Missing, Presumed Dead by Mark Tedeschi QC

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

In this gripping account of the tragic case of Kerry Whelan, Mark Tedeschi has shown, although a body was never found, how a trial and subsequent conviction could take place.

The public is often mystified when years pass between a crime being committed and it being brought to trial – sometimes eight or nine years hence.

Tedeschi’s excellent account of the Whelan case shows how wide-ranging and meticulous police work must be, in order that ‘a person of interest’ becomes a suspect and is finally charged.  He gives details of the guilty man, Bruce Burrell, who was driven by greed, laziness and callousness to abduct Kerry Whelan and dispose of her body, hoping to get a $1,000,000 ransom. She was the wife of his one-time friend and successful businessman, Bernie Whelan.

Burrell lived by the code of the conman, charming and menacing by turn. His ‘prey’ was usually elderly ladies of substantial means. It has been proven that one such victim, Dorothy Davis, was murdered by Burrell when she demanded he return the $100,000 she had loaned him.  His knowledge of Bernie’s wealth made his wife a likely target, so Burrell executed a plan which concluded in her disappearance, never to be found.

Many believe that a conviction ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ is impossible as there is no direct evidence pointing to the suspect.

However, as Tedeschi so clearly explains, circumstantial evidence can be more convincing. To be effective it must be exhaustive. To achieve this, the detectives and police involved must ‘leave no stone unturned’ often working in very difficult conditions. For instance, the territory surrounding Burrell’s home, Hillydale, was extremely rugged.

One example that is striking and demonstrates the lengths followed in this investigation

is that a list was made of all two-toned Pajeros.  (Burrell drove one and this model was recorded in the critical scene where Kerry was last seen alive).  1,694 people owned such a car and all had to interviewed and eliminated. This happened up to a year later so memories were blurred, but is an indication of the thorough, if tedious, work undergone.

A large section of the book then gives details of the trial in 2006 after Kerry had been missing for over eight years. Both  the prosecution and defence arguments are set down with the eminent QC adding explanation where necessary. He states that, in criminal trials, the onus is on the prosecution to prove guilt and this evidence then is addressed by the defence.

A unanimous decision used to be mandatory in NSW until 2006. So, in Burrell’s second trial, the jury was able to return a 11-1 guilty verdict. He was handed a life sentence but has since died in prison.

Missing, Presumed Dead is engrossing and difficult to put down. With admirable detail, it emerges that efforts are tireless in seeking the evidence that will establish guilt beyond reasonable doubt.   Burrell’s planning, execution, and the truth and probability of these, make for riveting reading.  His lies are exposed (as when he was able to carry two slabs of beer to his car when supposedly suffering crippling back pain).

The scrutiny to everyone even remotely connected to Burrell and the Whelans was painful at times but it was the notorious Burrell, ‘Australia’s Most Hated Man’ who proved to be the cold heartless criminal. Some evidence was disputed by his defence team but as with a jigsaw that has missing pieces, the incomplete picture is indisputably clear.

Missing, Presumed Dead

by Mark Tedeschi QC

[2022]

Simon and Schuster

ISBN 978 176110 445 9

$34.99; 305pp

 

 

 

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