Sitting in a red leather booth at Bill’s Truck Stop in North Carolina, Brian Shipwash remembers that Molly Martens had a “deranged claim” to Jason Corbett’s children.
The judge presiding over a transatlantic custody battle between Marten and Corbett’s Irish family said he feared for the safety of the Limerick businessman’s children, Jack and Sarah, from the first day of the guardianship case he presided over in August 2015.
Shipwash, who has since resigned from his position as clerk of the Davidson County Superior Court, was presented with the case less than two weeks after Corbett was killed.
Within two days of her husband’s murder, Martens had filed for an emergency custody order on the grounds that she had been the children’s “mother” for nearly seven years. She had not adopted the children, but months before Corbett’s murder, a lawyer told the Martens family that they could seek “third-party” custody and thus attempt to take Jack and Sarah away from their father. She would have to prove domestic violence or her husband’s alcohol or drug abuse.
Over plates of fried flounder, turnip greens and candied yams, Shipwash recalls his first-hand impression of Molly Martens at the custody hearing.
“The whole scenario [of how Corbett died] In my opinion, it still seems to be planned and arranged. We don’t know what’s behind the scenes. Only two living people really know what happened. As far as my role goes, I just wanted to get the kids the hell out of the United States, put them on Irish soil and then let the court system, the justice system try to get them back,” he said.
“To be honest, I was shocked that the DSS (Department of Social Services, Child Care Division) placed the children in their care. I wasn’t afraid that she would hurt the children physically, but more psychologically I was afraid that she would hurt them. That’s why, when I ordered the children taken away from her, I placed a gag order on the lawyers on both sides so that they couldn’t tell their clients about my decision until the children were taken away from Molly. “We are in our custody.” said Mr. Shipwash, who is now retired and occasionally works as a private investigator.
“When I remember her behavior in court, what I remember most is that it was more betrayed by her attempt to get to the children. She had this crazy entitlement to the children. It was like this: How could the courts not rule in their favor? There was something called murder out there in which you are a possible suspect. Neither she nor Tom had been charged at the time of the guardianship. She issued an emergency detention order. I knew she had no point of view on this. And when it comes to my decision, I put a lot of emphasis on the fact that Jason wanted it [his sister] Tracey is supposed to raise Jack and Sarah in case something happens to him.
“For me as a judge, it was a case that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It was one of the most important cases I had heard. When trying to decide between right and wrong, there was really no choice but to place them the way Jason had wanted in his will. He had expressed his wish in his will that Tracey would be named guardian should anything happen to him.
“North Carolina law states that you must give great weight to the last wishes of the deceased. With that, Jason spoke from the grave, if you will: “This is who I want to look after my children for.”
“Molly wanted to adopt. There’s a reason Jason didn’t let them be adopted… I think he was waiting for the right time to return to Ireland with the kids, but that was all thwarted.
“She felt like she had laid enough of the groundwork to expose domestic violence and basically she could have her cake and eat it too. She was in the home she wanted. It was life insurance. She had the children she wanted. Everything was fine except for Jason.
“I think so personally [Martens’ father] Tom didn’t feel like Jason could fight as hard as he tried to fight to survive. Not only is there an intention to get him away from Molly, I mean there was a clear intention to finish it.”
Thomas and Molly Martens beat Corbett to death with a baseball bat and a brick, hitting him at least 12 times and shattering his skull.
“I feel for Sarah and Jack and what they have to endure. I’ve never said that before. Immediately afterwards, when we first became involved in the guardianship case, I met with Jack and Sarah in the judge’s chambers. I won’t lie to you. They say, ‘When can we go back to Molly’s?’ And I’m starting to think there’s no way that’s going to happen. I felt sorry for those kids because Molly was the only person they had a connection to… I knew the kids were confused.”
Shipwash said: “It was the first time I had dealt with a guardianship hearing involving a murder suspicion.”
He adjourned the guardianship case on a Friday evening and told the parties he would make a decision after the weekend. However, he checked everything over the weekend and issued an emergency decree on Sunday. Two police officers and two social workers were dispatched to the home of Molly Martens’ brother Bobby, where the children lived. They found Molly Martens lounging in Bobby’s pool. She was told to pack a bag of clothes for each child and say goodbye.
“It really wasn’t a difficult decision because of Jason’s will, but it was about strategically getting the kids out of the situation they were in. I remember the hearing was on a Friday, I took all the evidence and my research and took it home. I worded my order in a way that would silence the lawyers on both sides so that they couldn’t tell Molly in advance that I had ordered the children taken away from her. I was worried about what she would do if she found out.”
As Jack and Sarah were driven away in a black SUV, they were crying and confused. Behind them, on the driveway of Bobby’s house, Molly curled into a ball and screamed again.