21 October 2014

Review: MOTHERS WHO MURDER, Xanthe Mallett

  • source: Net Galley review copy
  • File Size: 3100 KB
  • Print Length: 265 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (July 30, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00IY5QK8O
Synopsis (Net Galley)

Child murder: A social taboo and one of the most abhorrent acts most of us can imagine. Meet the women found guilty of murdering their own children. They represent some of the most hated women in Australia. The infamous list includes psychologically damaged, sometimes deranged, women on the edge.

But, as we will see, accused doesn't always mean guilty. Among the cases covered is that of Kathleen Folbigg, accused and found guilty of killing four of her children, even with a lack of any forensic evidence proving her guilt; Rachel Pfitzner, who strangled her 2-year-old son and dumped his body in a duck pond; as well as Keli Lane, found guilty of child murder though no body has ever been found.

Dr Mallett goes back to the beginning of each case; death's ground zero. That might be the accused's childhood, were they abused? Or was their motivation greed, or fear of losing a partner? Were they just simply evil? Or did the media paint them as such, against the evidence and leading to a travesty of justice. Each case will be re-opened, the alternative suspects assessed, the possible motives reviewed.

Informed by her background as a forensic scientist, Xanthe will offer insight into aspects of the cases that may not have been explored previously. Taking you on her journey through the facts, and reaching her own conclusion as to whether she believes the evidence points to the women's guilt.

Hear their stories.

My Take

Those who follow my blog will know that true crime is not really my cup of tea, but each year I set myself a target to read a little outside the genre of crime fiction.

MOTHERS WHO MURDER looks at a number of Australian cases where the author feels there has been the possibility of a miscarriage of justice. She begins with the case of Lindy Chamberlain, where Lindy claimed a dingo had taken her baby when the family were camping at Uluru. The Northern Territory police decided that Lindy's story could not possibly be true and she was eventually convicted of the murder and disposal of baby Azaria although no body has ever been found. Then the conviction was quashed and an apology issued. But nothing can compensate for the thirty years of anguish suffered by Lindy and her family. For me this chapter acted as a sort of benchmark as I was familiar with the trial.

Seven individual cases are given individual chapters: mainly of mothers who appear to have been responsible for the deaths of multiple children over a number of years. In most cases there were two or even three children who were thought originally to have died of SIDS. The death of the fourth child raised a flag and sparked an investigation because authorities felt that the fourth death raised questions about the earlier three.

While the author began with these multiple death cases she also investigated the deaths of individual children, mainly interested in why they happened. These cases are dealt with in less detail, and include cases where a father has taken the life of his children, and sometimes his spouse.

The chapter on Lindy Chamberlain sets the pattern for those to follow: the background to the case, a description of the main events, why an investigation was conducted and how it panned out, the alternative who (who else might have committed the crime), the how (how the prosecutors behaved and why- their agenda), the role and influence of the expert witnesses, the inquests, the media influence, comparative cases, and the closure of the case. Each time the author identifies how expert witnesses had an influence outside their own area of expertise, often in response to the agenda of the prosecutors who were trying to make the facts fit the case they wanted to prove.

The author tried hard to be objective and detached in her descriptions and conclusions but she says she recognizes that she became emotionally involved, so horrified was she by what she saw that some children had suffered. She says too that "beyond the children who have been killed, there are many more victims": the police who have to investigate the cases, the social workers, neighbours and community. She does point out times where the responsible authorities, whether because of work overload, inexperience, or lack of follow up, did not take action that might have prevented the death of a child. 
She also considers the role of the media in raising community awareness, helping to identify perpetrators, or searching for missing children. She believes that in most cases, while some of the media has been sensational and wrong in their opinions, the media has acted responsibly.

The author sees herself as a "seasoned forensic scientist", with experience first of all in the UK and then in Australia, and draws on cases from both countries, believing there is much to be learnt by comparisons. She points out how some cases and their outcomes in the UK have actually led to precedents being set in legal procedures.

I found this book well presented, engrossing reading, guaranteed to make the reader think.

My rating: 4.5


Anonymous said...

Kerrie - As difficult as the subject matter is, the book does sound interesting. And honestly, I don't know if I could possibly be objective about such a subject. It must have been quite a difficult experience to write the book.

Anonymous said...

This was a great review. I am not usually interested in true crime, but this book sounds very good.

Such sad cases, and yes, I too remember the coverage about Lindy and Michael Chamberlain.



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