Remembering John Ashfield 21 years after he was bashed to death

John Ashfield

John Ashfield

On the 21st anniversary of the savage attack that claimed the life of John Ashfield, his aunts have gathered at his graveside to remember the boy with the cheeky grin and kind heart.

Gunn-Britt Ashfield, as a mother, should have protected her son. Instead, she punished and tortured him in the most horrific and brutal way.

While she led the prolonged assault on her six-year-old boy, her partner Austin Allan Hughes, then 20, was keen to join in. The pair also encouraged John's siblings to participate in the vicious beating.

His two older brothers jumped from the top bunk on to their six-year-old brother's head and body. When Gary Ashfield, who was four at the time, refused to join in the frenzied assault, his mother and Hughes beat him so severely that he was later diagnosed with brain damage.

Angela Ashfield, Annette Ashfield, Erica Winkelbauer, Amaliah Winkelbauer, 3 months, Elva Campbell and Chase Winkelbauer, 20 months, at John’s graveside. Picture:  ADAM McLEAN

Angela Ashfield, Annette Ashfield, Erica Winkelbauer, Amaliah Winkelbauer, 3 months, Elva Campbell and Chase Winkelbauer, 20 months, at John’s graveside. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Gary, now 25, is the same age his mother was at the time of the killing, in August 1993.

"I remember it all," he told the Mercury. "I was there when he was bashed with the hammer and I remember the hot and cold showers. John shouldn't have passed away like that. They bashed the shit out of him for no reason and then they bashed me for not jumping on him."

Gary, who was moved to a foster home in Queensland and then on to a children's home in Lismore, now lives a quiet life in the Illawarra. He can still recall the fear and terror he felt as he watched his older brother being bashed.

"I still have nightmares about what happened," he said. "I wish Gunn was still in prison. As far as I'm concerned she's not my mother, she's not part of my family. I want nothing to do with her. She has no remorse for what she did. I hope she dies the same way John died."

Gunn-Britt Ashfield, who has changed her name to Angelic Karstrom, was released from jail three years ago after serving 18 years of a 19-year sentence. The last Gary heard, she was living in Mudgee. He has had no contact with his maternal family because he said they believed his mother was innocent and Hughes had been the main perpetrator.

Hughes, who has changed his name to Blain Lopez Smith, served 16 years behind bars.

The Supreme Court found that it was Ashfield who led the attack, believing John had inappropriately touched his three-year-old sister, Melissa. Melissa, now an adult, has told the Mercury no such touching took place.

Gary described his brother as a kind-hearted, sweet boy.

"He was the best big brother anyone could have wished for," he said. "He was protective and caring of us younger kids. He loved us to death. This is always an upsetting day for me. I'm just trying to live through it."

John's aunt, Annette Ashfield, believed Gunn never loved her son because he was the spitting image of her former partner, Brian Ashfield, the father of her four children.

A card left at the grave. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

A card left at the grave. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

"Once I saw her encourage one of the older boys to beat John up," she said. "I had to stop them fighting and I had to stand between Gunn and the kids to stop her."

Miss Ashfield said she was encouraged that so many strangers had been touched by the memory of John. There are more than 1500 members on a Facebook site dedicated to the boy and she carries with her a card written by a 10-year-old girl who she has never met.

The brutality ended when John was beaten unconscious by Hughes who hit him repeatedly on the head with a hammer through a telephone book. Gunn threw him in a cold shower and then a hot shower in an attempt to revive him. Later, she took him to hospital but she first coached her other children to tell police that he had been beaten by a gang of teenagers.

John died the next day, August 6, in a Sydney hospital.

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