A mother and her two daughters – a four-year old toddler and a six week old baby – were knifed repeatedly and died from stab wounds to the heart in a flat in Gibraltar’s old town last March, an inquest heard yesterday.
Her Liverpool-born partner, the baby’s father, was also found dead in the flat and died from a deep cut to his throat that was most likely self-inflicted.
There were gory scenes of violence in several rooms in the flat, in which police found a total of eight knives and a blood-stained corkscrew, the Coroner’s court in Gibraltar was told.
Police officers and forensics specialists were faced with a challenging crime scene that has taken months of painstaking forensic analysis to unravel.
The killings left this community reeling in shock and led to the largest murder investigation in Gibraltar’s modern history.
But from the outset detectives at the Royal Gibraltar Police said they were not looking for anyone else in connection with the deaths, suggesting it could be a complex scenario likely involving a combination of murder and suicide.
As the first day of the inquest got under way, several witnesses described the scene inside the flat on Boschetti’s Steps, a narrow alleyway that leads from Governor’s Street into the old town.
Dr Nathaniel Cary, a Home Office forensic pathologist, was restrained in his descriptions as he gave evidence to Coroner Charles Pitto, watched by relatives of the dead family.
But he left no doubt as to the disturbing nature of the deaths.
He said Anarda De La Caridad Perez Friman, a 37-year old Spanish woman of Cuban descent, died from a stab wound to the heart likely sustained while she was lying in bed.
Her daughters Amanda Kristoffersen Perez, a toddler from a previous relationship, and baby Eve Shannon Perez also died from stab wounds through the heart.
The mother and toddler showed evidence of defensive wounds to the arms and hands, indicating they had tried to fend off their attacker and that there was probably an escalation in violence leading to death.
As for the baby, “…it was a single episode over in a few seconds,” Dr Cary said.
The pathologist, who conducted post mortem examinations on all four deceased, said 31-year old John Shannon died from a deep cut across the neck that punctured his jugular vein.
He said superficial “hesitation marks” in the neck area indicated it was likely self-inflicted.
“The main cause of death relates to a very typical self-inflicted wound to the neck and that should be borne in mind when considering other scenarios,” Dr Cary said.
Forensic evidence also suggested that Mr Shannon died last, the court was told.
“I can’t exclude the scenario where he died significantly later than the others,” Dr Cary said.
Mr Shannon, who was found with a home-made knife scabbard strapped to his leg, also displayed numerous cuts and stab wounds to his body, some deep and others superficial in nature.
Dr Carey said all these wounds could have been self-inflicted, but that he could not rule out that at least some may have been inflicted by another party, opening the possibility that the couple may have struggled.
What is clear is that there was no third person involved in these killings, the court was told.
The property was locked from the inside and was described as a secure flat, with no forensic evidence to suggest anyone else had been inside at the time of the deaths.
Ms Caridad Perez Friman’s body was found lying on a single bed in the flat’s smallest room with a pillow partially over her face.
The bodies of Mr Shannon and his daughter Eve were found on a bed in the living room, while Amanda was found on a duvet on the floor of the same room.
Luan Lunt, lead forensics scientist at LGC Forensics, the UK’s leading independent forensic science provider, gave a detailed analysis of blood stains and patterns found in the flat.
She said it was likely Ms Caridad Perez Friman was attacked in or near the room where she was found.
Blood patterns suggested Mr Shannon may have sustained the neck wound standing in front of the mirror in the shower room, before moving to the kitchen and eventually crawling into the living room bleeding profusely.
“Of all the individuals in the address, it was him who moved about the most bleeding,” Ms Lunt said, adding that his blood and DNA were found on all eight knives.
The court heard there was evidence to suggest Mr Shannon, who was described in court as a very muscular man, had consumed anabolic steroids and that these can alter a person’s state of mind. There were also signs that he may have smoked cannabis.
Ms Lunt said the level of testosterone in Mr Shannon’s body was three times what would normally trigger suspicions of doping in an athlete.
Yesterday the court also heard from Dr Liina Kiho, a consultant paediatric pathologist at Great Ormond Street Hospital who was involved in the post mortem examination of the children.
She described them as “normally developed and well looked after little girls”, adding that there was no evidence of any medical condition that could have led to their death.
Police had confirmed during the investigation that the family had been living in Estepona, on Spain’s Costa del Sol, before arriving in Gibraltar on their way to the UK.
The court was told they had moved into the flat on March 27, a Friday, and that neighbours reported hearing an argument in the early hours of Sunday.
The bodies were found the following day.
The inquest continues today.