“My darling husband,” wrote Vicky Soteriou in the birthday card she gave her husband Chris. ''Thank you for loving me so much, your wife who adores you.''
It was the afternoon of January 2, 2010, and that night Vicky, Chris's wife of almost 17 years and mother of his three children, would try to kill him. It happened so fast.
One moment Chris and Vicky were strolling arm in arm to their car down a dark Fitzroy off-street, having enjoyed a raucous dinner with five friends for Chris's 44th birthday at Greek restaurant Alpha Ouzeri in Brunswick Street. The next moment a man in a hoodie pulled on Chris's hair from behind and slashed his throat with a knife. Chris felt the blood gush from the wound, but as he gasped "run" to his wife and then ''I'm dying'', she just stood there, watching impassively, from a few metres away.
Then the stranger was on top of Chris, stabbing him six times in the chest, abdomen and arm. The pain gave way to a soft light washing over him and he felt this was it. ''Vicky. Just look after the kids ... I love you,'' he pleaded, looking up at his wife, before stumbling backwards against a fence.
A new book about the case, Love You to Death: A Story of Sex, Betrayal and Murder Gone Wrong by crime writer Megan Norris, tells for the first time the full story of the crime that shocked Melbourne: how the glamorous, pampered housewife from Watsonia North plotted with her lover, the stranger in the hoodie, 48-year-old Ari Dimitrakis, to bump off her wealthy engineer spouse. If it wasn't for an incredible strike of luck, she might have succeeded.
At the very moment Dimitrakis was plunging the knife into Chris's chest, two off-duty doctors, Christopher O'Loughlin and Kate Bryan, happened to be parking at the other end of the street. Hearing a commotion, they went to investigate. As they approached, a woman screamed and a man shouted, ''I've been stabbed!''
O'Loughlin yelled, ''Mate, the cops are coming!" causing Dimitrakis to drop the knife and flee in a dark hatchback idling nearby. The doctors called 000 and staunched the blood pouring out of Chris Soteriou's deep wounds. Vicky, dressed in high heels and a sparkling purple Christian Dior party dress, was all over the place: one minute screaming, the next mute and in the foetal position. When the paramedics arrived, they checked her blood pressure and heart rate. Both were fine.
Chris was not so good. The knife cut deep into his liver, punctured his lung and ruptured his diaphragm but, incredibly, missed his windpipe, heart and carotid arteries. He was rushed to Royal Melbourne Hospital, two kilometres away; he lost litres of blood. For days he hovered between life and death, while Vicky played the shocked wife at his hospital bed.
At first, she insisted to family and police it was a mugger; later, she suggested the culprit might be a disgruntled employee of Chris's. She told police the attacker was short and fat (Dimitrakis was tall and thin).
While Chris was still in an induced coma, a neighbour and friend of the couple, Jack Tainsh, inadvertently gave the police investigation a huge boost. While comforting Vicky, he innocently asked her whether the tall, slim man with a pony tail, who had been hanging around outside the Soterious' house on and off over an extended period - some of the neighbours had taken down number plates and photos of the "weirdo" - might be responsible for the attack. Perhaps realising the police would soon canvas neighbours and then grill Dimitrakis, Vicky struck first.
On January 13, she went to Richmond police station and dropped the bombshell that she'd been having an affair. She said three years earlier she'd bumped into an old boyfriend, Ari Dimitrakis, from before she'd married Chris. Over coffee, she'd told him she wasn't happy with her marriage and eventually friendship had turned into an affair.
She claimed she had tried to end the relationship but he refused to accept it was over. Vicky was aware he had been stalking her house for two years. She admitted meeting him at 6pm the night of the attack at a park near her house. Naturally, the focus of the investigation turned sharply towards Dimitrakis.
On January 15, three days after Chris woke from his coma, Vicky went to his bedside. ''Guess what?'' Chris announced. ''John [Chris's brother] says the police are closing in on the people who did this to me. They're going to arrest them very soon. That's great news, isn't it?''
