Homicide – Tracey Gilbert

Tracey Gilbert

On the 8th of March 1988 mine and my family’s lives changed forever.  Our beautiful daughter and sister, Tracey was murdered by Craig Bruderlin who she had been having a relationship with for around six months.  Tracey had been trying to end this relationship because of Craig’s jealous and possessive nature, but trying very hard to do so on friendly terms.

Craig had other ideas and began a campaign of terror for our family.  He continually phoned day and night telling Tracey that “her laughing days are over”, “if he couldn’t have her no one would” and “she had better watch over her shoulder awfully close”.  The tyres on her car were let down, her windscreen smashed with a rock and paint stripper poured over her car.  We received calls from Craig’s friends to let us know that he had been to see the movie “Fatal Attraction” and they believed he was following the same path of destruction in that movie.  We continually notified the Police but were told that without proof nothing could be done.  We then received another call to say Craig was trying to borrow a gun.  The person knew Tracey was being harassed by Craig and told us he was concerned for her safety.

We took her to enquire about a restraining order but Tracey was too afraid to take this out against Craig as she believed that as soon as it was served on him that he would kill her.  Another person told us that Craig’s ex wife’s family was experiencing similar harassment and suggested we contact them.  On numerous occasions we tried to talk to them, but without success.  In frustration over our police inability to protect, and the legal system Tracey’s father asked the Police “if they couldn’t lock Craig up could they lock Tracey up to keep her safe”? Of course this could not be done.  Tracey continually told me she knew she was going to die, she just did not know when.

We lived a life of fear, creeping around our own home like caged animals while a predator watched on from the outside.  The night before Tracey was murdered we were peeping out the windows as the Police roamed around outside with spotlights.  Tracey knew Craig was out there.  We thought we may have heard from the Police if they thought it was Craig.  We were told on a later date that the Police had had a report of a man with a firearm, but they failed to notify us.  As you can imagine this was taking a toll on Tracey and she was becoming very thin and very tired.

The next morning we drove Tracey to work.  I later returned to tell her that her father and I would be going to Kurri Kurri for a few hours to help an Aunt who had gone blind move house.  We had put this off because of Tracey’s situation as long as we could.  Tracey begged me not to go.  Her boss and I assured her that she would be safe at work.  I assured Tracey that we would be home before she finished work.  I left her knowing she was scared for her life.  Around 2pm we received that horrid phone call from friends that owned the nearby Butcher shop to tell us that Tracey had been shot at work.  One nightmare ended and another one began.

We were later told that on the day Tracey was shot Craig had been hanging around the Salon where Tracey worked for quite some time.  Mrs Unicomb who owned the shop next to Tracey’s work had phoned the Police as she feared Craig was there to rob her shop.  During this time Tracey and her client were left alone in the Salon and that is when Craig entered demanding Tracey go with him.  Sia, Tracey’s client watched horrified in the mirror as Craig approached them.  Tracey told Craig that she was not going anywhere with him and that if he was going to kill her he may as well do it as she was not going with him.  Craig shot Tracey in the temple at point blank range.  He then left the Salon.  A lone Policeman had arrived at the back door of Mrs Unicomb’s shop and heard gunfire.  He realised what had happened gave chase firing warning shops, then fired two shots into the radiator of the car that Craig had hired.  Craig couldn’t start the car so then shot himself, in the face.

Tracey was taken to The Royal Newcastle Hospital by the Westpac Rescue Helicopter where she was placed on life support.    In a cruel twist of thoughtlessness, the patient, Craig was also taken to The Royal Newcastle Hospital and placed in the same ward.  He had a police guard outside his door.  The irony of him needing what Tracey couldn’t get was noted.  Family and friends actually had to walk past Craig’s bed to be with Tracey.  Tracey was very popular and you can only imagine the large number of people who had come to see her that night.  With all of us having to walk past a man that we despised, and his guard.

The next horrific event was when we, her parents and family had to give permission to end Tracey’s life the next morning when her life support was turned off.  You cannot imagine that ordeal, what everyone thought, felt, recalled, endured and must live with.  So simple to say, so hard to do.  Craig Brudelin lost his eye when he shot himself.

