Former prison officer Maria Costigan has recalled the moment she came face-to-face with the man who murdered her niece. WARNING: Graphic
Former prison officer Maria Costigan has recalled the moment she came face-to-face with the man who murdered her niece. WARNING: Graphic

‘Nearly s***t myself’: How I faced my niece’s killer

The axe-murderer was angrily prowling, back and forth, along the fence line.

On the other side, prison officer Maria Costigan was also walking the perimeter, performing her duties at the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Canberra.

The killer's aim was intimidation.

But Costigan wasn't going to give him the satisfaction.

He had already murdered her niece, Tara Costigan, in the most shocking of circumstances. There was no way she was going to let him get the better of her now.

In 2015, Tara Costigan was cradling her newborn baby, when her former partner Marcus Rappel, broke into her house and murdered her in front of her two young sons.

Tara's sister Ricky and Ricky's partner were also home to helplessly watch the young mother take her last breaths.

The day before, Tara had applied for an AVO against Rappel.

 

Maria Costigan, ex prison guard, photographed in Canberra, ACT. Picture: Sean Davey.
Maria Costigan, ex prison guard, photographed in Canberra, ACT. Picture: Sean Davey.

It was a crime that devastated Tara's family and rattled Australia, shedding light on a flawed system, incapable of truly protecting its victims.

What no one could have predicted was the twist in the tragic tale that saw Maria Costigan work at the same prison Rappel was serving his 32-year sentence.

"We were exceptionally close. She was more like my daughter," Costigan told the On Guard podcast of her late niece.

Like all of Tara's family, Costigan still grieves Tara but in the raw aftermath of her murder, she sought the respite of work.

A month after her niece's death, the correctional officer returned to her job.

"I had to go back to work. There were so many things going on, and for me, I'm a busy person. I needed to keep busy.

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"So I went and saw the bosses out at the jail … They said it would be OK for me to come back to work but at any stage if I felt like I was going to crumble to contact them," she said.

"Everyone knew what had happened and everybody was mindful whenever they were moving Rappel, taking him to Health (a building for inmate medical care), or doing anything, that they were keeping an eye out for me.

"And it was OK in the beginning, it really was. But then things fell by the wayside," Costigan, 57, recalled.

"I thought I'd do OK when I first saw him when I went back to work after it had happened.

I said to myself, 'no, he's not the strong one here. I'm the strong one. I'm going to be fine. I'm going to do this.' And then I actually saw him and I near shit myself.

I just raced and got out of there, and I thought, 'wow, I'm not actually as strong as I thought I was'."

Tara Costigan and her former partner Marcus Rappel. Picture: Supplied
Tara Costigan and her former partner Marcus Rappel. Picture: Supplied

In the lead-up to her murder, Tara's family had become increasingly concerned about her relationship with Rappel. They hadn't witnessed signs of physical violence but his emotional and verbal abuse had escalated and he had begun sending offensive text messages to her extended family, including her elderly grandmother.

His vile behaviour of harassment only continued behind bars.

"He made an effort to intimidate me. Walking along the fence line, walking beside me, making comments about me being a 'baby stealer'.

While Rappel's allegations that Costigan is a 'baby-stealer' may seem bizarre to the rational, they are indicative of his inability to accept responsibility for his crime.

"He blamed me for him killing Tara. (He claims) I instigated it. I apparently convinced Tara to go to the police and get a DVO … I don't feel any blame whatsoever," Costigan said.

She recalled one incident when she was walking through the prison and Rappel suddenly appeared.

Axe murderer Marcus Rappel tormented Tara Costigan’s family before his fatal attack on his girlfriend. Picture: Facebook
Axe murderer Marcus Rappel tormented Tara Costigan’s family before his fatal attack on his girlfriend. Picture: Facebook

"He walked straight up behind me with a group of people that were leaving visits, and said, 'hey, how you going, Miss?' And I turned around and he was right behind me."

The language may sound innocuous but Costigan has no doubt Rappel was enjoying his game of cat and mouse.

"I think everyone just expected him to be moved, from the beginning, and they were surprised that he stayed there for as long as what he did."

After six years in Canberra corrections, Costigan retired and relocated to Goulburn.

The Alexander Maconochie Centre in Canberra was Maria’s place of work for several years.
The Alexander Maconochie Centre in Canberra was Maria’s place of work for several years.

She is currently working in security and is unsure of whether she'll return to corrections.

Coincidentally, Rappel was also moved from the Alexander Maconochie Centre and placed in notorious Goulburn prison.

For Costigan, nothing could replace her beloved niece, but she has been able to take small satisfaction from Rappel being dealt his own serve of 'prison justice'.

 

 

"He had a really bad flogging in Canberra jail, and he got into another fight with another gentleman using shivs (makeshift stabbing weapons used in prison).

"There's a ranking in each area of the jail. And he didn't live by that ranking. He wanted to do things his way.

"And he was making a lot of enemies of a lot of people that were quite high up," she said.

"I think things were getting to the point where there wasn't any place in Canberra jail where he was safe. So he was moved out to Goulburn jail and within the first month there he was flogged … I don't waste any energy on him, positive or negative … but I hope it hurt."

 

 

 

Catch up on more episodes of On Guard below:

 

 

Originally published as 'Nearly s***t myself': How I faced my niece's killer



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