The Widow of Walcha, Emma Patridge
Grazier Mathew Dunbar led a quiet life, working on his farm, helping out with the local poultry club, meeting up with the few very close friends he had. An adopted child, he'd had a tricky relationship with his parents, his father dying not improving things between Dunbar and his mother, despite her desperate wish to reconnect. All Dunbar seemed to really want was to find love and have a family of his own, which made him a prime target for the deeply flawed, dangerous and vicious Natasha Darcy. A woman with a litany of manipulative and cruel behaviour behind her, Mathew stuck with her, even after she'd been found guilty of setting a nearby house fire while her husband slept inside, even after doing jail time for fraud.
Much has been made of the way that Dunbar died in an apparent suicide not long after signing over his million-dollar estate to Darcy. Much was made of the fact that the first paramedic on scene was her husband - the one she'd been charged with trying to kill. But the people of the small town of Walcha wanted much more made of the fact that the whole thing stunk to high-heaven and they knew damn well they had a murderer in their midst.
True crime written by journalists can sometimes be a bit of a challenge for this reader, especially those that do some seriously heavy lifting to insert themselves into the storyline. The approach in THE WIDOW OF WALCHA, however, worked really well (I read the book in one day, granted a lousy weather day, but it's been a while since something has made me do that!). Partridge inserts the story of the chase into her day to day activities as a crime reporter, travelling to the town of Walcha, in the Northern Tablelands of NSW initially in the months after Dunbar's death, then spending months researching the case, interviewing friends, family and even a conversation with Darcy herself, in an attempt to flesh out the complex web of lies and crimes that Darcy trailed in her wake.
Delays in her investigation were also caused by the police asking her to keep things under wraps, sometimes as a result of delays in court proceedings and sometimes just because the investigation was conducted under the radar. The insertion of Partridge here into the narrative really worked - her feelings of concern, doubt, fear that Darcy was going to get away with this mirrored those of his friends and family. Her shock, and horror at what she uncovered about Darcy's past was such a real, visceral reaction, it was hard not to feel her discomfort with the past. Ultimately it was really hard to read about the friends, family and community members who knew all too well what Darcy was doing to Dunbar, and how powerless they were to prevent it.
THE WIDOW OF WALCHA is structured slightly differently to some true crime books, in that it's after the investigation, the trial and Darcy's sentencing that Partridge outlines some of the things that she discovered about the past. Much of this is really food for thought - how bad does one person have to be, how many red-flags are raised before somebody can do something, and how hamstrung people can sometimes be when everything is suspected and somebody doesn't want to see what's right before their eyes.
All farmer Mathew Dunbar ever wanted was to find love and have a family of his own. That’s why, just months after meeting Natasha Darcy, the much-loved grazier didn’t hesitate to sign over his multi-million-dollar estate to her.
When Mathew died in an apparent suicide soon afterwards, in a stranger-than-fiction twist, Natasha's estranged husband – who she was once charged with trying to kill – was the first paramedic on the scene after the murder.
Journalist and author Emma Partridge travelled to the cool and misty town of Walcha in the Northern Tablelands of NSW in the months after Mathew Dunbar's death, drawn by the town's collective worry that Natasha was going to get away with murder. Partridge spent months researching the case, interviewing Mathew’s friends, family and Natasha herself in an attempt to uncover her sickening web of lies and crimes.
The Widow of Walcha is about one of the most extraordinary criminal trials in Australia’s history and reveals Natasha’s sickening crimes against those she claimed to love, fuelled by her obsession with money.