60 Minutes February 12

This weekend 60 Minutes has the whole episode dedicated to the Joanne Lees Story

It was a crime so shocking it will be remembered forever.

In the middle of the night on July 14, 2001, an attractive young English tourist hails down a huge road train on a remote part of the Stuart Highway in the Northern Territory. The woman is in great distress and pleads with the truck driver for urgent help. She tells him a deranged gunman has taken her boyfriend and tried to kidnap her. Somehow, through a haze of sheer panic and incredible good luck, she’d managed to escape. 

From that horrific moment, Joanne Lees and her murdered boyfriend, Peter Falconio, became household names in Australia and around the world – the backpacking couple on the adventure of a lifetime, who fatefully crossed paths with the violent and evil Bradley John Murdoch.

Now, in a 60 MINUTES exclusive, Liz Hayes accompanies Joanne as she returns to the Northern Territory on a courageous journey tackling unfinished business. Peter Falconio has never been found and she wants to search for him and take him home to England. It might sound like mission impossible in the vast Australian outback, but as Hayes discovers, Joanne Lees has an extraordinary will and is determined to honour her partner’s memory by confronting the awful past.

What Joanne has endured over the last 15 years has tested and tormented her to breaking point. She tells Hayes she sometimes felt her treatment was so unfair, it would have been better if she didn’t survive that terrible night in 2001.

The cruel harassment of Joanne Lees began in the immediate aftermath of the highway attack. The NT police conducted a major investigation and manhunt, but there was no trace of her attacker or Peter’s body. In the absence of substantial clues, and with the world’s media desperate for stories, attention shifted to Joanne Lees. In her shock and grief she was reluctant to play the part expected of her by the police and media. Her demeanour was perceived as suspicious.

Even 15 months after the attack, when Bradley Murdoch was identified as the main suspect, the public remained sceptical about Joanne Lees. She bravely faced Murdoch in the Darwin Supreme Court and her evidence in the trial helped to convict him of multiple crimes including the murder of Peter Falconio. After the case, Joanne tried to get on with her life back in England, but unresolved questions continued to haunt her – what had Murdoch done to Peter, and where was his body?

Joanne Lees knew she would one day have to return to where it all began.

But there’s one more surprising twist to this intriguing story…

Reporter: Liz Hayes

Producers: Ali Smith & Stephen Taylor

8:30pm Sunday