Thursday, December 8, 2016

Murder Outback

Michael - Thursday

Australia is a pretty safe place on the whole—if you exclude the spiders, snakes, and poisonous sea stingers. So when a murder takes place it’s always big news. Of course, there are all the usual motives that play out in the cities, but there have been some really weird Deliverance-style cases in the Outback – Australians’ name for the back of beyond. They seem to have no motive, happen in the middle of nowhere, and are often very hard for the police to investigate for exactly those reasons.

Last week two French tourists were travelling north of Alice Springs on the road to Darwin (a 1000 mile journey). Alice Springs was 60 miles behind them, Ti Tree was 60 miles ahead. There was nothing between the two towns except the Outback desert, and a roadside stop called Connors Well—presumably a pretty significant spot in the days of the Outback explorers. No cell phone reception. (Yes, there actually are places remote enough for that to be the case.)

Police at the Connors Well roadstop
The couple pulled over, stretched their legs, and then another vehicle drew in. That was a pretty unusual event in any case. But the driver approached them and they exchanged small talk before he produced a knife and stabbed the man, Philippe Jegouzo, in the neck. Jegouzo’s wife managed to fight him off, and he jumped back into his vehicle and raced off, leaving the devastated woman watching her partner bleed to death.

She had a scrap of luck. Another car approached, she waved it down, and it turned out to be a couple, one of whom was a nurse. The nurse stayed with the woman and the victim and the two tried to save him, but he died at the scene.  Meanwhile the husband sped off, actually tailing the suspect’s car until he reached a road house 25 miles later where he was able to phone the police from a landline.

The police in Ti Tree set up road blocks and spotted the attacker's vehicle near the town, but, seeing them, the man abandoned the vehicle and escaped into the bush. However, the next morning they used a helicopter to track him down and arrest him.

Veleski and friend
The woman has just been released from the hospital in Alice Springs; the man, Pande Veleski, has been charged with murder. There seems to be no motive. He is a Melbourne man who likes “fishing and pigeon racing”. Dogs too apparently. He’s under psychiatric examination and his lawyer claims he may have “severe schizophrenia”. 

Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees
An even more bizarre case took place 15 years ago. Peter Falconio, a British tourist, and his girlfriend, Joanne Lees, were travelling at night on the same road, but about 150 miles further north near Barrow Creek. According to Lees, a man in a pickup flagged them down, claiming he’d noticed they had engine trouble. When Falconio went with him behind the car to investigate, he was shot. The attacker then tied up Lees and loaded her into his truck. He next turned his attention to Falconio’s body, and she managed to escape, hiding in the bush until the man gave up and drove off – presumably with the body.

Police with the vehicle
Nearly a year later, the police arrested Bradley Murdoch, who was subsequently identified by Lees, and was found to have minute traces of her DNA on his clothes. Nevertheless, he vehemently maintained his innocence. There was no apparent motive, but he’d been charged with, and acquitted of, an unconnected rape immediately before his arrest.

Bizarrely, Falconio’s body has never been found, and several people have claimed to have seen him alive after these event. (But then we still have people who see Elvis alive.) Nevertheless, a few people still maintain that Murdoch’s incarceration is a great injustice, although no one has suggested a convincing motive for why Falconio and Lees would cook up this story in order to make him disappear. There are multiple books on the case (including one by Lees herself) and a comprehensive website here

So what goes on in the heart of nowhere? Mr. Dick, the manager of the roadhouse outside Ti Tree, commented on the Jegouzo killing that it “would be bad for tourism”. Could be.


  1. Michael, I need to get the facts straight on this. Nearly a year later, Murdoch still had minute traces of Lees's DNA on his shirt? Had he been wearing it all year? Had he kept it as a trophy/talisman? Shades of Monica's blue dress. What the heck?

    1. Spot on, Annamaria! (No pun intended.) My mistake. It was traces of HIS DNA on HER clothes.

  2. This reminds me of an inspiration I once had for placing a story centered in as remote a place as one might think to find on the US mainland. Trouble was, I couldn't think of the appropriate genre. No it wasn't because of the location--in the middle of Alaska, halfway between the Gulf of Alaska to the south and Beaufort Sea to the north--but because of the name of the establishment: Skinny Dick's Halfway Inn.

  3. Trying my hardest to ignore Jeff, I must say that I'd be a bit hesitant to drive through a thousand miles of the outback. Just driving through Nevada was bad enough.

    1. Yes, but it's probably safer than driving through Nevada or crossing the road in Johannesburg!