It’s far too easy to criticise the police work in the Somerton Body Case
I don’t know how many discussions I’ve participated in where at some stage a contributor will roll out the sloppy police work mantra as being responsible for the lack of success in the case. I was probably guilty of the same thing once but who’s checking.
An early proponent of this type of criticism was Professor Derek Abbott when he suggested that PC Moss ‘must have missed the matches’ when we know there were none to be found on the body. All Abbott needed to do was ask his league of students to check the newspaper articles before passing such a judgement. But he didn’t, and his criticism has stuck.
Since then and with Abbott’s imprimatur, commentators have run rife with accusations of lazy police work, Boris the most recent.
This is disappointing in that it shows they, the critical, have not exercised diligence in researching the case before coming to an opinion.
DS Leane acted quickly when the investigative team began to work on the assumption that the deceased may have abandoned or deposited personal possessions prior to his death. He seconded Detective Brown on January 11th to look into this aspect of the case and three days later had success.
DS Leane then took what he thought were the most significant items from the case and arranged for them to be photographed and the pic distributed to the press after deciding to leave the case in situ just in case the owner came forward.
DS Leane then visited the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts and interviewed the headmaster who confirmed that the tools found in the suitcase were suitable for stencilling purposes.
He then interviewed tailor Hugh Possa who was of the opinion the coat worn on the body was of American origin or made by someone in Australia who was familiar with ‘feather stitching.’
Leane followed this up by leaving the found property with Professor Cleland, a man well known for his deductive and analytical skills and used regularly as an expert witness. One of the many legends surrounding Cleland was that he could lay out an intestine taken from a body thought to have been poisoned and sniff his way along its length before determining what substance may have been the cause of death.
On January 18th, Leane compiled a very comprehensive report for the interstate police and media, including photographs and background together with recent developments and a list of property. This was followed up by another report on 29 April.
Leane also contacted the FBI, as well as sending details of the case to every English speaking nation.
As if that wasn’t enough, he decided to have the body embalmed, a procedure not attempted before in a suspected murder case but made necessary by the large number of people who wished to view the corpse.
And in choosing Lawson to do the work, Leane once again demonstrated his expert governance of the case as Lawson was the most qualified in Australia for such an embalming exercise, having recently completed an overseas course concentrating on that particular line of expertise.
The viewers came in their dozens, including voyeurs, and all had to be catered for by the investigation team, their particulars taken, their stories checked and verified, files created and cross-referenced interstate and overseas.
Then, when the body became too corrupt to be of any help in furthering the case, Leane took another extraordinary step by using Paul Lawson to create a plaster cast of the deceased’s head and shoulders.
The above is not evidence of a lazy or sloppy police investigation, on the contrary, it shows that SAPOL were quick on their feet and not afraid to break new investigative ground in their pursuit of a result.
I’m glad we’ve got that cleared up.