The making of a murderer

The life and lies of the nursing home
killer and how the police got their man

By Sam Rigney

"We thought that whoever has done this has just killed these people for reasons that was really only known to them, but probably has all the hallmarks of a sociopath."

- Detective Sergeant Matt Faber.

AT some point during their exhaustive 14-month investigation into the SummitCare Wallsend nursing home murders, detectives came to the conclusion that they were looking for a sociopath.

Why else would three elderly people, described by many as “perfect residents”, be attacked in the same way on the same weekend?

There was no link between the three, no traditional motive for murder, no reason for them to be targeted.

Victim Audrey Manuel. 

Victim Audrey Manuel. 

Detectives began to believe that whoever was responsible for injecting Gwen Fowler, 83, Ryan Kelly, 80, and Audrey Manuel, 91, with lethal doses of insulin on October 18 and 19, 2013, had done so for reasons only known to them.

While they worked tirelessly to eliminate, one by one, the 276 staff, residents and visitors who attended the nursing home on those two days, the detectives were also looking at studies, published in the UK and Germany, of sociopaths and murderers who targeted vulnerable victims in the health-care industry.

Those studies revealed several common personality traits or disorders.

Attention seeking.

Hypochondria.

And a lack of empathy.

The detectives were looking for someone with some form of pathological or psychological disorder.

Someone with a “broken personality”.

They were looking for Garry Steven Davis.

“There was no one particular breakthrough,” Detective Sergeant Matt Faber says.

“It was just the fact that we couldn't identify a motive and we couldn't identify any link between any of the victims, any reason why any of those victims would be attacked.

“Therefore, we thought that whoever has done this has just killed these people for reasons that was really only known to them, but probably has all the hallmarks of a sociopath.”

This week, Justice Robert Allan Hulme sentenced Davis to serve a maximum of 40 years in jail, with a non-parole period of 30 years for the murders of Mrs Fowler and Mr Kelly and the attempted murder of Mrs Manuel.

Victim: Gwen Fowler. 

Victim: Gwen Fowler. 

In September, at the conclusion of a four-week judge-alone trial, Justice Hulme had found Davis guilty on all counts after hearing the disgraced former aged-care nurse had accurately predicted the residents’ demise in several text messages to colleagues.

But there was a lot more about Davis that Justice Hulme never got to hear.

An extensive exploration into Davis’s background had revealed a pattern of pathological lying, including convincing family and friends he had cancer, and a checkered work history.

As Davis’s colleagues were being systematically ruled out as suspects, the nearly 2 metre tall, 142 kilogram man with the high-pitched voice was coming into focus as their prime suspect.

The elaborate fabrications that he orchestrated to convince those closest to him that he had cancer included forging medical documents and letters from doctors that he would then leave lying around for his family and friends to find.

At least one of those letters – which detectives said were almost perfect forgeries – said something like: “Garry, as per our meeting last week, you only have three-and-a-half years to live.”

He told his grandmother he’d had a cancerous testicle removed. In reality, it was a growth.

Then, he let his only close friend believe he had chronic myeloid cancer, but told her it was in remission due to a box surgically installed in his stomach to emit raw chemotherapy. He craved the attention and pity that came with being “sick”.

In one social media post, Davis posted a photo of strands of hair in his open palm, lamenting “losing big chunks of my hair”.

Another post read: “Works 8 days a fortnight, studies full time, manages to keep up appearances plus a whole lot more and continues do all that and smile even tho I’m in a lot of pain and dealing with cancer. Others think they have it hard!”

When confronted with his medical history by detectives, he admitted to lying to his grandmother and close friend for years. When asked why, he said it was for attention. Davis was a “team leader” at SummitCare Wallsend, second in charge behind a registered nurse. But it became clear to detectives that he was the “wrong man in the wrong job”.

SummitCare at Wallsend. 

SummitCare at Wallsend. 

