The strange case of Keli Lane, the mother who murdered her two-day-old baby 14 years ago, is one of the most bizarre and perplexing crimes ever to happen in Australia. Sue Williams delves into the mind of a baby killer and the mystery she unleashed.
There were always two Keli Lanes. On the outside, there was the golden girl — the successful teacher adored by her pupils, the top water polo athlete who'd played for Australia and the outgoing party girl, carefree, smart and just fun to be around.
Then there was the Keli Lane that only she knew, the one inside her head, carefully creating intricate webs of secrets and lies, terrified that just one slip would lead to humiliation, disapproval and the destruction of the whole fragile edifice her life had become.
Last month, her worst fears were realised. She was finally jailed in the NSW Supreme Court for a maximum term of 18 years for murdering her baby. It ends one of the saddest, most baffling and compelling psychological dramas ever to be played out anywhere in the world.
The mystery of missing Tegan spurred the biggest police search ever to have been conducted in Australia, an exhaustive coroner's investigation and a four-month trial, during which the 36-year-old blonde — who dyed her hair black for her final court appearance for sentencing — resolutely refused to speak.
Yet we now know so much more about Keli than she'd ever dreamed would be found out. We know she managed, incredibly, to conceal five pregnancies, have two terminations, secretly adopt out two children and kill her second baby, Tegan, all without initial suspicion.
We know that her greatest terror wasn't being accused of murder, it was that her ex-police officer father would be disappointed, her friends would turn their backs on her and she would miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete in the Sydney Olympics in her beloved water polo.
Australian research reveals that up to 50 per cent of women who kill their babies shortly after birth concealed the fact they were pregnant. And Keli is an almost textbook fit with the archetypal profile of a baby killer — young, unmarried and deeply fearful of the repercussions of admitting a pregnancy.
It was easier for her to commit the worst crime any of us can imagine — killing her own child — than to contemplate telling her family, friends and colleagues that she'd fallen pregnant. It appears the primal instincts to nurture and protect her baby took second place to her desire to live her golden life unblemished and without distraction.
So many questions remain. What finally drove a woman who seemed to have it all to murder? How could she have given birth to a perfectly healthy baby daughter, named her, cuddled and breastfed her, then carried her out of hospital and killed her? And what happened in Tegan's final hours?
One of the most fascinating aspects of the case is how Keli managed to hide three full-term pregnancies from everyone, even her long-term boyfriend, former Manly rugby union star Duncan Gillies, who was named in court as Tegan's most likely father.
Now married to the woman he eventually left Keli for, he was embarrassed by revelations the couple regularly had sex even when she was heavily pregnant, but he didn't have a clue what was going on. He remembered having sex in the spooning position as Keli had said she was worried by some weight she'd put on.
Keli hid her true state by dressing carefully in layers, wearing sloppy joes tied round her middle and having a towel round her waist at the pool, dropping it only as she slid into the water. Only a few of her water polo mates ever suspected, taking a closer look at her belly underwater. They said nothing to her, believing it wasn't their business.
In August 2010, almost 14 years after Tegan disappeared, Keli was put on trial for murder. With her marriage over and her job lost, she turned up day after day in a tightly belted trench coat, refusing to say anything. Occasionally, she would weep a little in the dock, but mostly she remained stony-faced, confident that, in the absence of any direct evidence of Tegan's death — only her disappearance — she would be acquitted.
Finally, however, Keli broke that silence, to scream the word "No!" as she was pronounced guilty. She collapsed to the floor as her mother screamed from the public gallery.
Yet there were some who welcomed the verdict. John Borovnik, the social worker who first noticed Tegan has disappeared, wept. "At last, we have justice for Tegan," he said. John later had the name "Tegan" tattooed on his arm.
"That was always the aim. My work is all about protecting children and it was terrible to think this child had been born and then no one noticed that she'd disappeared.
"I wanted justice for Tegan, whatever the outcome of the case itself. I wanted her to be recognised and acknowledged as every child in Australia should be."
Read more of this story in the May issue of The Australian Women's Weekly.
Video: Keli Lane sentenced to 18 years