16 August 2023

Review: The Widow of Walcha by Emma Partridge

The Widow of Walcha by Emma Partridge book cover

Walcha (pronounced like polka) is a small town in NSW, located half way between Sydney and Brisbane with a population of approximately 2,475 people. In 2017, Natasha Darcy murdered her partner Mathew Dunbar and tried to make it look like suicide. Australian journalist Emma Partridge is the Senior Crime Editor for Nine News, and has won several awards for her court reporting.

In The Widow of Walcha, Emma Partridge tells Mathew Dunbar's story, and in doing so, exposes the greedy and despicable behaviour of one of the most cold and calculating females in Australia.

By all accounts, Mathew Dunbar was a kind, quiet, generous and successful sheep grazier who owned a multi-million dollar farm called Pandora. Actively involved in the community, Mathew was looking for love and wanted to have a family, making him the perfect target for Natasha Darcy.

After drugging her ex-husband Colin Crossman and burning down their house with him still in it, Natasha Darcy was charged with attempted murder in 2009. Serving time in jail, Natasha was later released, yet bizarrely remained in close contact with Crossman. They were unable to claim the insurance money for the house and were in serious debt when Natasha Darcy shifted her sights to Mathew.

With a ruse to meet the wealthy grazier and instigate a speedy romance, Natasha was soon spending Dunbar's money freely, while spending months online obsessively researching the best ways to kill him.

There were hundreds and hundreds of damning search terms, but here's a sample:
'how to commit murder', 'poisonous spiders', 'murder by injection,' 'can Police see search history?' and 'does helium show up in autopsy?' Other searches included: 'lethal dose of oxycodone', 'can Police see deleted messages' and '11 toxic wild plants that look like food'.
Thoroughly investigated by Emma Partridge, the case, arrest and subsequent trial showed Natasha Darcy to be a compulsive liar, and an evil and manipulative woman. At the time of the victim's death, the entire town believed Natasha had murdered Mathew, and locals couldn't understand why she was walking around free. Darcy was eventually arrested 4 months after Dunbar's death.

There was so much damning evidence in this case it was quite mind-blowing. Most shocking (to me) was why in hell ex-husband Colin Crossman - a Paramedic, no less - who had been drugged by Darcy and nearly died when she set his house on fire, was still actively involved in the children's lives. Darcy even took out a life insurance policy on Colin, this woman was bad news.

In an odd twist of fate, Crossman was the first Paramedic on the scene when Natasha 'discovered' Mathew unresponsive and frantically phoned for an ambulance. Partridge doesn't allege they were 'in on it' together, but this reader certainly wondered. Especially when you consider that when the author first sees Natasha, she and Colin are transporting a fridge from Pandora to his house. She was even interviewed by Police at Crossman's house. What is Crossman thinking? 

Worth millions, Darcy repeatedly asked Mathew to change his will to leave Pandora to her and her children if anything happened to him. Denying it later, Police were able to retrieve deleted text messages and evidence of her repeated nagging about the will.

Darcy had been in and out of jail for various charges including theft, and even had the nerve to ask another inmate if she'd lie to Police and inform them Mathew had been contemplating suicide days before his death. Darcy promised to pay her friend $20,000 for the lie when she 'automatically' inherited Pandora on her release. Fortunately the friend was already wise to the toxic manipulation and cut all ties, later coming forward during the trial with her information.

Narrated by Jo Van Es, this case was a shocking glimpse into the sordid mind of a self-serving, unfeeling, greedy and manipulative woman, prepared to do anything to further her financial position in life at the expense of all others.

Darcy finally settled on her method to dispatch Mathew, despite previous unsuccessful attempts which left him on crutches just days before his death. Mixing a cocktail of different drugs (including her son's medication and ram sedatives purchased under an assumed name), Natasha blended them in a Nutribullet to sedate Mathew. She then put a bag over his head and pumped helium gas into it, which eventually killed him.

I was gripped the entire time I was listening to The Widow of Walcha by Emma Partridge and found it hard to fathom the fact a woman could be so cold and evil. Recently finished, this book was very much in mind when I learned of the recent mushroom poisoning by Erin Patterson in the town of Leongatha where my parents live. Originally an intervention / mediation lunch, Erin's ex in-laws and family relative passed away after eating lunch at Erin's house containing fatal death cap mushrooms.

In this new case, the ex-husband Simon Patterson was supposed to attend the lunch and pulled out at the last minute, and just as well. Last year, he was in ICU for 16 days and underwent multiple operations to treat an undiagnosed gut illness. What's the bet this was Patterson's first attempt?

I see similarities in the early days of the mushroom poisoning case and the hideous behaviour of Natasha Darcy. If guilty, I hope Police find enough evidence to convict her and that she is brought to justice for killing three people with another still clinging to life at the time of writing. I hope the investigative journalists on this case are as dedicated to their jobs as Emma Partridge, and choose to put the truth and justice ahead of sensationalism and click bait.

No-one expects to live alongside a female murderer in their small town, and the family and friends of Mathew Dunbar in Walcha still mourn his loss. Taking advantage of a wealthy middle aged man with the promise of providing an instant loving family is the lowest of blows, and I only wonder why she couldn't be content living that life. Sentenced to 40 years in prison with a non-parole period of 30 years, Natasha Darcy's black widow days are well and truly over.

The fate of Pandora hadn't been legally settled when The Widow of Walcha was published in May 2022, but thankfully the author gave me peace of mind when she pointed out that regardless of the outcome, Darcy's children cannot legally inherit Pandora. Thank goodness for that!

The Widow of Walcha by Emma Partridge is one of the best Australian true crime accounts I've ever read!

My Rating:

Would you like to comment?

  1. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention. I’m picking up a copy at the library this morning.

    1. Thanks so much Diana, I really hope you find this as compelling as I did. Such an astonishing case, you won't believe your eyes!


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