The numbers of homicides involving balconies, cliffs or other heights could be far higher than acknowledged, according to new QUT research.
CHILLING new Queensland research has revealed there could be a “dark number” of people who have gotten away with murder after so called falls from a height were dismissed as accidents.
QUT school of justice senior lecturer Claire Ferguson found the numbers of homicides involving balconies, cliffs or other heights could be far higher than reported because determining if a fatal fall was just an accident, suicide or murder was often impossible based solely on medical evidence.
The forensic criminologist also found that in several cases the death was originally misclassified as an accident before being again reclassified as a homicide, making them more difficult to prosecute.
“The trouble in determining the manner of death in fatal falls from a height ensures that murders perpetrated by causing someone to fall are not readily discovered by death investigators,” Dr Ferguson said in the article she co-authored with Tiffany Sutherland, which was published in March of 2018.
“This means that there may be a dark figure of homicidal falls from a height that are not recognised as murders by police, or that can never be brought to a criminal court.”
The research comes after several cases in Queensland that included deaths from a height, including that of Gable Tostee, who was acquitted of the murder of Warriena Wright after she plunged to her death from the 14th floor balcony of his Surfers Paradise apartment in 2014.
Dr Ferguson also found homicides where a person fell from a height were often motivated by the perpetrator’s desire to gain access to insurance money, a divorce settlement or maybe freedom to move on with a new relationship, as in the case of convicted Queensland wife killer Louis Mahony, who claimed his wife Lainie Coldwell fell from a ladder while putting up Christmas lights.
Mahony took out two life insurance policies for around $2.25 million only just months before Ms Coldwell’s death. He is appealing his conviction.
Dr Ferguson found 75 per cent of victims were spouses.
“In the cases that I studied, they were almost always intimate partners,” she said.
“Often there was elaborate stories about the extent to which the offender tried to save the victim and there was this extensive level of pre-planning.”
Veteran criminal lawyer Bill Potts said murder from a height was an “extraordinarily difficult crime to prove in court”.
“This is because it is not about suspicion, belief or probability but proof beyond a reasonable doubt, which is quite often missing in these cases because most of these crimes occur in private situations where there is very little evidence to prove the motive or whether someone jumped or was pushed,” Mr Potts stated.