Open letter from John Makita to mark the anniversary of Irma Palasics’ death

The following is an open letter from John Makita, grandson of Irma Palasics, to mark the anniversary of her death in 1999. Anyone who has any information on the Irma Palasics murder is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000, or via the Crime Stoppers ACT website. Information can be provided anonymously.


Open Letter from John Makita

How does anyone recover from a life changing event that is both confronting and horrific?  Is their faith in humanity possible to recover?  Where a place you grew up in that you thought was safe is actually not.  When no one comes forward to claim responsibility for their acts or people who know what they did hide in the darkness and fail to realise what is right from wrong.

So many questions that continue to play out in my brain, what if, how come and why. 

Sixteen years ago last Friday (November 6) I was asleep in my bed, warm, comfortable and dreaming when the dogs at our family home started to bark.  I can’t remember the exact time but it must have been close to 2 or 3am, it was still dark outside. A knock at our front door then eerie silence, then another knock before my mum or dad went to the door to see what the noise was about.

“Mr Mikita” I hear in the distant echo through the cold and quiet house, a male voice announces his name and his co-worker’s, “we are from the ACT Police can we come in please”.

My immediate thoughts are what has my brother done now. I hear my parents and the police sit in our lounge room which is one shared wall from my bedroom. The conversation starts something like this:

“Mrs Mikita, I am sorry to say there has been a break in at your mother and father Irma and Gregor’s home and your mother Irma has passed away”.

I can’t remember exactly what happened after that moment I heard those words through the wall. But within a few seconds my eyes swelled up and I began to sob and quite quickly could not hold back the build-up of tears and emotions that had instantly built up inside of me. 

I remember my mum come to my room after a minute or two, I’m sure she could hear me crying, she came to hold me and hug me tight. I can’t remember if she was crying too but I remember the noises she made as we sat on the side of the bed in complete and utter shock.  More like whimpering and sounds like her breathing was scattered.

I cannot put my finger on how exactly I felt for the hour or so after hearing the news, but I am sure it is much the same as I now sit here at my computer and typing these words fight to hold back breaking down and turning into a huge emotional mess with tears streaming over my cheeks.  Shock is certainly an amazing thing, it has the ability to wipe out all memories of a particular tragic moment easily and it has done a good job of blurring much of that early morning life changing event I had experienced.

After settling for a short while my brother who lived separately arrived and he and my Dad set off to my aunties house to wake them and share the news of what had happened.  Coming from a family member was far better than coming from the same knocking on the door by two strangers to tell Irma’s other daughter of the death of her mother. I don’t know how she reacted to the news but I know it was one of disbelief.

The other person who had come to our house was the victim’s liaison officer.  What a job she had.  To this day I still can’t think of a job that could possibly be harder than dealing with people who you were telling someone they loved so much had been taken away from them under circumstances that were not natural or an accident.  To have to sit and console them through all the emotion and stress that would ensue would require a strong and courageous person at that. She spent many long hours with our family for weeks after and I often wondered if she made time for her own life. 

My grandfather Gregor was beaten severely that night too and he was placed under Police guard at Calvary Hospital.  I think in reflection he also died on that night.  Everything that he knew was ripped from him and his will to live and function in normality was irreversibly destroyed.  It amazes me he managed to survive for so many years after, but quite often he would intimate that he did not want to be alive any more.

We left the house around 7am and drove to the hospital to see him.  I can still remember listening to the radio before I left the car at the parking lot and hearing the first news story announcing a home invasion and the death of an elderly woman in McKellar. 

It was still so surreal.  As we left the car to enter the hospital the sun was rising, the air was crisp and the sounds of the magpies sang in the trees.  Yet I was going to the emergency department to see the results of a despicable act.

Grandpa was laying on the bed, covered in blood, he could not talk properly as he had injury’s to his tongue and face.  His face was so swollen, it was a shock to see him.  I remember the uniformed Police man and his gun standing at the door to the ward, was I in a movie or TV show?

What followed next was exactly from a TV show.  The whole family still raw from emotion was herded into the police station and asked many hours of questions about everything and everyone we knew.  Did you do it was basically what was asked without actually saying it to our face.  I don’t begrudge the police for anything they asked or did that day.  They cared very deeply for us and even to them I think they were shocked at how this would happen in Canberra.  After all Canberra is not the big city that things like this regularly occur in.

Every night for the next few weeks I cried myself to sleep.  I spent countless hours thinking about what must have happened, reliving the small amount of information the police could give us over and over again in my mind.  What could I have done to stop this happening, why did it happen to them!  My Grandma was the cutest cuddliest person I knew.  The type of Grandmother who should appear on a TV show or as a fairy Godmother. Why did it happen to her?

So as for my faith in humanity, well 16 years on and still whoever did this is free in the world.  I still wonder how someone can keep a secret for this long.  They say that it’s normal for one person to share something with up to seven people and then they share it and so on.  So why with even the slightest chance of Chinese whispers has it not led police to find them?

I still go to bed every night checking all the doors and locks in my own families home. It’s just something I do by habit.  I am always aware of who is around me and especially who is near our home, my personal secure space.  I never feel safe and secure at any moment really though.  There never goes a time when I hear something in the night that it doesn’t remind me of what happened to my grandparents. 

Trust is a hard thing to earn from me now too.  It takes a lot of work to let me fully open myself to completely trust someone.  My huge outpouring of emotions was so great back in 1999 that today I rarely show emotion about anything anymore.  Sure I’m happy and enjoy my life, but death and suffering take on a whole different meaning, and most of the time it comes across to others that I have a limited amount of sincerity.  It’s a hard thing to battle with, it’s not depression, but I’m sure it can be regarded as something much the same.

Last Friday night (November 6) at 9.30pm, like the rest of our family I remembered Grandma and Grandpa for the hard working, caring, loving and wonderful people they were.  For the many wonderful times I spend all my sick days and school holidays with my Grandma shopping, eating donuts and watching days of our lives (begrudgingly). 

It’s the happy memories that continue to inspire me to live my life as best I can, the murderers of grandma cannot take those so tragically from me like they took her life.

John Makita



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