Joanne Rachael Lees (born 25 September 1973) is best known for her ordeal in central Australia when, in 2001, as a young British tourist travelling with her partner Peter Falconio, she was attacked and subjected to an attempted abduction by a man later identified as Bradley John Murdoch. Lees escaped her attacker, but Falconio was never found, and in 2005 Murdoch was convicted of his murder. Lees was the chief crown witness in the subsequent murder trial of Bradley John Murdoch conducted in Darwin. She later wrote a 2006 book, converted into a 2007 telemovie, about her experiences.
Joanne Rachael Lees
25 September 1973
|Known for||Kidnapped subsequent to the murder of her partner|
|No Turning Back|
|Television||Joanne Lees: Murder in the Outback|
(1996–2001; his death)
Lees was born on 25 September 1973, and lived her first 11 years with her mother Jenny (who had separated from her father). Her mother then remarried to Vincent, who already had a son named Sam, and the new family of four lived in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England. During high school and later studies, she had several part-time jobs as a barmaid, and bacon packer, before securing a job at her local Thomas Cook travel agency.
Lees first met Falconio in a nightclub in Huddersfield in 1996 and began living with him the following year in Brighton, England where Falconio was studying at Brighton University. She then transferred her job to a local Cook agency, before the couple took short trips to Italy, Greece and Jamaica. From 1998, the couple had planned a trip to Thailand, Singapore, and Australia (though recent news of the Backpacker Murders, Port Arthur killings, and Childers Palace Backpackers Hostel fire there had made their families anxious). On 15 November 2000, the couple departed, travelling through Nepal, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia (where Lees' traveller's cheques and return ticket were stolen). By 16 January 2001, they had arrived in Sydney on a working holiday visa, and Lees then job-hunted, finally securing work at the Dymocks bookstore on George Street. After five months, in which the couple had enjoyed Sydney's night-scene, Falconio purchased a car for the next stage of their travel plan, a road trip from Sydney to Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin, and Brisbane.
Falconio and Lees were travelling at night along the Stuart Highway near Barrow Creek (between Alice Springs and Tennant Creek) in the Northern Territory, outback Australia, on 14 July 2001, when a man 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. The man then threatened Lees with a gun, and tied her up, 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 took her to safety.
In the aftermath of attack, Lees was both supported and suspected by the media (as had happened in the Chamberlain case). Expert testimony presented at the trial indicated that Bradley Murdoch was the man captured in the CCTV footage at the service station. Lees identified Murdoch from police photographs shown to her in November 2002 by NT Police and finally face-to-face during the trial on 18 October 2005. This, combined with the DNA match on Lees' T-shirt, formed the case for Murdoch being charged with the murder. DNA testing procedure and this DNA result greatly assisted in the conviction of Murdoch. Murdoch was found guilty by a jury in a unanimous verdict.
Lees agreed to an interview with Martin Bashir, which was later televised in Australia, for which she was paid £50,000. She later testified in court that she had agreed to this interview to raise awareness of the case in Australia, as she felt the public profile of the case had diminished.
Lees wrote No Turning Back, a book about her life, for which she reportedly received an advance of £250,000. She went to the UK for the launch of the book in October 2006 and a serialisation appeared in The Times newspaper on 2 and 3 October. A lengthy interview with Lees was aired on Andrew Denton's show, Enough Rope on 9 October 2006. On 9 October 2006, Lees was interviewed on the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 by John Humphrys. On 10 October 2006, Lees was interviewed by BBC News 24.
In July 2011, Lees was interviewed by Australia's Woman's Day in the lead-up to the tenth anniversary of the murder of Peter Falconio. She stated that she was still single and living a solitary life, and had worked at a travel agency and as a social worker with disabled people. She had also studied sociology at Sheffield University.
On 12 February 2017, Australia's Nine Network presented a 60 Minutes extended interview with Joanne Lees who "is determined to honour her partner's memory by confronting the awful past." Australian sculptor Ewen Coates is working with Lees to construct a memorial for Falconio at the crime scene.
In March 2007, Channel Ten in Australia presented a docudrama covering events from the night of the murder through to sentencing, from Lees' perspective. The roles of Lees and Falconio were played by Joanne Froggatt and Laurence Breuls. It was also shown by ITV1 in the UK on 8 April 2007, by TV One in New Zealand on 10 June 2007 and by RTL 2 in Germany on 12 January 2009.
- Dougary, Ginny.Joanne Lees: My Story. "She turned 33 on September 25 "
- "Case 44: Peter Falconio – Casefile: True Crime Podcast". Casefile: True Crime Podcast. 29 January 2017. Retrieved 1 March 2018.
- 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.
- "'Flaws' in evidence of Outback murder victim's girlfriend". telegraph.co.uk. 20 October 2005.
- "I so regret my secret affair, says Outback murder girl". Daily Mail. London. 29 September 2006.
- "Murder in the outback". The Times. London. 2 October 2006.
- Enough Rope with Andrew Denton - episode 124: Joanne Lees (09/10/2006)
- James Delingpole. "Joanne deserves more than scorn". The First Post. Archived from the original on 12 October 2006. Retrieved 13 December 2006. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- "Lees attacks 'sensational' media". BBC. 9 October 2006. Retrieved 9 April 2007.
- "Joanne Lees still single ten years after murder of boyfriend Peter Falconio". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- Why Joanne Lees is creating a memorial for Peter Falconio at 9now.com.au, February 2017