Greed: The ‘Mr Asia’ Connection


This is a great read about a notorious drugs syndicate that spanned Australia, New Zealand, the UK and beyond.

The drugs syndicate, known as ‘The Organisation’ was spearheaded by a Kiwi-born criminal called Terrence ‘Terry’ Clarke, who started selling cannabis known as ‘Thai Sticks’ and graduated to trafficking heroin using his network of associates.

The stakes were high and the rewards were big.

New Zealander Terry Clark was the head of global drugs syndicate called ‘The Organisation’.

Author Richard Hall paints a comprehensive picture of this crime saga, starting with the murder of Kiwi man Martin Johnstone, the one dubbed ‘Mr Asia’ because he was The Organisation’s Singapore contact. Johnstone’s body, sans his hands, was thrown into a flooded Lancashire Quarry.

This book, which I picked up at an op shop (a great way to find hard-to-get and out-of-print true crime reads) was published in 1981, after five men, including Terry Clark, tried under the name Terry Sinclair) were convicted for their part in Johnstone’s murder.

The book details the court trial, the movements of the syndicate and how they smuggled drugs to various countries and the luxury lives these people led. As the title of the book suggests, it was greed that led to the downfall of Terry Clark/Sinclair.

Highly recommend this read. (I love that this copy is a Pan Original paperback.) It had been republished in the wake of the Underbelly: A Take of Two Cities series.

The Coroner: Investigating Sudden Death

L to r: The Coffee Pot cafe, Strathfield Plaza; The Coroner book cover; Derrick Hand speaks to Wauchope Library book club in 2009.

Derrick Hand was the New South Wales State Coroner for five years and had served as a magistrate and deputy state coroner for many years before that. In fact, at the time of his retirement he’d worked 47 years in the court system.

This book is a fascinating look into his career and the many cases – some of Australia’s most high profile – that Hand worked.

Police shootings, the death of INXS frontman Michael Hutchence, the Threadbo disaster and many murders including that of Anita Cobby – Derrick Hand writes from his unique perspective.

Having seen so many deaths and complex cases, Hand details the case that affected him the most – 1991’s Strathfield Plaza massacre in Sydney by taxi driver Wade Frankum.

On the massacre, Hand writes: “People ask what was my most harrowing experience. This was it. Six bodies lay where they had fallen”.

Hand was the magistrate when Sydney’s “Granny Killer” first appeared in court. Hand recounts the case of John Glover who murdered six elderly women from Sydney’s North Shore, an exclusive enclave of the harbour city.

Co-written with journalist Janet Fife Yeomans, The Coroner is a gripping read. I Highly recommend you get your hands on a copy.

Someone Else’s Daughter – The Life and Death of Anita Cobby

THIS book was published 25 years ago and has been reprinted several times – and for good reason.

Someone Else’s Daughter: The Life and Death of Anita Cobby tells the horrific story of the crime that shocked and sickened Australia.

In January 1986, Sydney nurse Anita Cobby, 26, was abducted as she walked home from Blacktown train station. It was a hot Summer night and Anita, a nurse, was on her way to her parent’s house where she was living at the time.

What happened next forced Australians to confront the absolute worst of human behaviour. Anita’s body was found two days after her abduction. She’d been repeatedly raped and savaged, her throat slit in a final indignity.

Author Julia Sheppard details the crime, the police investigation and the criminal trial that saw 5 men sentenced to life imprisonment for Anita’s murder.

RELATED: The Janine Balding Story: A Journey Through a Mother’s Nightmare

This book is distressing to read in many parts but it also tells the story of Anita’s life and that of her stoic, loving parents Grace and Garry and how they coped with the shocking loss of Anita and the intense gaze of the press and the public. They were ordinary Australians who were thrust into the public arena in the worst of circumstances.

I had read this book when it first came out and then picked up my current copy at an op shop and re-read it, which I think had more impact on me the second time (and by this stage I am a mother to daughters).

This is one of the finest Australian true crime books. Julia Sheppard did an extraordinary job writing about this crime that has been dubbed Australia’s crime of the 20th Century.

Certain Admissions by Gideon Haigh



Certain Admissions by well-known Australian cricket journalist and writer Gideon Haigh is one of my favourite true crime reads of recent times.

The book was released in 2015 but I finally got around to reading it last week (too many books, too little time!).

This book is about John Bryan Kerr, who was subject to one of the most high profile murder cases in Melbourne. At the end of 1949, at age 24, sometime radio announcer and dapper young man Kerr was arrested for the murder of young typist, Beth Williams, 20.

A passer-by had stumbled upon Beth’s body at the beach at Albert Park. Her clothes were torn and it appeared as if she’d been strangled.

Controversially, an unsigned confession by Kerr was entered into evidence and he stood before three trials because then, capital crimes (murder) needed unanimous decisions from the jury. Kerr was sentenced to death and went to Pentridge Prison where he seemed to adapt to life behind bars as a debater, actor and avid basketballer.

However Kerr’s death sentence was commuted and he was released in the mid 1960s.

This is where the story, well to me at least, gets really intriguing. On his release Kerr finds it difficult to adjust to life and changes his name to Wallace. Haigh is able to recount, through interviews and research, what life is life for Kerr/Wallace as he tries to hide his past.

The description by Haigh of his research process for this book is also intriguing and the Public Records office of Victoria plays a large part in this story because the author was gained unprecedented access to files to dig into the story of Kerr/Wallace, who always maintained his innocence.  But the reader will also wonder whether Kerr could have committed the murder…

Certain Admissions is top class true crime.

Here’s something I wrote about the book last year when I interviewed Gideon Haigh.

Fathers Who Kill


If there was any book I’d recommend for people to understand the gravity of violence against women and children then this book is the one.

in Look What You made Me Do: Fathers Who Kill, Megan Norris (On Father’s Day, Love You to Death) has gathered together some of the most shocking crimes in Australia – and many of them you may not have heard about.

These are all cases of where men kill their children to exact the ultimate revenge on their ex-partners. These brutal, emotionally stunted men kill their own children so the mothers will suffer for the rest of their lives.

Norris, who has for many years written about some of the most difficult crimes and the issue of violence against women and children, expertly covers the cases of  seven women whose children were murdered by vengeful fathers.

She has previously written the book On Father’s Day about the revenge murders by Robert Farquharson of his three little boys. Norris wrote the book with Cindy Gambino, the mother of the boys and raised awareness of this ultimate form of family violence and punishment to the woman and mother of children. The case is also included in this new book.

Megan Norris pictured with Cindy Gambino at the dam where Cindy's ex-husband  purposely drove into and drowned their sons. PICTURE: Lisa Saad
Megan Norris pictured with Cindy Gambino at the dam where Cindy’s ex-husband purposely drove into and drowned their sons. PICTURE: Lisa Saad

There’s the case of Karen Bell, who continually had to flee the isolated New South Wales property she shared with her violent, drunk and drug-addicted husband Gary. The only slight assurance in Karen’s mind every time she had to escape the beatings she endured was that her husband had never hurt their children…until the fateful day he gassed himself and their three kids Jack, 8, Maddie, 7 and baby Bon, 16 months.

There’s also Michelle Steck’s case. In 1993, Michelle’s three-year-old daughter Kelly East was gassed by her father Kevin, who also killed himself. East was a violent control freak who, when he could no longer control his ex-partner, exacted the ultimate form of family violence by murdering their little girl.

Michelle is an inspirational woman. She has advocated for the rights and safety of women and children and entered into local politics in Western Australia. Long before family violence became a topic that is now widely covered in the media and in politics and is a key crime focus for police, Michelle was trying to get prominent people to wake up and see the legal systems in Australia needed a complete overhaul.

Look What You Made Me Do is also a stark reminder that these horrific crimes by vengeful fathers have been happening for years and seems it’s only since the high coverage of the tragic, and very public murder of 11-year-old Luke Batty in 2014 by his father that the message that the anti-violence message has reached Canberra and politicians who have the power to change laws. His mum Rosie has become the public face of family violence.

Norris details how Michelle predicted it would take the murder of the child of a celebrity by its father or a very public murder for anyone to pay attention. Tragically her predictions came true.

As Michelle powerfully states: “The worst of it is there are so many of us mums walking in Rosie Batty’s shoes. And we’ve ben out there campaigning for changes and canvassing these issues for many years without anybody really listening”.


Famous detective Stories – True Tales of Australian Crime

Famous Detective Stories

This is a sassy little read that features some of the most popular and sensational true crime stories published in the 1940s and 1950s in an Australian pulp magazine called Famous Detective Stories.

From National Library of Australia’s NLA Publishing, Famous Detective Stories: True Tales of Australian Crime is a tribute to a part of Aussie literary history. While nowhere near the Miles Franklin Award, the pulp mag Famous Detective Stories was wildly popular and publishing entrepreneur Frank Johnson had a pool of moonlighting journalists, crime enthusiasts and former detectives who wrote the lurid crime tales from newspaper clippings. Pulp magazines were thin volumes printed on cheap paper – hence the moniker.

Despite some blaming pulp mags for contributing to the moral and cultural decay of society at the time, the public lapped up the tales and the magazine was a monthly publication from 1946 to early 1954.

true detective stories

The book is illustrated by the newspaper clippings to accompany the stories, which is fascinating for readers and gives them a sense of the tone of crime reporting of the time.

The titles of the stories are intriguing and explicit – Murder in Secret, Cattle Stealers of the Black Country, See You in Church and hell on High Seas (among others).

A must-read for true crime buffs or anyone interested interested in Australian social history.

The book is released on July 1 from NLA Publishing.

Background information from ‘A world of fancy fiction and fact’: The Frank C. Johnson Archive at the State Library of New South Wales, by Rachel Franks, State Library of New South Wales. (Definitely worth a read.)

The Missing Beaumont Children

The Missing Beaumont Children


Australia Day 2016 (January 26) marks 50 years since the disappearance of three children from a beach in Adelaide.

The mystery of the missing Beaumont Children is probably this country’s greatest and most tragic unsolved crime. The case is burned into the psyche of a generation.

On January 26, 1966, the Beaumont children Jane, 9, Arnna, 7 and Grant, 4 caught a bus to Glenelg beach from their home (only a short trip) for a bit of sun and fun. It wasn’t unusual for children that young to go off by themselves back then and eldest Jane was a responsible girl. (My mum, who was a teenager at the time, remembers that she and her siblings and cousins would often go down to the beach without adults and be there all day). The children never returned home. Vanished without a trace.

The Beaumont Children

The book The Missing Beaumont Children by Michael Madigan is a very thorough overview of the mystery and details the investigation, the suspects, the leads, the dead ends…

It’s fascinating and disturbing reading. My heart broke during the book as I kept thinking about the parents of the children, Grant (known as Jim) and Nancy, and how they survived this tragedy…this evil.

I recommend this book. It’s a well-paced read that covers the twists and turns of the case and is also told with great compassion for the children and parents Nancy and Grant who are now 88 and 90 respectively. Madigan manages a fine balance of detailing the “mystery” of the case that people around Australia have been transfixed by but also the “misery” that has affected Nancy and Jim for the rest of their lives.

The Missing Beaumont Children is available at Amazon, Booktopia and all good bookstores.

Wynarka suitcase girl and Belanglo “Angel” woman are mother and daughter

Wynarka suitcase girl identified as Khandalyce Kiara Pearce.
Wynarka suitcase girl identified as Khandalyce Kiara Pearce.

HUGE development in two Australian murder mysteries with the remains of the Wynarka suitcase girl and unidentified female dumped in Belanglo State Forest in NSW found to be related.

AND these remains have been identified.


For months the of the identity of a little girl’s remains found in a suitcase on a roadside in South Australia has been one of Australia’s most baffling cases. Detectives have worked tirelessly to identify the little girl whose bones were found alongside clothes and a quilt in the suitcase, dumped along Karoonda Highway near Wynarka, SA in July this year.

Today it was revealed the girl is Khandalyce Kiara Pearce, born in Alice Springs, Northern Territory in 2006.

And in a major breakthrough police have also found that remains found in Belanglo State Forest in August 2010 are those of Khandalyce’s mum Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson.  She had been dubbed “Angel” by police and media because she was found with a t-shirt bearing an angelic motif.

Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson is the "Angel" found in Belanglo State Forest.
Karlie Jade Pearce-Stevenson is the “Angel” found in Belanglo State Forest.

In a medial release from SAPOL today the significant development began on October 8 when a call to Crime Stoppers suggested Khandalyce as  possibly being the little girl in the suitcase. The caller had not seen Khandalyce or Ms Pearce-Stevenson for some time and believed they were missing.

Major Crime Detectives obtained Khandalyce’s records which showed she was immunised at 18 months.  There was no further record of her after that.

Investigators then located a witness who had seen Khandalyce and her mother at Marion Shopping Centre, Adelaide in November 2008. She had taken photos of Khandalyce wearing a pink dress.  That dress is identical to that found with the remains in the suitcase.

