Appeal denied to self-talker

MARK RUSSELL
Last updated 13:48 27/05/2013
John McDonald
REBECCA HALLAS
TALK REVEALED TRUTH: John Vincent McDonald leaves Australia's Supreme Court in 2011.
Marlene McDonald
VANISHED: Marlene McDonald.

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For more than 20 years, he got away with the murder of his wife. Then he started talking to himself about the case.

Cold case unit detectives had bugged John Vincent McDonald's home in 2007 and recorded the conversations he was having with himself about the murder.

McDonald, 72, of Sunbury, a small town 40km from Melbourne, was found guilty in 2011 of murdering his wife Marlene in December 1986, after he recruited three men to kidnap her from her home before he killed her, or had her killed. The 36-year-old mother of five has not been seen since.

Today, McDonald lost his application for leave to appeal the conviction.

The Court of Appeal's Justice Peter Buchanan, Justice Phillip Priest and Justice Paul Coghlan unanimously dismissed the application.

In his overview of the case, Justice Priest said Marlene McDonald had disappeared during the weekend of December 13 and 14, 1986.

Her car was found at the Truck City restaurant and cafe on the Hume Highway at Campbellfield, where she had been working as a waitress.

The judge said police had investigated Mrs McDonald's disappearance as a missing persons case, with no result.

"The case was not investigated with the thoroughness it deserved," Justice Priest said.

The case was later re-opened as a 'cold case' in 2003 and again in 2007 and, as part of the investigation, McDonald was questioned and listening devices were installed in his car and his house.

In 2008, a fingerprint taken from McDonald's car was identified as belonging to Gregory Bone. Bone was one of three men who pleaded guilty to kidnapping Mrs McDonald.

During McDonald's trial, the court heard the couple had separated 13 months before Mrs McDonald vanished, following what had been a violent relationship and McDonald had been unable to move on.

He became furious when his estranged wife wanted custody of their children and developed a "jealous obsession" about her seeing other men.

"Perhaps the most unusual feature of this case was that the applicant (McDonald) frequently conversed with himself out loud," Justice Priest said.

"In so doing, he revealed his thinking.

"Subjects of his discourse with himself included his wife's disappearance and what might have happened to her.

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"He rehearsed and role-played conversations he might have with the police, and he speculated as to the nature of the evidence they may find that could implicate him.

"Since listening devices had been installed in his car and his home, the jury were able to listen to these ruminations."

Justice Priest said excerpts of the recordings played to the jury included soliloquies in which:

* McDonald demonstrated his animosity towards Mrs McDonald.

* McDonald displayed knowledge of the circumstances of the abduction which he could have only possessed if he was involved.

* McDonald referred to 'Bino' (Donald Binion, one of the kidnappers) when police had no idea Bino was involved in the abduction.

* McDonald referred to Bino making up a story.

* McDonald referred to Mrs McDonald's body being found in the Kinglake mountains and the Mount Disappointment area.

* McDonald expressed concern about the possibility of his DNA being found on items linked to the kidnapping.

* McDonald referred to a "shallow grave" and to cameras being set up at a grave site.

Justice Priest said McDonald's defence was that there was no evidence Mrs McDonald was dead because there was no body and suggested it was plausible that she could have run off with a truck driver or, if she had been killed, someone else could have done it.

One of the many lies McDonald told police was when he suggested that Maria Korp - who he knew was the wife of his cricket friend Joe Korp - had seen Mrs McDonald on the interstate.

But Mrs Korp's daughter Laura De Gois testified at the trial that her mother had never been to Queensland.

Mrs Korp was killed in 2005 by Korp's lover, Tania Herman. Korp later killed himself before he was tried over her attempted murder.

The three appeal judges said today they did not believe there had been any miscarriage of justice in McDonald's murder conviction and dismissed his application for leave to appeal.

"In the circumstances, any suggestion that he did not kill her (Mrs McDonald) , or arrange for her death, is fanciful," Justice Priest concluded.

- The Age

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