The true story of Peter Falconio and his girlfriend Joanne Lees remains one of the strangest crime events to have taken place in Australia.
Falconio mysteriously disappeared in the Australian outback in July 2001, while the couple travelled around in a Kombi van.
Falconio’s body has never been found and he is now presumed dead.
The events leading up to his disappearance, the investigations and court cases are intresting, but has the truth really been discovered?
An abduction or murder?
Falconio and Lees were travelling at night along the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek (between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek) in the Northern Territory on 14 July 2001.
Ms Lees said that at some point shortly after passing through Barrow Creek about 8pm when it was dark, they became aware that another vehicle was following the van.
That vehicle (a white 4-wheel drive utility fitted with a bull bar) pulled alongside the van. Its interior light was switched on.
It was driven by a man wearing a black baseball cap with a motif on it and a long sleeve shirt with what appeared to be a T-shirt under it. He appeared to have a Mexican moustache that drooped down past the sides of his mouth. A dog was also seen to be sitting on the passenger seat of the utility.
Around 11 km’s north of Barrow Creek, at about 8.15pm, the man waves the Kombi over.
He told them that he had noticed that their Kombi had engine trouble.
After Falconio went to the rear of the vehicle with the man to investigate, Lees said she heard a shot fired.
The man then threatened Lees with a small gun, tied her up and covered her head, and pushed her into the back of his ute.
Lees says she escaped while the man was distracted (apparently while moving Falconio’s body).
She hid for five hours in nearby scrub bushes.
The missing body
On 15th July Sunday at about 1 am, Lees emerges from the scrub onto the highway, and out in front of a “Bull’s” road train truck being driven by Vince Millar.
Vince stopped about a kilometre down the road and Joanne ran towards the road train. Vince got out of the truck and spoke to Joanne. He started to help her look for her boyfriend but when she told him her attacker had had a gun, he decided it would be best to go for help. He drove her south to the Barrow Creek roadhouse, where they contacted police.
By 7.00am, the NT police had launched a search for Mr Falconio and the gunman.
Quickly they found a pool of blood covered with dirt beside the Stuart Hwy, (This blood was later DNA matched toPeter Falconio, but strangely his blood had been mixed with animal blood)
The police also later found the Kombi driven well off the road into the scrub.
Falconio’s body however has never been found.
Expert Aboriginal trackers, called from a nearby settlement, could find no sign of tracks of anyone, other than Lees’ in the vicinity.
After four years of gruelling investigations, in which over 2500 suspects had been identified, but no real leads, and no body, police tracked down and arrested truck driver Bradley Murdoch.
He was convicted of murder and is still in jail, dispite claiming he did not do it. Many experts on the case agree with him, and evidence of a set up has been reported.
Strange events and mysteries
What happened to Falconio’s body?
This is the greatest remaining mystery and the lynch-pin of Murdoch’s defence. “Show me the body” is his constant challenge to judges and police.
An Impossible escape?
One of the points used to weaken Miss Lees’ story of escape was the manner in which she slipped out through to the rear of the four-wheel drive utility. In court, she admitted her original account may have been wrong – she may have been pushed into the back of the vehicle through canvas awnings at the side.
Plus the issue of her “impossible” escape from the cable-ties used to restrain her hands behind her back. In court, she quickly slipped her necktie-bound hands back to her front – instantly putting that particular question to rest.
Is Falconio still alive?
There was also the story told by Melissa Kendall and Robbie Brown, who worked at a service station in the town of Bourke. They say they served a man who matched Peter Falconio’s description a week after the events at Barrow Creek.
They were stunned to see him walk through the door as his picture was in that day’s newspapers. He had entered the shop with another man and a woman. One of them matched the photofit pictures issued by police, they said. The Bourke “Falconio” departed with some chocolate.
The real cover up conspiracy
Recently, whispers of money trouble, drug connections and Falconio’s connections to the underworld have started to be uncovered.
In 2011 a Melbourne lawyer convicted for involvement in a large cocaine importation ring said he “knew” Falconio was still alive. He offered no evidence to back his assertion, but insisted Murdoch had been framed.
Case: unresolved mystery
Sources: Australia news, BBC, news.com.au, Falconio.weebly.com