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

The Stranger You Know (prelude)

strangerI’ve placed an order for this book after considering it for some time. I made the decision after watching a TV documentary about the murder of Kim Barry in my former home city of Wollongong.

It seems like the show was part of Crime Investigation Australia, a series made over 10 years ago, something I didn’t realise until I looked for more  information about it. I wonder whether it has been updated in some way with a new presenter because it didn’t look like an older show and the show’s  original presenter (Steve Liebman) is not the man who was on the episodes of the show I’ve seen.

Kim Barry a 19 year old, was murdered and mutilated in early 1981. Her headless and fingerless body was found dumped in bushland near Jamberoo, a village south of Wollongong. Her skull and fingers were later found in a separate bushland location also near Jamberoo.

Suspicion fell upon a local miner, Graham Potter, who was charged and later convicted of the murder. He served only 14 years for the gruesome crime. Potter is now one of Australia’s most wanted men – for later crimes unrelated to his original conviction. I suspect he’ll be mentioned again when I write about other books that have relevance to those alleged later crimes.

There are several reasons for my interest in this case:

  1. My dad worked at the same mine as Potter and knew who he was.
  2. A friend worked within the same department as Kim Barry’s father at a local industrial complex.
  3. My parents knew the man who discovered Kim Barry’s skull
  4. Gloria and I crossed paths with Potter soon after his release from jail. He was walking into a local K-Mart store as we were walking out.

Around 20 years after his release from jail for that murder, Potter is now stated to be Australia’s most wanted man, after skipping bail related to serious drug charges and being associated with a proposed contract killing.

Its possibly not only the police who list him as “most wanted”. When he was awarded bail a co-defendant, an alleged senior mafia figure was given a significant jail sentence. The implication was that Potter was allowed bail as a reward for services rendered. He could therefore also be on a mafia “most wanted” list.

Those latter details were added to the end of the show mentioned above, so I think that confirms that the series has been given an update.

One part of the documentary that I found went too far, was its use of several crime scene (and possibly mortuary) photographs of Miss Barry’s naked remains. There was a token attempt at light pixilation but barely enough to give her even the slightest degree of modesty, or to protect the viewer from the gruesomeness of the atrocities she suffered.

Surely Kim Barry deserved so much more respect than that in death after enduring so much at the end of her life.


Kim Narelle Barry 1961-1981


When the Bough Breaks, by Matthew Benns

when-the-bough-breaksI found this book in a charity shop, costing only 50 cents. I’m not sure that I would have bothered with it if it hadn’t been so cheap. At that stage I wasn’t really interested in “true crime”.

After buying it I moved onto other books and left this one untouched on my book shelves. And then about a week ago I saw a short documentary related to the case being advertised on TV.

I recorded the doco for future viewing and put this book at the top of my reading list.

Kathleen Folbigg and her husband Craig seemed to be the unluckiest of parents. Over the years, their four infant children each succumbed to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). But was it bad luck, a dark quirk of fate – or something more sinister?

Eventually Folbigg was investigated and convicted for the murder of her children.

When the Bough Breaks is a fascinating account of the events, making Kathleen Folbigg’s guilt seem certain. But I can’t help holding onto a degree of scepticism. It’s easy to be swayed one way or the other by a single version of events and the angle from which that version is presented.

I recall too well the many accounts of an earlier case, where Lindy Chamberlain was imprisoned for the murder of her daughter Azaria after a prolonged trial by media, with most newspapers publishing all manner of wild accusations against Chamberlain and her husband. It took a few years before the powers that be acknowledged their mistake and Chamberlain was freed.

The case against Folbigg, while compelling, was entirely circumstantial, based on things like this:

  1. Her four infant children all died under very similar “unexplained” circumstances.
  2. Folbigg was the last person to see those children alive, and was the one to discover their lifeless bodies very soon after death (some were still warm).
  3. Her diaries had entries expressing strong “hints” of her guilt.
  4. Paediatric “experts” were adamant that the odds of losing four infants in the same way to natural causes would be about a trillion to one.  *

As a contrast to Folbigg’s case and the evidence against her, in particular the “expert” opinion, a similar case in Britain, around the same time, had a completely different result. The case of Trupti Patel receives a brief mention in the last chapter of When the Bough Breaks. She was acquitted after being tried for the murder of three infant children.

Basic details can be found here:

Considering the expert claims about the astronomical odds against Folbigg losing four infants to natural causes, the following excerpt of the article about Patel’s case is very interesting. In particular note the statements I’ve emphasised with bold type.

