Cain and Abel.
Esau and Jacob.
There are several tales, both ancient and modern, which spoke of sibling rivalry that turned deadly. Today’s story details how one such situation shocked a family and community to their core.
The family at the center of our story lived in Pittsworth, a rural town in Queensland, Australia. They were the Rowlingson’s- John and Wendell, with their three children-one daughter and two sons.
Pittsworth had a very small and close-knit population in 2007- in fact, as far as I can gather, there were only three homicides reported in the entire Darling Downs district where the town is located.
This will make what we learn occurred on July 15, 2007, even more unbelievable.
The Rowlingson family lived on a farm in Pittsworth. Robert was the older of the two sons. His many friends described him as popular and outgoing. He was an outdoorsman who loved rugby.
As it sometimes is, Anthony was quite the opposite of his brother. He was rather introverted and withdrawn. He and his brother weren’t particularly close. Robert had a robust social life, but Anthony was more of a homebody. In fact, he wasn’t close to anyone except his favorite teacher and mentor, Graeme McNeil. While a lot of alarm bells go off in retrospect- why does this kid spend so much time with his teacher?- I can almost understand why the parents didn’t put an end to this questionable relationship. Their youngest son was lonely and misunderstood by his peers. Mr. McNeil was a trusted educator and showed an interest in Anthony- what could possibly go wrong?
It turns out, lots. See, the harmless teacher had some pretty radical ideas. He shared his ideologies with the young boy. Was he recruiting him? Anthony already entertained dark thoughts- it’s said that he fantasized about hurting people. He had a rather morbid fascination with the Columbine massacre. This led to him making a “hit list” that included students from his school. He was entertaining killing them all- including his brother’s friends.
You’re probably wondering what kind of evil thoughts Mr. McNeil could have shared with Anthony. I’m glad you asked! Apparently, by day he was a teacher, but off the clock, he became one of the evilest motherfuckers in the world. Mr. Graeme McNeil was a high-ranking member of the Ku Klux Klan- which I had no idea was a thing in Australia.
Aside from the Ku Klux Klan in Canada, there have been various attempts to organize KKK chapters outside the United States.
In Australia in the late 1990s, former One Nation member Peter Coleman established branches throughout the country, and circa 2012 the KKK has attempted to infiltrate other political parties such as Australia First.
It has also reported recruitment activity in the United Kingdom.
In Germany, a KKK-related group (“Knights of the Fiery Cross”), was established in the 1920s. After the Nazis took over Germany, the group disbanded and its members joined the Nazis. Another German KKK-related group, the European White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, organized and gained notoriety in 2012 when the German media reported that two police officers who held membership in the organization could keep their jobs.
A Ku Klux Klan group was even established in Fiji in the early 1870s by white American settlers, although its operations were quickly put to an end by the British who, although not officially yet established as the major authority of Fiji, had played a leading role in establishing a new constitutional monarchy that was being threatened by the activities of the Fijian Klan.
Growing up in the US and Indiana, I always knew the Klan was “too close for comfort”, but I was not aware of the reach this shitty group had. You learn something new every day.
After some time, this secret life of McNeil hit Robert’s radar. Being an inclusive and upright young man, he made it clear to his brother that he would report what he knew to administrators. This is presumably what set the events of July 15, 2007, into motion.
The Sunday began with the elder Rowlingson’s at church, Robert at a rugby match, and Anthony at home. After his match, Robert returned home to work on his car. As he looked under the hood, Anthony quietly crept up behind him. He brought with him his father’s .243 rifle he had taken from a gun safe inside the house. He raised the weapon and pulled the trigger. The shot knocked his older brother to the ground. What happened next is heartbreaking to think about: Anthony stood over his own brother and shot him in the head.
The next thing on Anthony’s murderous agenda was disposing of the body- his brother’s body. He got the family’s forklift, using it to place Robert in the trunk of the very car he was working on at his time of death. He then drove around thinking of a site to dump the body. Upon realizing he might need help, he drove to the only person he could count on- Mr. McNeil.
No one else really knows how the conversation between them went, but it ended with the responsible Mr. McNeil packing Anthony in his car and taking him directly to the police.
Actually, he didn’t. Remember? Grand Pooba of the KKK? This was his opportunity to prove he was about that life. With that, Anthony and Mr. McNeil dumped Robert Rowlingson, aged 19, off a bridge near Clifton. They left his vehicle and Mr. McNeil took the emotionless Anthony home.
Thank goodness he had remembered to cover up evidence of the murder! Before dumping his brother over the bridge, he covered the blood with dirt. His mom and dad beat him home and they’re looking for Robert. He told them he didn’t know where he was. The parents weren’t too worried at that moment because Robert was a social butterfly. It wasn’t odd for him to be out- they just knew he was supposed to be working on his car. Had he changed his mind and decided it could wait? That is the assumption his parents probably went with at the time.
Unfortunately, you and I know what happened to Robert. Now, his parents got their first inkling that something sinister was afoot. The police had just located Robert’s car. There were signs of foul play found at the scene.
Sunday, July 15, had started, for this family, like any other Sunday. Sadly, after this Sunday, nothing about life would ever be the same. Every murder investigation usually starts the same- work from the inside out. Always begin with the closest person or people to the victim. The police talked to the shocked and grieving parents first. Mr. Rowlingson answered all of their questions and explained that he did not understand who would want to hurt their son. Had his wife Wendell answered that question, the response would have been different. She had an idea of who hurt Robert, but she hoped it wasn’t true.
The police next spoke to Anthony. He claimed that he hadn’t seen his brother. After continuing their investigation by speaking to Robert’s friends, they swung back around to Anthony. He was the only known person who would want to get rid of his brother. Maybe Robert reminded him of all the things he was not. Maybe he was consumed by jealousy. It’s also quite possible that he was just an evil mother fucker. Everyone pointed back to him as the culprit.
When the police talked to him two days later, they came at him from the angle of knowing he was involved in his brother’s disappearance and death. Anthony found it funny when they attempted to appeal to his love of his parents as a reason to disclose the location of the body. He denied and denied until one time he didn’t.
That’s right- he eventually confessed to brutally murdering his brother. He asked that the police destroy a laptop with evidence of Mr. McNeil’s KKK activities. Once they agreed he told them where he threw Robert over the bridge.
Anthony was arrested, leaving his parents reeling. In three days, they had, in essence, lost two sons. Sadly, they never got a motive for the murder. It has been argued that Anthony was attempting to protect Graeme McNeil, but evidence existed that proved the plot to kill Robert began before he found out McNeil’s secret. The Rowlingson’s also found out about Anthony’s other murderous plans. Anthony was sentenced to life in prison. He is eligible for parole in 2022.
In 2010, McNeil pleaded guilty to accessory to murder after the fact. He received an eight-year sentence but was eligible for parole after three years.
In 2013, he was released from prison. The town wasn’t happy about this, and many were afraid that because of his extreme beliefs, he was still a danger to their community.
I think the biggest threat to the community is still in prison. If 2020 doesn’t kill us all, he can be out in two years.
What can we learn from this story?
- Teacher student relationships
- Withdrawn kids may need help
- Be nosy!!