Vicky turned pale, fled the room and called police. Back at Richmond station, she told Detective Senior Constable Matt Graefe, ''Basically I've just come to confess that Ari and I organised it.'' When asked to elaborate, she said it was ''a long story'' and that the plan had been made a day or two before the attack. She claimed that she didn't want Chris dead, but that Ari ''kept forcing me. He just kept mentioning it and mentioning it. And I just thought, 'Yeah, okay.' "
Vicky asked to go home to her twins but was reminded she was under arrest and was placed in a cell. When Chris's brother John and detectives arrived at the hospital to tell him his wife was a prime suspect in the attack, he threatened to jump out the window. "I want to die," he sobbed. "I have nothing left to live for."
By the time of her Supreme Court trial 20 months later, Vicky's sense of self-preservation had kicked in.
She pleaded not guilty to attempted murder. Her lawyer argued that there was no DNA connecting Vicky to the stabbing, and claimed that Dimitrakis had acted alone out of infatuation for her and that he had stalked her and threatened her family.
The prosecution argued Vicky was a willing participant in the affair because she had sent Dimitrakis more than 2000 often-lurid text messages and left 64 voicemails in just two months leading up to the crime. ''You drive, and I'll blow you all the way,'' she "sexted" once, and on another occasion: "I need your flesh inside me, baby."
Before her twins were a year old (Vicky and Chris also have a teenage daughter), Vicky was going out during the week and not returning home until 3am or 4am. Unbeknown to Chris, she was meeting Dimitrakis.
Dimitrakis, a casual limousine driver, was living with his wife, Irene, a senior executive, in a two-storey home at Donvale, owned by his mother-in-law (the couple, who don't have children, lived in the home's lower level). Irene told police that from mid-2009, her husband had become cold, detached and moody, and would denigrate her in front of others. She had married a non-smoking fitness freak who didn't drink or take drugs, but now he came home late, smelled of alcohol and showed erratic behaviour suggesting drug use.
Dimitrakis later testified at Vicky's trial that, by late 2008, he and Vicky would meet, mostly at night, two or three times a week, and have sex in cars and hotels, but their heated quarrels had already drawn police attention. On the afternoon of July 9, 2009, police were called to an Eltham street after locals reported a couple (Vicky and Dimitrakis) having a loud argument in a parked car, and only eight hours later, they were called again when they had a shouting match at an intersection. On August 4, 2009, the police came across Vicky and Dimitrakis half-naked in a black Caprice, parked near Vicky's home. Vicky told police it was consensual and police told them to move on.
That month, Dimitrakis's wife, Irene, confronted her husband, saying she suspected him of having an affair, which he denied. But after her sister, Julie, discovered explicit texts on his BlackBerry, a fierce row ensued and Irene told him the marriage was over.
Ari Dimitrakis's life then descended into a fog of drugs and drink, with threats to Vicky that he would kill himself if she didn't leave Chris. On December 11, he checked in to an Eltham hotel and told Vicky he was going to kill himself. She drove to meet him but still refused to run off with him. After she left, he started drinking bourbon and wine and swallowing handfuls of paracetamol. A cousin he rang called an ambulance, which took him to Box Hill Hospital, where he was admitted to a psychiatric unit for a brief time.
Dimitrakis told police that Vicky had started suggesting ways to kill Chris - from poisoning to shooting, to hiring a hit man - for 10 months leading up to the attack. Eventually, she told him to stab Chris on his birthday and make it look like a robbery gone wrong.
On the night of the attack, it was Vicky who drove and chose to park at the far end of Rose Street. Chris Soteriou and the couple's friends said that Vicky never normally drove when they went out as a couple, and they usually tried to park close to the restaurant. Chris was not a drinker, yet she plied him with drinks all night from wine she had brought and two cocktails she insisted he skol. She had flirted heavily, grabbing his crotch in the car on the way to the restaurant and purring, ''You're going to get lucky later on.''