Police were also provided with photos of Khandalyce in a stroller with the handmade quilt that was also found in the suitcase.

The quilt became a significant part of the investigation and police sought the help of quilters from around Australia to try and identify the young child.

The quilt found with the remains of Khandalyce.
The quilt found with the remains of Khandalyce.

According the police the last known sighting of the pair was on Saturday, 8 November 2008 when Ms Pearce-Stevenson was driving on the Stuart Highway near Coober Pedyin south Australia.  Khandalyce was aged just two.

Family and friends of the victims said they were from a loving family but in 2008 Karlie moved away from the family and started to travel.

Head of Major Crime, Detective Superintendent Des Bray said: “Contact with the family became less over time and on 4 September 2009 Ms Pearce-Stevenson’s mother raised a Missing Person Report with the Northern Territory Police.

“It is understood that report was closed on 10 September 2009 after it was believed Ms Pearce-Stevenson was safe and well but did not want family contact,” Det-Supt Bray said.

According to newspaper reports Karlie’s mother had since passed away.

NSW Police Homicide Commander, Detective Superintendent Mick Willing said there were now many lines of enquiry to follow.

“While we will do our best to keep the community informed, we need to first establish fact from fiction and ensure we avoid speculation, which could damage our investigations,” Det Supt Willing said.

Det Supt Bray said: “It is with community assistance that we have reached this very important breakthrough, but it is important to note the identification is only the beginning of the investigation.”

Anyone with information should contact crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.


Tynong North Killings – unsolved Australian murders


Catherine Headland.
Catherine Headland.

I wrote about the unsolved Australian crime known as the Tynong North Killings which was published online and in the local newspaper Berwick Leader.

READ: Tynong North-Frankston killings remain some of Australia’s worst unsolved murders

I spoke to the childhood best friend of one of the victims Catherine Headland. Reading about this series of murders is as shocking now as it would’ve been in 1980 when the skeletal remains of Catherine, 14, were found along with those of two other victims — Ann-Marie Sargent, 18, and Bertha Miller, 75 — at a secluded bush track off Brew Rd, Tynong North. There were also the murders of two other women from Frankston (a south-east bayside suburb of Melbourne) and another woman whose remains were found in Tynong North. The killings are believed by many to be by the same killer.

The memorial plaque to Catherine Headland at Akoonah Park, Berwick, Victoria.
The memorial plaque to Catherine Headland at Akoonah Park, Berwick, Victoria.

Catherine’s best friend Cheryl Goldsworthy is making another plea for anyone with information to tell the police. Time is ticking to solve this case. Victoria Police have had a prime suspect for years, there’s just not enough evidence to charge the man. This man is in his 80s now, if he is still alive.

Anyone with information should phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.



Galbally for the defence by Frank Galbally



In Australia, the name Galbally is synonymous with criminal law.

Frank Galbally was (and probably still is) Australia’s best-known lawyer. Galbally died in 2005 but in his later years published two books, autobiography Galbally! and a follow-up Galbally for the defence.

These books can usually be found nowadays if you hunt around secondhand book shops and op shops (this is where I found my copy of Galbally for the defence).

Quick Background on Frank Galbally:

Galbally made his name in criminal defence in Victoria but was known around Australia. He defended his first murder case in 1950 and by the end of his career had an extremely high acquittal rate by the later years of his career. He started at the law firm of his brother Jack and then established Galbally & O’Bryan, which is still going today.

Galbally died in 2005 after many years with Alzheimer’s disease, which seems such a cruel end for one of the sharpest legal minds in Australia.

In an obituary  colleague Phil Dunn, QC, was quoted: “No murder trial in the 1970s or ’80s was complete without it being announced that Mr Frank Galbally had been retained for the defence.”

frank galbally old pic
A picture of a young Galbally and a client outside court in 1954. Source: TROVE

Now, to the book Galbally for the defence (published 1993) – this features some of the most notable cases Galbally worked on and, in particular, how events unfolded in the courtroom, which was his theatre.

Galbally loved the underdog. it probably stemmed from his childhood as part of a large Irish Catholic family during the Great Depression. Galbally, who trained as a priest before taking up law and himself had eight children – defended those who were hard scrabble, on the fringes and also was a great advocate for Victoria’s migrant communities.

