Torture, torment and fantasy: Makings of suicidal madman
ROBERT Long had a lengthy history of being a violent suicidal pyromaniac who tormented his own family before he lit the Childers backpackers on fire, killing 15 people.
Sydney-born Long, 57, always wanted sympathy and attention and has a shocking past across multiple states. But he could be released on parole in weeks.
He stalked women, lit fires, made multiple attempts on his own life and told wild invented stories.
Long went to St Paul's College in Wollongong in NSW and dropped out in Year 10.
He said he worked as a labourer, on fishing trawlers and even claimed to have been employed in the navy's gunnery.
After the Childers arrest in 2000 a former neighbour said: "When he was a kid, he was always hiding under the house and doing strange things. He and his brother were both adopted and I think he was under a lot of stress about that.
"He always felt his brother was accepted by his parents and he wasn't. He got plenty of love from his dad, but he just craved attention."
Long was in his late 20s when he met Christine Campbell in the early '90s. She lived with him in Wollongong for about a year before they split.
She then moved to Lismore and gave birth to Kirra, who is Long's daughter.
Long tried to reconcile with Campbell and moved to Queensland where she lived with Kirra and her another daughter Lauren from a different relationship.
Campbell told police Long tried to strangle her and Lauren in January 1993.
When Lauren tried to get her stepdad off her mother she told police he turned around and put his hands around her throat for 30 seconds, according to police and witness statements. The six-year-old had finger marks and slight bruising.
Campbell told police that when Long was released from the watch-house he tried to kill himself.
She had taken out a domestic violence order but he kept harassing her and turning up to her unit and threatening suicide.
He returned in May that year and while Campbell was on the phone to police he tore off a screen from a window, ran into her bedroom and got into a fight with her male friend.
Long knocked Campbell over, stomped on her stomach and picked up his then six-year-old stepdaughter Lauren and ran outside, covering her mouth.
Police arrested him shortly after.
The friend later told police Lauren was bleeding from a wound under her nose and had a large bruise on her shoulder.
On another occasion she saw he had cut his arm with a razor and was "pretending to be dead in the bathroom" after turning up to her house.
When he was in custody he claimed he had been threatened he would be killed in jail.
"They have stated that it doesn't matter if I go on protection or not they would still be able to get me, no matter what," he wrote in a 1994 Supreme Court bail application.
Long was also convicted of common assault and malicious damage in Wollongong in 1991, assault occasioning bodily harm and multiple counts of breaching a domestic violence order Lismore in 1992.
Prosecutors believed Long was guilty of at least two other fires, in country Victoria and in western Queensland before he lit the Childers fire in June 2000.
They tried to have the details heard during his 2002 murder case but they were suppressed until after trial.
They believed Long burnt down his caravan near Robinvale, Victoria, in February 1998.
He had worked in the area and told his employer that his wife and two children had died in a caravan two years earlier. He took a liking to a female worker and claimed to her that his family were killed in a car accident.
A man was seen running from the caravan fire. A beer can found nearby fire had his fingerprints.
He also left a suicide note for the woman. He then tried to gas himself and in a second suicide note wrote: "Someone set alight my van the other night which nearly killed me. I don't know who did it but I'm too scared to trust anyone so I'm going to do everyone a favour."
Long was also a suspect in a car fire at St George, 500km northwest of Brisbane, less than five months before the Childers backpackers.
He claimed his daughter had been killed in a car accident. He lost his job after he was caught drinking at work and took a farm ute without permission.
While having a drink at a pub he told a man his girlfriend committed suicide and borrowed a sedan from him.
The car was later found burning and Long was found unconscious under a Coolibah tree with a carton of beer. He hid in a motel but when rent was due he fled, leaving another suicide note, complaining about having to share accommodation at the station he was working.
"The new people turned up and took over. They just pushed me aside,'' the note said.
Long was charged by police for the unpaid motel bill and for stealing a mobile phone from a car.
He told a publican about the car arson but left town before being charged and didn't turn up to court on the other charges, according to prosecutors.
Campbell would later tell Darwin police that Long set fire to her caravan as she slept inside with her daughters in 1997.
She said she escaped and could see Long silently watching. But he wasn't charged.
After he went to Childers Long worked as a picker between March and May, 2000, but left the hostel on June 14 owing money.
That same night he wrote a suicide note which he left at the Federal Hotel which said he "cannot handle living anymore".
"Certain things have happened to me over the past week, which hurt me in a lot of ways," he wrote.
Long then claimed money would be sent to people he owed debts to in town.
"I just don't know what else to say but 'GOODBYE'," the letter said.
"One thing I will write down is that 'I WANT TO DIE'."
Days later a note written by Long in red pen was found at the hostel which said: "I'm going to take my life due to the fact I found out last week I've got cancer to the lungs."
"I don't want anyone feeling sorry for me."
Four days later he burnt down the Palace backpackers hostel which killed 15 people.
Originally published as Torture, torment and fantasy: Makings of suicidal madman