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New name: Angelic Karstrom
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: August 5, 1993
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: 1968
Victim profile: Her son John Ashfield, 6
Method of murder: Beating with a hammer and a phone book over 100 times
Location: Nowra, New South Wales, Australia
Status: Sentenced to 21 years in jail, reduced to 19 years on appeal, with a minimum of 14 years. Released on August 15, 2011

photo gallery


Parole Determination in Relation to Angelic Karstrom


Mother Gunn Britt Ashfield who killed her son John Asfield released today

By Mark Morri and Nathan Klein - The Daily Telegraph

August 15, 2011

GUNN-BRITT Ashfield, the woman, who brutally killed her six-year-old son John in 1993 has been released from a Sydney jail today.

Ashfield, who has changed her name to Angelic Karstrom walked out of  the Windsor John Maroney prison complex this morning after serving 18 years jail for murdering her little boy, John Ashfield in 1993.

His sister and three brothers witnessed Ashfield and her then partner Austin Allan Hughes beat John with a hammer and a phone book over 100 times over a period of several hours.

He died in Shoalhaven Hospital the next day.

Karstrom, who was wearing a black trouser suit and a white-collared shirt, did not speak to media as she was escorted to a waiting vehicle by police.

Dressed in black boots, black pants and a black jacket over a white shirt, she walked straight from the prison with her head down, ignoring the media and refusing to comment.

Escorted by two probation and parole officers, Karstrom was taken to a secret corrective services-approved residential facility, where she will live for the next 12 months.

All she had with her was a blue garbage bag of belongings, with not one member of her family arriving at the jail to greet her after 18 years of jail.

A corrective services spokeswoman said she will be heavily monitored over the next year.

Karstrom will have her anklet calibrated this afternoon before she settles into her new place.

The 43-year-old  will be subject to strict parole conditions including  electronic monitoring, drug and alcohol testing and have a curfew.

John Ashfield was in first grade at Nowra East public school when he died from massive head injuries inflicted by Ashfield and her then boyfriend Austin Hughes.

In evidence presented to court NSW Supreme Court Ashfield, then 25, became enraged because she thought her son had touched his three-year-old sister inappropriately.

The pair decided to teach John a lesson and Austin said the boy would not be allowed to "get away with it''.

He died in Shoalhaven Hospital with more than 100 bruises to the head and body.

Ashfield has also been prohibited from seeing Hughes who was released from jail in 2009.

The Parole Board announced in June Ashfield was to be freed one year ahead of her release date.

If Ashfield had served her full 19 years there would have been no way of imposing parole conditions and authorities would not have been able to know her whereabouts or monitor her behaviour.


Mother who killed son granted parole

By Vicent Morello -

July 29, 2011

A woman who used a hammer and a telephone book to beat her six-year-old son to death has been granted parole on the condition she doesn't visit his grave.

Britt-Gunn Ashfield, 43, now known as Angelic Karstrom, wept on Friday during a hearing by the State Parole Authority at Parramatta in western Sydney.

She and her partner Austin Allan Hughes pleaded guilty to the 1993 bashing murder of her son John Ashfield which her other four children were forced to watch.

Her daughter Melissa Ashfield, 21, opposed her mother's parole during an emotional witness impact statement she made at the hearing.

Her mother was on-screen via video link from jail as Melissa yelled at her: "She can rot in hell."

"The day I'll jump for you is the day you drop dead," Melissa said. "And you can go to hell."

Annette Ashfield, the sister of Melissa's late father Brian Ashfield, also took the stand.

She calmly stated that she had known Ashfield for 28 years and had visited her former sister-in-law in jail a number of times.

Annette gave an impression she was about to express sorrow for Ashfield.

"I want her to stay in jail and die in jail," she said instead.

"I want you to go back to your little cell and hang yourself, or put a bullet in your head."

On August 4, 1993, Ashfield and Hughes beat John in front the other children over several hours.

At one point, they took turns putting a telephone book on his head and hitting it with a hammer.

The boy was pronounced brain dead in hospital and died the next day.

Ashfield and Hughes plead guilty and were jailed for 21 years but had their sentences reduced on appeal to 19 years, with a minimum of 14.

She has served 18 years of her sentence and applied for parole in June, when the Parole Authority then indicated it would approve her application.

On Friday, counsel for the state of NSW, David Kell, opposed her custodial release, saying her crime was "heinous" and her ability to lawfully live in the community had not been tested.

In delivering the authority's determination, chair Ian Pike said the benefits of parole outweighed the need to keep Ashfield in custody.

"It remains particularly concerned that this is the last opportunity for parole, and it is clearly not in the interest of the public that she end her sentence without the benefit of a period of parole supervision," Mr Pike said.

"The authority is of the view parole should be granted."

Before he could finish reading the decision, Annette stood up and shouted to Ashfield, "See you six feet under", and then stormed out of the hearing.

Seconds later, Melissa Ashfield stood up, held a photo of John to one of the television monitors and said: "Have a look at what you did you f***ing mutt."

Ashfield had 10 conditions imposed on her parole, including electronic monitoring, drug and alcohol testing, curfews and ongoing counselling.

She is banned from living or visiting the Illawarra and Hunter regions, where her family lives, and may not be in the company of anyone under the age of 16.

At the family's request, she was prohibited from visiting John's grave.

Ashfield will be released from jail sometime between August 12 and 19.


The killer story we could not publish until now

By Caroline Overington - The Australian

June 30, 2007

In August 1993, a little boy - John Ashfield, aged 6 - was beaten to death with a hammer to his head.

His mother, Gunn-Britt Ashfield, then 25, led the assault; her boyfriend, Austin Allan Hughes, then 20, was a keen participant.

According to evidence presented to court in December 1993, Ashfield became enraged when she heard that John, who was in Year 1 at East Nowra primary school on the NSW south coast, touched his three-year-old sister in an inappropriate way. Her boyfriend agreed the boy could not be allowed to "get away with it".

He didn't. Less than 24 hours later he died in Shoalhaven Hospital, his tiny body covered in more than 100 bruises from his parents's savage beating -- a beating that ended with Hughes putting the Nowra telephone book against John's head, and hitting him with a hammer.

They were each sentenced to 21 years in jail, reduced to 19 years on appeal, with a minimum of 14 years.

Next Thursday, 14 years since she beat John to death, his mother, who has changed her name in prison and now calls herself Anjelic Karstrom, will apply for parole. Hughes has also applied for parole.

His case will also be heard next Thursday.

In 2004, the NSW Parliament passed laws that made it an offence for media outlets to publish the name of a dead child who had been the victim of a crime, no matter what the circumstances.

This law prevented The Weekend Australian from printing this story, ostensibly to protect the victim, John.

The newspaper's parent company, News Limited, backed by groups including the NSW Homicide Victims Support Group, and the Victims of Crime Assistance League, has lobbied against this law since it was enacted, believing that it protects only the killers from being identified.

On Thursday night, the NSW Parliament passed a bill amending the law, making publication permissible in some circumstances, such as if the next of kin agrees. The changes come into effect next Wednesday.

John's sister Melissa, 17, does not want her mother released. "I have not seen my mother since I was 11," she said. "The last time I saw her (in prison) I pulled her hair and slapped her. I have flashbacks to what happened. She tried to blame me. She tried to get us to help her bash John. She tried to say that John touched me. He never touched me."

Melissa says she remembers the day John was beaten, "clear as anything". When he swang in from school that day, August 5, Hughes confronted him in the kitchen. He told police he kicked John on the bottom with the side of his foot "the way you kick a soccer ball", slapped him around the head and sent him to his room.

But that was not the end of it: Ashfield and Hughes decided John needed to be taught a lesson. They went into his bedroom and started beating him.

A frenzy soon developed: they punched him with their fists, and beat him with the white aluminium rod that held up a curtain.

John was sobbing: "I'm really sorry, don't do this to me, I'm sore, I'm sorry."

Hughes mocked him, saying: "You scream like a little girl."

When John continued to sob, Hughes took a girl's dress out of the cupboard and shoved it over the crying boy's head, forcing his arms through the sleeves.

"He started crying and carrying on," Hughes would later say, in a statement to police.

"He was crying: 'Get it off, get it off, I'm not a girl'."

Death came slowly: Ashfield would later tell police that Hughes had put the phone book against John's head, and repeatedly beat him with a hammer, until John was limp and dazed, unable to sit up on the bed.

When it became apparent that John had lost consciousness, his mother dunked him under a cold shower, then a hot shower.

Several hours passed before Ashfield took her son to Shoalhaven Hospital. In the meantime, she told her other children to tell police John had been beaten by a gang of teenagers while walking through a park.

Her oldest boy, then aged eight, went on national television to back up the story.

In a shaky voice, he said: "We were going to buy milk and bread when four boys said, 'Come here. We want to bash you up'."

The story was never going to stack up: John was cold and bleeding from the nostrils when he was airlifted to Westmead hospital in Sydney.

Doctor Barry Wilkins would later tell the court he had more than 100 different coloured bruises, suggesting "repeated, non-accidental beating".

His small hands were swollen and bruised, which suggested he had "attempted to fend off an assault". He had suffered a very serious brain injury.

John died the next day, Friday, August 6, 1993. His mother and her boyfriend were charged with murder shortly afterwards.

On the day of John's funeral, his natural father, Brian Ashfield, wailed over the white coffin.