The case, which was heard at Reading crown court, was one of a number of famous court cases in Britain in which mothers who reported more than one cot death were accused of murder. It was one of a number of cases in which evidence was given by Roy Meadow, a controversial pediatrician whose testimony helped to convict Sally Clark, Angela Cannings, and Donna Anthony of murdering their babies. Meadow’s claim that the likelihood of two babies dying from natural causes in the same family was one in 73 million prompted the Royal Statistical Society to write a letter of complaint to the Lord Chancellor, stating that the figure had “no statistical basis”; other experts said that when genetic and environmental factors were taken into account, the figure was closer to one in 200

Taking into account what I’ve read in Matthew Benns’ book as well as the information contained in the following video, one thing that I’m very sure about is that our justice system is susceptible to serious error. The result of a trial seems too reliant on which side presents the most appealing case – whether the Prosecution or the Defence put on the better, more convincing show to sway a jury’s perception of the case at hand.

Faced with expert opinion expressing the astronomical odds against the chance of four similar “unexplained”  natural infant deaths in one family , how could a jury ignore the likelihood of homicide?

But as the Royal Statistical Society said regarding the similar Patel case, the stated figure of 73 million to one had “no statistical basis” (see quote above), and yet the figures suggested regarding the Folbigg case were even more extreme (trillion to one). *

Which expert opinion should a jury believe, and do they really get exposed to plausible alternatives? I recall from the Chamberlain case, that an “expert” had identified a blood spray in the Chamberlain’s car, proving that their daughter had been murdered in the car. What conclusion could a jury make when faced with evidence like that? And yet, later the spray pattern was “…found to be a ‘sound deadener’ sprayed on during the manufacture of the car” and NOT blood.  **

In the Folbigg case, police spent years trying to build up a case against her, including overseas trips to consult with amenable experts. But how long in comparison did the defence have to build their case? The video below shows that alternative expert opinion is available, but to what extent were those views presented (if at all) in Folbigg’s trial?

With the case of the diary entries, while Folbigg’s statement seemed to be self-incriminating,  they don’t necessarily express a categorical “confession” of criminal guilt – they could equally express feelings of self-condemnation about her perceived failings as a mother who had already experienced the death of multiple infants. But presented selectively, could the possibility of  ambiguity be hidden?

A major contributor of evidence for the prosecution was Craig Folbigg, Kathy’s husband and father of the dead infants.

Difficulties in their marriage (particularly as parents) can be seen in Kathy’s diary.

I can’t even trust or depend on him to look after [Laura] properly. He refuses to bother to learn anything about her. He doesn’t pat attention when feeding her, hasn’t changed a nappy, doesn’t do washing or ironing, only washes up once in a while. His life continues as normal. Work, come home and I look after him. He doesn’t even cook tea every now and then unless I ask him to. And then it is begrudgingly.

Craig’s testimony against his wife was given at a time when she had walked away from the marriage. He withdrew his accusations and suspicions when she returned to him, then when the relationship failed again he returned to his original story, once again incriminating his wife.

From what I’ve read and seen it’s easy to believe that Folbigg was responsible for the deaths of her children, but I find there are also things that make me question or even doubt that conclusion.

Overall, who can really know whether or not Folbigg is guilty and rightfully convicted?

Only she and God know for certain.




*   [Detective] Ryan spent two years collecting evidence and assembling a case that he believed would result in Kathleen Folbigg’s murder conviction. On April 19, 2001, police arrested her at her home, took her into custody, and charged her with four counts of murder. At her hearing, prosecutors claimed that she had deliberately smothered her children to death, and they produced the diary as the most incriminating evidence. They also presented a statement from forensic pathologist Janice Ophoven who said that the chances of all four children dying of SIDS “were a trillion to one.”



“Professor Cameron and Dr Jones concluded that the blood spray pattern found under the dashboard of the Chamberlain’s car could have been produced by a cut in a small artery.

“Subsequently, Joy Kuhl’s forensic report claimed to have found evidence of foetal haemoglobin in stains on the front seat of the Chamberlains’ 1977 Torana hatchback (foetal haemoglobin is present in infants six months and younger).

“She claimed to have identified foetal blood in 22 areas of the car, including the camera bag, floor, towel, console and scissors.”

There was so much conflicting evidence from witnesses and experts who both disputed and supported the Crown’s scenario and who questioned Joy Kuhl’s testing.

“The questionable nature of the forensic science evidence in the Chamberlain trial, and the weight given to it, raised concerns about such procedures and about expert testimony in criminal cases,” Ms Brown told the AFP recruits.

“The foetal haemoglobin in the Chamberlains’ car was later found to be a ‘sound deadener’ sprayed on during the manufacture of the car.”

Boom Oo Yata-Ta-Ta

Song 20 of my personal “31 Songs”.

Not primarily a “song”, more of a performance from one of the best British comedy acts ever.

I grew up with Morecambe and Wise. I think this particular performance comes from around 1962, so my memory of the song would be of later performances. I remember having an LP that included a recording of the “song”.

Since coming across this video I’ve watched a few more M & W appearances on YouTube. They were highly respected in the show business world and some of the top stars of the day appeared on their TV show.

Over five years ago I wrote a few blog posts with the title “Stories What I wrote”* – the title was a rip-off of Morecambe and Wise, where Ernie Wise would regularly mention the plays “what I wrote”.


Fireball XL5

Another blast from my past, a song by Russell Crowe’s ex father in law, Don Spencer (in his younger days) and number 19 on my personal list of “31 songs”.

This TV show theme song was one of the first records my parents bought for me.

Gallows View, Peter Robinson

Tom Hanks’s writing is yet another sad story of how men write women
The actor’s debut collection, Uncommon Type, is blighted by Hollywood’s obsession with female bodies – but he’s not the only author to write too much about hair and breasts


gallowsThe article above came to mind when I read the first chapter of Peter Robinson’s Gallows View.
The book starts with a description of a Peeping Tom watching a woman undress, culminating in him being seen through the window by his victim as she stands naked in her bedroom. It was an uncomfortable page or two to read. Are the writer and reader any different to the fictional voyeur merely because they are viewing words vividly depicting the victim’s nakedness instead of literally looking through the window themselves?

Early on, I found the “obsession with female bodies” further demonstrated when the term “luscious mouth” was a prominent part of a description of a female psychological expert called in to advise on the case. It’s just not the kind of thing that would have been seriously used if it had been describing a man.

But two things helped the the book. Firstly recognising that it was written over 30 years ago and is a product of its time. Secondly, it does move on, attempting to address the kind of gender issues that it seems to transgress in the beginning. While that attempt might not completely succeed, I think it does a passable job for a book of the mid-eighties.

Gallows View is the first of Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks series.  The above mentioned situation with the Peeping Tom is woven with the investigation of a spate of robberies that grow increasingly violent and destructive, and Alan Banks finds that his work can encroach upon his private life in numerous ways.

dciAs with my earlier introduction to crime fiction I was draw to the series via a TV adaptation. The TV show picks up the career of DCI Alan Banks about halfway through the book series, so there is a lot of back story to be discovered through the earlier books, and I’ll be interested to see how the writing develops along the way as well as the lives of the major players.

One DCI Banks book down – twenty three more (to date) to go…


From the Midlands to the North and then Further North Again.

This week I finished Sarah Ward’s A Deadly Thaw, and posted a review of it yesterday. I loved the book but not my review.

I’ve now started Hidden Depths by Ann Cleeves, and I can easily see how her work helped draw me into crime fiction. She has an exceptional talent for telling story through character and place.

The first episode of the Vera TV series was based on this book.
I saw it a few weeks ago and was disappointed. I later saw other episodes based on books I’d already read and found them disappointing too. They cut and changed the stories far too much and didn’t capture the heart of Cleeves’ books.

That all changed when the series moved on to original stories with the same characters. They work far better than the adaptations and I’ve enjoyed the few original stories that I’ve seen so far.

I’m now most of the way through Shetland series two, another drama based on Cleeves’ characters. The first season was all adapted from published books, and in my opinion they were far better than the Vera adaptations. While there are still considerable differences between book and TV show, the first Shetland series worked for me.

Like Vera, the second Shetland series moves into original story territory and so far it has me hooked. I have two episodes to go, so I can only hope that the quality is retained right up to the final story resolution.

After I started Hidden Depths, my copy of Sarah Ward’s third book, A Patient Fury arrived in the mail. If it had come a little earlier I think I would have jumped right into that book, continuing my Derbyshire journey with Detectives Sadler and Childs. However I know I still have that to look forward to – and then there will be a long wait for book four, currently being edited.

I still have another route available on that Derbyshire trip, with the second novel by Stephen Booth, Dancing With the Virgins waiting on my bookshelves. I enjoyed Black Dog , a book I wrote about at the beginning of November (here) and have since started to order his subsequent books.


For more I’ve written on TV adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ books see here: