'I love you': Dunedin murder victim's last words

Carole Coade admitted she had been thinking about killing her partner for several days before the...
Carole Coade admitted she had been thinking about killing her partner for several days before the murder. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Five years after meeting her "soulmate" through online dating, a Dunedin teacher stabbed him to death in their bath.

Carole Coade, 61, appeared before the High Court at Dunedin yesterday, where Justice Lisa Preston sentenced her to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 11 years for the "brutal, frenzied attack".

In an interview with a blogger in 2018, she described her experience of meeting Mark Willis through a dating site, and falling in love.

"There is a risk in it, but there are risks in anything. It’s about being safe and not putting yourself in a vulnerable position," she said.

"I never knew what a soulmate was, but I know now; I understand what it means."

But on May 18 last year, Coade stabbed her 58-year-old victim 22 times in the bath of their Tainui home as he told her: "I love you."

Crown prosecutor Richard Smith said the homicide exhibited a "high level of brutality, cruelty and callousness".

Counsel Sarah Saunderson-Warner agreed the killing was premeditated and a "means to an end" — but did not accept it was financially motivated.

She said the murder would not have happened if it were not for her client’s severe depression.

Carole Coade moved to Dunedin with Mark Willis in 2021 after their romance grew online. PHOTO:...
Carole Coade moved to Dunedin with Mark Willis in 2021 after their romance grew online. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
"In an effort to rid herself of that intolerable and existential terror, the homicide became a tragic solution and in her mind ... was the only viable way to ensure her survival," Ms Saunderson-Warner said.

"There is a history of 61 years where violence and aggression were the absolute antithesis of Ms Coade’s character," Ms Saunderson-Warner said.

The defendant was described as a hard-working teacher, empathetic friend and a loving mother.

The downward spiral began after the couple moved to Dunedin in 2021.

Coade reportedly felt isolated from her three children and took extended sick leave from her teaching role in April 2023.

Negative thoughts about her finances crept in and Coade felt she was unable to talk to Mr Willis about her growing concerns — despite his kind and caring demeanour, the court heard.

Mr Smith said Coade’s violent impulses grew in the weeks before the murder as a meeting with her employer on May 19 loomed.

She told a psychiatrist she had considered killing Mr Willis on three previous occasions.

In early May, Coade saw her partner on all fours, cleaning the carpet, and approached him with a knife tucked into her trousers.

Later she stood behind Mr Willis with a knife as he sat at the computer.

Acknowledging her actions were "crazy" and out of fear of being overpowered, Coade withdrew from the attacks.

On the day of the murder, Coade made her partner a coffee and laced it with her own crushed-up medication, hoping he would drown in the bath, but he discarded the drink because of its taste.

The victim climbed into the bath about 5pm, where he was "essentially defenceless", Mr Smith said.

Coade armed herself with a 10cm-long kitchen knife and stabbed him until her partner went under the water, ignoring his pleas: "No, Carole. I love you."

Mr Willis’ siblings said they would remain haunted by the cruel killing of their kind, funny, compassionate brother.

"I can’t imagine what Mark went through. I wonder what his last thoughts were ... a person with so much love and intelligence, murdered in his own home," his sister said.

Minutes after the murder, Coade sent a Facebook message to her children "I love you, I’m sorry for what I have done", before transferring $45,000 into their bank account.

She then called police, informing them of the crime and met them at the door in her blood-stained clothes.

"Yours was not a florid descent into an uncontrollable psychosis. You challenged your thoughts as crazy. You withdrew from medical support ... You didn’t feel like you loved him any more," Justice Preston said.

Mr Willis' longtime friend Matthew Fawkes said he would be remembered as a "brilliantly talented guy" with a real passion for storytelling.

He had just signed off on the final cut of his first feature film Blind Panic, which he wrote and directed.

Eion Willis said he could hear the excitement in his brother’s voice as he was on the cusp of finishing the film.

“His last moments of his life were indeed filled with blind panic,” he said.