Last week I wrote a “prelude” related to The Stranger You Know. At that time I’d ordered the book online from a secondhand book seller. I think it would be long out of print, having been published in 1997.
The book has the subtitle: “The Mysteries behind the Kim Barry murder” and it gives details of events around the 1981 murder of Wollongong teenager Kim Barry.
Her headless and fingerless body was found in bushland immediately beneath the Jamberoo Lookout, south of Wollongong, NSW, from where it had been dumped.
Within this case there are two different stories. The police case states that Kim Barry left a Wollongong night club with Graham Potter. They went back to his flat, where Potter killed her and mutilated her body, possibly to make identification harder. Potter then dumped her body, and after a few days went into hiding.
Potter’s version attributes the killing and mutilation to two men who pushed their way into his home not long after he’d arrived there with Kim. He claims that while at the nightclub she had told him she was afraid of two men who had been following and harassing her. She went with Potter to his flat so she could tell him the full story. Not long after arriving home, Potter answered a knock on the door and the two men forced their way inside, demanding to speak to Kim alone.
Potter claims he went upstairs, and after hearing a lot of noise, he investigated and saw the men beside Kim’s body in the lounge room. The men threatened him to ensure his silence and then told him to return to the night club and act as if nothing had happened.
Hours later, Potter returned home assuming the men had taken Kim’s body away. The next morning however the men came back, revealing that her body had been placed in his spare bedroom. They then forced Potter into the bathroom to witness the mutilation of Kim’s body, then left him alone, telling him to dispose of her.
Not long after dumping Kim’s body and possessions at separate sites, her body was discovered and Potter went into hiding, later claiming he was fearful of another visit from the two men. He hoped that police would solve the killing, jail the men, and make it safe for him to return home. While away he eventually found out that the police were looking for him, so he returned home to reveal the truth and clear his name.
I recall that in the years after Potter’s murder conviction and sentencing, that there was some controversy about the case, and attempts were made by his family to promote Potter’s innocence. The book goes into Potter’s alternative story and the campaign to reverse the conviction in some depth. Some of the more prominent people brought on board by Potter had previously been involved in overturning Lindy Chamberlain’s conviction. They were persuaded that Potter was also innocent.
It seems the author had access to personal correspondence from Potter to his family, as well as various versions of the statements Potter made over the years regarding the events surrounding Barry’s murder. The author includes some of these letters as well as lengthy quotes from Potter’s accounts of his story, and mentions how they’ve changed over the years, seemingly to fit new evidence that had been uncovered. For example, Potter originally claimed that Kim had opened her purse to show him that she had no money to pay a taxi fare, and he was annoyed that he had to pay it for her.
Several years later her purse and other belongings had been found, and the purse contained 2 x two dollar bills (the exact amount that a friend of Kim’s had mentioned in interviews soon after the murder) so Potter’s later version changed to say he’d seen a dollar or two in her purse when she’d shown him the contents.
In my mind, the validity of Potter’s story hinges on claims of Kim Barry’s involvement in the drug world. Several stories about that involvement were presented with supporting witness testimony. However the reliability of those witnesses and their stories was found to be questionable, having close connections to Potter and his family.
Police could find no evidence that Kim had any involvement with drug use, drug trafficking or any other connection to illicit drugs.
Other questionable parts in Potter’s story relate to the time he was ‘in hiding”. He said he had flown from Hobart to Christchurch in New Zealand, so had no idea the police were looking for him. He later gave a detailed account of places he’d been, jobs he’d done and people he’d met. The majority of those details were easily proven to be untrue, casting doubt on him going to New Zealand at all, and thereby undermining his claim to have not been aware of Australian media reports about police wanting to question him.
It would be so easy to comment on many other aspects of the case and address the potential strengths and seeming weaknesses of Potter’s claims, but I don’t want to end up rewriting the whole book as a blog post.
Potter was released from jail after a relatively short time, considering the brutality of the murder, and I recall seeing him not long afterwards at a shopping mall.
Two decades after his release, he is now listed by police as Australia’s most wanted man, for reasons separate from the Kim Barry murder. In recent years he has allegedly been involved in major drug crimes and conspiracy to murder. While on bail for charges related to these crimes, he disappeared, with occasional reports of sightings in places ranging from Griffith NSW, up to places in Queensland.
Was this later crime involvement a reflection of the kind of man Potter has always been? Or was it a result of his time in jail and the kind of people he befriended while incarcerated?
I suggest the first option is the case, and Potter has racked up a lengthy list of victims, starting with Kim Barry, her parents and brother, then including his own family and wife who also suffered significantly through their misplaced trust in their son and husband.
For an overview of events see here: