The messages were clear. “You are not free and you will not do whatever you want,” Rafal Karaczyn wrote to his wife Natalia, who had repeatedly told him that their marriage of 10 years was over.
Natalia responded: “I am not a prisoner and I won’t be looking over my shoulder at anyone anymore . . . you won’t intimidate me anymore.”
Within months of that exchange, Rafal had strangled Natalia in the house they shared with their three children and dumped her semi-naked body in a remote forest.
Just under two weeks before Daniel Murtagh beat his former partner Nadine Lott to the point where she was completely unrecognisable, leaving her with grotesque injuries from which she would never recover, he too had messaged her.
Nadine began the exchange by telling her murderer: “Nothing is ever going to happen between us again, I want to make that clear.”
Murtagh then asked Nadine whether she was seeing somebody, before writing: “Nadine I worry about ye, not in love, just don’t slip”. Nadine had replied: “Don’t threaten me either”.
On multiple occasions over the last year of her life, Natalia told Rafal to stop messaging her, to leave her alone and to move out of their family home
Renato Gehlen, who stabbed his wife Anne Colomines to death just weeks after she told him that she wanted a divorce, sent Facebook messages. Gehlen told his wife’s new lover to stay away from her, adding: “She is not available. Don’t do terrible things to make her your girl.”
“I hope I’m making this clear. Someone can get hurt and it doesn’t need to be her. Stay away,” Gehlen also wrote.
Presciently, Anne’s boyfriend wrote to her of the messages: “He will freak out and it will fall back on you.” Anne had told him not to worry about it.
The prosecution in Gehlen’s trial had told the jury that his crime was about control. What had happened that night was the result of a man “who had lost control of his wife and could not handle it . . . who lost control of his marriage and could not handle the fact it was over”. Gehlen had tried to regain what he saw as control over the situation by ending his marriage by his own hand.
This crime, senior counsel Shane Costelloe said, had amounted to “the ultimate in toxic masculinity”.
Murders such as those committed by Murtagh, Karaczyn and Gehlen do not ‘come from nowhere’, says UL professor of psychology Orla Muldoon.
“Men who murder their partners are men whose low-level psychological or physical abuse has gone unchecked”.
She says that in Ireland, it may seem like such cases of femicide and domestic violence arise without warning “because we have very determinedly treated the attacks as single discrete events”.
“The real question is why we continue to see these attacks as discrete individual events. There is clearly a wider pattern of violence by men against women and also often against other men.”
Nadine Lott was the second eldest child in a caring, close-knit family. “Nadine was popular, she was the funny one, the caring one, the sharer, the listener and the problem solver. She always found the best in a person,” Claire Lott said of her daughter.
Nadine, who had loved the beauty industry since she was a child, travelled to Australia in June 2012 and found work in a salon. It was in Australia she also met Daniel Murtagh.
Nadine returned to Ireland in the summer of 2013 but Murtagh did not come home at the same time and instead travelled back a few months later. In August 2016, she and Murtagh were supposed to move into a house together in Arklow. Murtagh, however, did not turn up when required and Nadine could not contact him to find out where he was.
“She decided she had tried hard enough at that stage and the relationship ended,” her sister Phoebe told Murtagh’s trial.
Rafal Karaczyn, who was raised by his grandparents after his mother left him when he was three-years-old, met Natalia when she was around 17 or 18 and he was 21.
They were married by the time Natalia was 20 and had two children in Poland, with a third arriving after they came to Ireland in 2014. She got a job in a local garage shop and deli immediately after the move while Rafal, a mechanic, got a job a few months later.
Natalia seemed to thrive in her adopted home, whereas Rafal “suffered” and by the spring of 2017, their marriage had begun to unravel. Natalia started sleeping in a separate bedroom from her husband, who confided in his sister-in-law that Natalia wanted to leave him.
On multiple occasions over the last year of her life, Natalia told Rafal to stop messaging her, to leave her alone and to move out of their family home.
French national Anne Colomines met Brazilian man Renato Gehlen in Ireland in 2011. They were married a year later and planned to have children.
Anne, however, discovered a medical problem that meant it would be difficult for her to get pregnant. She confided in friends that Gehlen was not supportive and blamed her for their difficulties in having a baby. He was annoyed that they hadn’t tried sooner.
Her friend Geraldine Mitane told Rafal’s trial that by 2017, Anne had become “very sad” and felt that Gehlen was “no longer the man she had met. He was pessimistic most of the time, negative”. Anne wanted to think about herself and her well-being. “She wanted a fresh start,” Ms Mitane said.
“Odd as it may seem,” Muldoon says, “domestic abuse can be seen as a form of defensive aggression, something that is mandated by the poor behaviour of the partner.”
“In a situation where one partner tries to leave, this view of the world can lead to catastrophic consequences,” she says. Leaving is seen as “the ultimate act of betrayal”.
