It was as near to “hearing a voice” as I can remember. I had finished writing my own lengthy story and was struck by the fact that Veronica had only needed two paragraphs to document her part in my life. Veronica Knight, as dear as a daughter, had been like a member of our family for about three years in the 1970s. We were newly married and living in Adelaide; Peter worked as a residential care worker with troubled young men and I was teaching at a Lutheran secondary college.
We met Veronica when her hostel contacted us and said she was looking for a church or youth group. That was the beginning, and before long, she had become part of our family through informal foster care and an enthusiastic participant in the life of our church. In 1974, Veronica was nearly sixteen. She had no family and was mildly intellectually disabled. Lovable and cheeky, she lived life with gusto that belied her abandonment as a child and consequent status as a ward of the state.
Soon after she turned eighteen, she disappeared forever. As the tragic events of the Truro serial, tandem murders of 1976-7 emerged in Adelaide some years later, we had to absorb the shocking fact that she had been the first victim.
Forty years later, a lifetime had passed and our own children had grown up and given us many grandchildren. Veronica was a memory tucked into her special corner of my heart. Until I wrote about her and was shocked by how little I knew. Soon after, I was in hospital, recuperating from a knee operation. I began chatting to one of the nurses who then showed me a book she had written about losing her mum to cancer (tinyurl.com/np69s). She was touched that I downloaded it and read it in one night, but it set me thinking.
What had I experienced in my life that was deeply human and might resonate with others, as had nurse Leigh’s simple story? That was when I heard a voice, at least in my head, that said, “Write about Veronica”.
Life in hospital is boring once the drama of surgery is over, and a project was just what I needed. I couldn’t sleep that night as I began an internet search. Why had I never done this before? How could forty years have passed without me looking for information. I didn’t even know where her grave was. It was a roller coaster of feelings: guilt and dismay that I had not cared enough about someone that my husband and I loved like our own child, mixed with the excitement of the hunt for knowledge.
I found the TV series on the Truro murders, and watched it all with mesmerised horror. I looked up maps and articles and read media pieces and court reports from the time. Amazingly, nobody had written a definitive story of the events that became known as the Truro murders. The names of the perpetrators became etched forever in my mind and I vowed that I would write something that would push them back and allow Veronica to be remembered for who she was. It became clear quite quickly that this would be a justice project to restore Veronica’s reputation, along with the six other girls. I now realised that while I didn’t know much about her life, Peter and I were the people who knew her best in the whole world.
And that was the start of A Voice For Veronica.