09 December 2019

Review: Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles

Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser’s story by Robin Bowles book cover
* Won in a Scribe Publications giveaway hosted by Australian Writers' Centre *

On 26 January 2009, Bob Chappell went missing from his yacht Four Winds and was never seen again. Bob Chappell had been with his partner Sue Neill-Fraser for 18 years at the time of his disappearance and their yacht was moored near the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania marina in Hobart. Neill-Fraser was eager to help Police and gave several statements, each varying a little on the details. With nothing else to go on, Police became convinced she had harmed Bob and charged her with murder.

The trial was held in 2010 after which Neill-Fraser was found guilty and sentenced to 26 years with a non-parole period of 18 years. (As an aside, I can't understand how Borce Ristevski can receive a sentence of 9 years with a minimum of 6 - since increased to 13 years with a minimum of 10 - after pleading guilty to his wife's murder while Neill-Fraser is sentenced to 26 years!)

The court case was widely reported at the time and many - including the defendant's family and friends - believed she was not guilty of the crime.

Australian author Robin Bowles draws on her experience and connections in Tasmania to give the reader an in depth look at all the ins and outs of the crime, the investigation, the court case and more in Death on the Derwent - Sue Neill-Fraser's story. Since reading and reviewing Into the Darkness - The Mysterious Death of Phoebe Handsjuk in March 2017 Bowles' writing style has improved in that she no longer inserts herself into the content presented.

Before picking up Death on the Derwent I believed Sue Neill-Fraser was innocent. My opinion hasn't changed but at least now I'm more informed. I was very moved by a 60 Minutes interview with Meaghan Vass in March 2019 which has significant bearing on this case. Vass was one of the witnesses in the court case and she told 60 Minutes her friends murdered Bob aboard the Four Winds in January 2009 and disposed of his body.

This recorded admission essentially exonerates Neill-Fraser but Police decided not to take any further action. Whaaat? Furthermore, it's a shame this interview was aired after the publication of Death on the Derwent as I'm almost certain Bowles would like to have included this key information.

However the bigger question is, how is Neill-Fraser still in jail after this 'confession' from Vass? It's astounding. And if we believe Vass, it follows that the killer is still walking around! Bowles attempts to explain the injustice and the inner workings of Tasmanian legal politics however it only served to make my blood boil.

Overall, there was an abundance of information presented here that exceeded my level of interest in the case, but the end result is a comprehensive account. I hope Neill-Fraser receives justice some day soon.

Recommended for readers of true crime and those interested in the law.

Carpe Librum!

My Rating:
★ ★

Would you like to comment?

  1. I haven’t read this but I have read a summary or two of the case and like you I believe she’s innocent. Her sentencing is also absurd when compared to other cases where there is no doubt the perpetrator’s guilt.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one.

    1. Thanks Shelleyrae, it's a fascinating case of injustice isn't it? I think you'd enjoy this one.

  2. In your review you say the following

    "However the bigger question is, how is Neill-Fraser still in jail after this 'confession' from Vass? It's astounding. And if we believe Vass, it follows that the killer is still walking around!"

    It looks like that you aren't aware that Tasmania Police re-interviewed Meaghan couple of days before the 60 Minutes program was aired. This is what was reported the day after the 60 Mins program:

    "Tasmania Police said it was aware of the contents of the 60 Minutes story. 

    Assistant Commissioner Richard Cowling said police re-interviewed Ms Vass last week when the program's promotional material suggested a new version of events.

    "The version of events given by Ms Vass on 60 Minutes is contrary to her previous police interview, contrary to her sworn evidence in court and contrary to last week's police interview," Commander Cowling said."

    The above is from


    1. Thanks for the additional info. I was aware of that, but that's the decision I disagree with. Even though Ms Vass's version of events is contrary to her sworn testimony, which probably means she purjered herself, I still believe this to be closer to the truth. Should Neill-Fraser remain in jail because one person purjered herself? The law should be able to handle situations like this. I'm just an armchair critic though, with nothing to do with the case or the people involved. I'm just a layperson with an opinion but thanks for the article, it was interesting reading.

  3. Let me then provide you with some further information that Sue's supporters weren't aware of until my friends started pointing it out online since Feb last year.

    A friend of mine has been tweeting about a certain crime scene photograph that was ignored on Undercurrent and which supports the State's case that a winch was used to remove the body from below the deck.
    See for example https://mobile.twitter.com/Jack98465221/status/1213362326071435264

    1. Thanks Anon, there were a whole stack of Tweets of interest on that account. Obviously Jack and yourself have much more knowledge about the case than I do, so feel free to have the last word.

  4. On the bottom of page 351 the author notes that

    "If Meaghan had been on board that night, her DNA beside the starboard-entry of the boat would not have been trodden on by any of the 42 feet getting on and off, as there would be no reason for visitors to the boat to walk around that way".

    But the author ignored the known fact that a number of police and civilians boarded the yacht on the morning of 27th via the starboard boarding gate. This was noted in the trial transcript. Live news video footage of that morning showed a police boat tethered to the starboard side of Four Winds.

    The book has a large number of other errors. Samuel Devine wasn't called as a witness. What is written on page 207 and page 207 is a nonsense. I think that page 206 talks about another witness (Detective
    Shaun Sinnett) rather than Sam.

    This is a copy of an online comnent by Meaghan's friend:

    "Robyn bowles has the wool pulled over her eyes when it comes to karen keefe saying that everyone owes her an apology as she actually led them to Meaghan… DNA led to Meaghan and karen coerced and dragged not led Meaghan. She had dollar signs in her eyes. Also the diaries that she had? Where are they? They don’t even exist. Belting on doors looking for her to drag her out isn’t going about it the right way at all so no one owes her an apology at all. Also in Robyn’s book she claims Sam devine was in supreme court initially and cross examined. Another fallacy. Also if she plugs her own book one more time I think I’ll scream."

    The above is from



Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!