‘Joanne Lees risked Outback killer case’: Prosecutor says girlfriend of murder victim Peter Falconio nearly destroyed case with her behaviour
The Falconio case remains a talking point in Britain and Australia to this day as Murdoch serves 28 years imprisonment for murdering the Briton, whose body has never been found.
Not sure if it was a talking point here but it was Downunder, at least in the media – I was in Russia at the time and did not discuss it with anyone.
My reaction was twofold as I recall – firstly that she was very pretty and secondly that she didn’t seem to care much for the victim.
That was honestly all I thought about it until reading a casual remark that she’d been cheating on her boyfriend back in Sydney. That, to me, soured my view of her completely and put her behaviour in a different light.
But this is cart before the horse. The story, quickly was:
Miss Lees has told how she and Mr Falconio – she was 27 and he was a year older at the time – were tricked into stopping their campervan by a stranger who was following them as they travelled at night near an outpost called Barrow Creek.
She said that when her boyfriend got out of the vehicle she heard what she thought was a shot. The man then dragged her from the campervan and threw her into his vehicle, but she said she escaped and hid in the roadside bushes before she was eventually rescued by two men in a passing lorry.
That story, of course, did not convince many people. And it was far worse when the court case came:
She insisted, [the prosecutor] said, on absolute control of her image, including refusing to walk in through the court’s front doors and instead chos[ing] to lie down under a jacket on the back seat of a car.
‘She was focused and completely cool and people might misread that and misunderstand that. People want some sympathy and tears and some lowering of the guard.’
Which was Lindy Chamberlain’s and Kate McCann’s failing too – cold and calculating, not distraught but if that was their nature before, they could hardly change it after, except by putting on an act. If you’re not nice, you’re just not nice.
And of course here it comes:
The former prosecutor admitted he was worried when he found out that Miss Lees had been having an affair with another British backpacker shortly before she and Mr Falconio had set out to drive through the outback.
I read at the time that they’d been “having issues” or at least she maintained they had, which is not the same thing at all. And other anomalies abound:
They ask why Miss Lees did not see Mr Falconio’s body when she was pulled from the campervan and why Murdoch’s ‘very friendly’ Dalmation dog did not sniff her out as she hid in the bushes and he came looking for her and failed to find her.
They were the days when I, for one, had a basically positive attitude towards young women and like many, it never once occurred to me that Joanne Lees might have in some way had a hand in the death – how naive is that and I write of naivety on the part of other people? My focus was just on her cheating and how terrible it was that she had not supported her guy.
It does play a part in the case – how the males reacted to her, how she turned up at the hearings in the smart white blouse … and so on.
Remembering that Agatha Christie was a woman and knew women, this below was a pen portrait in fiction which should have given me pause, you’ll see the connection near the end:
“Susan reminds me of her uncle. She has the vigour, the drive, the mental capacity of Richard Abernethie. It may be my fancy that she lacks some of the kindliness and the warmth of my old friend.”
“Women are never kind,” remarked Poirot, “Though they can sometimes be tender. She loves her husband?”
“Devotedly, I should say. But really, Poirot, I can’t believe – I won’t believe for one moment that Susan could have – “
“That is natural, mon ami. As for me, I am not so sentimental about beautiful young ladies,” said Poirot.
What struck me at the time was how she was playing to the gallery and ‘doing’ the put-upon innocent. I’d not have given that much more thought until reading that bit about controlling her image and that brings in another thing – once it’s obvious the woman is calculating, the scales fall from the eyes and the mystique of the pretty female evaporates.
And then one starts to really re-read the evidence hard and anomalies before we might have skipped over, e.g. her actions in Murdoch’s car.
There is this tendency in the mind of a man that at that moment when those scales fall, due to some anomaly in her story, he savagely swings the other way and goes after her with a vengeance. For a woman, that must be worrying, as she does not know at what point she trips up in her story, she’s not aware it might just have been her manner.
And that may explain her ‘careful control of her image’. It also explains cases such as Lindy Chamberlain and Mrs. McCann where first she’s an innocent victim, next she’s the devil incarnate, next the country reacts and she’s a badly abused innocent again.
The only way to resolve it is to have the transcripts of the evidence. Most don’t, some commenting here may have. The journalist here:
… does seem to have dug into the ‘string of apparent inconsistencies in her evidence’. You can read those in that article, for example:
In statements she told police she was forced through a gap in the front seats. But had doubts when told that there were no four-wheel-drive vehicles with front to rear access in Australia.
Then there was this:
And so it goes on. Clearly she’d not thought of those. Now, if she was lying, the obvious question was why.
On the other hand, in her defence, much was made of how she could have her hands tied behind her back and then suddenly have them in front of her.
Reports say she then physically demonstrated how she could do that [not being a large woman]. And such things do count. However, that’s just a report that she demonstrated that. Also, who’s to say the hands were tied the same way – all of it was her testimony and hers alone.
But how could he be convicted on such shaky evidence, given her proven propensity for lying and cheating?
One commenter noted that what reporters report is but a fraction of the whole evidence. That’s so. On the other hand, in something like the Amanda Knox trial, every single word she said was recorded and is available right now online, plus every other transcript.
Not in the Falconio case though and that’s the main problem.
[The first half of the post is as it’s always been but the second half – rambling paragraphs about how I personally felt concerning whether she could lie – has been replaced today, Feb 17, 2017, by some more links to reports at the time, plus some questions, plus another photo.]