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Wednesday, 9 October, 2002, 17:30 GMT 18:30 UK
A tale of backpacking terror
Australian outback
Australia's deserts are a challenge to any traveller
The Australian outback is notoriously dangerous terrain for even the most experienced of backpackers.

Searing heat and rugged dirt tracks - often miles from help - make it a challenging and demanding environment.

However, Joanne Lees and boyfriend Peter Falconio were determined to take it on.

The couple had left their home in Brighton on a round-the-world trip and travelled through Asia before touching down in Sydney in January 2001.

Timeline
July 4 2001: Falconio and girlfriend ambushed in outback
August 2001: CCTV suspect appeal
July 2002: Police scale down investigation
Oct 2: Police win right to test suspect's DNA
Oct 10: Police announce a 'prime suspect'

By July 2001, they had already taken in much of the country and were heading north after visiting Uluru and Kings Canyon.

However, late on 14 July police in the Northern Territories received a call from a terrified Ms Lees.

She told officers the couple had been travelling in their VW Kombi through Barrow Creek, 185 miles north of Alice Springs.

They were then flagged down by a long-haired man driving a pick-up.

Mr Falconio - a 28-year-old from Hepworth, near Huddersfield - then walked to the rear of the vehicle with the man.

It was then that 27-year-old Ms Lees, from Almondbury, says she heard a gunshot.

However, before she had time to react she was bound, gagged and bundled into the pick-up

Outback search

She managed to free herself and, after fleeing into the scrub, managed to hide from the attacker and his dog for several hours.

She then flagged down a passing truck.

Police carried out a huge search of the outback and set up roadblocks, but Mr Falconio, and the attacker, remained elusive.

Ms Lees was even hypnotised, in an effort to tease out additional details but to no avail.

Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio
DNA samples could be vital to the case

Police continued to express confidence in her version of events, but at one tearful press conference, Falconio's girlfriend was forced to defend her story.

However, DNA samples taken from the scene did suggest another person had been present.

A CCTV picture of a potential suspect seen at an Alice Springs garage was released, but again there appeared to be no real leads.

This July, as the first anniversary of Mr Falconio's disappearance passed, the number of police working on the case was about to be cut.

Then, at the beginning of September, police arrested a man, Bradley John Murdoch, 44, in connection with another crime - the alleged abduction and rape of a woman and her daughter in South Australia.

After DNA tests on Ms Lees's clothes, Mr Murdoch became a "prime suspect".

British tourist Peter Falconio is still missing after an ambush from which his girlfriend dramatically escaped

Latest stories

The police hunt

The reaction
See also:

09 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
02 Oct 02 | Asia-Pacific
16 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
09 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
05 Sep 02 | Asia-Pacific
21 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
30 Aug 02 | Asia-Pacific
14 Jul 02 | Asia-Pacific
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