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‘We know that you know’: How police cracked a killer’s lie

1 month ago 20

Geoffrey Adams was finally about to crack.

Nearly 45 years after he killed his wife, Colleen, and buried her in the backyard of their home, his back was up against a wall.

A dig was underway, a newspaper article had thrust the case back into the spotlight, and media were camped out the front of his Wallaroo home.

Inside, sitting side-by-side at the kitchen table, Detective Michael Newbury was skilfully wearing the 70-year-old down.

“We’re convinced Colleen is there,” the detective told him.

“We know that you know she’s there and it’s just a matter of time before we find her.

“Don’t wait until you get to that point where we find human remains because at that point, your explanation won’t be worth a whole heap.”

As he had for four-and-a-half-decades, Adams remained resolute.

“You’re not going to find anything,” he said.

Since her disappearance in November 1973, Adams had insisted his 24-year-old wife could not cope with family life and packed a suitcase.

On his version of events, she told her two toddler daughters “goodbye, you little bastards” and walked out – never to be seen or heard from again.

“I don’t see her as dead and gone,” he said in a television interview that aired in 1996.

Now, Adams was older – his hair grey, his daughters grown – and running out of time to set the record straight.

But still, as police pleaded for him to come clean in September 2018, he lied.

Detective Newbury persisted.

“You seem like a really decent guy,” he told Adams.

“You’re not a bikie, you’re not an organised crime gang lord – I think you’ve just made a very spur of the moment mistake.

“I understand that you’re trapped into this version of events.”

Adams wouldn’t be swayed.

“Good luck with the digging.”

Detective Newbury left the home, but the pressure continued to mount and by the following day it had become too much.

Police were called back, and, for the first time, he told them what really happened on the night of November 21, 1973.

“I just struck her a bit hard and that was it,” he said.

“She fell to the floor and then she died.”

It was a simple confession that would cement Mrs Adams’ disappearance as South Australia’s longest-running solved cold case.

It would also prove a crucial piece of evidence when Adams was charged with his wife’s murder and ordered to stand trial in the Supreme Court.

He had pleaded guilty to manslaughter but insisted he never intended to kill her, leaving jurors with the task of deciding what was running through his mind as he delivered the fatal blows.

On Friday, nearly 47 years after Mrs Adams death, a jury of 11 found her husband not guilty of her murder.

Similar to most of the trial, Adams showed no emotion as the verdict was read out.

Now aged 72, he will be sentenced for the lesser charge of manslaughter, and could receive a discount of up to 40 per cent for his early guilty plea.

Days earlier, Adams had sat metres from Mrs Adams’ relatives as the court was played parts of the two-hour-long video interview that captured the confession.

Jurors heard Adams tell Detective Newbury he left his wife’s body on the kitchen floor and felt “horrible” that night.

He woke early the next morning and, seemingly unfazeds by neighbouring homes and eyes, he set about digging a hole.

Mrs Adams was wearing a pink nightie, possibly underwear and had no jewellery on when her husband carried her outside and buried her in the undignified grave.

Then, Adams concocted a story and lied to everyone, including his children, about what became of his wife.

And for the next 45 years, he lived the lie, telling police it got easier as time went on.

After decades of – in the words of his own lawyer – “despicable lies” about his wife’s death, Mr Adams allowed her no reprieve when the truth came out.

He said she was mentally unstable, suffered post-natal depression and psychiatric conditions.

“Some people, they just lose the plot. They can’t control their emotions, they can’t control their anger,” he said.

“Nice guys get caught up in this, they’re pushed to the limit.

“She could be really bad. On a bad day, or a bad night, she could be really, really, really bad.”

Within minutes of the confession, his mind had turned to whether he would be granted bail and who would look after his dog while he was in custody.

It was not until Adams was driven by police to Maitland to point out where he buried Mrs Adams’ body that he showed signs of emotion.

The video captures him repeatedly saying “sorry” – though jurors would never hear that word directly from Adams, who chose not to give evidence at his trial.

They did hear from Heather Johncock, the sister of Mrs Adams, who told the court the young woman was “a real loving mother” who spoke about her children all the time.

“She was always saying how they had progressed with their development … and what they had done,” she said.

After the verdict, Ms Johncock left the South Australian Supreme Court with Detective Newbury and a victim support officer.

She said she had lived 45 years with an inkling that Adams had been involved in her sister’s sudden disappearance.

And while she said it was disappointing her brother-in-law had been acquitted of murder, there was justice in the fact that Mrs Adams had finally been returned to the family.

“It’s very sad that we’ve missed out on so much, and she has,” she said.

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