Just Another Little Murder
Allen & Unwin 2002
Issue 62, Dec 2002 - Jan 2003.
'Perhaps sticking up for a young woman from Melbourne's northern
suburbs is too mundane, and does not guarantee the media spotlight
reserved for one who Thinks Globally', Liz McCarthy.
According to recent judgements in our courts, sometimes when a man
kills his daughter, wife or ex-partner, he is doing so at a time
of loss of self-control, no matter how pre-meditated the deed. Perhaps
the most spurious defence presently on offer for bad men caught
doing terrrible things, the defence known as provocation appears
to have enamoured judges, lawyers and psychiatrists when dealing
with unconscionable acts of the domestic kind.
She made me do it, is the plea of the spurned ex when the woman
he claims to have loved too much lies silent, slashed and ultimately
obedient. In a court of law, this scenario inspires euphemisms that
translate a murder into an 'incident', and a dead woman into an
When Vicki Cleary was in her early 20s, she met Peter Keogh, a
man with a heinous past, crammed mostly into one page of the Melways,
involving rape, arson, and a stockpile of knives. After a couple
of years, Vicki Cleary left Keogh. He told her he would kill her,
as he had told every woman who left him - his former partners were
invariably met with bashing, stalking, arson, rape.
Vicki Cleary was stalked and threatened on numerous occasions before
she arrived at work one day to be greeted by Keogh brandishing knives,
masking tape and wire cutters.
The tools of his established trade on hand, he subsequently informed
a stream of psychiatrists, lawyers and jurors that he couldn't remember
stabbing Cleary to death. She had told him to go away, but he couldn't
remember what happened next. Keogh was found guilty of manslaughter
and spent less than four years in jail.
In 'Just Another Little Murder', Phil Cleary, Vicki's brother,
takes issue with this finding. He makes solid argument that in the
rarefied atmosphere of the legal system, Vicki Cleary's pursuit
of freedom from Keogh should not have qualified as an act which
caused a purportedly ordinary man to behave badly, thereby implicating
the murder victim in her own death.
With a police record of rape and violence since the age of twelve
a family background that was short of cash but not emotional indulgence,
exactly what drove Peter Keogh to spend a lifetime bullying others
is not apparent. He hated women, was all. And he had little problem
discovering a pedigree of psychiatrists willing to explain away
his particular disease on an overprotective mother, alcohol-induced
amnesia and exceptional emotional fragility.
Cleary alerts us to a breed of judge and defence lawyer who affect
myopia at honour killings taking place over the back fence. It seems
domestic murders bear a stigma of guilt by association, a smugness
that decides what sort of woman would stay with a certain kind of
man. A legal fraternity comfortable
with championing the rights of rejected men to kill their recalcitrant
ex-partners was an alliance Keogh didn't have to contest. In psychiatrist's
offices and in courtrooms, a highly educated succession of men and
women were as eager to blame everyone else for his crimes as he
Whilst left-leaning lawyers savour newspaper opinion space to rail
against burkas and detention centre despair, it appears that denouncing
human rights violations in our suburbs hasn't captured the imaginations
of professional grandstanders. Perhaps sticking up for a young woman
from Melbourne's northern suburbs is too mundane, and does not guarantee
the media spotlight reserved for one who Thinks Globally. The recent
trend of feminism from afar is a perspective perhaps most comfortably
experienced from an armchair.
Driving this point, Cleary revisits a number of domestic murders
and assaults accross Melbourne over the past 25 years, and assesses
the manner such
crimes are portrayed. He finds a mediascape transfixed by female
victims' sex lives whilst male criminals are depicted as brutal
but long-suffering in their lust. There is an strong suggestion
that gender forgives criminal behaviour.
Heather Osland was dismissed as a malicious anomoly when she killed
her husband after thirteen years of sodomy and rape. Frank Osland's
relentless abuse was not found to be cause for retaliation, whilst
Vicki Cleary telling Keogh to leave her alone was deemed provocative.
These glaring inconsistencies of law, media and public interest
have infuriated Phil Cleary.
The flagrant miscarriage of justice concerning his sister's murder
has not been reconsidered by the legal fraternity or the mental
health system, and
a recent Federal Goverment report that declared the provocation
defence to be an excuse for men to kill women did not cite the Keogh
Cleary fantasised for a long time of seeking his own revenge against
Keogh, and the suicide of Keogh last year has not placated his outrage.
Cleary canvasses urgent points of crime and punishment, personal
and social responsibility, a legal system that panders to serial
thugs, and a mental health profession that can't differentiate between
criminal and victim.
Refreshingly for the true crime genre, murder victims are depicted
as real people, and there is an absence of revelling in violence.
Cleary is not an advocate of increased police powers or draconian
sentencing. Rather he wished his sister to be respected in court,
for Keogh to be convicted of murder, and for reasonable justice
to prevail. Instead, what transpired was a crude concoction of establishment
Elizabeth McCarthy is a Melbourne writer and broadcaster.
This review appears in Arena Magazine Issue 62, Dec 2002 - Jan 2003.