The heartache and pain we have suffered is indescribable.  We now entered a world we never imagined we would be in, the world of the legal system, not the justice system.  As Tracey’s mother I felt from that day forward I was in a place I didn’t belong, but I had to stay and fight for my daughter whose only mistake in all of this was meeting Craig Bruderlin.  I also had to find strength for my family and Tracey’s many friends including Sia, Tracey’s client at the time of the shooting and Mrs Unicomb.  Our daughter would have been devastated to think these people had to witness this tragedy.  People don’t give enough thought and comfort to witnesses to these life-ending and altering crimes of violence. Their lives are altered forever too.

I began immediately to have serious doubts about the legal system.  The help we received leading up to this crime gave me little confidence that things would get any better.  We received phone calls from people all over Australia in the same situation.  If anything good could be spoken of this situation, it could only be how fortunate we were to have such caring and supportive friends.  Also the support from our community was outstanding.

Having very little knowledge of the legal system we were struggling to understand the little information we were often begrudgingly given.  We were told to prepare ourselves as it was possible the charge of murder may be reduced to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility.   Craig was clearly going to use any legal means to lessen his crime, but how on Earth can someone plan a crime, go to a place, wait until he was ready, walk in, commit the crime, and that can be diminished to a lesser crime?  How can it be so easy for a man to claim mental illness, without proof and be heard?

How could this be when we had witnesses who saw Craig commit the crime? Before the murder we were continually told we needed proof of the harassment, now we had proof of the murder and yet that still may not be enough to hold him accountable.  We were frustrated and completely disheartened, often misinformed and frequently mislead.

The upcoming trial was constantly on our minds.  By that we mean it haunted every day, and Tracey’s loss was of course ever-present. We were becoming physically sick, not sleeping,  worrying about what was ahead of us and how we could prepare ourselves for it.  There was so much complex new learning to try and understand at a time when you are least able to deal with it.

The media played a very big part in our lives during this time.  I have great admiration for the way they did their job in our case, and the respect they showed us.  It is such an emotional and difficult situation for everyone involved.

After a number of mentions and a committal hearing, Craig was to stand trial for the murder of Tracey.  Just like putting Craig in the same hospital ward was a thoughtless, upsetting decision, so was having the trial begin on the first anniversary of her death.  The courtroom was filled with friends and family.  It is as if the family’s ordeal, another first has no value or consideration.

After four days of listening to what had taken place in our lives over the past eighteen months and still having great difficulty comprehending it was our precious daughter being referred to as the deceased?  Craig was found guilty of murder.  Justice Grove said “Bruderlin’s culpability had not been diminished by mitigating circumstances”.  “You came to her and coldly shot her dead”, the Judge said, “Your wicked act was the petulant act of a self-centred, spoilt and jealous lover”.  Craig was sentenced to life in prison.  I couldn’t believe that Justice Grove described Craig exactly as I believed him to be.

Craig had already written a note that was found in his hire-car which said “two women he fell in love with had destroyed him and that these two women would join him in hell”.  He had three bullets with him the day of the murder plus a small flask of scotch. He’d intended to kill Tracey, his ex wife, and himself

Before we left the court we were told Craig was appealing the decision.  I remember the media asking me how I felt.  I remember saying whatever he gets, it will not bring Tracey back.  And it didn’t.

Six months later we attended the appeal hearing before three judges.  His life sentence was reduced.  Two judges out of three decided he was depressed at the time he murdered Tracey.  Craig now had to serve eighteen years with an eight year non-parole period.  After all this court action ended, he was to be released after five years.  He actually served six years for the murder of our daughter.

There are many things that are confusing, unequal, unfair about the Criminal legal System from the victim’s position.  One thing I had great difficulty understanding why Justice Grove who sat through all the evidence, saw all witnesses, could be overruled by people who saw none of it.  I walked away from that appeal thinking “What a waste of tax payers money!”  The whole legal process and trial are examples how victims needed someone on their side, with their interests at heart and centre, to prepare them for this horrible legal experience that is not at all about justice for the victim.

On the 20th November 1989, with the help of a lot of wonderful people, a meeting to voice our dissatisfaction with the justice system and our desire to set up a group for victims of crime was held at Beresfield Bowling Club.  Over six hundred people attended the meeting including a large number of victims who came from all over New South Wales.

Without the support of VOCAL I am not sure I could have coped with this tragedy and the effects that stay forever.  Everyone worked extremely hard to jump all hurdles put in from of us.  We were told many times that maybe this would not be a healthy environment for us, that we would cry on each other’s shoulders and not be able to move on.  That was not the case.

Dawn Gilbert, Tracey’s mother, Foundation Member of VOCAL, out first Victim-Survivor, Thriver- Inspirer.

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