It is the position no family would ever want to be in. The disappearance and suspected murder of their loved one, the police investigation and the desperate unknown that comes with the possibility of never finding the answers.
It is estimated in Australia, one woman a week is murdered by her former or current partner.
These statistics are alarming and often bring about the many questions often asked by those who have never walked in the shoes of a domestic violence victim. Why don’t they get help? Why don’t the just leave? Why do they keep coming back?
We would never assume to answer these questions for the victims who live within our communities, however we can work towards bringing awareness to this issue and providing our support to the 1 in 4 women who have experienced some form of emotional or physical abuse.
The Queensland Police Service’s Homicide Investigation Unit has recently partnered with White Ribbon Australia and Casefile podcast to raise awareness of domestic violence and the horrifying reality that far too often, the cycle of domestic violence ends in murder.
Leeann Lapham, 30, was murdered by her partner in 2010. In 2018 Graeme Evans was convicted and sentenced to nine years for the manslaughter of Leeann.
Leeann was reported missing to police in her home town of Innisfail on April 27, 2010. Detectives considered Leeann to have been murdered early on in the investigation even though there was no body. While they had to prove she was a victim of murder, there was no doubt she was a victim of domestic violence.
In the event of a suspicious disappearance, investigators must work quickly to find answers, working out a timeline of events and taking into account every possible option. They must look at the victim’s connections and relationships and never confine themselves to what might appear to be the obvious or straight forward answer.
Her suspected murder was the subject of an extensive investigation conducted by local police and the Homicide Investigation Unit. While they had a person of interest and a motivation, they had to look at all possibilities. While Leeann remained missing her family remained hopeful that Leeann had fled for safety and would one day make contact and eventually make her way back home.
In 2016, the murder of Leeann became the subject of a review by the Innisfail Criminal Investigation Branch and the Homicide Investigation Unit. Bringing a new set of investigators and a fresh set of investigative strategies, the team worked with local detectives to revisit the case and find the answers so desperately needed by her family.
On February 8, 2017 investigators arrested Graeme Evans with her murder.
On May 23, 2017 the Attorney General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Ath introduced the “No Body, No Parole” legislation into Queensland.
The legislation was focused solely on cases where a person had been convicted of a murder, manslaughter, accessory or conspirator to murder and the body had never been recovered.
At the time the Attorney General made it clear this legislation was aimed at bringing those never forgotten loved ones home to their families.
“When a killer withholds the location of a body it extends the already considerable suffering of victims’ families. This is unacceptable,” Ms D’Ath said.
Leeann Lapham’s case was the first successful application of the legislation in Queensland and Australia. The process involves police issuing notices to relevant inmates serving sentences across Queensland, with the application and granting of parole made by Queensland Corrective Service’s Parole Board.
“A lot of work went into bringing this legislation into Queensland and while we know its use may not bring about a positive result every time, in the case of Leeann Lapham it most certainly did”.
After the legislation was applied and Graeme Evans assisted police in locating Leeann’s body, his cooperation became the trigger for his eligibility to apply for parole in accordance with his sentence (eligibility at four years).
The application of this legislation is a process made in consultation with the family of the victim. It is a decision no one would ever wish upon a family. It is a decision-making process that involves the prosecuting team informing the family and weighing up every possible scenario and circumstance created or likely as a result of the court process.
But it was a decision that ultimately brought Leeann home to her family.
Domestic violence is too often left unspoken. Unspoken not only by the victims, but also those who may be in a position to offer help.
While there are many signs to look out for, quite often it starts as a feeling that something isn’t quite right. It is important to look closer when these signs appear and find a way to offer support.
Warning signs are not always obvious, but a victim of domestic violence could:
- Appear afraid of their partner
- Attempt to hide bruises or making excuses for bruising or injury
- Become increasingly isolated from family and friends
- Lose their confidence, appear depressed or unusually quiet
- Show signs of neglect – particularly elderly persons or persons with a disability
- Have a partner who constantly checks on them or accuses them of infidelity
- Shows signs of being reluctant to leave their children alone with their partner
- Is constantly fearful or appears concerned they are being followed
There are many support services available for men, women and children:
Support groups and counselling for abused and abusive partners
1300 364 277
24/7 phone, email and webchat support
1800 55 1800
24 hour Domestic Violence Helpline
1800 811 811
Support and assistance locating a crisis centre
13 11 14
National sexual assault, family and domestic violence support and counselling.
1800 737 732
White Ribbon Australia
Helping prevent men’s violence against women