In 2019 Nadine Lott was at her happiest. She had carved out a successful career as a beautician, had lifelong friends, a home in Arklow and a supportive, closely-bonded family.
Nadine had her precious six-year old daughter by her side; she viewed the child as her best friend, the love of her life and her greatest achievement. She was building a solid future for both of them. She wanted to increase her working hours as her daughter was now in school. Everything had come together for Nadine, and she told her family: “I am actually so happy I don’t need anything else.”
By the end of the year she would be dead, having been savagely beaten by Murtagh in her own home. In the process he also thrashed Nadine’s apartment, which his trial heard looked as if “a bulldozer had gone through it”.
Natalia Karaczyn had begun socialising without her husband. She would go out with her friends most weekends and on the last night of her life, she went to The Garavogue Bar in Sligo town. Natalia met a man she knew at the bar and they went back to his place. CCTV footage showed him leaving Natalia about 50 yards from her house and walking in the opposite direction, while footage from a neighbour’s camera showed Natalia entering her home. It is the last footage of her alive.
Anne Colomines had met her new boyfriend in the summer of 2017. She was in love and planned to move her husband out of their apartment to make way for her new partner. But having told her husband she wanted a divorce, Anne also tried to ease the transition. She had a good job at Paypal and had managed to get her husband a job with a company that provided catering at Paypal’s offices. She tried to sort out his Visa so he would be able to stay in Ireland and she looked for suitable accommodation for him.
Sarah Benson, the chief executive of Women’s Aid, says that domestic abuse is motivated by an abuser’s desire to achieve and maintain power and control over their partner. She says “the moment they believe this power and control is threatened, they are far more likely to escalate and can use violence – including fatal violence – to maintain that control”.
When Daniel Murtagh was arrested and placed in a patrol car on the morning he attacked Nadine, he told gardaí that what had happened was “a domestic” and that he really loved her.
In his interviews with detectives, Murtagh maintained that Nadine also loved him and they had been back seeing each other in the last few weeks but “behind closed doors”.
However, he also later told them: “I knew she was with a lad in Arklow and I was just trying to get it out of her.”
The Garda superintendent who headed the murder investigation said that Murtagh was “clearly deluded about the status of his relationship with Nadine”.
“This wasn’t a domestic violence situation as such. They were separated for quite a long time and Nadine had made it very clear that she wanted no form of relationship. Nadine had been unambiguous and very clear about that from the very start,” Supt Declan McCarthy said.
As their marriage came apart, Natalia’s sister Magdalena told Rafal Karaczyn it would be best if he moved out of the family home. He rejected her advice however, saying he wanted to make his marriage work and he would not leave his wife.
Magdalena told Karaczyn’s trial that her brother-in-law had great difficulty accepting his marriage was over and believed the relationship would get better.
While they were sleeping in separate bedrooms, Karaczyn also began secretly filming his wife.
Four videos retrieved from devices belonging to Karaczyn showed him placing a camera covering the bath and shower minutes before Natalia entered her bathroom. When she was finished showering or bathing, Karaczyn could be seen retrieving the device.
Magdalena also told Karaczyn’s first trial, which was interrupted due to Covid, that Natalia had related an incident where Karaczyn got upset at home and threatened to harm himself. The witness told the trial that this was a “single incident” and that, to the best of her knowledge, Karaczyn never threatened Natalia or their children before.
Sarah Benson says that dangerous patterns in abusive relationships, which can put women at risk of serious assault or homicide, are too often dismissed and not taken seriously.
“Many of the risk factors in domestic homicide cases overlap with behaviours and tactics used by perpetrators of domestic abuse including: threats to kill, abuse during pregnancy, jealousy, stalking and surveillance and highly controlling behaviour. Physical violence may not be a factor in all cases, prior to the point of escalation to murder,” she says.
Although there are examples where it’s clear the man’s first act of violence against his partner has been a fatal act, Orla Muldoon notes this is “always preceded by psychological abuse”.
Renato Gehlen also held out hope that his marriage would survive.
In message after message in the weeks before he murdered his wife, he told Anne that he loved her and begged her to take him back, not to ignore him, not to give up on him and not to hurt him. Her replies were short and dismissive.
Nine days before she died, several types of spyware used to discover usernames and passwords previously inputted on a computer were downloaded into Anne’s laptop.
Gehlen told his friend Ralph Comendador about an argument he had with his wife after he discovered she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring. Comendador remembered his friend saying Anne had told her husband she wanted a divorce because he was “controlling”.
On the night Anne was murdered, Comendador received a message from Gehlen saying: “The same shit man. No talk. Cold and avoiding. F**k, I really want to stab.”
On the night of December 13th, 2019, Daniel Murtagh sent Nadine Lott a message asking her to “please come home soon”. There were also two missed calls on WhatsApp from Murtagh’s phone to Nadine’s phone at 12.57am and 1.26am that night.
