Inside the life of a criminal psychologist
The world and life of a criminal psychologist is anything but pretty. Confronted with haunting forensic photos and coming face-to-face with murderers, rapists and other violent individuals, Tim Watson-Munro spent a great deal of time in some truly disturbing situations. Assessing some of Australia’s most notorious criminals including Melbourne gangster Alphonse Gangitano, corporate fraudster Alan Bond, and Hoddle Street gunman Julian Knight, Watson-Munro was at the frontline when delving into the minds of psychopaths.
So it came to no surprise when Tim Watson-Munro began duelling with his own demons, experiencing anxiety and intermittent depression over the years.
For Watson-Munro, the Hoddle Street Massacre was a tipping point: “I was involved in that case in 1987. I saw a knife within about two weeks of the massacre and it’s another example of being too involved in your work.”
“I’ve always been pretty laid-back and friendly to people but I was getting an edge, as it was described, and I was drinking more,” he recollects.
“I saw him [Julian Knight] regularly and then semi-regularly. I was privy to all the forensic evidence and I thought I was managing it okay [but] others were saying there were subtle changes in my personality in the way I was approaching things.”
While Watson-Munro says the affects of the Hoddle Street Massacre case did not unfurl until about a decade later, it was not the only case that had taken a toll on him.
“Now, 39 years into this, most of my waking hours have been involved in the doom and gloom of life and I think it’s a very subtle process of osmosis,” he says. “It starts to change the way you view the world.”
Often working between 80 to 100 hours per week, Watson-Munro would be up at early hours seeing six to seven clients a day, writing reports, reading files and going to court. This would sometimes mean working into the night and often on weekends.
“It was just ridiculous,” he comments, “but once you get on that treadmill it’s very hard to see the forest from the trees and you just keep doing it.”
Watson-Munro reliving his appearance on The Mike Walsh Show in 1984
Yet his work was all too seductive and it paid well. With his growing media profile during the '80s and '90s, Watson-Munro garnered a network of friends and colleagues and attended luncheons with high-functioning, professional people. He was leading a hedonistic life of fast cars, expensive dining and, eventually, cocaine use.
“There were artists… lawyers and we used to drink a bit and tell jokes and someone would give a speech and within a fraction of time coke came into the equation. I had never really used drugs until that time,” he recalls. “But I never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I would end up with coke, let alone an addiction, and everything that occurred from that.”
What he believed started out innocently had spiralled out of control to become a $2000-a-week drug habit.
“By varying degrees, it took over my life. I used occasionally, then a bit more regularly. When Sue, my first wife, was diagnosed [with cancer], I used it daily. And when you get to that level of use, coming down or withdrawing is terrible and you get cravings. So your primary focus, before you can do anything else, is to make sure that you’ve got cocaine to get you through and you always use it to feel ‘normal’, if that makes sense.”
His high profile within the professional and media industry made it difficult for him to disclose his toxic secret, let alone enter into rehab. And when confronted by his second wife, Carla, he would convince her that it wasn’t as bad as she thought, but in reality it was much worse.
“People don’t enjoy being addicted to stuff, I can assure you. It’s a miserable life for them and it’s a life that’s full of self destruction and destruction of relationships and futures.”
“I was clearly a coke user — a heavy one — but I didn’t want to see myself that way.”
While his two-year drug use burnt through his income, his workload and financial position made his addiction inconspicuous — although not until the end.
Soon enough the skeletons came out of the closet. It was a Sunday afternoon on September 1999 when Watson-Munro received the news that criminal lawyer Andrew Fraser was arrested and charged with importing cocaine. He was also his supplier.
It could not come at a more difficult time. Watson-Munro’s first wife had died three weeks earlier and his older kids were still reeling from their loss. Not only that, but at the time his second wife was eight and a half months pregnant.
“I realised that I was very much at a crossroad. I could just give up and become a hopeless addict and live on the street or I could use the opportunity to stop. I entered into more intense therapy… I wasn’t just going to use again. My reputation had been destroyed. It was important to me to resurrect it. My family had been extremely traumatised. I wasn’t going to re-traumatise them and so those sorts of dynamics weighed very heavily in terms of my determination to recover, and they still do.”
After succumbing to illness and addiction, Watson-Munro was hit with a final humiliating blow when he was deregistered in June 2000.
Reflecting on a life in the headlines
Now 64, Watson-Munro shares his road to redemption in his new memoir, Dancing with Demons, taking readers along a rollercoaster journey of crime, tribulation, self-discovery and recovery.
"I wanted to write a memoir that demonstrated to people who may suffer major life-changing events through depression, substance abuse [and] addiction that with perseverance, love and support of others, and treatment you can get yourself out of the hole."
Despite all the lows that have gone with the highs, Watson-Munro resurrected his practice and strives to be a better father to his five children. Looking back, he says his deepest regret was not spending enough time with his children, putting his work and ego first.
“I think as you get older you realise what your priorities are and what they should have been… my deepest regret is not spending time with them because it’s precious time that you can’t recover.”
“But they respect what I’ve done, in terms of my recovery. They know they’re deeply loved and we always have a good time together. I make a point of getting together with each of my children at least once a week, it’s important… I wish I had just learnt that those lessons much earlier in life.”
If you are concerned about a loved one’s drug use or want information about drug rehabilitation and support contact Family Drug Support Australia on 1300 368 186 or visit their website.
Dancing with Demons: True-Life Misadventures of a Criminal Psychologist by Tim Watson-Munro (Pan Macmillan, $34.99) is out now.
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Images supplied courtesy of the author.