Inside the tragic relationship of Drew Dax and his ‘slave’
ON JANUARY 11 2015, Henry Rose was asked by police officers which of the many stab wounds he inflicted on his long-time friend Drew Dax had actually been the fatal cut.
"I can't say the order of wounds ... I don't know. I can tell you that one wound killed him ... around his neck maybe ... the skin is soft there" he replied.
In 2001 I lived with Drew Dax. We became friends after meeting as volunteers at a community television station. He was smart, funny and kooky. I liked him.
We used to get a visitor. We called him "slave". Except for our other roommate, Leslie, who called him "swave". She did this for two reasons: The first was because she had speech impediment.
The second was because Drew instructed Henry to come over each week and lick Leslie's feet, then give her money. Leslie believed that Drew made Henry lick her feet because, as a gay man, submitting to a woman involved extra humiliation.
Once they were done, Henry and Leslie would come out of her room. Leslie would order pizza with the $50 her gave her, and we would all gather by the leadlight windows in the lounge room and watch re-runs of the original Prisoner TV series. Henry wouldn't speak unless spoken to. The pizza would come but Henry wouldn't take a slice until he was offered.
"Would you like some pizza, swave?
"Would you like a napkin, swave?"
And then Drew would end proceedings with: "Get the f**k out, f**got".
Henry would bow graciously, glow with satisfaction and leave.
Drew would cackle like a nasally witch. The pair would smile at each other as Henry left. A little in-joke. An enduring friendship.
Drew and I bonded as night-owls, as tragic bong-heads. We shared long nights by an electric heater, by the gurgling sounds of a bucket bong, under the high-ceilings of the former maids' quarters of a now-demolished late 19th century mansion we shared opposite Albert Park Lake in Melbourne. Drew told me all about "Slave".
In 1988, Drew was 17, homeless and broke, hanging around gay saunas and public toilet blocks where men had sex. One day he met a peculiar, sweet, 32-year-old man.
"He wanted to be beaten up and bossed around. I needed money, too, I wasn't speaking with my parents. A teenager with my own personal slave - it was all just so ... fabulous," Drew said.
And so it began. Drew had his own personal slave. He beat and whipped him, he sodomised him with a walking stick, walked on his testicles with football boots, burnt him with cigarettes, and once electrocuted him with a cattle prod.
Drew loved theatre. He said the main reason he enjoyed his relationship with Henry was because of the "performance side". But often Drew's fantasy and reality merged into one.
A few times, Henry called the police during their sessions.
A police report from 1988 reads:
"Defendant (Drew Dax) ... while under the influence of alcohol, defendant conducted a devil worshipping ceremony with victim ... Defendant aided by 16th Century church choir music, entered into a possessed trance and adopted the role of Satan demanding victim bow before him ... Defendant then cut victim across knife … Police attended, finding defendant in lounge room, still in trance and holding knife (sic)".
They had been playing a game. Henry had said stop. Drew didn't. Drew ended up with a criminal conviction.
At various stages in his life, Drew had been addicted to valium then pornography. Then he was prescribed antipsychotics. He drank a lot. But things had improved for Drew since his teenage years.
As a teenager, Drew spent time in a psychiatric ward. He was a voluntary patient, checking himself in after he became fixated with spending hours and hours in public toilets. He had been unable to stop himself sitting in cubicles and watching people defecate through a hole he had pierced with a pen in the wall.
Through the therapy he received on the ward, he'd resurface memories of being repeatedly sexually abused when he was younger.
He sued the perpetrator. He stopped watching people in toilets. He got a job as a tram conductor. In his spare time, he spent hours drawing. Eventually he went to art school. The anger remained and he did his best to channel it into creativity.
On some weekends, Drew placed a mop on his head, painted his face, put on his floral op-shop dress - covering it and the nanna knickers he placed around his ankles in fake poo. His name on these weekends was Miss Shitty, who spoke with a terrible, fake American accent.
