Unmaking a Murder

Unmaking a Murder
the mysterious death of Anna-Jane Cheney
by Graham Archer


“The presumption of innocence is one of those hypocrisies we subscribe to because it’s a fine ideal. Practically it’s a myth.”

When I bought this book, the sales assistant noted the title and asked – “how can you unmake a murder?”

With regard to this book I couldn’t answer. I was unfamiliar with the story it reports.

I bought it because it seemed to be another account of justice gone wrong – of an innocent suffering at the hands of an inept legal system, continuing the theme of a lot of the true crime I’ve  read, heard and seen in recent months.

Harry Keogh found his fiancée, Anna-Jane Cheney, dead in the bath, a victim of drowning. All initial investigations pointed to accidental death, so why was Harry charged with murder and eventually convicted? And why after a long 20 years was he freed from jail with his conviction quashed?

The cause of Ann-Jane’s death, and Keogh’s involvement in it, were determined by forensic evidence presented by Dr Colin Manock. He made the claim there were bruises on her ankles/shins that indicated grip marks. He insisted she had been pulled under the water by her feet, and held until she drowned.

Subsequent investigation raised strong doubts about the presence of those bruises with other examiners failing to find any evidence of them in tests of the tissue samples taken from the “bruise” areas. Also, the value of alleged photographic evidence was diminished because, against usual practice, only black and white photos were taken instead of colour.

Manock became a man of controversy,  apparently unqualified for the position he held. Throughout his career, his evidence resulted in many questionable murder convictions as well as exonerating others who it seemed likely had committed crimes. His failings were eventually partly exposed when his findings of death by natural causes in cases of child abuse, came into question.

His career and his alleged failing became the subject of significant journalistic investigations, one of which involved the author if this book when he worked on a TV current affairs show.

To answer the sales assistant’s question, the way a murder is unmade – is through finding there was no murder. But the process of proving there was no murder in this case, despite the obvious shortcomings in the evidence that led to conviction, took around 20 years, thanks to the political opposition of both legal and South Australian governmental agencies, including (as in the Tasmanian case in the previous post) the highest level of State politicians.

Once again, despite the author writing in a very readable style, and presenting a very interesting case, it wasn’t an easy book to read, for the very same reason I mentioned when writing about Southern Justice. I repeat that impression here:

The implication …  grows increasingly disturbing, challenging any faith held in the justice system. Each section took time to process, to come to terms with the realisation that those we ought to trust most are not necessarily deserving of that trust.  Reading the book stirred a variety of emotions, frustration, anger, despair – how can such an obvious miscarriage of justice be allowed to happen and be allowed to continue for so many years afterwards

Unmaking A Murder exposes a stark example of political expediency undermining justice, where the innocent have no recourse for the wrongs done to them by a privileged legal and political brotherhood, intent on covering their own backs and hiding their mistakes, no matter what the cost to others outside their particular cabal.




Something Rotten in the State of Tasmania

Southern Justice, by Colin McLaren

Some time late on Australia Day (26th January) 2009, Bob Chappell disappeared from his yacht moored in Sandy Bay, Hobart, Tasmania.
The next day the yacht, Four Winds, seemed to be sinking. Police boarding the boat found it was taking on water. They traced one of the owners, Sue Neill-Fraser, and discovered that her partner Bob had been on the yacht but was now missing.

The presence of blood suggested there had been violence below deck.

Before long Sue Neill-Fraser became the prime (and only) suspect in the murder of her de-facto husband and was later found guilty of clubbing him to death with a large wrench, winching his body from below deck, then dumping him somewhere at sea.

The evidence that made her the suspect, was that she lied to police about some of her actions on the date of the murder. These “lies” were told during an interview she gave straight after hearing of her partner’s apparent death. No consideration was given of the possibility her memory was affected by the shock she inevitably experienced after being told the news.

Lies or confusion?
Police chose to believe it was lies.

