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:
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)
I posted the first two parts of this TV series a few days ago. I think this part is perhaps the most important. The YouTube video I originally posted is no longer available. Hopefully access to this episode isd still available via ABC Iview.
One of the (many) disturbing things about this case shown in the video is the response from then Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, related to Lane’s sexual activity.
Nicholas Cowdery QC told the program he believed Lane was not a threat to the general community because there was no risk she would harm other children.
“She seemed to be a bit of a risk to the virile young male portion of the community,” Mr Cowdery said.
“That’s not grounds for putting her in prison, of course.”
A day or two after the episode was screened he felt the need to come out with an apology for the highly inappropriate comment. If that was the kind of juvenile, schoolboy sniggering going on in the mind of one of the highest legal representatives in the State… ?
Need I say more, apart from mentioning the revulsion I felt at seeing the expression on his face when he made the comment?
A related aspect of the case, associated with prosecutor Mark Tedeschi, will be addressed in an upcoming post about the book Nice Girl.
I’ve had questions about Cowdery’s attitudes to other cases I’ve seen addressed in recent documentaries, and wonder why he was so confident that Keli Lane had such a strong murder case to answer, while the case against Chis Dawson, suspected of the murder of his wife Lyn, wasn’t strong enough.
I’ve been watching an excellent series on ABC TV about the Keli Lane case.
Lane was convicted of murdering her new born baby, Tegan, and so far has served around half of her 18 year sentence.
Lane was found guilty despite there has never been any proof that her baby daughter was killed. It was a case built entirely on circumstantial evidence combined with an overdose of presumption.
I have a book about the case on order (see left), but wanted to post the following link because I’m not sure how long the ABC will have access to the programme through their “iview”.
I’m also unsure about the accessibility of the video outside of Australia.
Keli Lane has always maintained that she handed over the newborn to the baby’s natural father soon after the birth. That man has never come forward and police efforts to find him failed. However, as the TV series reveals those efforts were possibly not as exhaustive as they ought to have been.
See also: https://www.whimn.com.au/talk/news/why-i-think-keli-lane-should-not-be-in-prison/news-story/069a09c79589645c48de5bfa91e4ca0f an article written by Dr Xanthé Mallett, a forensic anthropologist and criminologist.
Clive Small was formerly a NSW Assistant Commissioner of Police. He co-wrote Evil Life with Tom Gilling who later joined with Terry Jones to write The Griffith Wars, a book I have mentioned previously. Both books cover some of the same territory, but Evil Life gives a far wider view of the ‘ndrangheta, (Calabrian Mafia) in Australia, starting early in the 20th Century cane fields of Queensland and progressing to the present day.
One of the more disturbing aspects is the degree of political influence this criminal organisation has had, including their ability to get members of parliament elected. Neither of the major Australian political parties can claim the historical, higher moral ground when it comes to relationships and attitudes to this organised crime group.
Convicted ‘ndrangheta members have often received underwhelming sentences for serious crimes and in many cases have been acquitted on appeal despite strong evidence of their guilt. Politicians, many police officers and at least one judge have been found to have questionable in their relationships with those they were supposed to be bringing to justice.
An additional point of interest in this book is the inclusion of Graham Potter in the criminals mentioned with links to Mafia activity.
While there are a lot of interesting details given within the book, particularly when covering familiar topics (Griffith, Graham Potter, and other incidents and identities I recall from past news reports), it wasn’t always easy reading. It was hard work at times wading through countless Italian names, many of which were similar, and at times identical.
But it’s not specific details that make this book worthwhile, it’s the bigger picture that Small and Gilling bring to light, of related major criminal groups driving the majority of the illegal drug trade, as well as the political/legal apathy, expediency and at times corruption, that enable them to continue flourishing.
(interview with Clive Small from http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lifematters/evil-life—the-calbrian-mafia-in-australia/7122112)
Betrayed by Clive Small and Tom Gilling, is a disturbing book about two undercover police officers, posing as drug dealers, assigned to investigate the drug trade, including the involvement of corrupt police.
Joe and Jessie are left too long in the stressful job, with no emotional support from their employers. Their physical and mental health suffers and their integrity is challenged by those who should have stood by them.
They later find themselves being ordered to invesigate some of NSW Police’s most senior officers, including a deputy commisioner (Clive Small, one of the book’s authors) and the police commisisoner, Peter Ryan, himself. All of that seemingly outside of offical channels for no substantiated reason.
Eventually, facing spurious charges, Joe’s career is brought to an end, unless he can successfully fight the accusations he faces. However, the stressful demands of his many years of undercover service have weakened his resolve.
Betrayed is a very apt title for this book, exposing many types of betrayal associated with the police services of both NSW and Queensland. Betrayal of the citizens the police are supposed to protect, with corrupt officers perverting the law through criminal involvement; and the betrayal of police staff who are denied reasonable resources to do their job.
But most significantly in this story, those betrayed were Joe and Jessie who paid a heavy price for their devotion to their work.
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: