Mothers who murder: and infamous miscarriages of justice

presentation, documentary screening, Q&A and book signing by

Dr Xanthé Mallett, UNE

Dr. Xanthé Mallett is a lecturer in forensic science and criminology at the University of New England, NSW. Xanthé’s recent research has been in augmenting our understanding of the demographics and behaviour patterns of child sex offenders, with a view to improving child safety.

Xanthé is passionate about her subject and about bringing science to a lay audience through the use of visual media. In 2010, Xanthé made History Cold Case (BBC2) with a team from the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee, UK. History Cold Case saw skeletons of everyday people from across the ages analysed in staggering detail, opening new windows on the history of our forebears. A second series
was broadcast in June 2011, and a third, retitled The Decrypters for the American market and based at Texas State University’s Forensic Anthropology Research Facility, aired on National Geographic Channel in 2011. She has also taken part in several interviews for BBC News using her forensic identification skills, and has appeared on breakfast shows in the UK. Now based in Australia, Xanthé appeared on Network Ten’s WANTED and The History Channel’s Coast Australia in 2013 – series 2 will air later in 2014.

She has a 1st Class Honours degree in Archaeological Sciences (BSc) from the University of Bradford, a Research Masters (MPhil) in Biological Anthropological Sciences from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD in Forensic Science, from the University of Sheffield. Xanthé has authored and contributed to numerous academic books, journals, and articles. She has co-edited two academic textbooks; the DVI Casebook: Volume 1, (CRC Press, 2011) and Advances in Forensic Human Identification (CRC Press, 2014). Mothers Who Murder is her first book.

Filicide: the killing of one's son or daughter

It is reported that on average 27 children are killed by their mother or father every year in Australia. Some of these occurrences go largely unnoticed, but in many instances the disturbing nature of the crime, and horrifying reality that vulnerable children are being harmed by their parents, makes headlines and captures public attention.

Dr Xanthé Mallett, lecturer in forensic science and criminology, looks at some of the most high profile cases of maternal filicide, and those wrongfully accused of the crime, to make Australian headlines in Mothers Who Murder. Revisiting each case from the very beginning – sometimes delving into the childhoods of the accused – through to the trial (where relevant), Dr Mallett looks for motivation behind the crimes, compares them to similar cased both locally and internationally, and uses her professional opinion to offer insights which may not have been previously explored in the cases. Key cases highlighted in the book include:

  • The incredible miscarriage of justice that led to Lindy Chamberlain-Creighton’s imprisonment for the murder of Azaria.
  • Rachel Pfitzner, who murdered her son, Dean Shillingsworth, and disposed of his body in a suitcase in a duck pond in Sydney’s South-West.
  • Kristi Abrahams who, along with her partner, Robert Smith, killed her five-year-old daughter Kiesha Weippeart and appealed to the nation for her safe return for almost eight months until she was eventually caught out.
  • Keli Lane, found guilty of murdering baby Tegan despite no body ever being found.
  • Carol Matthey, who was accused of murdering her four children; the case against her was eventually dropped due to lack of evidence.
  • Xanthé highlights Kathleen Golbigg’s loss of sense of self, and questions whether she may have been suffering post-natal psychosis. ‘…of all the scenarios in this book, it causes me the most concern in terms of whether an innocent woman is in jail for crimes she has not committed.

Mothers Who Murder also explores how the women in these cases are put on trial by the public; the media response to the stories; the roles and assumptions of experts severely impacting trials, and the role of the child protection services in each instance.

Before I wrote this book I would have told you that I do not believe anyone is purely evil…What I’ve read has made me re-evaluate some of the fundamental beliefs I’ve held my whole life. Before, I thought pure evil did not exist. Now I believe in monsters.’

For further information or to request an interview with Xanthé, please contact Jess Malpass (02) 8923-9809

Released August 2014 | RRP $34.99  |  Elbury Press