And yet, none of those lies actually had any substantive relevance to anything associated with the case.

souther justiceSouthern Justice examines the case and its many short comings. Former detective Colin McLaren was asked by film maker Eve Ash to look at the evidence she had collated about the case over the past several years.
Ash had previously documented the story in a film, Shadow of Doubt.
McLaren was invited to review the collection of evidence for a newer documentary series Undercurrent that has recently screened on TV in Australia.

McLaren’s initial reluctance to get involved gave way to a commitment to find the truth after he’d seen the details of the intriguing case.

“I didn’t care a hoot who killed Bob Chappell, as long as the facts and circumstances supported the theory of who was responsible. If I could prove Sue was guilty, by way of my own reckoning, I would be just as satisfied as if I proved her innocence. I had no loyalty to anyone involved in the case. All I was seeking was the truth.” (Colin McLaren)

The “fact” that she used a wrench to brutally bash her husband to death became a key part of the narrative told in court. Even though no wrench of sufficient size had ever been known on the boat. No wrench was ever found. And Bob’s body remained missing, not allowing any examination to determine how he’d actually died.

There was also no evidence that the winch and the ropes that she’d allegedly utilised to remove the body from below deck had been used on the night of the murder.
McLaren found quite a lot of evidence that another egress point (a skylight) was the likely way that Bob’s body had been taken from below deck. However that exit would require more than a slightly built middle-aged woman to lift a full grown man onto the boats exterior. And that didn’t fit the preferred narrative the police had created.

McLaren has a very readable style and sets out his information clearly and convincingly. The book is as much about his personal investigation, not only of the evidence of the original case, but where that evidence leads him – seeking out things that the police missed (avoided?). He also looks further into things that were found by the police but were considered irrelevant and therefore ignored. McLaren discusses why so much rejected evidence potentially had significant relevance and could have changed the direction of the investigation and widened the pool of suspects to characters more likely to be involved than Sue Neill Fraser.

Despite McLaren’s style and  the engaging nature of the book, I didn’t find it an easy read. The implication of what McLaren shows grows increasingly disturbing, challenging any faith held in the justice system. Each section took time to process, to come to terms with the realisation that those we ought to trust most are not necessarily deserving of that trust.  Reading the book stirred a variety of emotions, frustration, anger, despair – how can such an obvious miscarriage of justice be allowed to happen and be allowed to continue for so many years afterwards.

This case is only one of many possible miscarriages of justice that I’ve learned about recently, and while one or two of the others have a degree of ambiguity or uncertainty, this case leaves me in no doubt at all that either incompetence, corruption, or a blend of the two has played a part in seeing an innocent woman jailed for a lengthy time; with all attempts to right the wrong hitting a wall of bureaucracy and perhaps the self-interest of face-saving.

That bureaucratic involvement goes to the top levels of Tasmania’s government. After McLaren and Ash gave the fruit of their investigation to the state’s Premier, Attorney General and Solicitor General, the request for consideration of the evidence was rebuffed. Then, almost straight away, the police applied pressure on the investigators, raiding the premises of the film production company and a lawyer who had been helping with the case. Charges were laid accusing them and witnesses who had been helping them, of “perverting the course of justice”. McLaren estimates that it has cost the police and courts millions of dollars to pursue those highly questionable charges against those trying to find the truth about Bob Chappell’s murder and Sue Neill-Fraser’s innocence..

This particular case has been the subject of at least three books, a film, a six part TV series and several stories on shows like 60 minutes. Sue Neill-Fraser’s situation has also caught the attention and support of politicians, and senior legal figures, and yet for so long there has been a refusal to face up to the investigative failures that led to an innocent woman being imprisoned for almost a decade, with more than another decade still to serve.

At the end of 2017 an application to have the case appealed was presented to the court. The presiding judge yesterday (21 March 2019) ruled that the appeal could go ahead.