There’s the Italian mother and son, whose English was barely existent, who were charged in 1966 with the murder of their brute of a husband/father. This is one of the longer chapters in the book called “Two sparrows fly to freedom”. And then there’s the stabbing murder of a Pentridge Prison inmate “Snowball”. This is an intriguing chapter because it delves into prison culture and Galbally’s quest to improve conditions for prisoners.

If you can get your hands on a copy of this book it’s well worth the read. (I’m hopefully going to find the memoir Galbally! one of these days.)

Lingering Doubts: Going inside Brisbane’s Arcade Murder

The authors of Lingering Doubts: Going Inside Brisbane’s Arcade Murder represent the heart of true crime investigative writing.

Deb Drummond and Janice Teunis are the granddaughters of a man named Reginald Brown. Brown, a respected Brisbane accountant, had his world turned upside down in 1947 when he was arrested for the murder of his 19-year-old typist Bronia Armstrong. Bronia’s partly-clad body was found on January 11 in a room of the Brisbane Associated Friendly Society in the Wallace Bishop Arcade building where Brown worked.

Authors Deb Drummond & Janice Teunis. Picture:
Authors Deb Drummond & Janice Teunis. Picture:


The case was a sensation in Australia’s newspapers and his family and friends could not match the loving, moral and community-minded man with who was being portrayed in newspapers and by police.  In March 1947 Brown was sentenced to life imprisonment. Throughout he had maintained his innocence. He spent just nine days in prison before being found in his cell, hanging by his belt.

Brown’s last ever note read: “To Whom it May Concern,“I did not kill Bronia Armstrong. My conscience is clear. RWS Brown”.


The book delves into exhaustive detail about the case and trial and interwoven is family history, interviews with those who knew Brown and Miss Armstrong, people involved at the time and the aftermath of the tragedy on those left behind. The authors never knew their grandfather but this book is a testament to the man who they believe was innocent of the murder.

There is plenty to back up their belief that Brown was framed for the murder – Queensland was a hotbed of police and political corruption for decades during the 20th century (for readers google “The Fitzgerald Inquiry” to start read about Queensland corruption). A senior police officer in the case, a man called Frank Bischof,  looms large as a central figure and as the authors detail, he was named as a key player by The Fitzgerald Inquiry in the “unscrupulous conduct” by Queensland Police. (By the time of the inquiry in 1987, Bischof was deceased.)

The passion and dogged determination of the authors make Lingering Doubts a fascinating read. The memory of Bronia Armstrong is also sensitively dealt with and it is never forgotten that this young woman’s life was cruelly taken.

This is a standout Australian true crime book. My utmost respect to the authors.

Read more at the website Lingering Doubts.



Treasure House Murders

One of the most exciting things about writing a book is the reader feedback.

After my first book Murder in Suburbia was released in January 2014 I got quite a few emails and letters from people who were fascinated by the older, Melbourne cases and also from people who had a personal link to some of the murders.

treasure house 2
From The Argus, Monday 17 December 1956.

I wrote about the 1956 murders of an elderly mother and her daughter in Melbourne’s Fitzroy. These brutal killings (the women were bashed to death) became known as “The Treasure House” murders because the women had wads of money, jewellery and thousands of dollars (pounds back then) worth of exquisite Chinse carvings and furniture in their home.

The case remains unsolved – a male boarder did go to trial over the killings but he was acquited.

Article from The Canberra Times, December 18, 1956
Article from The Canberra Times, December 18, 1956

I received a fascinating email from the niece of MaryBoanas, who was one of the women clubbed to death. This woman wrote and told me she was actually there on the day her relations were murdered. She was a young girl and was visiting “Aunty Min and Rose” with her mother and three siblings. Here are her words:

“…I was then the 11-year-old standing outside their front door whilst the murderer was still inside the house.

They had partly raised me on their return from China, when we had a family guest house in Healesville, they later bought the house in Fitzroy, Aunty Min was my Grandmothers sister and Rose was her daughter.

As was the custom of the day they took in male borders, not because they needed the money but because it was considered safer to have a male person living on the house, they were wrong it was one of these men that murdered them for their money.

They did not trust banks and keep their money wrapped in socks and underwear in their drawers.

Our Mother took us for a pre-Christmas visit as she did every year, if they were not home they would leave their front door key for me to enter the house and wait for them.  The key was hidden in the vine twisted around one of the pillars on the front verandah.   However this particular day it was not there, very strange I thought.

