Peter Marco Falconio (20 September 1972 – 14 July 2001) was a British tourist from Hepworth, West Yorkshire, who disappeared in the Australian outback in July 2001, while travelling with girlfriend Joanne Lees. Falconio's body has never been found and he is presumed dead.
Falconio was 28 years old at the time of the disappearance. Bradley John Murdoch was convicted of his murder on 13 December 2005 and sentenced to life imprisonment. The case attracted considerable public and legal attention worldwide.
Missing person 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, when a man (later identified to be Bradley Murdoch) in another vehicle flagged them down, and told them that he had noticed that their Camper van had engine trouble. After Falconio went to the rear of the vehicle with the man to investigate, Lees heard a shot fired. The man then threatened Lees with a gun, tied her up and covered her head, 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. Falconio's body has never been found.
At the committal hearing in December 2004, Lees told the court that her assailant tied her wrists together behind her, put a sack over her head and forced her into his ute (pick-up truck). She also stated that the person forced her between the seats of his vehicle and into the rear of his vehicle. She said she escaped from his ute and fled into the dark, hiding under bushes, while he tried to find her with a torch. Expert Aboriginal trackers, called from a nearby settlement, could find no sign of tracks other than Lees' in the vicinity. Tracker Teddy Egan stated, "I see tracks where she run and fall down beneath tree. She lie there, hiding".
Trial of Bradley Murdoch
To cope with the demands of the trial and the huge media contingent covering the trial proceedings, the Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin was renovated at a cost of A$900,000. In April 2006, The Bulletin reported that Murdoch had refused to be served chicken while incarcerated during the committal and trial, claiming he was allergic to it, and that he has a standing medical certificate at Berrimah Prison requesting that he never be served chicken. This contradicted his defence at trial that his DNA may have been transferred onto Lees' clothing while buying chicken for himself and his dog.
Subsequent to his conviction, Murdoch appealed the conviction and sentence. On 10 January 2007, the Northern Territory Court of Criminal Appeal (NT CCA) dismissed both limbs of the appeal.
Murdoch then applied for Special Leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia. On 21 June 2007, the High Court refused to grant Special Leave. Under the Australian judicial system, Murdoch has now exhausted all opportunities of appeal. Subsequent to the High Court of Australia refusing to grant Murdoch's application for Special Leave, there was media speculation that Murdoch would lodge a further appeal.
In April 2017, the NT News received an anonymous letter claiming that Falconio's remains were buried in remote Western Australia. It said Murdoch had "cut the body up" and placed it in two large bags. An associate was then asked to dissolve the remains in acid and dispose of them in the Swan River in Perth, but the associate had instead gone past Geraldton and buried the bags unopened. The NT News forwarded the letter to Northern Territory Police, who said they were reviewing the letter.
Films inspired by events
Joanne Lees: Murder in the Outback
In March 2007, Channel Ten in Australia showed Joanne Lees: Murder in the Outback, an account of the murder, covering the period from the night of Falconio's death through to sentencing, from Joanne Lees' perspective. It was also shown by ITV1 in the UK on 8 April 2007, and by Tv1 in New Zealand on 10 June 2007.
Murdoch's trial was still under way at the time of the film's initial release in Australia in 2005. As the film was marketed as being "based on true events", the Northern Territory court placed an injunction on the film's release within the territory in the belief that it could influence the outcome of the proceedings. However, many are misled into thinking that the entire movie is based on a true story, when it only had many influences from other murders around Australia, like the Ivan Milat backpacker murders as well as the Falconio murder case.
- Murdoch, Lindsay (19 October 2005). "Lees relives night she feared she'd die". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- "'I thought I was going to die', says sobbing Lees". The Sydney Morning Herald. 18 October 2005. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- Murdoch, Lindsay (15 December 2005). "Paranoid, armed and deadly". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- Barkham, Patrick (28 July 2001). "Outback case doubts echo dingo baby hue and cry". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- Churchman, Fiona (22 April 2004). "Darwin prepares for the Falconio case". ABC News. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- "New twist in Falconio case". The Sydney Morning Herald. 11 April 2006. Retrieved 17 October 2016.
- Murdoch v The Queen [2007 NTCCA 1]
- "Falconio killer in new appeal". NT News. 4 May 2008. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- Williams, Matt (20 April 2017). "NT Police investigating claims by letter writer that Peter Falconio's body was 'cut up and dumped'". NT News. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
- Bradtke, Birgit. "True Story: The Australian Outback Murder". Retrieved 26 February 2010.