Meanwhile many are calling for a Royal Commission to investigate miscarriages of justice like this one, and the problematical justice system that allows (causes?) them.


See also: https://wrongfulconvictionsreport.org/category/sue-neill-fraser/

Another Miscarriage of Justice?

Last night I saw the final episode of Undercurrent, a documentary series investigating the conviction and imprisonment of  Susan Neill-Fraser for the murder of her partner Bob Chappell.

Chappell had been working on his new yacht and stayed on board on the night of Australia Day 2009.  Bystanders saw the yacht seemed to be sinking and alerted authorities. After saving the boat, suspicions were aroused that a violent crime had been committed on board. Bob Chappell was missing and there has been no sign of him or his body since.

Police quickly looked at his partner as being the prime suspect.  Susan Neill-Fraser, a slightly built grandmother was alleged to have struck Chappell on the head with a wrench, winched his body from the lower deck via the main hatch, and disposed of it overboard, weighted down with a missing fire extinguisher. A detailed claim based on no body (therefore no wounds to suggest means of death) no explanation of why a wrench should be suggested as the weapon used, and on the likelihood that a middle-aged grandmother would have the strength to winch the body of a well-built man out of the boat by herself.

Undercurrent introduces former detective Colin McLaren to the investigation, and one of the first things he noticed in a photo of the crime scene was drips of blood on a bench seat immediately beneath a skylight – suggesting that Chappell’s body had been removed from the inside of the boat via that skylight, and not as according to the police report winched via the main hatch.

McLaren conducted a re-enactment in which two people successfully lifted a “body” of the same size as Chappell through that skylight.

Another disturbing aspect of the case was that a DNA sample found at the scene had been discounted as being a secondary transfer from a policeman’s boot. The sample was reportedly the size of a dinner plate, indicating the policeman had exceptionally large boots, or the  secondary transfer claim was false. The DNA was later found to belong to a homeless teenage girl, Meaghan Vass, who denied ever being on the yacht.

McClaren later tracked Vass (now in her twenties) down and attempts to obtain testimony from her made up a large part of the final two episodes. It was a difficult task that seemed to bear some fruit – until all of those involved in this new investigation were individually raided by the police, and either charged, or threatened with charges, of perverting the course of justice.

At the end of the series, Susan Neill-Fraser was still in jail, waiting for the result of her final appeal. That was over a year ago and the result of the appeal hasn’t yet been disclosed.

Accusations were made in court during that appeal, that the investigators and documentary makers had threated and bribed Vass to make a false statement about her being on the yacht the night Chappell went missing. Footage of the interaction between Vass and the investigators show that wasn’t the case. Further confirmation of her involvement (as per her original statement) will seemingly be provided in a 60 Minutes story to be screened on Sunday night.

In addition to the Undercurrent documentary, a previous film Shadow of Doubt was released about this case and 60 Minutes have done a number of earlier reports.

What makes this story relevant to my “book blog” is that I’ve become aware of three different books about the case and its inconsistencies.

Murder by the Prosecution by Andrew L. Urban

Death on the Derwent, by Robin Bowles

Southern Justice, by Colin McLaren

I haven’t had the chance to read any of them yet, but they are all now on my list of books to buy when I can afford it.

Two short, relevant videos.






The Case Against Adnan Syed

I’ve written several posts about Adnan Syed’s conviction and imprisonment for the murder of his former girlfriend Hae Min Lee.

Those posts have been about books and podcasts looking at the case.

Coming soon is a TV series from HBO.

I’m hoping that I’ll eventually get to see it. My best chance of doing so would be if it is released on DVD.

The Case Against Adnan Syed: what happened after Serial?

In a new docuseries, the case at the centre of the phenomenally popular podcast is brought back into the light with sensitivity and insight


Blackened Tanner by Ron Irwin


The principles of natural justice are based on three core rules.

The hearing rule provides the right to a fair hearing. When conducting an investigation, it is important that the person being complained against is advised of the allegations in as much detail as possible and given the opportunity to reply to them before any decision is made.

