Tuesday, 30 May 2017

The Parkside Body in the Freezer Case: Incompetent Coroner? (part 4)

The Parkside Body in the Freezer Case: 

Incompetent Coroner? (part 4)


Was the case against David Szach, convicted of murdering his older lover, Derrance Stevenson, flawed because of an incompetent South Australian Coroner?

This is the question being posed by several individuals interested in the case known as “The Body in the Freezer Case” that thrust Adelaide into the spotlight for all the wrong reasons in 1979/ 1980.

Police removing the freezer in which the body of
Derrance Stevenson had been found in his home.
 Questions have been raised about the procedures used by Coroner Dr Colin Manock. It would seem in recent years a number of high profile cases that saw convictions against suspected murderers, have recently been overturned due to the improper procedures applied by Dr Manock.
Dr Colin Manock worked as South Australia’s Chief Forensic Pathologist between 1968 and 1995, he conducted more than 9000 autopsies and gave evidence in just about every major case in the State in that time.
Dr Colin Manock was SA's chief forensic pathologist for almost 30 years. Between 1968 and 1995, he conducted more than 9,000 autopsies and gave evidence in almost every major case.

Perhaps the highest profile overturned conviction which goes against evidence supplied by Dr Manock is that of the death of popular Adelaide lawyer Anna-Jane Cheney, who was found dead in her bathtub.
 Henry Keogh, a recently separated man with children, who began to date Ms Cheney, was accused of her murder, on the grounds he was trying to cash in her 1-million-dollar insurance policy.
The case seemed to rest on evidence supplied by Dr Manock, which pointed at Ms Cheney being drowned (Mr Keogh’s supports have always claimed Ms Cheney had a seizure in the bath and drowned accidentally).
In 1995, Keogh faced a trial, which ended up with a hung jury, triggering a retrial. The second trial later that year found Keogh guilty of murder. He was sentenced to life in gaol with a non-prole period of 25 years.
A campaign began almost immediately to free Keogh that lasted almost 20 years. Eventually after endless appeals, The Full Court of the Criminal Court of Criminal Appeal’s ruled there had been a “substantial miscarriage of justice” and a retrial was set for Keogh.
Keogh was able to make bail and released after 20 years in gaol while the third trial, brought about by the appeal, was heard. Keogh endured 10 months of uncertainty as Director of Public Prosecutions, Adam Kimber, SC, re-laid the murder charge before issuing a nolle prosequi[1] in November 2015 allowing Keogh to walk a free man.

Former South Australian Chief Forensic Investigator
Dr Manock
The reason for the nolle prosequi come back to Dr Manock’s assessments of the body of Ms Cheney, that the full court agreed were “unreliable”, stating that his conclusions “not properly explored” and his autopsy “inadequate”. Summarised as “unwarranted speculation”
The case rested on a number of bruises on Ms Cheney’s leg that Dr Manock speculated were made by the hand grip of a man.

So where does this tie in with the case against David Szach?
Dr Manock was the forensic coroner on the Derrance Stevenson case. 

Time Line:

17:30 June 5th 1979: Dr Manock enters the Stevenson residence in Parkside where he is met by police officers. He waits for police to dust the freezer (which is switched off) for fingerprints and for photos of the object to be taken.

18:00: the freezer lid is opened and Dr Manock sees the body of Stevenson for the first time.
From the Coroner Report 
I was able to see the body of a male adult in a head down position. A basket of frozen food was above the head and two plastic bags of frozen food were over the buttocks and lower back. Hypostatic staining was visible on the back of the body and I pronounced life extinct at that time. I noted that the freezer was switched off at the mains power point.”

 Frozen food also in the freezer is removed. The body is removed from the freezer and placed on a plastic sheet, further photographs are taken.
The body is then transported to the Forensic Science Centre at Divett Place, Adelaide.

20:00: The body temperature is taken via a needle probe inserted into the liver. A constant temperature is recorded, with the maximum temperature being +7.2 C
An examination of the bullet wound takes place via X-rays.
Further examination does not continue as Dr Manock states that the skin and organs were still deep frozen and unconducive to examination.

8:20 June 6th 1979: Dr Manock continues his examination of the body.

At 0820 hours on 6 June 1979:  I recommenced the examination. 

 The freezer was also tested for its normal running temperatures, this was to help establish a time of death. (read the entire Coronial report here: http://netk.net.au/Szach/AutopsyReport.asp)

This is where the opinion of today’s forensic specialists criticise Dr Manock’s methodology in the case. Considering the time of the death that Dr Manock implied was the basis for putting Szach in the house at time of death, and implicating him for the murder, it is an important piece of evidence to have correct.
They point out that the method used by Dr Manock to calculate the time of death is based on a formula initially proposed by Fiddes and Patten work published in the Journal of Forensic Medicine in 1958. The experiments undertaken for this journal involved bodies having their temperature measured after they had been frozen laid out flat, not in the foetal position as was Mr Stevenson.
Dr Manock adjusted his formula by 40% to compensate for Stevenson’s body being in the foetal position, Dr Manock does not give any scientific reason for his adjustment of 40%, and this is where his argument about the correct time of death falls flat on its face with today’s forensic testers.
A few years after the trial another forensic pathologist looked at Dr Manock’s results and stated in a review why it was not appropriate for Dr Manock to use the formula he did, or substitute important key data, like a liver temperature reading for an anal temperature reading, without a scientific reason for doing so.

 He also pointed out factors such as not knowing the room temperature when Mr Stevenson died, or how long there was between being shot, and being put into the freezer. He made no accommodation for the freezer being put into “superchill” mode, which would have added another negative 8 degrees to the cooling temperature.

Derrance Stevenson's odd, iconic house on Greenhill Road, Parkside, circa 1979
In 1978. Dr Manock was the at centre of a controversial autopsy that he did in the open, in front of the public, in a small South Australian town. The story didn’t become public until a recent court case.


Another high-profile case that Dr Manock work has been criticised in, is in regards to the 1971 murder of teenager Deborah Leach on a beach at Taperoo. The crime saw Frits Van Beelan convicted and serving 17 years in gaol. He is now appealing his conviction based on wrongful evidence supplied by Dr Manock.

It would seem there are many issues with evidence provided by Dr Manock, across many cases, and judging by the video above, perhaps there is something more sinister behind his position and personality. If one places a puppet in control of evidence in cases, one can pervert the course of justice to one’s own end….a conspiracy perhaps?

Read more about cases where Dr Manock’s evidence is being questioned: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/sa-murderers-to-appeal-amid-challenges-to-evidence-by-former-pathologist-colin-manock/news-story/aee2d4b0da09205c323f031ef370dea1

Next Week: The Parkside Body in the Freezer Case: The Appeal (part 5)

(Bibliography in the final blog post of this series)

[1] “nolle prosequi” a formal notice of abandonment by a plaintiff or prosecutor of all or part of a suit.