Australian Lisa Cunningham and her American husband Germayne have both been charged with the first-degree murder of their daughter Sanaa. Picture: Supplied
Australian Lisa Cunningham and her American husband Germayne have both been charged with the first-degree murder of their daughter Sanaa. Picture: Supplied

‘Not in control’: Death row Aussie’s chilling words

NEW details of the early life of Lisa Cunningham, the Australian mother of four accused of the abuse and murder of her mentally ill seven-year-old stepdaughter, have been revealed.

The former Adelaide resident, who moved the to US 20 years ago after marrying her first husband Russell Anderson, spoke about her troubled family life and despair at her situation in a letter sent to her cousin Donna Roesler in July.

"It's so wild to even be in this, it's a nightmare that just won't end," Ms Cunningham wrote in the letter, which was recently published in The Advertiser.

"I was just telling (eldest daughter Cierra Anderson) how hard it was growing up with (alcohol) addicted parents and brothers always in trouble with the police and in jail and here I am accused of much worse than any of them ever were.

"Life really will remind that no matter what you do, you are not in control of anything."

The 43-year-old, who is now behind bars in Phoenix, Arizona, also spoke of her regret at leaving her dysfunctional family behind, the Advertiser revealed.

"I know Mum and Dad loved me and the boys," she said. "I just don't know why their lives were such a damn mess all the time.

"I know I sort of just ran away from it all and, looking back, I was wrong. I should have stayed and helped them.

"(My parents) both died very lonely but I didn't know how to watch them finish their lives," she also wrote.

"It was just so sad for me to watch and they would not stop drinking and try. In many ways, after losing (Sanaa) myself, I understood what happens to them.

"So much pain and it never stops but when I learned that, they were already gone."

Ms Cunningham was born in Adelaide to Sheryl and Ian Roger Topsfield in 1974, although the family soon moved 84km away to the small town of Mannum.

Her parents both drank, the family moved often, and her mother suffered from mental illness.

The Topsfields separated in the 80s, and Ms Cunningham initially lived with her mother and brothers before moving back to Mannum with her father at the age of 14.

Sanaa Cunningham died age seven. Picture: Supplied
Sanaa Cunningham died age seven. Picture: Supplied

But tragedy struck when her brother Jamie died following a drug overdose at just 22.

And when she met her first husband in Queensland, her father didn't approve and they didn't speak for some time.

But the pair married anyway, moved overseas and had two children before splitting up - although Ms Cunningham was forced to remain in the US as her ex wouldn't let her return to Australia with their kids.

Mrs Topsfield died in 2010 and in 2011, Ms Cunningham married her current husband, Germayne Cunningham.

They had two children together, and also cared for two of Mr Cunningham's children from a previous relationship, including Sanaa.

Donna Roesler revealed details of her cousin’s early life to the Advertiser. Picture: Tait Schmaal
Donna Roesler revealed details of her cousin’s early life to the Advertiser. Picture: Tait Schmaal

Prosecutors allege the Cunninghams tied the child up with plastic ties, a makeshift straight jacket and shackles, forced her to wear nappies and locked her in a laundry room or outside.

They also allege they forced her to pick up dog faeces with her bare hands and neglected to treat a wound on her foot that turned septic.

She died while suffering from pneumonia, and in December 2017 a grand jury indicted the Cunninghams on one count each of first-degree murder and 10 counts each of child abuse, which they both deny.

They are expected to face trial in July 2020.

Ms Cunningham is the first Australian woman to ever face the death penalty in the US.


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