As it was a hot day my Mother took us (4 children) to get ice creams as were sure they would return soon, they were looking forward to our visit.

We returned but there was still no answer, we did not know at that time they were dying in pools of blood not far inside the door.

On returning home my mother phoned one of her Aunts who had a spare key and Aunty Rose, said she would go and check on them. that was when she made the gruesome discovery.  I believe our Holden car was pictured in the news article of the day…”

The reader even sent me a photo of one of the Chinese tables belonging to the murdered women from “the treasure house”, which her mother gave her.


Thank you to readers who take the time to contact authors. 

Angels of Death – Charles Cullen


angels cover 2015

I’m excited to share with you that my second true crime book is out in stores in Australia and available in ebook.

It is called Angels of Death and features cases of nurses and doctors who were serial killers.

The first chapter is about Charles Cullen, the New Jersey nurse who is believed to have killed hundreds of people during his time working in hospitals.

The Herald Sun has run the extract: Angels of Death tells how nurse Charles Cullen killed patients

Angels of Death is published by The Five Mile Press

Burwood Murders

The 1992 Burwood triple killings in Melbourne is one of the most chilling crimes in modern Australian history.

The killer, Ashley Coulston, is in jail, never to be released.

I wrote about the case in my first true crime book, Murder in Suburbia. Here is the chapter extract as published in the Herald Sun.

Murder in Mississippi by John Safran



I have had this book in my “to read” pile for months.

Like many readers (and especially when you have a book blog) I have SO many books to read and feel like I just want to devote whatever  spare time I have (apologies to my children!) to curling up and reading. This book by Australian John Safran – controversial media personality, filmmaker and now, author – was worth the wait.

I was fortunate to hear Safran talk about his journey to writing Murder in Mississippi (the book is called God’ll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, a Murder, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi for North America) at the launch of Monash Libraries’ Wordfest in the middle of 2014. Once I had got over my complete professional jealousy of him for having the planets align to create this incredible book, I was entranced by his retelling of his creative process. As a writer myself, I find him inspiring.

Safran is someone people either love or can’t stand. There is not a lot of middle ground with Safran and that’s why he is so good at what he does…which is basically getting himself run out of places for doing super-controversial things. His series Race Relations, which aired on Australia’s public broadcaster, saw him donate sperm to a Palestinian sperm bank (Safran is Jewish) and digs a hole next to his mother’s grave and performs a ritual order to ask her whether she approves of him marrying a non-Jewish woman.

For this series, Safran interviewed a notorious white supremacist named Richard Barrett.  This footage never made it to air (for reasons I will let you read in the book) but then Barrett  was brutally murdered in 2010 by a young black man named Vincent McGee. Some pretty startling revelations came to the surface and Safran seized his opportunity to go to Mississippi and write this book.

Even though it is a true crime book, Safran infuses his writing with his trademark humour. It’s not in the style true crime buff will be used to. There’s a lightness to the writing that seems at odds with a true crime subject, but it really worked in this case.

This is a standout true crime release of 2014.

Murder in Mississippi is published by Penguin.

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama


This book shows that DNA evidence is not failsafe. That mistakes can happen, assumptions made and that these can result in miscarriages of justice.

In 2008 a Somali-born Melbourne man Farah Jama, 21 was sentenced to six years jail for the rape of a woman in a suburban nightclub in the eastern suburbs.

Author Julie Szego tells this story of a man who maintained his innocent throughout. Jama’s conviction was eventually overturned and he was released and paid a substantial compensation payout from the government.

Szego details machinations of DNA testing and the reliance on science to make or break criminal cases. There’s also interesting detail of the Somali community in Melbourne and the challenges that young males who came to Australia as refugees face integrating into society. In particular, I found this aspect of the book really intriguing because when I was a high school teacher in London I taught quite a few Somali-born teens.

So, if Jama didn’t rape “Maria” in the Doncaster nightclub, what happened and why was his DNA on a database?

Szego details the reasons who Jama’s DNA was there. She interviews a young woman called “Taylah” who was involved in a sexual act with Jama and several other men the night before the alleged rape of Maria. This is uncomfortable and compelling reading.

As a journalist myself I was really compelled my Szego’s frank descriptions of what it is like to write a book and to tell other people’s stories. Her collaboration with Jama does not go to plan and this line she wrote really stuck in my mind: “Journalists swoop on people’s stories, pick the eyes out, mangle and reshape until they’re something entirely different. We thieve and desecrate for a living…”.

