Lady Killer: How Conman Bruce Burell Kidnapped and Killed – 2010 Davitt Winner True Crime – by Candace Sutton & Ellen Connolly
Author: Candace Sutton and Ellen Connolly
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Review By: Tanya King
Lady Killer is the impeccably researched account of the decade between the crime and conviction of conman, Bruce Burrell. Authors, Sutton and Connolly, are two Sydney journalists and writers. They have clearly had access to a range of sources, and provide a balanced picture of this terrible true story. In May 1997, Kerry Whelan, mother of three and beloved wife, vanishes, seemingly without a trace. This leads to Australia’s greatest manhunt in what was initially believed to be a kidnapping and ransom demand. Kerry’s body was never found. Two years earlier, wealthy widow Dorothy Davis had also disappeared. There seems to be no link between the two women, but a small team of tenacious police officers find it in Bruce Burrell. Burrell had done some work for Kerry’s husband and even holidayed with the family. He had borrowed a large sum of money from Dorothy around the time she disappeared. Burrell was a seemingly respectable and wealthy advertising executive, but delving into his life reveals it as facade, with his much flaunted expensive cars stolen and his advertising experience largely manufactured by Burrell himself, an expert at convincingly talking himself up.
True crime as a sub-genre is wide-ranging, and its popularity never diminishing. There can be the tendency for some true crime to be sensational, and run the risk of potentially entering the realms of voyeurism and exploitation, or at the other end, to end up being newspaper copy. Lady Killer never runs the risk of falling into either of these extremes. It is well written, with few over-written or flowery passages, and Sutton and Connelly are enormously respectful of the victims’ families. They paint a very real, poignant picture of their suffering after their loved ones disappear.
Most fascinating is the background and childhood provided for Bruce Burrell, and unsympathetically paints the man as a an over-confident sleazy conman who kidnaps and murders at least two women for their money. The narrative provides excellent information about each of the central roles, with interesting and relevant observations. While it is difficult to call this challenging genre ‘enjoyable’, Lady Killer is very readable and hard to put down.