Brian is now dead but he told reporters at the time of his son's murder that he had warned the NSW Department of Community Services that his wife was violent, and that she intended to hurt the children. In fact, DoCS had about 35 notifications that all was not well at Ashfield's home.

Ashfield asked DoCS to take the kids away from her, saying she "felt violent" towards them.

Melissa's life since her brother was killed has been chaotic: she was fostered into the care of DoCS after her mother went to prison but ran away at 11. She bounced around foster homes, and was briefly placed in a nunnery in Grafton, until she fell pregnant at 16, and lost the baby. She admits to "drinking alcohol, doing crazy stuff" to deal with anger and grief but is trying to steady her path. She now lives with her boyfriend, Jason, 33, and is in counselling.

John's uncle, Andrew Ashfield, said the law banning publication of John's story had "protected the people who killed him, and the social workers who let it happen".

"DoCS knew that she was violent, and knew that she was troubled," he said. "But they didn't take the kids until after she killed one of them."

Wendy Campbell, who was Brian's fiance at the time of John's death, wants the case to get media attention because she "promised Brian, if they ever apply for parole, I will be there, and I will stop it".


Boy Beaten For Hours, Court Told

Gerard Ryle, Jim Baker, Nick Papadopoulos - The Age

Friday August 6, 1993

The death of six-year-old boy in Nowra has drawn the attention of the nation this week.

The mother of six-year-old John Erik Ashfield, Gunn-Britt Ashfield, appeared briefly in Parramatta Local Court yesterday shaking and sobbing as she was charged with her son's murder.

Dressed in blue jeans, a green parka and barefoot, Ms Ashfield, 26, of Nowra, sat in the dock with her head bowed, her long hair covering her face.

Her solicitor did not enter a plea nor apply for bail. She was remanded in custody to appear at Nowra Local Court on Monday.

In Nowra Local Court yesterday, her fiance, Austin Allan Hughes, 20, was brought into court under tight security. He was also charged with murdering John Ashfield.

The police prosecutor, Sergeant Jeff Tunks, said Mr Hughes participated in a "horrific and systematic beating of the six-year-old boy over a period of more than two hours".

The child was flown to Westmead Hospital in Sydney where he was admitted with critical head injuries, the court heard. He was brain-dead on arrival and was placed on a life-support system. Medical staff switched that off at 6.45pm on Thursday and pronounced him dead.

Sergeant Tunks said Mr Hughes took part in an electronic interview at Nowra Police Station, where he gave a graphic account of his version of Wednesday's events.

Mr Hughes and Ms Ashfield had concocted a story of an assault on their son by four juveniles in Nowra's Lyrebird Park to mislead authorities, the court was told.

No bail application was made on Mr Hughes' behalf. He was remanded in custody to reappear on Monday.

Police said they feared for his safety if bail was granted.

The NSW Department of Community Services said last night that the family had previously come under its scrutiny.

The department said that John and four other children had come to the attention of social workers before he was brought unconcious to hospital on Wednesday.

The general manager of the department's southern division, Mr David Sherlock, said the other children had since been medically examined because of the injuries doctors found on John's body.

He would not reveal details of the examinations. Police said the children ranged from 3 to 8 years old.

"The department has had previous contact with the family but I cannot say any more because of the usual confidentiality issues," Mr Sherwood said.

"We have submitted a care application to the Children's Court regarding the further care of the other four children (of Ms Ashfield).

"Cases like this are very tragic, there is no doubt about that," he said. ``One can only wonder how they could occur.

There were near-riot scenes outside the Nowra court yesterday as community outrage over the death spilled on to the streets when Mr Hughes appeared.

One protester was arrested as police stuggled to contain an angry crowd of about 150 people, many of whom hurled abuse at and tried to get to Mr Hughes as he was taken to and from the court in a paddy- wagon.

Local residents waving placards and shouting crammed the footpath and spilled on to the road outside the court.

People had gathered from early morning outside the court to catch sight of Mr Hughes.

Less than 24 hours earlier many had telephoned the police station next door offering support and information after Mr Hughes and Ms Ashfield had gone to the nation's media to appeal for help to catch the alleged killers.

"We all feel used and cheated," a local resident, Mr Kevin Talbot, said. "First we were told one thing, and now another.

The head of the children's intensive care unit at Westmead Hospital in Sydney, Dr Barry Wilkins, said the boy's injuries were consistent with having been punched and kicked.

He said John had bruises "on his back, his bottom, his head, (and) his face".

The Mayor of Nowra, Mr Max Atkins, said the the town was a favored spot for low-income families because of the relative cheapness of beach-side rental accommodation. "I still think there is a great sense of disbelief about town," he said.

Police looking for John Ashfield's father to inform him officially of his son's death revealed that a warrant had been issued for his arrest.

Police said the boy's father, who has not yet been found, was wanted by police in relation to a separate matter.



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