Whether it was through unapologetic posts on her social media or by slamming doors so loudly that the neighbors could hear, Angela Surtees wasn’t shy about expressing herself. “I am who I am,” she wrote on Facebook. “I’ll be who I’ll be.”
In January 2020, Surtees lived in the Australian suburb of Whittington in Geelong, Victoria, with her husband Daniel, 36. They’d been together since 2012 and married for four years.
They had two children together and Daniel was dad to three more. Surtees had done several jobs over the years, including bar work and selling Tupperware. She and Daniel had a photography business, where they took typical happy family snaps – but their marriage was far from picture-perfect.
Surtees was outspoken and her relationship with Daniel could be volatile. Neighbors often heard shouting in the house and a scan of Surtees’ social media accounts revealed plenty of angry rants.
While sometimes she urged friends and family to donate money to bushfire charities, in another post she described herself as a “selfish bitch” with a “short fuse” and warned people about “talking s**t” about her.
In 2016, Surtees said she wouldn’t be forced to live in the kitchen “serving her husband”. “Happy wife, happy life,” she wrote. “Unhappy wife and you bet your ass s**t is going to hit the fan.”
But she also revealed that Daniel was a hard-working chef, who’d spent time in Italian restaurants as well as bakeries. Those who knew the couple said they were tempestuous, but it was just how they were. No one could have predicted what came next.
On 25 January 2020, Daniel and Surtees attended her brother’s engagement party. The couple started arguing and their dispute continued after they left at around 7pm and returned home.
The neighbors heard shouting. Three of the children – then aged 11, six and four – were watching TV in the lounge. At 8.30pm, the eldest child placed an emergency call.
Surtees came on the phone and calmly said her husband had caught fire and needed help. She said that during their argument, fuel had been accidentally spilled over Daniel.
“There was a big bottle of lawnmower petrol that spilled and ignited while he was lighting a smoke,” she said. “He’s got superficial peeling on his skin and secondary on his hands.” But in the background, Daniel could be heard screaming in agony.
When paramedics arrived, they found a horrifying scene. Daniel had been engulfed in flames and suffered burns to 80% of his body from him. An armchair on the enclosed porch of the house, where Daniel had been sitting, was scorched. Surtees said she had put out the fire with a garden hose.
A member of the public recalled driving past and stopping after seeing a significant amount of smoke. He saw Daniel naked and in pain on the front lawn while his clothes burned in a pile nearby.
Daniel was rushed to hospital and put on a ventilator as doctors battled to save him. Meanwhile, Surtees’ story continued to change. She told police and Daniel’s family that he had poured petrol over himself during their argument.
When medical staff noted that her own arm was burnt, she remarked, “Just got some burns from an altercation with my husband that went 50 shades of wrong.”
After 18 hours, doctors couldn’t do any more for Daniel and his brother Luke had to make the heartbreaking decision to turn off his life support. The dad-of-five was dead and his death had been horrific and painful. Police wanted to know what had happened.
Back at the house, flames had left scorch marks up the walls and across the ceiling. An empty red jerry can of petrol lays nearby. Surtees had lots to say but none of it made sense.
At one point, she said Daniel had been attacking her – and had pinned her against the wall, while he was on fire. She even suggested Daniel was a pyromaniac.
In police interviews, Surtees said Daniel had used himself in petrol from the jerry can and taunted her to set him alight. She claimed she had flicked on a lighter and he had lunged into the flame – setting himself alight.
“You know what they say about gasoline and a match. He brought the gasoline and I brought the match. And it was not pretty,” she said.
When she spoke about sparking the lighter, she admitted, “It was eons beyond stupid.”
But from the burns on the chair in the front porch, it was clear that Daniel had been sitting down when he caught fire.
Then, Surtees claimed her husband had taunted her to cover him in petrol by putting the can at her feet and saying, “You don’t have it in you.”
Investigators determined that Surtees had drained Daniel in unleaded petroleum from the can. It was likely that when he’d leapt up, she’d pushed him back and used the lighter to set him alight.
Hearing his screams, Daniel’s children had run out. One had desperately fetched a jug of water to pour over their dad on the lawn.
Surtees was arrested and, at first, she was charged with murder. While awaiting trial, she was offered a deal by the prosecution which involved her pleading guilty to manslaughter.
It meant she would be admitting she caused Daniel’s death as a result of an unlawful and dangerous act. While in prison, waiting for her case to be heard, Surtees continued to shock as she wrote letters, which the court would gain access to.
In one, she complained about her bad luck in life but never did she mention in any of her notes, or even during her earlier interviews, the horrific trauma Daniel had been through.
She even wrote to Luke, who had taken in their children, and blamed him for taking Daniel off his life support – saying she had “tried to forgive” him.
No sign of remorse
Eventually, in March this year, the court heard that while Surtees claimed she didn’t intend to turn her husband into a fireball, she wanted him to fear he would catch on fire when she covered him in petrol.
While Surtees had told the operator that fateful day that it was just a “spill” of petrol, the prosecution estimated from Daniel’s full body injuries that Surtees had spent “10 to 16 seconds” dousing him.
Surtees, now 35, sobbed as the judge told her she was a liar who had not shown any remorse.
“The shocking and painful nature of the fatal injuries you inflicted upon Daniel is clear,” he said. “It would be a futile exercise to attempt a death that more appals the conscience than death by burning.”
The judge called Daniel a “kind and loving father” and placed the blame firmly with Surtees. “Daniel’s death was not the result of a mere accident,” the judge said as she wept.
Daniel’s eldest daughter described her dad as fiercely protective and a “classic Aussie larrikin” – slang for a mischievous person – who loved to cook.
“All the special moments to come in my future – my heart will be hurting,” she said.
Surtees still insisted it was an accident. “I didn’t murder anyone,” she said. “I’m not a monster. I don’t belong in a cage.” Her self-pitying words of her did not go unnoticed.
The judge sentenced her to 12 years in prison and Surtees cried hysterically as she was told she would serve a minimum of eight years before being eligible for parole. Yet many believed she had been lucky to escape with such a light sentence.
She had set Daniel on fire, which she later described as a “cataclysmic fireball”, with their children in the next room. It was a thick end to a doomed relationship.