Joanne Rachael Lees (born 25 September 1973) is known for her ordeal in central Australia when, as a young British tourist travelling with her partner Peter Falconio, she was attacked and subjected to an attempted abduction by a man later identified as Bradley John Murdoch. Lees escaped her attacker, but Falconio was never found, and in 2005 Murdoch was convicted of his murder.
The events took place on a remote stretch of highway near Barrow Creek in outback Northern Territory, Australia on 14 July 2001. Lees was the chief crown witness in the subsequent murder trial of Bradley John Murdoch conducted in Darwin.
Lees first met Falconio in a nightclub in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England in 1996 and began living with him the following year in Brighton, England where Falconio was studying at university. In 2000, the couple embarked on a trip to Thailand, Singapore and Australia.
The night of 14 July 2001
Early on the night of 14 July 2001 the young backpackers were travelling on the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek, in the Northern Territory, in their orange Kombi. Falconio was driving and Lees was next to him in the passenger seat. The two had been conscious of the headlights of a car behind them for some time, and were waiting to be overtaken. However, when the vehicle - a white, four wheel drive utility - drew alongside, the man in the cab, Murdoch, gestured at them to pull over. Falconio stopped the van and went to speak with the man, who pulled off the road ahead of them. The man explained he had seen sparks shooting out of the van's exhaust. The two went to the rear of the vehicle to investigate, and Lees slid into the drivers seat, ready to rev the engine. She then heard a loud bang from the rear of the van and, moments later, turned to the window. Instead of the night sky, the man filled it, with a silver gun in his hand. He climbed into the van, threatening her with the gun, as she backed away from him. She let him secure her hand behind her back with cable ties. She was forced out of the van landing on her knees on the gravel and falling to her face on the ground, but she escaped while he was distracted (apparently while moving Falconio's body). She hid for five hours in nearby bushes before running out onto the road and flagging down a truck driver who removed her cable ties and took her to safety at Barrow Creek Hotel from where the police were called.
Bradley John Murdoch was found to have left Alice Springs at a time and in a direction that may have led to him being at or around Barrow Creek at the time of the murder. Expert testimony presented at the trial indicated that Murdoch was the man captured in the CCTV footage at the service station. Furthermore, the identikit drawings of the attacker and his vehicle bore a strong resemblance to Murdoch and his vehicle. Lees identified Murdoch from police photographs shown to Lees in November 2002 by NT Police and finally face-to-face during the trial on 18 October 2005. This, combined with the DNA match on Lees' T-shirt, formed the case for Murdoch being charged with the murder. DNA testing procedure and this DNA result greatly assisted in the conviction of Murdoch. Murdoch was found guilty by a jury in a unanimous verdict. A subsequent appeal was quashed as was a final high court appeal. Murdoch is serving a 28-year sentence. Only after the sentencing was it revealed that Murdoch had previously been charged and acquitted with aggravated sexual assault on a mother and daughter in South Australia some years earlier.
Murdoch's defence argued during the trial that the DNA match on Lees' T-shirt could be due to accidental blood transfer in an Alice Springs Red Rooster restaurant prior to the alleged offence, or could have been simply planted by persons unknown. Further samples were found to be contaminated and were not presented as evidence. Murdoch gave evidence that he had stopped at that restaurant to buy chicken for himself and his dog: "Chicken roll, box of nuggets for Jack... full chicken for the trip". During the committal hearing, Lees at one stage mentioned that she and Falconio had stopped at Red Rooster. However, the Bulletin newspaper reported in April 2006 that Murdoch was allergic to chicken, undermining his claims. Currently serving time in Darwin's Berrimah Prison, a maximum security prison, Murdoch has a "prison dietitian assigned to create a special menu" due to this allergy.
Lees also agreed to an interview with Martin Bashir, which was later televised in Australia, for which she was paid £50,000. She later testified in court that she had agreed to this interview to raise awareness of the case in Australia, as she felt the public profile of the case had diminished.
In July 2011, Lees was interviewed by Australia's Woman's Day in the lead-up to the tenth anniversary of the murder of Peter Falconio. She stated that she was still single and living a solitary life, and had worked at a travel agency and as a social worker with disabled people. She had also studied sociology at Sheffield University.
Lees wrote No Turning Back, a book about her life, for which she reportedly received an advance of £250,000. She went to the UK for the launch of the book in October 2006 and a serialisation appeared in The Times newspaper on 2 and 3 October.
In March 2007, Channel Ten in Australia presented a docudrama covering events from the night of the murder through to sentencing, from Lees' perspective. The roles of Lees and Falconio were played by Joanne Froggatt and Laurence Breuls. It was also shown by ITV1 in the UK on 8 April 2007, by TV1 in New Zealand on 10 June 2007 and by RTL 2 in Germany on 12 January 2009.
On 12 February 2017, Australia's Nine Network presented a 60 Minutes extended interview with Joanne Lees who "is determined to honour her partner’s memory by confronting the awful past." Australian sculptor Ewen Coates is working with Lees to construct a memorial for Falconio at the crime scene.
- Dougary, Ginny.Joanne Lees: My Story. "She turned 33 on September 25 "
- "Only Bradley John Murdoch knows where Peter Falconio is buried". Herald Sun. Retrieved 18 December 2013.
- Suellen Hinde - "Bradley Murdoch doing easy time"
- "'Flaws' in evidence of Outback murder victim's girlfriend". telegraph.co.uk. 20 October 2005.
- Enough Rope with Andrew Denton - episode 124: Joanne Lees (09/10/2006)
- James Delingpole. "Joanne deserves more than scorn". The First Post. Retrieved 13 December 2006.
- "Joanne Lees still single ten years after murder of boyfriend Peter Falconio". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- "I so regret my secret affair, says Outback murder girl". Daily Mail. London. 29 September 2006.
- "Murder in the outback". The Times. London. 2 October 2006.
- "Lees attacks 'sensational' media". BBC. 9 October 2006. Retrieved 9 April 2007.
- Why Joanne Lees is creating a memorial for Peter Falconio at 9now.com.au, February 2017