to find their bodies beneath a large pandanus tree on Pottsville Beach.
The coroner said today that the cause of the father and daughter's deaths was unclear because of the time it took to find the bodies.
However, she found they both died between January 11 and 18 and that Mr Hutchings took his own life.
"Eeva died while in the care of her father, Greg Hutchings, and she died as a result of her father's actions," the coroner said.
However, it is not clear what those actions were.
There were knives and razor blades at the scene, but there were no cuts, tears or bloodstains on the clothing of either Eeva or her father.
Taking into consideration circumstantial evidence, the coroner said she was "satisfied on the balance of probabilities that Greg caused her (Eeva's) death, by some means, possibly by using the drugs that he had taken with him to cause her to overdose".
The court heard Mr Hutchings had a "history of depression and anxiety" that began at a young age, and he had "previously been so overwrought after a relationship breakup" that he had self-harmed.
The inquest also heard the dad drank and took prescription drugs heavily in an attempt to deal with his mental problems.
"There is sufficient evidence that Greg Hutchings had declining mental health at the time he was responsible for the death of Eeva and himself," the coroner said.
"That does not excuse the actions he took which led to Eeva's death, but it does help to
understand why a father who loved his daughter and loved his own mother and extended family, would commit such an act, that is anathema to the role of a parent to protect their child."
However, she said it may not originally have been in Mr Hutchings' intention to take his daughter's life.
"It may be that Greg initially took Eeva with a plan to hide out for a period of time, before deciding what to do," she said.
"However, I am satisfied that at some stage, he formed a view that he could not keep living and could not return Eeva, and so he put into place a plan that resulted in both of their deaths."
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