They dug into his work history, revealing he had been either terminated, forced out or de-registered from all but one aged-care home he had worked at.

People they spoke to described him as lazy and generally disinterested in the care of his patients. They said he spent more time on social media than attending to their needs.

Then there was the Facebook page he created while working at Uniting Care Koombahla Wallsend.

Davis used the “Koombahla Crew” page to threaten and harass two senior staff members and one day posted “I hate old people” after a resident had urinated on him. He was fired for his conduct.

Other aged-care homes quickly found him unreliable, lazy, caught him lying or were frustrated when repeated counselling about showing consideration and compassion fell on deaf ears.

Despite detectives unearthing his substandard work history, Davis maintains to this day that he left each facility of his own accord to further his career.

A look into his personal life revealed Davis was incapable of forming and maintaining meaningful relationships. That he lacked empathy towards others. That he was deceitful, arrogant and craved attention. That he wanted his colleagues to think he was more qualified and knowledgeable than he really was.

And wanted his friends to think he was wealthy and lived an affluent lifestyle, when really he lived in a caravan on his grandmother’s property. That he insisted on being called “Prince Garry” and told people he was a descendant of Scottish royalty.

Ryan Kelly, 80, was one of Davis' victims.

Ryan Kelly, 80, was one of Davis' victims.

And then there was the metal tin, found under Davis's bed along with a stash of stolen medication, that contained the funeral notices for residents he had cared for at other aged-care homes.

It seemed a strange thing to keep, particularly in the context of all the medication he had pinched from residents over the years.

Detectives looked into the deaths, but couldn’t link them to Davis.

He remains an enigma. The reason for his murders a mystery.
A psychologist noted he had no drug or alcohol issues, no mental illness. The most mitigating factors on sentencing were Davis’s upbringing, described by all as “troubled”.

His parents split up when he was young. Then his father died when he was 13. His mother re-partnered and Davis said he was subject to severe physical punishments and verbal abuse at the hands of his parents.

His mother, according to court documents, openly stated her disappointment that he was not born a girl.

He was picked on at school. At the age of 10 he moved in with his grandparents. If Davis had any positive influence in his life, it seems to be his grandparents. Davis alludes to them being the reason for him studying nursing.

But after seven years in the industry he began using his position to kill his elderly residents.

Was it a complete lack of empathy for his fellow human beings that drove him? Justice Hulme noted it seemed Davis considered their lives “worthless”. Or more attention seeking? Without a police investigation, Davis shows up to work the next day smug that he had been correct it picking which resident was next to die.

It doesn’t really matter. What does is that Davis will be spending at least the next 30 years in a place where he can’t hurt anyone else.

Life in state's toughest prison

DURING his two years on remand awaiting trial, Garry Steven Davis had been an inmate at correctional centres around the state.

Then, in the lead-up to his sentence hearing in Newcastle Supreme Court this week, he was assaulted by inmates at Cessnock Correctional Centre. He appeared in court with a black-eye and a bruised cheek.

But when he left the courthouse in a prison van, he wasn’t bound for the a jail in the Hunter or north coast, but Goulburn Supermax, Australia’s highest security prison and home to some of the worst murderers, rapists and terrorists.

His sentence? At least 30 years, maybe more depending on how the parole board feels in 2044.

It’s an awful place to spend the prime of your life.

But a psychiatrist noted that Davis’s skills were likely to be in demand in prison due to the ever ageing population and the fact that much of the care for elderly inmates was undertaken by other prisoners.

Justice Hulme said it seemed an ironic suggestion, given what Davis was being sentenced for.

“I would expect the authorities might be cautious about this while the underlying cause of the offender’s crimes remains unknown,” Justice Hulme said during his sentence remarks on Tuesday.

Crown prosecutor Lee Carr was cautious, too.

“Whilst it is probably unlikely the offender will ever again be in a responsible position within a nursing home, the offender’s complete disregard for human life means he remains a risk to others.”