Falconio and Lees outback mystery

Murder in the Outback: The Falconio and Lees Mystery

(Channel 4, 9.15pm)

On July 14, 2001, 27-year-old British backpacker Joanne Lees flagged down a truck on a lonely stretch of the Stuart Highway in the Australian outback.

She had a horror story to tell.

According to Lees, in the dead of night, she and her boyfriend Peter Falconio had been attacked on the road near Barrow Creek.

Lees said a man lured Falconio to the rear of their VW Kombi van by saying that sparks had been coming out of the exhaust, before she heard a gunshot.

She also said the man then tied her up and dragged her to his white Toyota ‘ute’, but she managed to escape into the bush while he was distracted.

Tapping into long-held fears about the Australian outback, the story created a tabloid firestorm.

International tourists stayed away from the Northern Territory as a massive police manhunt continued for 16 months.

Eventually, a tip-off led to small-time drug runner Bradley John Murdoch being arrested.

Murdoch flatly denied it all, but the jury disagreed and found him guilty of murder in 2005, and he was sentenced to life in prison. For some experts, the guilty verdict, upheld on appeal, has always felt clouded with doubt.

In one of the most detailed re-investigations of the Falconio murder ever mounted, this documentary, showing over four consecutive nights (the whole series is available on All 4 straight after the transmission of this episode), explores the infamous case.

In tonight’s first programme, Andrew Fraser, formerly one of Australia’s foremost criminal defence lawyers, begins his reinvestigation. After a fresh look at the defence files of Murdoch, Fraser feels that some of the evidence doesn’t add up.

He visits the crime scene and speaks to a top forensic scientist who reveals that he believes the blood found on the road is not consistent with the amount he would expect from a fatal gunshot. Further conversations with witnesses from the time of the murder raise other serious questions about evidence in the case.

The truck driver who came to Lees’ rescue on the side of the Stuart Highway says just before he saw her run out into the road he also saw two men bundling a third man into a car. Who were these men? And could this be crucial evidence?

The programme continues tomorrow by looking at the immense scrutiny and pressure faced by Lees from both the British and Australian press.

Her reluctance to talk to the media and her behaviour following the attack led to some journalists, and detectives, questioning her version of events.

In Tuesday’s penultimate episode, Fraser tracks down witnesses who could put other people, not just Murdoch, in the picture.

One witness reports seeing a couple resembling Falconio and Lees with a different man, on the day of the event, while another tells of meeting at a pub close to the crime scene hours after the attack.

Speculation also remains that Falconio is still alive and may have faked his own death, given that his body was never found.

In another remote outback town, two eyewitnesses are convinced they saw him at their service station after the attack.

Finally, in Wednesday’s programme, we see how DNA found on Lees’ shirt and in the couple’s van were decisive in the trial.

Over the next four nights, Fraser explains that there are serious questions still to be answered and ponders whether these doubts are sufficient to have Murdoch’s conviction overturned.

Will there be another twist is what is already an extraordinary case?

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