He teamed up with the legendary alternative drag queen, the late, great, raucous Feral Beral, a long-time friend. Together they would tear Melbourne's cliquey and conservative late-90s club scene a new one, over and over; all the while becoming minor nightclub celebrities.
Miss Shitty, Drew said, was simply about "shocking people", on other days he said he was parodying mainstream drag. Sometimes he said his character was about "the joy of psychosis" or "cultural decay." At other times he said Miss Shitty was "a means to adventure" or a representation of the horrors of his childhood.
Miss Shitty was also self-exaggeration. In daily life, when Drew got "shitty" he became hysterical - rapidly. He flushed with rage. He would scream and wave his arms around and talk in strange metaphors. At other times Drew would be methodical, patient and cold in getting vengeance.
After we moved out of Albert Park, he stalked his real estate agent - picking flowers out of her front garden and stuffing them in her work letterbox. Not long after that he threatened his parents, telling them he would put them in a nursing homes where they "get kerosene baths".
Drew and I stayed in contact after we moved to different suburbs. One day I met up with him at the pornography store where he worked. He told me: "I don't want to see Henry any more," Drew explained, face flushed neck tense with visible vessels, "He's been talking about all this really messed-up stuff."
However, the pair did remain friends. Henry had also been self-harming at the time - apparently burning his own nipples with cigarettes. Drew was worried about him and ended up organising for Henry to see a doctor in Prahran.
The medical notes from Henry's visits to that Prahran doctor from around that time
read: "I asked Drew to torture me to death through the use of butchers' hooks and an electric saw, but I changed my mind and ran away. When I met him this week and asked him to cut off one of my nipples, he stated that he no longer needed me and had left me feeling devastated".
It's inconceivable now - as it was when I found out after 28 years of friendship had passed between Henry and Drew - that on a summer morning in January 2015, there was screaming, yelling, a struggle, then thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud, thud.
Henry stabbed Drew ten times with a knife in each hand inside the drab, brown-brick home in Caulfield South he'd inherited from his parents.
Police would arrive just before 3:30am, to find an overturned table, a broken wine glass, red wine all over the floor and Drew wearing a blue T-shirt and light grey vertical striped pants; slumped against the fridge and a cupboard in a pool of blood.
Henry was charged with murder.
A five day, trial-by-jury in the Victorian Supreme Court would follow.
Henry told police he and Drew had a consensual sadomasochistic relationship, but that arguments went on outside of it and that Drew was abusive to him.
The autopsy showed Drew had a blood-alcohol level of .22 the night he was killed and had not been taking his antipsychotic medication.
At court, Henry didn't testify. Instead his defence lawyers relied on the statement Henry gave to police: that Drew had been going ballistic at him for hours, eventually picking up a knife then he "lunged forward (at Henry) but he missed … I went to the drawer and I took out two knives, a large one and one it's, it's a bit smaller …. I lunged at him. I lunged and I got him."
Henry said he only killed Drew because was scared for his life. He said his instincts kicked in. He said it was not one of their sex games. The evidence of another neighbour that he heard Drew and Henry in an argument hours earlier was used to support Henry's claim. Neither prosecution nor the defence argued this was a BDSM session that had spiralled out of control. It was abuse, plain and simple, Henry's defence team said.
After five days of trial, Henry's barrister addressed the jury: "Why would a man, quite docile, simple, loving non-aggressive man, who adores somebody, pick up two knives and kill them?"
Twenty-four hours later, the jury returned with the verdict; 59-year-old Henry Rose of North Caulfield was not guilty of the murder nor the manslaughter of his friend, 44-year old-Drew Dax.
I miss Drew a lot. He was like nobody I'd met. A terrifying end to a difficult life. Drew was rarely happy. The terrible anxiety; that terrible sense someone had or was about to steal something from him. The feeling that started in his childhood never really went away. So I guess at least he's not suffering anymore.
I know Henry would be missing Drew, too. Once the verdict was announced, he was free to go and he returned home, alone.
Luke Williams is a journalist and author of the Ice Age: A Journey into Crystal Meth Addiction.