Australia (SA)
Frits Van Beelen
July 15, 1971

Frits Van Beelen was convicted of the murder of 15-year-old Deborah Leach. Leach was last seen near her home in Adelaide at 4 p.m. on July 15, 1971. She was crossing a paddock and heading towards the beach. The beach was covered with seagrass that was up to 2 meters (6-7 feet) high. Her partially clothed body was found at 4:20 a.m. the next morning in the seagrass. There were no signs of bruising to her body and a medical examiner ruled that she had been murdered by being drowned in seawater.

Van Beelen admitted walking on the beach about 4 p.m. on the day of Leach's disappearance. He must have left by 4:30 p.m. because he picked up his wife from work at 5 p.m. in the Adelaide city center, a 30 minute drive away. At trial the prosecution argued that Leach had died in a narrow time frame of 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., a time that coincided with Van Beelen's visit to the beach. The timing of death was based on Leach's digestion of stomach contents which is unreliable and based on an assumption that she had last eaten at noontime. Rigor mortis and lividity had set in on Leach's body indicating that she had died at least six hours before she was found, putting the latest time for her death at about 11 p.m.

There was a tear in Leach's vagina that did not bleed. Since it takes a least a hour for blood in a deceased person to become fixed, this evidence indicated Leach had been sexually assaulted after 5 p.m., a time when Van Beelen could not have been the assailant.

Leach had been carrying a transistor radio with her that was found near her body. The radio appeared to have been on at full volume until the batteries had run down. Although the outside of the radio was damp, the inside was dry and the radio immediately started working once the batteries were replaced. The condition of the radio was curious because both the radio and Leach's body were found below the high tide line of the beach. Since high tide came at 8 p.m., the radio would have been immersed in sea water unless it was placed at its found location sometime after 8 p.m. The next morning, shortly after Leach's body was found, it had to be moved to prevent it from being inundated by the next high tide.

The evidence of a post-mortem assault and the dry condition of the radio indicates that a person other than Van Beelen had murdered Leach. Van Beelen was sentenced to death, but it was the practice to commute death sentences to life imprisonment. At the time it was quite common for those sentenced to life imprisonment to be paroled after serving eight or nine years. Even though Van Beelen was a model prisoner, he had refused to admit guilt, and consequently, the Parole Board did not release him until he served seventeen years of imprisonment.  (NetK) (A State of Injustice)  [10/09]