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Debi Marshall, true-crime author of Killing for pleasure

READERSVOICE.COM aims to give people a few good reading tips.For this edition I contacted true-crime writer Debi Marshall, author of Killing for pleasure, which is a well-researched account of the bodies-in-barrels serial killings in South Australia.I also interviewed Janet De Neefe who created the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, in Bali, after the Bali bombings of 2002.This year the festival runs from September 30 – October 3.First up, Debi Marshall.

Investigative journalist Debi Marshall’s true-crime book Killing for pleasure, tells the story of how three murderers and an accomplice carried out the bodies-in-barrels murders in South Australia.

Their leader John Bunting, born in 1966, was a skilled manipulator of people, leaving a trail of misery and destruction in his wake.

He was found guilty of 11 murders in September, 2003.

Twelve bodies were accounted for by the police investigation into the serial killings.

Many of the bodies were cut up and placed in barrels, before being transported from Adelaide, South Australia, to a small country town, Snowtown.

The barrels were stored in the vault of a former bank in this hard-luck town.

Killing for pleasure examines the lives of the murderers, their victims, and others who lived in the welfare-dependent northern suburbs of Adelaide.

There is a wealth of research into these often miserable lives, and it makes for disturbing and compelling reading.

READERSVOICE.COM: What made you want to tell the story of the bodies-in-barrels murders?

DEBI MARSHALL: I wanted to tell the Snowtown story because it touched a raw nerve with me.

So many murders (I’ve been a journalist for 20 years specialising in crime), and I wondered why it took police so long to realise what was going on.

Also, the pitiful “underclass” in this country needs to be addressed.

We continue to ignore them; they continue to become increasingly violent.

We need to look at the issues: generational unemployment that dooms them permanently to the welfare poverty trap, and a lack of education that means they cannot escape it.

Both victims and killers were from this class: the dreary, hard-bitten enclaves in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.

RV: Do you think these dumping ground suburbs where the main people in the story lived will always be around?

DM: I do believe that these suburbs will always be around, but equally, whilst we continue to have an Australian society of haves and have-nots, whilst the divide between rich and poor gets bigger and bigger, the problems are going to get worse.

This is a class that is becoming increasingly disillusioned, disaffected and angry.

And anger leads to violence. Education I believe is the key – that, and breaking up these huge satellite city enclaves from where these people are drawn.

RV: There is a lot of good detail into the backgrounds of the people in the story. How do you research?

DM: Researching is hard work and time consuming! Also part of my job that I really love.

I don’t live in Adelaide, so I would research, come home and then return for another research round.

The researcher’s tools are: phone book; electoral role; an inquisitive mind; determination; compassion; a sense of humour (much needed!); courage to ask unpalatable questions and listen to the answer; an eye for detail and the ability to talk to anyone. Anyone at all.

Go in prepared for what you need to find out (family background; the small stories that make the bigger picture) and expect the unexpected.

Stories don’t fall in your lap. You have to dig for them, watch the subtleties, know when you’ve touched a nerve, know when to back off.

Finding people who move around a lot is often the hardest part.

For me, getting them to talk is the easiest. I love people.

RV: What sort of legal restrictions were there on writing the story?

DM: There were many legal impediments in this story.

Not talking to witnesses before they were called to give evidence in court.

Watching I didn’t break suppression orders. (Hundreds of them, literally, on names and pictures. And they changed all the time.)

Making sure no sub-judice rules were broken.

A lengthy trial is a legal nightmare.

This was the longest-running trial in Australian criminal history. Exhausting!

-Continued next page.