Joanne Lees has revealed the chilling moment she realised police were treating her as a potential suspect in the case of her murdered boyfriend Peter Falconio.
Police tapes uncovered by 60 Minutes show snippets of a near-four hour interview with Ms Lees during which investigators asked her if she was ‘involved’ in his death.
‘No I haven’t been involved not at all. No,’ Ms Lees responds hysterically.
‘But you think I’m involved don’t you? I’m not involved and I didn’t murder Pete and I want Pete as much (you do),’ she continues.
Police tapes reveal the exact moment British backpacker Joanne Lees realised that police were treating her as a suspect in the murder of her boyfriend Peter Falconio
‘It was like a stab to the heart’: An emotional Ms Lees told 60 Minutes that the interrogation by Alice Springs police one month after her boyfriend’s death left her feeling heartbroken
Ms Lees, then aged 27, was backpacking around Australia with her British boyfriend Peter Falconio, 28, when tragedy struck on the night of July 14, 2001.
The pair were travelling towards Darwin on a remote stretch of highway near Barrow Creek, north of Alice Springs, in a Kombi when a stranger waved them over.
The stranger, Bradley Murdoch, shot Mr Falconio point-blank in the head.
Murdoch then punched Ms Lees in the head and bound her with cable-tie restraints before she miraculously managed to escape, hiding in bushes for five hours while he stalked her with a dog.
Murdoch was convicted of Mr Falconio’s murder in 2006 following a jury trial, largely based on DNA evidence which included a spot of Ms Lees’ blood on his T-shirt.
Murdoch is believed to have hidden Mr Falconio’s body, which has never been found despite extensive searches.
Peter Falconio (left) was shot dead on a remote highway in central Australia in 2001. His girlfriend Joanne Lees (right) managed to escape the killer
‘I’m not involved and I didn’t murder Pete’: Ms Lees firmly denied any implication in the horrific murder of her boyfriend, but told 60 Minutes she started to question herself
Bradley Murdoch (pictured) was convicted of Mr Falconio’s murder, but his body has never been found
In the months after the murder, Alice Springs police struggled to cope with the enormity of the murder case – which mysteriously involved no body.
‘We had nothing, some of it (Ms Lees’ testimony) seemed a bit surreal, some of it didn’t add up initially,’ former chief investigator Colleen Gwynne told 60 Minutes.
‘And like with the media in the absence of information you tend to start wandering off and having your own theories … (police) are human too.’
The night before Ms Lees was due to leave Alice Springs, police called her in at 8.30pm and interrogated her for three-and-a-half hours.
‘I started to question myself and doubt myself, I guess that was a police tactic,’ Ms Lees told 60 Minutes.
‘I think they were hoping I would confess to something I hadn’t done.
‘It was like a stab to the heart, how could they think that?’
During the extensive police interview, Ms Lees goes on to accuse the local police of wasting resources on her when they could have been searching for Mr Falconio.
‘No there isn’t any more information and if you just didn’t look at me and looked more at catching this man…’ she is heard saying in an exasperated tone.
The British couple had been travelling in a Volkswagen Kombi van towards Darwin when they were flagged down
Murdoch’s murder trial was based largely on DNA evidence which included a spot of Ms Lees’ blood on his T-shirt
The world was suspicious of Ms Lees’ story that Murdoch had shot dead her boyfriend when she appeared emotionless after the incident.
Comparisons were made to Lindy Chamberlain, who was jailed in 1982 for the murder of her baby daughter Azaria in August 1980, only for an inquest in 2012 to declare a dingo took her baby.
It was later reported that Lees had taken Valium to numb her grief.
‘How could they think that? It was like a stab to the heart,’ she said.
Murdoch was convicted of Mr Falconio’s murder in 2006 following a jury trial, largely on DNA evidence which included a spot of Ms Lees’ blood on his T-shirt.
They also discovered Ms Lees’ hair tie hanging off his gun holster.
Police later found a pool of blood on the road, but were never able to find Mr Falconio’s remains.
Murdoch, now 58, is serving a life prison sentence in the Northern Territory.
He has always protested his innocence and insists he can’t reveal where Falconio’s body is because he wasn’t at the crime scene. Media are not allowed to speak to him.
The world was suspicious of Ms Lees’ story that Murdoch had shot dead her boyfriend when she appeared emotionless after the incident