Mark Tedeschi AM QC – Missing, Presumed Dead

Simon and Schuster, Australia, 2022
Cover design by Luke Causby/Blue Cork
Cover photograph supplied

This book is an account of the kidnapping and murder of two Sydney women, Kerry Whelan and Dorothy Davis, the police investigation into their disappearance and the legal proceedings that led to the conviction of Bruce Burrell for both crimes.

Mark Tedeschi talks about Missing, Presumed Dead

The author, Mark Tedeschi AM QC, was the Senior Crown Prosecutor for NSW and the head of Chambers of the Crown Prosecutors in NSW until 2018. Both of these cases came under his purview.

What strikes me as a lay reader is the clarity with which Tedeschi explains the intricate details of the cases, the precision of presentation of the complexities of the police and legal work, the use of multiple points of view in the narration and the obvious compassion with which he makes this account.

This is an informative and fascinating look at our criminal justice system, made accessible for the person with no legal training.

So much of what the lay person thinks about crime and punishment comes from our experience of crime fiction, whether this be in writing or on screen. And, just like all those TV medical programs, the reality is quite different.

Some particularly interesting points raised by the author settle popular misapprehensions. One is that a body is not needed to establish that a person is dead  – and hence that a murder charge can be brought – as there are so many other pieces of evidence that leave no other conclusion.

Another is that circumstantial evidence can often prove to be more effective than direct evidence to establish guilt. In such a case it is the combination of a number of pieces of evidence to build a complete, or near-complete but unmistakable picture, that is significant in establishing guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

The change in the law regarding unanimous verdicts is also discussed.

This is a thorough account of the events surrounding these heinous crimes with the facts seen from the view of the police, the prosecutors and the perpetrator. We are shown all the small details of evidence, the processes of arrest, pre-hearings and trials, the allowing or disallowing of certain pieces evidence.

It is testament to Mark Tedeschi’s skill as a writer that he holds the reader’s attention throughout. At no time is there a sense of the reader as voyeur, but rather as an interested and concerned citizen for whom an understanding of the law and of some aspects of criminality will engender greater humanity.

While the investigation and pursuit of some level of justice form the content of this book, the concern is always with the victims and the victims’ family members.

We understand the moral imperative of the investigating police and of the lawyers on both sides to see justice done for all parties. And in seeing this, we can but recognise the value of our criminal justice and legal systems and their crucial role as a pillar of our democracy.

True crime accounts such as this one not only contribute to our understanding of society in the narrow plane of individual cases, but on a grander scale as we contemplate the work done by others to maintain public safety.

The readability of this work as well as the significance of its subject matter attest not just to the author’s professional experience but also to his personal qualities –  his attention to detail, his capacity as a communicator and his compassion.

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for my review copy and to Mark for a conversation as informative and  interesting as this fascinating book.