It emerged that Vicky and Dimitrakis had got tattoos of one another's names, hidden from their spouses under their wedding rings. Vicky had an "A" tattoo on her neck under her hair, and Dimitrakis had a Vicky tattoo on his groin and a "V" tattoo across his chest that he told his wife referred to a soccer team. Tellingly, early in her marriage, Vicky had convinced Chris to get a matching tattoo with her: hearts and each other's names on their groins.
Dimitrakis claimed he had been so drug-addled that he couldn't remember the stabbing. But he had remembered Vicky handing him a knife, wrapped in a towel, in a park earlier that day. The knife was later found to match a brand from her kitchen.
He claimed she told him she and Chris would leave the restaurant at about 11pm, would be driving her husband's black Nissan and would park a few blocks from the restaurant. She had said, "I love you. I'll see you tonight,'' as they parted.
Dimitrakis is serving a minimum five years for intentionally causing serious injury; he did a plea deal in exchange for testifying against Vicky. He will be out of jail next year.
A jury found Vicky to be the mastermind of the stabbing. She was sentenced to a minimum of nine years and is not due for release until 2020.
Four years have passed and Chris Soteriou, 48, is well, all things considered.
In an interview with Good Weekend at a Docklands cafe on a cold and grey Melbourne day, he proudly shows iPhone photos of his twins, now aged six, on holidays with him in Greece. He notices they are wearing one of each other's shoes. He laughs. ''Little rascals, I didn't even know.''
He is softly-spoken and friendly, with warm brown eyes. He is fit and broad-chested, but not tall. He speaks sombrely but directly about the bizarre fate that befell him.
Before the attack, Chris, who had migrated from war-torn Cyprus with his family aged 12 and grew up in working-class Reservoir, was a high-flying engineering consultant on the National Broadband Network rollout, with an annual income of $600,000. For the 2000 Sydney Olympics, he had been head of infrastructure for the main stadium.
He is now a more hands-off director of five businesses, including a loans company and reception centre in Melbourne and a daiquiri machine-leasing business in Greece. But he sees himself mostly as a stay-at-home dad to the twins, whom he walks to and from school every day.
The nightmares have subsided, and he has found a new love, Alex, a businesswoman and divorced mother of two adult children. He says she's ''a fitness fanatic, very spiritual, self-believer, very vocal, very independent. She's great with my kids, she's the most beautiful soul. We have lots of fun together.'' He says the twins ''consider Alex as their mum now''.
Asked about the physical effects, without hesitation he lifts his chin to display an ugly horizontal scar seven centimetres across his neck. Under his shirt are long slashes, thick and thin, across his torso from Dimitrakis's knife and the surgeons' scalpels. But Soteriou says worse than nearly dying in the frenzied stabbing is the estrangement it caused from his oldest daughter, now 18.
She was just 13 at the time of the attack, and soon after Vicky's arrest sobbed hysterically to him on the phone: ''Mum's in jail, you have to help her to get out.''
During Chris's recovery, she chose to stay with her maternal grandparents and visited Vicky in custody.
Chris says his eldest daughter refused to speak to him for the next four years, and became deeply troubled. For the last few years, she has lived with another family. She is now in year 12, studying for her Victorian Certificate of Education.
Father and daughter used to be close: attending AFL games to watch their beloved Carlton, and sharing long bike rides around Melbourne. ''I've lost my daughter,'' Chris says. ''She was such a great student, she was excelling. We had a great relationship,'' he says.
In January this year, father and daughter had a breakthrough meeting, supervised by a counsellor, but it ended badly. His daughter broke down. ''She said that I'm the reason why her mum's in jail and she wished I'd got killed.''
He says that she later emailed him an apology, but there has been no further contact and Chris won't push it. He wants her to know that he loves her and he understands why she would feel confused. He sees her as the biggest victim of all.
His daughter is now an adult and can choose whether to see him or not, he says. He can't see it happening soon, but hopes that one day she will come around. What would he say to her today? ''I just hope you're in good spirits and take care, always thinking of you. My door's always open.''
