Is Peter Falconio still alive? Latest theories explained

A FRESH appeal to find the remains of Peter Falconio was launched as police say there is unsearched desert land on the 20th anniversary of his disappearance.

But could the British backpacker actually have survived the 2001 attack and what theories are circulating?

On July 14, 2001, 27-year-old English backpacker Joanne Lees flagged down a truck on a lonely stretch of the Stuart Highway in central Australia.

According to Lees, in the dead of night, she and her boyfriend Peter Falconio had been attacked on the highway.

Tapping into long held fears about the Australian outback, the story created a firestorm of headlines in the UK and Australia.

Police tapes from the investigation revealed that police at first believed she could have been involved.

Falconio's body has never been found.

It wasn't until four years later that drug runner Bradley Murdoch was locked up for the crime.

And on July 14, Australian police issued a fresh appeal for help to find his remains on the 20th anniversary of his death.

The lead John Daulby investigator in the case believes his body could be buried in unsearched desert land.

The documentary series, Murder in the Outback: The Falconio and Lees Mystery, aired on Channel 4 in 2020 and picked apart the details of the case and uncovered startling new evidence.

The original theory

Lees said the pair were flagged down by Murdoch who told them he had a problem with his exhaust.

Lees says managed to escape after Falconio was shot in the head.

She hid in bushes for five hours, before running into the road to wave down a passing truck..

She later said: "It was either run, or be raped and killed."

She said she had been kidnapped, drugged, and raped by a man but soon became a prime suspect in her boyfriend's murder after claims she appeared "emotionless" after the incident.

But it was later revealed she had taken the sedative Valium to help her handle her horror ordeal.


In the documentary, two witnesses claim to have seen Falconio days after his appearance.

Robert Brown and Melissa Kendall believed the backpacker was still alive after seeing him in Bourke, a remote town in New South Wales, 2,000km from where he went missing.

“I’m 200 percent sure it was Peter Falconio,” said Brown in the documentary. “I will undergo any lie detector test, anything anybody wants me to. I was a metre away from him.”

Walking the cameras through what happened he said: “I was reading the race results in the paper and I heard the door squeak, and Melissa was on the other side and she’s yelling out to me.

“She yelled at me again and then the next minute she turned the paper over and on the front page there was a picture of a gentleman down in the bottom right-hand corner and she tapped it.

“I put the paper down and walked around the corner and then bang I am looking straight at this bloke I saw in the paper. I was sort of in shock.”

He then added: “I didn’t go to the police straight away because it was none of my business.

Melissa said: “I personally believe he is alive, where he is I don’t know.” She also explained that the police found out about the ‘sighting’ when an officer overheard her talking to a colleague in her former workplace.

Life insurance

The documentary also revealed that one of Falconio’s colleagues had come forward to the Australian authorities anonymously, to suggest that he may have faked his own death.

“There is no doubt in my mind that Peter Falconio is capable of carrying out the scam,” said the unnamed friend. 

“I would not be in the least bit surprised if he attempted to defraud a life insurance policy just for the money. Before he went away he told me he had taken out a policy.”

In the statement, he describes himself as a friend of Peter’s and says he was called ‘dodgy Peter’ because “he was always scamming”.

Falconio’s body has never been found, leaving some people believing there could be truth to the theory he is still alive.

Former defence lawyer Andrew Fraser explained the ‘friend’ and colleague said Peter joked about people trying to scam the company he worked for. The Australian police have discounted the theory that Peter faked his own death.

A former journalist who covered the case said: “There’s no way a son could have faked his own death and maintained his absence for so long knowing that his family were so upset.

“That proves to me that the insurance scam allegation was perhaps unfounded.”

Murdoch remains in prison for Peter’s murder and the assault on Joanne Lees in 2005. He plead not guilty and maintains he is innocent.

Peter’s body is still missing, with the prosecution relying on a small bit of DNA on Joanne Lees’ t-shirt that matched Murdoch’s.

Murdoch was diagnosed with cancer last year promoting the police to attempt to get a confession finally in exchange for moving him to a prison closer to his family.

Murdoch can apply for parole from 2033 but if he doesn’t reveal the location of Peter’s body his application will be denied.

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