Murtagh told detectives that before his assault on Nadine, he had smoked a joint, taken two pills and drunk a shoulder of rum straight. He also told them that he had been on methadone for the previous three months.
Murtagh has nine previous convictions for threatening, abusive and insulting behaviour in a public place, with the most recent offence having been committed in 2011 and the rest dating back to 2006.
Daniel Murtagh told gardaí that his brutal assault on Nadine “would never have happened but for the drink and drugs” he had consumed and his defence counsel asked the jury to consider Murtagh’s level of intoxication that night. He maintained that he did not intend to kill or seriously injure Nadine.
Anne Colomines began her final conversation with her boyfriend with a message that read: “So sweetheart, is the gratin ready?” It was the start of an exchange of 296 Facebook messages between the lovers that would end when Renato Gehlen stabbed his wife four times and cut her throat.
Anne’s final message, at 11.06pm, read: “poor thing,” in response to a joke by her boyfriend, who said he was going to turn a mouse emoji into a ratatouille.
Seven minutes later Gehlen called Ralph Comendador and told him: “Sorry, I killed Anne and now I’m going to kill myself.”
Gehlen told gardaí that Anne had stabbed herself to death and maintained that position at trial. Her injuries, however, made the suggestion preposterous.
At 8.13am on Sunday, April 29th, 2018, Rafal Karaczyn texted Natalia’s number asking: “Where are you?” By that point however, he had strangled her to death with his bare hands.
He sent the message while sitting parked on the driveway of her home, having carried his wife’s body from the house to the boot of his car.
It would take Karacyzn three days to admit to killing Natalia, having repeatedly lied to her family and to investigators by first claiming she did not come home after her night out and later suggesting she had been killed by members of the Traveller community.
During his trial, Rafal Karaczyn’s defence characterised him not as a “cold-blooded killer” who planned his wife’s death but as a devoted father who lost all self-control and caused the death of “the very thing he loved the most”. He had no previous convictions in Ireland or Poland.
The jury were asked to imagine a scenario where a man “comes home early in the morning with lipstick on his collar, smelling of cheap perfume and his irate wife demands an account”.
“He tells her to get lost, slaps her and pushes her around and she grabs a knife and stabs him. Could anyone suggest she had planned it, that it was premeditated, that it was akin to where someone plans to bring about a result, or just someone who has lost it in the emotional circumstances into which they are thrown?”, defence counsel asked. The jury were asked to treat Karaczyn in the same way that they would treat such a woman.
Prosecution counsel, however, reminded the jury that the defence of provocation cannot arise out of sexual jealousy or possessiveness. In June 2020, the Supreme Court found that juries cannot use provocation to reduce murder to manslaughter simply because a man was jealous and wanted to possess his wife.
Natalia’s wish to move on with her life was not a provocative act.
The legacy of loss is incalculable. The lives of the women and children named in our Femicide Watch were so valuable, so full of potential which is now unrealised
Two hundred and forty-one women have died violently in Ireland between 1996 and 2021, according to femicide statistics gathered by Women’s Aid. Well over half – 148 – were killed in their own homes. Of the resolved cases analysed, 106 women (56 per cent) were killed by a partner or former partner, while in 22 out of 23 murder-suicide cases the killer was the woman’s partner.
Sarah Benson says that these figures should shame Irish society.
“The legacy of loss is incalculable. The lives of the women and children named in our Femicide Watch were so valuable, so full of potential which is now unrealised. We want each of them to be remembered for their achievements, their qualities, their hopes and dreams.”
Orla Muldoon says that if cases such as these remain analysed at the level of individual events, either the factors that preceded the attacks or the wider social forces that contribute to these fatalities will remain unseen.
In Ireland there is currently no system to review domestic violence deaths, a situation that needs to be addressed “as a matter of urgency”, says Muldoon.
“This is without question due to politics; if we had this system we would have a way of documenting those factors in Irish culture that pre-empt violent attacks. Even more importantly, where needed we could intervene at the individual level as well as think about wider social change that would minimise male violence.”
On May 19th, Rafal Karaczyn (35) was found guilty of murdering his wife Natalia Karaczyn (30) at their home in Crozon Park, Sligo, on April 29th, 2018. The decision was not unanimous but was agreed by 10 of the 11 jurors. He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter but not guilty to murder.
On September 29th, Renato Gehlen (39) was convicted by unanimous jury verdict of the murder of Anne Colomines (37) at their home in Dorset Square, Gardiner Street Upper, Dublin 1, on October 25th, 2017. He had pleaded not guilty to murdering his wife.
On August 5th, Daniel Murtagh (34), was convicted by unanimous jury verdict of murdering Nadine Lott (30) at St Mary’s Court, Arklow, Co Wicklow, on December 17th, 2019. He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter but not guilty to murder.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, support is available. The Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline 1800 341 900 operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides support and information to callers experiencing abuse from intimate partners. womensaid.ie