Books & Literature

Interview with criminal barrister Mark Tedeschi QC, author of true crime book Missing, Presumed Dead.

We spoke with criminal barrister Mark Tedeschi QC about his latest book Missing, Presumed Dead, and his career in the legal profession.

Mark Tedeschi QC is one of Australia’s most experienced criminal barristers. For 20 years, he served as Senior Crown Prosecutor for NSW and President of the Australian Association of Crown Prosecutors. Also a talented photographer and writer, Tedeschi has recently published his fourth true crime book, Missing, Presumed Dead. He took some time to talk to Glam about his amazing career and this new book.

Astonishingly, Tedeschi knew from a very young age that the legal profession was the one for him.

“I wanted to be a lawyer from when I was four or five years old. And I never deviated from that. My late father was a court interpreter in Italian and he would come home from having spent the day interpreting in court, and tell us weird stories about these people. That’s probably why I wanted to become a lawyer, and a criminal lawyer in particular.”

After graduating from University of Sydney, Tedeschi did post-graduate studies in London.

“I studied international trade law in London and when I came back I became an academic in commercial law. So when I went to the Bar I thought I’d become a commercial barrister but about a year after I started I got my first criminal case and I was hooked!”

Right from the beginning of his career at the Bar, Tedeschi seemed destined to be high-profile.

“My first case was known as The Greek Conspiracy Case. About 180 people had been charged with a Social Security fraud. It included five doctors and I was [appearing] for one of the five doctors. I ended up playing a fairly major role in the case which went for three years–it was incredible. Solicitors would ask me, ‘What kind of law do you specialise in?’ and I would say, ‘I specialise in Greek conspiracy cases!’”

Tedeschi’s first true crime book, published in 2012, was Eugenia, which tells the story of Eugenia Falleni, a woman in 1920 who was charged with the murder of her wife. She lived in Australia for 22 years as a man and officially married twice during that time.

“It was really the case that I felt impelled to write about. I still think it’s one of the most extraordinary cases ever in the history of Australian criminal law, and there were some really important messages from it. I decided to join up with a true crime writer. She wrote a chapter and I wrote a chapter but I didn’t like what she’d written. So then I decided to do it myself. And I was hooked: I really enjoyed writing. I found it very meditative and creative.”

Since then, Tedeschi has written Kidnapped and Murder at Myall Creek, before tackling Missing, Presumed Dead. This is the first case he has written about in which he was professionally involved himself: the trials of Bruce Burrell for the kidnapping and murder of Kerry Whelan, and the murder of Dorothy Davis.

“Not only is this my first book of that nature, but with the exception of Nicholas Cowdery’s autobiography, I think it’s the first book in recent memory where an Australian prosecutor has written about one of his or her own cases. It’s quite common in the United States but in Australia it’s more defence barristers that write about their cases. I felt it was a great case for explaining to ordinary people how phenomenally complex police investigations can be and explaining what happens during these lengthy complex criminal trials. I also [wanted to show] members of the public how strong a circumstantial case can be. A lot of people have this mistaken view that if it’s a circumstantial case, that means it’s a weak case. Also a lot of people think that if you don’t have a body that you can’t have a murder trial. So all those elements came together to get me to choose this case [to write about].”

Also of interest in this case is the psychological make-up of the accused, Bruce Burrell.

“I try to delve into the mind of the perpetrator to try to explain why he did the crazy things that he did. I think it’s an extreme form of narcissism. There are loads of narcissists in our society, and some of them are very successful, like some of our corporate leaders. But they don’t commit murder. Then every now and again you come across a person like Bruce Burrell who has this incredible sense of entitlement and a great sense of injustice that the universe has not provided him with the abundance that he deserves. His narcissism also makes him totally immune to the suffering of his victims and their families. But more than anything else there’s this incredible avoidance of shame. He’s got to do anything to avoid the shame of admitting he’s a total failure. And he was completely impervious to the fact that he was leaving serious pieces of evidence for the police to later find, particularly with the Kerry Whelan disappearance.”

To date, neither Kerry Whelan’s nor Dorothy Davis’s bodies have ever been found, and Tedeschi believes that, sadly, they probably never will be.

Interestingly, for someone who has just written about a highly complex case on which he was one of the counsel, Tedeschi feels many trials could be simplified.

“I think there are some judges that allow trials to become too complex. Judges are loathe to restrict barristers, and I think some barristers want to go down every single rabbit hole, and it costs the community a lot. So it’s really for the judges to focus the attention of the barristers on what are the real issues.”

So what is one reform Tedeschi would like to see brought into the Australian criminal justice system?

“The defence barrister gives his or her opening at the beginning of the defence case when the court has already heard all the evidence in the prosecution case. I think it makes more sense to have the defence opening address right at the beginning of the trial, so the jury know exactly what the case is from the outset.”

Barrister, academic, writer and photographer, Mark Tedeschi is truly one of Australia’s ‘Renaissance men’.

Missing, Presumed Dead was published by Simon & Schuster. Read our review here.

View Tedeschi’s photography here.

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