The bias rule requires that no-one be judge in his or her own case and that investigators and decision-makers act without bias or perception of bias in all procedures; where a person has preconceived opinions, a vested interest or personal or family involvement, they should not investigate the matter.

And the evidence rule provides that decisions must be based on logical proof and evidence, not on mere speculation.

When I set out to look at the cases involving Denis Tanner, I discovered that these principles of natural justice had all been ignored.

This is the beginning of Ron Irwin’s first chapter in his book Blackened Tanner.

Like Denis Tanner, the subject of the book, Ron Irwin had been a police officer in the Victorian police service.  He writes of a man who was identified as a murderer at an inquest into the death of his sister in law- but because there was insufficient evidence to put him to trial, was never given the opportunity to refute the claims made against him.

Denis Tanner and his family had to continue living within a community where he was seen as someone who had literally got away with the murder.

Irwin makes it clear there was something rotten in the state of Victoria, especially within the legal processes and their dealings with Denis Tanner.


Nice Girl. (Keli Lane Again)


Nice Girl was written by Rachael Jane Chin, who attended every day of the criminal trial against convicted “childkiller” Keli Lane.

Chin starts her book by saying,

While this book is written in a highly narrative style and some scenes have been fictionalised, all details including dates, names and events have been drawn directly from the transcript of the coronial inquest into the suspected death of Tegan between 2004 and 2006, news clippings, press releases, first-hand observation of Keli Lane’s 2009 arraignment, first-hand observations of ever day of the 2010 murder trial and each day’s transcript”

While that approach makes the book very readable, that “highly narrative style” and “fictionalised” scenes, effectively makes the book appear to me more like a novelisation of events than a straight objective account.

But then, I have to wonder how an objective account of this case could be told. What IS the truth ? And does anyone apart from Keli Lane have any idea what really happened to her new-born daughter Tegan?

First the basic KNOWN facts.

Between the ages of 17 and 24, Lane had two abortions and gave birth three times, all without the knowledge of her family and friends.

Only in the case of the first abortion did anyone close to her know, and that was her then boyfriend, the father of the unborn child.

A second pregnancy was also terminated.

Her third pregnancy went to term, and she gave birth to her first child, unknown to any friend or family member, after competing in a water polo final on that same day. Arrangements were quickly made for the baby’s adoption, and after a few days Lane returned home to her unknowing family. Her time in hospital coincided with her 20th birthday and her absence doesn’t seem to have caused any concern.

Her fifth pregnancy and the birth of her third child followed a similar path, with the baby being given up for adoption straight after the birth.

It was what happened with her fourth pregnancy and  the birth of her second child  that came back to haunt Lane, resulting in her murder conviction and an 18 year jail sentence. She left hospital with her baby girl (Tegan) who was never seen again. Keli claimed the baby had been given to Tegan’s natural father, but neither father or child have ever been found despite years of searching.

It was only during the adoption process for the third child that anyone realised there was a baby missing, and steps were started to investigate why.

A lot of the problems Lane faced  arose out of the lies she told over the years, trying to keep her family and friends unaware of the many pregnancies. That history of lies made everything she claimed about the fate of Tegan harder to believe, and it seems to those lies are the only “evidence” that led to her being convicted. The prosecution cleverly managed to include three charges of perjury, related to these lies, alongside the murder charge – a tactic that likely helped sway the jury on the more serious matter.

I remember when this case was a major news story, and while I didn’t know the detail, I was always doubtful of a charge of murder when the “victim” has never been proven to have been murdered, and could possibly still be alive.

Lane’s complicated, confusing story makes it hard to know for sure what actually happened but since learning more about the case through the ABC TV series Exposed (see previous two posts) and other sources, I’ve found more reason to doubt any justification of a conviction “beyond reasonable doubt”.

