Australian man slaughters his wife, grandchildren and daughter with ax

An Australian man was charged Tuesday with hacking his wife and two grandchildren to death and badly wounding his daughter in an ax attack that has shocked Australia.

John Walsh, 69, did not enter a plea and was ordered to be held in custody when he appeared in court briefly on three charges of murder and one of attempted murder stemming from Monday's attack in Cowra, 155 miles (250 kilometers) west of Sydney. He will return to court next Monday.

He faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Investigators had few clues to the motive of the attack, which took place in the house where Walsh and his wife Mabel Walsh, 52, often looked after their grandchildren - 7-year-old Kevin Hodges and his sister Jaime Hodges, 5 - while their mother Shelley Walsh, 31, went to work as a police officer.

"We're all at a bit of a loss. We will get to the bottom of it," said New South Wales state police Commissioner Andrew Scipione.

John Walsh was arrested without incident at a motel in the town of Hay, 258 miles (415 kilometers) west of Cowra, about six hours after the attack, police said.

"One can only say that he's bearing up as well as anyone in that situation," defense lawyer Matthew Lees told reporters in nearby Deniliquin where the court hearing occurred.

Paramedics who were called to the Cowra house Monday found the three victims' bodies.

The children's mother was allegedly attacked as she returned to the house, and fled to a neighbor's home bleeding from a deep gash on the side of her head.

Her estranged husband, Darrell Hodges, said he was devastated by his children's death, yet the reality of the tragedy had not sunk in.

"I'm still waiting for someone to come and switch the remote and turn the movie off, because that's what it feels like - someone's bad movie," Hodges told Seven Network television Tuesday.

Hodges, who lives north of Sydney, said he had not seen his children in six months but spoke to them by telephone regularly.