‘He nailed the door shut’: mum killed as children watched


Mum-of-three Rachel Thulborn had been in a controlling and violent relationship for more than five years when she finally mustered the courage to leave on a Sunday afternoon in October of 2008.

She packed bags for herself and the children aged four, two and 17 months and emerged from the bedroom to find her tormentor had screwed every window in the home shut and was in the process of nailing the front door closed.

The pair fought, Rachel begged to leave. But her partner strangled her into unconsciousness and shut their children in a bedroom of their Elimbah home, near Caboolture.

"Are you okay for this next part of the story," asks Rachel's beloved brother-in-law Tim Class-Auliff.

"Because I'm not. It's nearly 13 years and I'm still not okay.

"Rachel was lying on the floor in an unconscious state and he went into the kitchen and got one of her kitchen knives.

"And the kids broke out of the room to watch him pushing that knife through her body several times into the floor."

Rachel Thulborn was a mum, a chef, a sister, a friend, the daughter of an Anglican Minister and on that ill-fated Sunday she also became one of the tragic statistics of Queensland's domestic violence death toll.



Rachel Mary Thulborn
Rachel Mary Thulborn

Mr Class-Auliff and his wife spent five years in an emotionally and financially draining court battle to get custody of their niece and nephews who they adopted as their own after the tragic death of their mum.

Their father Mark Stephen Pringle was charged with murder but was sentenced for manslaughter after a Mental Health Court judge found he had a defence of diminished responsibility because he was suffering from a delusional disorder.

Pringle was sentenced to nine years' imprisonment but was released after serving just five and a half years behind bars.

Shockingly, the red tape, slow court system and Pringle's insistence to fight the children's aunt and uncle for custody every step of the way meant Mr Class-Auliff and his wife were only granted custody of the children three months before their killer dad walked free from jail.

Since Rachel's death Mr Class-Auliff has dedicated his life to supporting victims of abuse and violence through organisations such as the Brisbane Homicide Victims Support Group and the White Ribbon foundation, determined to ensure no other family endure the same fate.

Mr Class-Auliff said it was imperative that the community band together to demand action on initiatives that can help to stamp out domestic violence. He welcomed the government's commitment to pursuing coercive control legislation, saying it could have made a difference to women like Rachel.


Tim Class-Auliff has dedicated his life to stamping out domestic violence. Photo Steve Pohlner
Tim Class-Auliff has dedicated his life to stamping out domestic violence. Photo Steve Pohlner

"There were alarm bells when she got involved with this guy but we didn't say much and then one day I visited and she had a black eye," he said.

"We knew that coercive control was going on so we got her out but he did all the lovely things the roses and chocolates and the promise to get counselling and she went back."

Rachel spent years as a victim of coercive control.

"A person who engages in this behaviour will do anything to maintain control" Mr Class-Auliff said.

"While he should have been working he was following her to work, he was checking her phone, checking her emails, telling her who she could see.

"There wasn't violence in a big way but I found out later he whispered in her ear as they were walking out (when she went back to him): 'if you try to leave me again I'll f***ing kill you'."

"He said, 'then I'll kill your mum and dad because I know where they live too'."

Mr Class-Auliff said the ripple effect of Rachel's death went far and wide.

"We went through hell after that," he said.

"Her oldest (child) still has vivid nightmares of the whole situation, he is 16 going on 17 now but at the time he was only four," he said.

"My wife was completely heartbroken.

"And my father-in-law was an Anglican Minister and it just completely broke him. He never recovered."

Mr Class-Auliff begged the community to take action against domestic violence.

"Take some action, make some noise and speak to your local member and tell them you support moves to change the laws," he said.

"We need as many voices as we can get to make a difference."





Originally published as 'He nailed the door shut': mum killed as children watched