Why did she do it? Rebekah's husband searches for answers

The Sydney Morning Herald/August 16, 2009

Exclusive Interview: Four years after his wife plunged from a city office block, David Booth wants to know what role a self-help course played in her death and wonders if he could have saved her

David Booth held his dead wife, Rebekah, for the last time and felt her warmth slipping away.

Two hours earlier, his "soulmate" had cried out his name and jumped naked from her second-storey office window in the heart of Sydney.

Four years on, as a coroner seeks answers to the 34-year-old's bizarre death, her husband asks: "How does a role-model wife and daughter, someone so gentle, so normal, so precious about her own body, take her clothes off in front of her boss then leap from an open window? I'm still at a loss to explain it."

Rebekah Lawrence's suicide on December 20, 2005, came two days after she completed The Turning Point, a self-help course described as a "journey to the core of the human spirit".

Mr Booth believes The Turning Point contributed to his wife's death. He is haunted by the breakdown in communication which saw him waiting near her office as her life was approaching its violent end.

"I left a message saying I was on my way. I drove into the city and parked near the State Library, where I always picked her up," Mr Booth told The Sun-Herald in an exclusive interview.

"I waited half an hour, but she didn't come. I didn't have a phone and was weighing up whether to go into the building or drive home. I figured she'd caught the train so I drove home. As I did so I thought, 'Am I going to regret this?"'

David and Rebekah's story began with a blind date on Anzac Day 1996. By the end of that year, they were madly in love and living together.

"Rebekah was kind, gentle, loving and easy-going," he said. "We realised we'd stumbled on something very special."

The couple married in 1999 and bought a house in St Peters, in Sydney's inner-west, a year later.

"We grew like two trees together. Our life was wonderful," he said, "She was my soulmate."

By the time Ms Lawrence was in her early 30s, she was yearning to start a family; he was not.

"I had a son from a previous relationship. I was only 20 years old when it happened and it left a bit of a mark on me in terms of how difficult it had all been. I just felt it had been a long road that I didn't necessarily want to walk down again," he said.

Ms Lawrence became increasingly anxious and saw a counsellor. By October 7, 2005, the pair had worked through the baby issue. In her diary, on that day, she wrote: "My despair of the other night has passed. David and I had another talk. This time we were both peaceful and talked about compromises. Maybe we will have a child, maybe not."

It would be her final entry.

Friends recommended a $695, four-day Turning Point course, warning that while it would be "life changing" an intense period of readjustment would follow.

"And so it proved to be true," Mr Booth said.

Ms Lawrence was advised by course staff not to discuss anything with her husband because he planned to attend a course himself and it was vital there were "no preconceptions".

But she returned from her first session and told him that in a special meditation the class had "felt a connection with everyone else on the planet". After her second evening class, she returned home "tired, quiet and withdrawn".

"On the Saturday, I dropped her off at Cremorne for a full-day session, but we stopped at a cafe beforehand to have coffee. Rebekah stared at me with an intensity I had never before seen in her eyes. She said: 'I just love you so much, David.' Later on, I spent hours walking on Middle Head. We always spent our entire weekends together and I remember thinking, 'This is how lonely I'd feel if I was to ever be without her."'

Mr Booth, a senior town planner at Woollahra Municipal Council, said it was when his wife returned home from her Inner Child session he noticed a detachment in her.

The workshop transports participants back to their childhood in an attempt to identify potential causes for emotional issues. "She returned in a state of rapture," Mr Booth said. "She was singing but in the voice of a small child."

The day after Ms Lawrence completed the Turning Point course, she drifted about in "an unusual dream-like state". At 3am the next day Mr Booth turned over in bed to find his wife wide-eyed and breathing heavily. "I'm having fear of death," she said.

When she contacted a volunteer support worker she was advised to have a warm shower, a cup of tea and "be kind to yourself".

On the last day of her life Ms Lawrence, a personal assistant at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, attended an office Christmas party but spent the entire lunch gazing out of a window in virtual silence.

She made repeated calls to Turning Point support staff but failed to raise anyone.

As her working day drew to a close, Mr Booth rang his wife to say he would be late picking her up.

He had never owned a mobile phone so, after driving to the city, he parked near their usual meeting place and waited.

As he did so, his wife's supervisor, Peggy Sanders, was making frantic calls to his home line, begging for help. Ms Lawrence had entered Ms Sanders's office completely naked and, in a gentle childlike voice, said: "I'm all right, Peggy, I just need a cuddle."

As Ms Sanders dressed her, Ms Lawrence pushed her with force that was later described as "superhuman".

At 6.30pm, Mr Booth arrived home to find Ms Sanders's desperate messages on his phone.

"I raced back into the city, but I couldn't get anywhere near Rebekah's office because there was traffic gridlock and chaos everywhere. I didn't know why but it was because my wife had jumped."

Ambulance officers had arrived at the office to find Ms Lawrence running naked around the office. She stood by the open window and cried "I love you David" before adding in a calmer tone: "I know I'm going to jump."

"When I got to hospital, I was in shock," Mr Booth said.

"I thought maybe, somehow, Rebekah was still alive but I was informed she'd died almost instantly. I had a moment alone with my wife. I knew I'd never see her again. Her eyes were open, there was only a small bruise on her forehead but her light and essence had gone. I felt the warmth retreat from her body."

The inquest into Ms Lawrence's death will resume at Glebe Corner's Court on Wednesday, when forensic psychologist Dr Michael Diamond is expected to say Ms Lawrence's state of mind was affected by the Turning Point course - designed by Cremorne-based company People Knowhow - and a lack of professional follow-up support.

Mr Booth can't comment for legal reasons but is adamant his wife had "no real issues" before the course.

"Aside from some anxiety over child and friend issues, Rebekah never had a history of depression, psychosis or even epilepsy. Neither had she taken medication."

Nearly four years on, Mr Booth credits a woman called Sarah for helping him through his grief.

"I wandered around lonely and soulless for months. Thanks to her love and support, I pulled through."

His message to others is simple: "Love the people close to you while they're still alive. Never take them for granted. Go home and give them a hug and tell them how much you love them because tomorrow, something could take them away."

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