Chris Soteriou has joined the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee, set up by Victoria's Attorney-General, Robert Clark, to give victims a greater say on issues such as abolition of suspended sentences. Chris told reporters outside the court that he was satisfied with his attackers' sentences. He does not believe he will be in danger when Vicky and Dimitrakis are released.
For four years, Chris has battled with Vicky's family against their push for Vicky to have access in prison to the twins, suing Vicky for civil damages over the attack (he won $2.4 million) and disputing ownership of an investment property from the marriage; the latter case is ongoing.
The court cases have cost him more than $300,000, he says, but also years of stress, and he wants to help other people. He says going through the courts, sometimes for years after you've suffered violence, can feel like being violated again.
Regarding the knife attack, the key question explored in the book is: why? Why would Vicky, an immaculately groomed Watsonia North housewife with a big house, three children, no need or desire to work, designer clothes, a new Mercedes, overseas trips and nights out at top restaurants want to kill Chris Soteriou, a successful businessman with a dazzling future who spoiled her rotten?
She had her hair done three times a week, had a personal trainer, and Chris gave her $1000 a week spending money. Chris scoffs at the claims of grand passion made by Vicky and Dimitrakis in court. He thinks the motive was pure greed on Vicky's part and that Dimitrakis, a convicted thief (he had prior convictions for welfare fraud and theft), was merely, as his own lawyer described him, a patsy.
''He was a pawn. Dumb and dumber, that's what the cops called him,'' says Chris.
With Chris gone, Vicky could have reaped more than $6 million, including $2 million in life insurance, plus property, other assets and cash. Chris tells Good Weekend that as recently as a year after the attack, he hadn't fully believed Vicky had it in her to kill him. He clung to the possibility that Dimitrakis was the besotted, jealous assassin and Vicky was an innocent victim of blackmail.
What changed his mind was another lover of Vicky's, Tony Aleksovski, telling police that in 2007, Vicky had offered him $50,000 to kill her husband. Chris says that it was around then (2007) that he had withdrawn from a plan to invest $2 million to build 40 apartments on land that Vicky's family owned in their native Greece. Chris's theory goes that Vicky was angry with him for rejecting this money-spinner for her beloved relatives. She didn't love Chris, so after she met Aleksovski, a disability pensioner whom she'd met at Preston Market, she looked for a way to ''knock me off''.
Aleksovski thought Vicky was joking and told her that if she wasn't happy with her husband, to divorce him. The affair ended. But years later, after he heard of Vicky's attempted murder charge, he contacted police and told them the story.
Does Chris Soteriou think that Vicky ever loved him? There is a pause. ''Looking back now, I have to say no," he says. Was she the best actor in the world?
''I have to say yes. My family could see how destructive she was but I just chose not to. I was blind.
''She always dressed to kill. Every time she wanted something, she'd throw me into bed. Sex was her source of manipulation and that's what she did with Ari and that's what she did with Tony.''
Sometimes he blames himself for not seeing through her grand deception of the faithful wife, for not seeing Dimitrakis lurking in his own quiet suburban street. ''I blame myself for not being more responsive," he says. "I've achieved so much in business. Multibillion-dollar deals that I've worked on. My risk assessment has always been diligent and firm and correct but, in my marriage, I was just so ... blind.''
He says he is more disappointed than angry. ''I've never had an angry bone in my body. You have to forgive to move on. I can't control what happened, so why should I be angry about it? I'm still fortunate to be alive. I've lost my career. I could go back to it, but my life has changed. I have to raise the kids now and that is my number one priority.''
Incredibly, he has forgiven Vicky.
''I did it when I decided I've got to move on, when I met my new partner.''
But there are limits. ''I don't want to deal with Vicky. I don't want to know what she does. I don't want my kids going to jail [to visit her]. If she committed fraud and she was going to come back outside to us, that's fine. But she tried to kill me.''
Love You to Death: A Story of Sex, Betrayal and Murder Gone Wrong by Megan Norris (Five Mile Press) is out this week.
- The Age