News

Public talk: Evidence for Murder - How physics convicted a killer


3 November 2009

Venue: Footbridge Theatre, Camperdown campus, Parramatta Road, University of Sydney

Time: 6.30pm onwards

Date: Thursday 19th November

RSVP: 9351 3472 or outreach@physics.usyd.edu.au

In June 1995, Caroline Byrne, a Sydney model, died as a result of a fall from a cliff at The Gap in Sydney's eastern suburbs. The Gap is a popular scenic spot and is also a notorious suicide spot. The police initially dismissed Caroline's death as just another suicide. Did she jump, or was she thrown?

Book cover of 'Evidence for Murder: How physics convicted a killer', by Associate Professor Rod Cross from the School of Physics.
Book cover of 'Evidence for Murder: How physics convicted a killer', by Associate Professor Rod Cross from the School of Physics.

At this free public talk, Associate Professor Rod Cross will give an account of his physics investigations, including footage of his experiments and stories from inside the courtroom. His evidence showed that Caroline was thrown, and was a critical part of the evidence presented at Gordon Wood's trial.

The murder of Caroline Byrne by her boyfriend Gordon Wood, and the controversy of Rene Rivkin's alleged involvement, has captivated the media for over 13 years.

The case was finally brought to a close with Gordon Wood convicted of murder in November 2008, after the jury agreed unanimously that there was enough evidence to show he was guilty.

As an expert on the physics of sport and forensic physics, Associate Professor Cross worked on the case conducting tests to answer the question of whether the death of Caroline Byrne was the result of her jumping or being thrown off the cliff at The Gap.

"This is a really interesting case where physics was able to provide answers for one of Sydney's longest running murder cases. Caroline Byrne's body was found 11.8 metres out from the cliff, which was 29 metres above her final landing spot," said Associate Professor Cross.

"The only way her body could have landed so far out from the four metre wide rock platform was if she had a launch speed of at least 4.5 metres per second.

"We conducted trials using real women - police cadets at Goulburn Police College - jumping into a swimming pool to see how fast a launch speed they could achieve after a four metre run-up. None of them could get up to 4.5 metres per second by diving, although a few could reach that speed with a feet first jump," explained Associate Professor Cross.

"This sort of speed ruled out Caroline Byrne tripping or deliberately going over the edge or even being pushed by someone else. Only a person of elite athletic ability could reach this launch speed by running and then diving off the cliff edge."

Caroline Byrne also landed head first, which led Associate Professor Cross to investigate the sort of throwing motion which would have allowed a high enough launch speed to produce the calculated trajectory of her fall.

"Given our results, it would have been practically impossible for Caroline Byrne to have jumped and land at the distance and in the way she did. She was thrown off the rock ledge at The Gap by a strong and fit person," said Associate Professor Cross.

Associate Professor Cross has written a book on his forensic physics work called Evidence for Murder: How physics convicted a killer, published in October 2009. The book sets out a behind-the-scenes narrative of the investigation and the trial, chronicling the police investigation and detailing the science behind the forensic evidence.

Evidence for Murder: How physics convicted a killer will be of immense interest to true crime readers, those fascinated by the role of science in criminal investigations, and anyone who has followed this case in the press.

For information on Rod's work, or to buy his book, visit his page here.

To listen to Rod's talk, visit his page here.


Contact: Lara Davis

Phone: 02 9351 3383

Email: 3a37303702381242290e191a5729541318302078121443421744