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.