Consider the following:

  1. The judge presiding over the murder case said he wasn’t convinced the Crown had proven its case against Lane and “before he despatched the jury, he went as far as to suggest that a guilty verdict would be wrong” (see pdf at link below).
  2. Lane adopted out babies 1 and 3, so why would she turn to murder when it came to the child inbetween?
  3. Lane was offered immunity from prosecution if she revealed “the truth” about Tegan’s fate, but she stuck with the story she’s already told, despite the possible (later realised) outcome.
  4. Investigating police didn’t think they had a strong enough case to take it to court. “The detective who led the police investigation …reveal[ed] she was ‘shocked’ when Lane was found guilty” *.
  5. The prosecutor, who has prosecuted some of Australia’s most notorious criminals had also succeeded in some prominent cases that were later overturned. **  This perhaps shows how court cases can be a more of a contest between the skills of competing lawyers than a genuine assessment of evidence.
  6. Transgressing legal restrictions in his opening address, that prosecutor, Mark Tedeschi, presented a hypothetical account of how Keli murdered Tegan and disposed of her body near the construction site for the Olympic Park (being prepared for the upcoming 2000 Olympics). There was no evidence at all for that scenario, it was a fiction created by a Department of Community Services employee who had helped create the case. Tedeschi was ordered to withdraw that inadmissible account from the record of his opening address – but despite the judge’s advice, the jury had already heard it and couldn’t un-hear it. Because the account was withdrawn under instruction, Tedeschi now refuses to discuss his decision to use that tactic, because the story is no longer part of the official record.

Apart from the underhanded tactic mentioned in point 6 above, Tedeschi’s opening also targeted Lane’s moral character, to make up for the lack of actual evidence for a murder.

Rachael Jane Chin makes the following observation in her account of the trial, that Tedeschi’s opening address, rather than focusing on actual evidence of a murder, set out to portray Keli Lane as “a drunken slut”.

Chin notes that:

Between the ages of eighteen to twenty-four, Keli is known to have slept with four different guys…  If this number makes Keli a slut, then the average girl feels like she is being called a slut too. Also, despite the carefully picked jury, many are concerned that the fact she had pregnancies terminated is being used as evidence in a murder trial.

As Keli’s barrister Keith Chapple says in his opening address, maybe the only difference between Keli and the young men that she slept with, who people may not be so quick to judge, is that Keli can fall pregnant and have babies while they can’t”

This book, while mostly balanced in its reporting, finally seems to submit to the findings at the murder trial, concluding Keli Lane was a child-killer; probably putting far too much trust in a highly flawed legal system. The book is an excellent resource, but tells only part of the story.

I can’t recommend the Exposed series on ABC  highly enough. A lot more of the story (as the title suggests) is exposed within those three episodes especially the shortcomings of the court system.


See here for a pdf of a Women’s Weekly article about Keli Lane’s case https://www.boh.org.au/client_images/1809610.pdf




Further to Mark Tedesci’s record as a prosecutor.

** Tim Anderson and the Hilton Hotel bombing; Gordon Wood being found guilty for the murder of Caroline Burn.

I didn’t know much about the Tim Anderson case apart from it being the subject of a Roaring Jack song in the early 90s. I have a book about the Hilton bombing still on my to-be-read list.

The Gordon Wood case is another one I recall from the news. Another case that sounded dodgy from the little I’d heard about it. Basically Wood had been accused of throwing his girlfriend from The Gap, the cliff at the southern entrance to Sydney harbour, a favoured site for suicides. The accusation was that he’d literally “picked up his girlfriend and thrown her, spear-like, over the edge”. In my view, the strength require to do that always seemed to be beyond believability.

The reason for this claim was that Burn’s body was a significant distance from the bottom of the cliff. To me it always seemed more likely that she had jumped away from the cliff – a much more rational reason than giving Wood the strength to lift and launch her a considerable distance outwards. (see here for documentary and transcript http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/trial-and-error/3612532)