I’ve had a couple of Robin Bowles books for a while, but this is the first I’ve read. I’m not sure why I haven’t started any of the others yet, but this one gives me clear encouragement to do so.
The first book of hers that I bought was Death on the Derwent, about the disappearance of Bob Chappell and the subsequent conviction of his partner, Sue Neill-Fraser for his murder.
When I bought it I’d only recently finished Colin McLaren’s book Southern Justice, and the TV documentary Undercurrent about the same case, so I probably needed a break from it before starting Bowles’ book on the same subject.
I found this book on the weekend while I was looking for one about the Belanglo Forest “backpacker murders”. I found the book I was looking for, and for some reason I decided to get this one too. I’m not sure why, but I’m glad that I did.
It’s a book that I was reluctant to put down, even though my work day sadly made that necessary.
Bowle’s account is a well paced, well constructed journey through her research and investigation into the disappearance of Peter Falconio and the attempted abduction of his girlfriend Joanne Lees.
She interviewed most of the major players in the investigation as well as a number of meetings with Bradley Murdoch, the man who stood trial and was eventually convicted of Falconio’s murder, visiting him in jail while he was awaiting trial.
The official story is that Lees and Falconio were driving between Alice Springs and Darwin. According to Lees their trip was interrupted when the driver of a white 4WD truck pulled alongside and warned them about a problem with their Kombi van.
While Falconio was checking their vehicle, Lees heard a loud bang and was then confronted by a man with a handgun beside her. She was bound and bundled into the man’s truck, but somehow managed to escape and hide in the scrub alongside the road.
Falconio has never been seen since.
There are many inconsistencies in that official story. These are addressed in Bowles’ book. One that stands out to me is that Lees described her attacker as a man of average height and build, with longish hair.
Bradley Murdoch, the man eventually found guilty of the murder of Falconio and the attempted kidnapping of Lees, is six feet five tall (approx. 195cm) who always had closely cropped hair.
The assailant also reportedly had a blue healer dog as a companion – Murdoch’s had a dalmatian, a dog of distinctly different appearance.
Although Lees was reportedly pushed into the truck along side the assailant’s dog, no trace of dog hair was found on her clothing, despite both healers and dalmatians being notorious hair shedders.
Lees also claimed to have escaped by crawling through a gap in the truck seats, and out across the covered back tray, dropping from the rear of the truck onto the road. No trucks of the type described were found with that access from the cab to the rear tray.
These and other details in this book bring into question the official story, and left me in no doubt that Murdoch is probably in jail for a crime he didn’t commit.
A podcast including interview with Robin Bowles about the case. [The presenters of this podcast include his warning: “please be advised this episode contains graphic content”].
I have another two books about this case and will be interested to see how two different authors approach this case.
One minor quibble (or puzzle) – Bowles gives a story of the difficulty she had finding the Dymock’s bookshop in George Street Sydney, where Lees had worked prior to the journey she took through Central Australia with Peter Falconio.
I was very familiar with the shop. I was a frequent visitor to it when I lived and worked in Sydney, and it was in a very prominent central location, easy to find. And the description she gives of the shop after she eventually found it isn’t of the main Dymock’s store which had a wide display window and street level access to the main shop area.
Her description seems more like the Angus and Robertson book shop that used to be in the Pitt Street mall, parallel to George Street. The A & R Shop had a street level display window, but the shop itself was accessed from the mall via descending stairs.
I had also been a frequent visitor to A & R during the late 90s.
I have vague recollection of a secondary Dymocks closer to Circular Quay, but can’t remember whether that one was in George Street, but I think that one was also a street level store, not one accessed by stairs.