It’s the dilemma of the profession. Szego has written an important book. Told an important story about the criminal justice system and its flaws.

The Tainted Trial of Farah Jama is published by Wild Dingo Press.

Justin Tapp death inquest


Here is an update I have written to this August 25 blog post on the Tapp murders about the tragic effect the crimes have had on the surviving family, namely Justin Tapp, who died earlier this year at age 44. Mr Tapp was traumatised by his mother and sister’s death and struggled for the rest of his life with depression and alcohol abuse.

AN INQUEST in England into the death of an Australian man whose mother and sister were murdered 30 years ago in Melbourne has delivered an open verdict.

Justin Tapp, who was 14 when his mother Margaret Tapp and nine-year-old sister Seana Tapp were killed on August 7, 1984, died earlier this year.

Mr Tapp was not at his family’s Kelvin Drive, Ferntree Gully home on the night of the still unsolved murders and moved to England in 2001 where he lived until his death.

He was found dead in his Wycombe bedsit on June 3 by ex-girlfriend Wendy O’Donovan, with whom he had remained friends in the years since their separation.

Ms O’Donovan told the Buckinghamshire Coroners’ Court on September 23 that Mr Tapp had problems with alcohol and had tried several times to commit suicide.

He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and had depression.

The body of Mr Tapp, aged 44, was in such a state of decomposition that the cause of his death could not be found by a post-mortem.

Police found a book and other literature about suicide near his body.

Accounts from neighbours on Mr Tapp’s last known movements indicate he may have died around a week before he was found.

The Bucks Free Press newspaper reported that Mr Tapp had no family living in Britain and it was after a concerned aunt in Australia contacted Ms O’Donovan that she went to his flat.

The coroner’s court heard that Ms O’Donovan looked through the window and saw Mr Tapp collapsed on the floor.

A former neighbour of Mr Tapp, Charlotte Kirby, contacted True Crime Reader via a comment on the blog post “Margaret and Seana Tapp murders – more tragedy”  and said she knew nothing of his traumatic history until she read about it last week on the front page of her local newspaper Bucks free Press.

Ms Kirby told True Crime Reader that Mr Tapp was a ‘very quiet and private man’ and she wished they had talked more.

“I felt really bad about his death and cried when I read the newspaper,” Ms Kirby said.

She said they both lived in an old house in Wycombe that had been split into three flats and Mr Tapp lived in the basement one.

They both moved away in 2011.

“Justin did not wish to be bothered really by the world,” Ms Kirby said.

“It is just a shame that he lived in isolation, but with that kind of trauma in his past, no wonder.”

Ms Kirby said she had often wondered about Mr Tapp’s past.

“I suspected there were reasons for his departure from Australia and even asked him why he left,” Ms Kirby said.

“All he told me was that he had grown tired of Australia.

“I just pray he rests in peace and that he has a decent funeral and resting place.”


The cold case murder of Margaret and Seana Tapp is one of Victoria’s biggest mysteries. On August 7, 1984 Margaret Tapp, 35 was strangled in her bed. Seana, 9 was sexually assaulted and also strangled.There was no sign or forced entry, which suggested that the killer was familiar with the house. The backdoor had a broken latch and could not be locked. A neighbour heard a muffled scream at around 11pm and other neighbours heard the Tapp’s dog barking frantically, which was not usual. The murders of the mother and daughter were not discovered until 6pm the next day when a friend of Mrs Tapp arrived to take her on a pre-arranged date.

Anyone with information should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000

Lethal Lovers



Melbourne author Victoria Heywood catalogues some of Australia’s most chilling crime cases of where love and relationships go wrong.

In Lethal Lovers: Horrifying True Australian Crimes of Passion Heywood details cases from modern-day to as far back as the 1800s. One of the crimes that stood out for me as that of Rodney Francis Cameron who was dubbed “The Lonely Hearts Killer”. I won’t reveal the story for those who are not familiar with it but Cameron, met one of his victims via a lonely hearts radio program.  And tragically for his victim Maria Goellner, Cameron had a very dark and dangerous past.

There’s also the story of Frederick Leeming, who was once a suspected of being Jack the Ripper.  Leeming murdered his wife and four children in England before fleeing to Australia. his second wife was also murdered in Melbourne and Leeming hung for his crime in 1892 at the age of 38.

