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Leith McDonald RATTEN





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: May 7, 1970
Date of birth: 1938
Victim profile: His wife Beverley Joan Ratten (eight months pregnant)
Method of murder: Shooting (shotgun)
Location: Echuca, Victoria, Australia
Status: Sentenced to death in 1970. Commuted to 25 years in prison. Released in 1983. Died in January 2012

Court of Criminal Appeal

The Queen v. Leith McDonald Ratten

Leith Ratten was a convicted murderer from Echuca, Australia whose case ignited controversy and national interest in the 1970s. Leading lawyers were convinced of his innocence. He died in January 2012.


On May 7, 1970 members of the Victoria Police stationed in Echuca responded to an emergency call at a home in Mitchell Street. They found a heavily-pregnant woman, Beverley Ratten, lying dead in the kitchen from a shotgun wound to the torso. Her upset husband, Leith Ratten, was removed for questioning. Beverley would later be interred in the Cheltenham Memorial Park, Melbourne.

During interview Ratten said he was cleaning an old rusty double-barrelled shotgun brought in from the garage when it fired, hitting his wife under the left armpit while she was in the kitchen at lunchtime.

Ratten could not explain how the gun discharged or how it came to be loaded. Subsequent investigations revealed that Ratten was having an affair with Jennifer Kemp, the wife of a family friend, and had spoken to her on the morning of the shooting. He had also applied for a twelve-month posting to a base in Antarctica.

Trial and appeals

Ratten was committed to trial for murder and the hearing took place in August, 1970 in the nearby town of Shepparton, Victoria. Despite the assertions of Ratten's defence counsel that the shooting was accidental and evidence against him was circumstantial, the jury found Ratten guilty and he was sentenced to death. This was later commuted to 25 years' prison.

Following the case, Ratten's lawyers undertook four separate appeals on various grounds, one of which involved the exhumation of Beverley Ratten's body in 1973. All four appeals were dismissed. Despite the failure of his appeals there was considerable doubt about Ratten's conviction, many believing he was found guilty for the questionable morality of his marital infidelity rather than concrete evidence. His case was widely discussed among the legal fraternity while his cause was taken up by many notable lawyers and politicians, such as Don Chipp.

Don Chipp said that in 1971 Henry Winneke had told him the convicted murderer Leith Ratten was innocent. In 1981 when Ratten had yet to be released, Chipp said Winneke denied the conversation had taken place. Later, a member of the Supreme Court at the time of Ratten's trial, told Tom Molomby Winneke had wanted to remove the jury from the trial. Such a move would require a belief that the evidence would not support a guilty verdict.

Ratten served his sentence, was a model prisoner and was released in 1983. He worked as a surveyor in Queensland. However, in 1981 he had been advised he would likely be released and was given time on release to find a job, which he did. Then he heard via the radio that he would not be released. Politicians making the decision had allegedly been pressured by the police force. Further examination of the unfired cartridge was undertaken and he was released soon aft.

Media coverage

Ratten's family had been advised that he would be released early if there was no fuss.

But in the late 1970s ABC TV did a program on Ratten in its "Beyond Reasonable Doubt" series. The program was researched and scripted by Tom Molomby who later organised a campaign lobbying politicians on Ratten's behalf.

A Sunday Observer beat up was severely criticised by the Press Council of Australia.

A book, The Web of Circumstance, by Tom Molomby in 1978 argued Ratten was innocent. And Professor Colin Howard of Melbourne University wrote:

"After reading his scrupulous and impartial account I share the author's belief that there can be no doubt left that Ratten did not murder his wife".


Leith Ratten dies still claiming to be innocent of murder of his wife

By Keith Moore - The Herald Sun

February 3, 2012

THE man at the centre of one of the most controversial murder cases in Victorian history has died maintaining his innocence.

Family members also remained convinced Leith Ratten was wrongly convicted in 1970 over the shooting death of his pregnant wife Bev in the kitchen of their Echuca home.

Ratten died late last month in Brisbane at 73.

His brother, Gream, 84, said Ratten should never have been jailed and claimed Bev Ratten was killed when Ratten's shotgun accidentally discharged while he was cleaning it.

A death notice in the Herald Sun this week referred to Ratten as the "loved husband of Bev".

What it didn't say was that Ratten was sentenced to death by a Supreme Court jury in Shepparton in 1970 for the murder of his wife, eight months pregnant with the couple's fourth child when she was shot.

Or that in rejecting an appeal to the High Court by Ratten in 1974, the then Chief Justice, Sir Garfield Barwick, said the case against Ratten was very strong and there was evidence he meant to shoot his wife.

"There was ample motive for the pressure on that trigger to have been deliberate," the High Court judgment said.

"The applicant was infatuated with another woman to the point that he had agreed on her pressing suggestion to leave his wife and children and set up house with her."

Ratten's death sentence was commuted to 25 years, but he was released in 1983 after serving 13.

Barrister Tom Molomby, SC, and politician Don Chipp were among many who campaigned for years for Ratten's freedom.

Mr Molomby wrote a book called Ratten, subtitled, "The Web of Circumstances: how an innocent man was found guilty of murder".

Greame Ratten this week said his brother had found love again after moving to Queensland and was survived by his partner, Sandi.

The family were struck by tragedy again in 1988, when Ratten's daughter, Wendy, 22, collapsed and died at her office desk as a result of blood clots on her lungs.

Ratten ran the prison radio station 3NP in Pentridge and appeared in The Herald in 1981 with entertainer Ernie Sigley.




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