Journalistic Leadership

By any measure, Debi Marshall fits the image of a “crusading” journalist. And brave. How brave? How many among us would track down and arrange to meet a person her research tells her is a murderer – alone? This is a scene Marshall has placed herself in more than once.

As a reporter and writer, Marshall specialises in true crime. She has written eight books, most of them bestsellers. Each was researched and written by Marshall alone, combining her excellent storytelling skills with her forensic approach to accurate research.

Setting out to investigate the heartwrenching unsolved case of the 1973 murder of 17-month-old Deidre Kennedy, Marshall clinically examined two court cases, uncovered lost police evidence and forensic disasters.

She went alone to secure the only interview Deidre’s suspected killer ever gave. Her book, Justice in Jeopardy, helped overturn Australia’s double jeopardy laws.

At all times, despite frequent personal danger and threats, she has been motivated to seek truth and justice and has worked with the highest ethical considerations to tell the darkest stories that most writers would shun.

Her book on the notorious Snowtown serial murders, Killing for Pleasure, won the 2007 Ned Kelly award for Best True Crime. Securing exclusive interviews with key witnesses – including the partner of the mastermind behind the 12 killings – Marshall’s account is forensic and refrains from sensationalism.

For Marshall, the search for the truth became intensely personal when she undertook the investigation into the murder of her own partner, Ron Jarvis, who was killed in 1992. Again meeting alone with the man she suspected had killed her partner, Marshall became the chief prosecution witness at his murder trial. Eventually Stephen Standage was sentenced to 48 years in prison for two murders.

The Walkley Board considers that the hallmark of Marshall’s success has been her ability to establish a bond of trust with victims and their families, and with witnesses who came forward to tell her their stories.

Nowhere is this more evident than during her investigation into the Family Court murders dating back to 1980-1985. Working as a producer with Channel 7’s Sunday Night program and then conducting more research for her own book on the case, Marshall gained the trust of victims and their families, as well as interviews with the former wife and daughter of the main suspect Leonard Warwick, who has subsequently been arrested over the same matters.

While working full-time in the media, Marshall has also mentored aspiring journalists in her role as a tutor in journalism at the University of Technology, Sydney and as a teacher of media at college.

Her books have twice been long-listed for a Walkley.