Even before Murder in the Outback aired Joanne Lees’ name will have seemed familiar.
Back in 2011, Joanne Lees suddenly found herself in the glare of the media spotlight, after falling victim to a horrendous attack while travelling with her boyfriend, Peter Falconio, who was murdered.
The couple were driving across the Australian outback in the dead of night when another driver encouraged them to pull over. Joanne told police the attacker shot Peter and tried to tie her up, but she escaped. Peter’s body was never found.
As four-part C4 documentary, Murder in the Outback, looks more closely at the case and the investigation, but Joanne Lees’ story proves to be just as riveting after the trial and events on that night. From finding her long-lost sister to her interview with Martin Bashir and no holds barred book, this is what we know about Joanne Lees and where she is now.
Who is Joanne Lees?
Joanne Lees is a young woman who made headlines when recounting her ordeal in the Australian outback. She had been on the trip of a lifetime with long-term boyfriend Peter Falconio, who she had met in a nightclub in 1996. The couple had already visited multiple countries including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Cambodia. After five months in Sydney, they were planning a road trip across Australia.
The pair were driving across the Australian outback at night when another driver signalled at them to pull over. When the driver got out, he went to the back of the car with Falconio as if to examine the exhaust. But then, according to Lees, Falconio was shot and the stranger tried to tie her up. Luckily Lees was able to escape and hid in the grass for hours before flagging down a passing truck, which took her to safety.
What happened to Joanne Lees after Peter Falconio’s disappearance?
Lees divided opinion in the aftermath of Bradley John Murdoch‘s trial, which saw him sentenced to life in prison.
She filmed an interview with British journalist, Martin Bashir, who questioned her on the finer details of the case which some people had issues with.
During the trial it emerged Lees had an affair with another British backpacker called Nick. The pair had secretly met up behind her boyfriend’s back and slept together in the months leading up to the incident in the outback.
Following the trial, Lees lived in Australia’s Blue Mountains with friends she met in Sydney.
Speaking to Bashir, Lees admitted she’d made a mistake. “I did love Pete with all my heart,” she said, “and when that happened I did overstep the boundaries of friendship, but it made me, like, love Pete even more and value what we did have.”
During the interview, she did not reveal whether she would have confessed to the affair if her emails weren’t caught by police. In a police interview, she calls the emails “irrelevant” despite Nick using a code name ‘Steph’ when they discussed meeting up in Berlin after the murder.
Nick Reilly was an IT worker in the City of London and had left Australia at the time of Falconio’s murder.
While Lees has faced criticism – with some calling her reaction to the murder, her interview style, and changing her statement, emotionless and suspicious – she claimed she did the interview to keep the case in the public consciousness. She received £50,000 for her interview with Bashir.
Talking about some of the criticism at the time of the murder Lees said the t-shirt she wore with the words ‘cheeky monkey’ could easily be explained – she was unable to buy clothes at the time and it was all that was in her backpack.
She also denied being emotionless, saying she “wears her heart of her sleeve,” adding “well I do in the company of my mates.”
Lees wrote a book about her life, No Turning Back, which was published in 2006. She reportedly received a £25,000 advance for the book. She discusses her early life, and writes about how she was brought up by her mother, who has since died, until she was 11 and in financial hardship.
Where is Joanne Lees now?
In an interview to mark the 10th anniversary of Falconio’s disappearance, Lees said she had studied sociology at Sheffield University in the years after the attack and had worked both as a travel agent and a social worker.
Joanne Lees is now a social worker. In 2017, she revealed she has a half-sister in Australia called Jess from Sydney. Lees’ Australian estranged father had Jess from a different relationship after he left her mother when Lees was a baby. The pair became close and Lees has been attempting to get Australian citizenship to be closer to her.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph in Australia she said: “It’s almost like a mirror [the resemblance]. We saw each other and it was just instant. It was amazing.”
She added she felt “less alone in the world.”
In Nine’s 60 Minutes, she also spoke about the murder more recently saying: “Pete lost his life on that night but I lost mine too.” She returned to the site of the murder as she tried to get into the “attacker’s mind” claiming it was “because I love Pete so much.”
Murder in the Outback: The Falconio and Lees Mystery begins on Sunday 7th June on C4 at 9.15pm. To find out what else is on, check out our TV Guide.