There are 23 cases covered in the book.

Lethal Lovers is published by The Five Mile Press.

The Fall: How Simon Gittany murdered Lisa Harnum



This is a very good book by  journalist Amy Dale about the killing of young woman Lisa Harnum.

Dale is Chief Court Reporter for The Daily Telegraph and started covering this case from the point of Simon Gittany’s arrest in August 2011. She speaks to the family and friends of Canadian-born Lisa Harnum, who lived with Gittany in a luxury Sydney apartment.

The relationship was abusive. Gittany was obsessed with controlling Lisa – he referred to her by her second name Celeste – and wanted to know her every move. Lisa was an unwell woman. Anorexic and hopelessly dependant on Gittany. She was trying to leave when she was thrown off their Sydney high-rise. As is well documented, the time when a woman wants to leave is the most dangerous in a domestic violence situation.

The case attracted high media attention and Dale was there for it all, which gives this book great weight. Dale also travelled to Lisa’s hometown and spent time with her family and friends.

I remember following some of the case and the appearance of Gittany’s new girlfriend Rachelle Louise was disturbing and to me, exemplified the obsession of some people for fame and recognition. Rachelle Louise, a beautiful woman (though in an odd, fake way) courted the media’s attention and held placards protesting other miscarriages of justice. The cameras followed her everywhere and when she cut her long hair into a slick bob and arrived for Gittany’s sentencing it also made news. Rachelle Louise gave a “tell-all” interview on Sunday Night, claiming her payment would fund law school so she could prove Gittany innocent.

Gittany was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years with a maximum of 26 years.

It’s a very sad story. A young woman is killed by her partner. Treated like a piece of rubbish and thrown to her death. A photo in the book shows the contents of Lisa’s handbag splayed all over the road. In it was something like an affirmation card or book of Loise L. Hay’s You Can Heal Your Life. To me that is the sadness and desperation Lisa Harnum felt to change her life.

She never got the chance.

I did find parts of the book repetitive but this was more a reflection of the abuse and control in Gittany and Lisa Harnum’s relationship. He was so obsessed with knowing where she was and tracking her via text message. Constantly. Lisa Harnum’s victimisation was awful to read.Every time she would maybe have a chance to leave, she wanted to give him another chance…he was a master manipulator. He made her dependant on him and had exploited her fragile state of mind and made it far worse…then he killed her.

The Fall is published by Random House.

Fabulous Fred: The Strife and Times of Fred Cook


This book is more than a sport biography.

Debut author Paul Amy write the tale of Fred Cook, who was one of the legend players of the Victorian Football Association (VFA) in the 1970s. Cook was a colourful character and had “fame at a pop star level” during his heyday.

But with all intriguing stories, Cook had his flaws and these caused him to have a stunning crash to earth from his lofty fame. He earned excellent money for the time, was the publican of a legendary Melbourne watering hole The Station Hotel and had a thriving media career.

But as Amy details, Cook fell into drug use (“…Up until then he’d relied on strong coffee (sweetened by five sugars and cigarettes to stay ‘up’…”) and was mixing with the dangerous Melbourne underworld, namely the fearsome and crazy Dennis Allen. Allen was a regular at Cook’s Station Hotel and was the person who first offered the legendary footballer amphetamines. (For overseas readers of this blog, Dennis Allen was a deadly drug dealer whose relatives were alleged to have orchestrated the slayings of two Victoria Policemen Steven Tynan and Damian Eyre in 1988. Allen, who died of heart disease in 1987, was part of the notorious Pettingill family – a crime clan headed by matriarch Kath. The hit Australian film Animal Kingdom drew inspiration for its central characters from the Pettingills and their crimes.

Cook did stints in jail and had a very chaotic romantic life – he estimates he has eight children from three or four mothers. (Cook struggles to remember details of his life due to his drug use.)

Amy is a fantastic storyteller. He worked closely with Fred Cook and his family, friends and associates to write this book. Amy is a sports journalist for Leader Community Newspapers in Melbourne and is one of the finest writers in Australia. (I disclose I work with Paul Amy and he is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet and absolutely passionate about sports and journalism).

Even if you don ‘t care much for sport, Fabulous Fred is a gripping read. It is a fascinating social and sport history as well as the tragic tale of a man who had everything and lost it all.

This book has a lot of heart.

Fabulous Fred: The Strife and Times of Fred Cook is published by Melbourne Books.