Over more than 30 years, Mark Tedeschi prosecuted in many of New South Wales’ best-known criminal trials. He has written three well-received historical true crime books, but his fourth is very different. It describes his own prosecution of Bruce Burrell, con-man and murderer of Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan. This is one of the first times in Australia that a prosecutor has written in any detail about his own trials. Mark is also a successful photographer; some of his work is collected in the book Shooting around Corners.
For decades Mark has spent a lot of time in the Blue Mountains. He spoke to Michael Duffy in advance of their session together at Blackheath on 28 May 2022 (bookings via the Gleebooks website).
Michael: It’s unusual to excel as both writer and photographer. Any thoughts on how you approach those two quite different ways of seeing the world?
Mark: Writing comes very naturally to me. Words are the tools of trade for a lawyer. I don't have the imagination to be able to write fiction, but true crime comes to me easily and naturally. I have to struggle with photography, because I am constantly tempted to explain my images with words. If a photograph is to work in an artistic sense it has to communicate with the viewer without words. When I exhibit my photographs I have to resist the temptation to label them with explanatory words, and instead leave it to my viewers to make their own assessment of what the photographs are all about.
Michael: How long have you been here?
Mark: I have been regularly coming up to the Blue Mountains since I was 10 years old.
Michael: How has being here over that period affected the sort of person you are?
Mark: The Blue Mountains are my spiritual home. I love that there are so many different bushwalks, so that I am never bored with doing the same walk. I love the fact that people in the mountains have a lot more time for others. I love the diverse community in the mountains from so many different walks of life. I love the fresh air.
Michael: What’s your favourite lookout, and why?
Mark: Hargraves lookout on the Shipley Plateau. The view is so amazing.
Michael: Does being in the Mountains affect you creatively?
Mark: I think that I feel more spiritual when I am in the mountains, so that affects me creatively, both in terms of photography and writing.
Michael: You’ve written three previous true crime books, but your new book, Missing Presumed Dead, is the first about trials you prosecuted yourself. That’s very unusual. What was it like writing something where you were part of the subject matter?
Mark: It was only after my former boss, Nicholas Cowdery QC, published his memoirs that I felt able to give my manuscript to my publishers. It is rare in Australia for a prosecutor to publish anything about one of his or her own cases. I don't pretend to be impartial or objective about it. However, I think that I can contribute a unique perspective to the cases that nobody else could provide. Most people haven't got three months to be able to sit through a whole murder trial in the Supreme Court, so they have no idea how complex a trial can be. My book is an attempt to explain the intricacies of two difficult murder investigations and the criminal trials that followed.
Michael: Bruce Burrell killed Dorothy Davis and Kerry Whelan, and their bodies have never been found. What sort of person was Burrell – how did he manage to fool those two women?
Mark: Bruce Burrell had the ability to be very convincing and engaging, particularly with women. He had approached a number of other middle-aged and elderly women and ingratiated himself with them with the view to getting money from them. He succeeded with Dorothy Davis because she was an old family friend of Burrell's wife. However, Dorothy made the mistake of insisting on the money being repaid, when the money had been well and truly been spent and Burrell had no way of paying it back. He murdered her because she had threatened to take legal action for the return of the money, and was threatening to expose him to his family.
Michael: What’s your favourite time of the year up here, and why?
Mark: When it's fine and sunny; when it's raining; when it's misty; when it's cold. The only thing I don't like is when it's very windy, because I am fearful of falling trees. I love the autumn leaves; I love the cooler days when it is so hot in Sydney; I love the fact that you can have a thick mist in the middle of summer.