Books & Literature

Book Review: Missing, Presumed Dead, by Mark Tedeschi QC

TRUE CRIME: It was the double murder case that gripped Australia, and former Crown Prosecutor Mark Tedeschi QC is finally able to share all the shocking details.

Gripping, informative, and respectful.

On May 6, 1997, Kerry Whelan, an intelligent, vivacious woman in her late 30s, mother of three, and beloved wife of wealthy businessman Bernie Whelan, parked her car in Paramatta, walked out of the carpark, and was never seen again. The next day a letter was received at the Whelan household claiming that Kerry had been kidnapped, and demanding a ransom of one million dollars. This was the first kidnapping for ransom in Australia since the tragic case of Graeme Thorne in 1960.

In September 2002 an indictment was brought against Bruce Burrell for the murder of Kerry Whelan. In November of that same year, another indictment was brought against him for the murder of Dorothy Davis, a woman who had gone missing in 1995. Both these actions were the result of a massive police operation known as Task Force Bellaire. Burrell had been a neighbour of Mrs Davis and was an ex-employee and friend of Bernie Whelan. Senior Crown Prosecutor on both cases, Mark Tedeschi QC, has now written an account of these awful crimes, and the sociopath that was Bruce Burrell.

Missing, Presumed Dead is an eminently readable piece of work. At its heart, it is a deconstruction and explanation of the complexity of prosecuting a circumstantial criminal case. Neither victim’s body has been found at time of writing, and there was no evidence directly tying Burrell to either crime: no eye witnesses, no DNA or other trace evidence, and certainly no confession. The non-legal public often finds it difficult to understand how a circumstantial case is built up, let alone that they can be even stronger than a direct evidence case. And there is still a belief that you cannot be tried for murder without a body. All these myths and misunderstandings are clearly and intelligently put to rest by Tedeschi, who writes for the general reader, whilst remaining legally and intellectually rigorous. As he says in his introduction:

“The purpose of this book is to present and explain the investigations and trials from the vantage points of the police and prosecutor, and to describe the many twists and turns that occurred during both.”

What Missing, Presumed Dead also does brilliantly is put the victims at the core of the work: not just Mrs Whelan and Mrs Davis, but their families and communities, who also suffered, and continue to do so. And finally it also paints a portrait of Burrell himself: entitled, lazy, greedy, and with an inflated sense of his own talents and intelligence. It doesn’t purport to be a full psychological or criminological profile, but rather sets his actions in the context of his view of himself and the world around him.

Tedeschi has written a gripping work which gives richer detail to this notorious case. It will be enjoyed, of course, by the true crime lovers, but also by any reader interested in the law.

All proceeds from Missing, Presumed Dead will be donated by Tedeschi to Australian charities supporting the families of missing persons.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Simon & Schuster
Released: March 2022
RRP: $34.99

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