A taste of Silent Death
Edited extract from Chapter One: The Killing
JAMIE Ramage has a sweet name, an endearing little-boy name, and nice hands: strong, capable, shapely. They are the kind of hands that a woman looks for in a man. This day, though, he must have driven gingerly with the right one; it was swollen, the fingers like sausages. Blunt trauma, the police doctor would later say, causing fluid to leak from veins into surrounding tissues. But Jamie’s hand was the least of his worries.
He said later that he drove in a daze. Perhaps it was true; perhaps he took all the busy city roads and curving country tracks in the vague trance of the preoccupied driver. The last bit of road, the part later videotaped by police, wound on and on. It seemed evidence of how focused he must have been on his task: a journey of about an hour, so many twists and turns, so many chances to think better of what he was about to do. But then Jamie had always been goal-oriented, unable to brook any delay in getting on with whatever aim he had set himself, sweeping in his recruitment of others to his causes. This task, he knew, was his alone. Police would later check out a fuzzy report that someone else had been seen with him in his sleek Jaguar on that trip, but it came to nought. Who would he have asked along, anyway? His teenage son? His dinner-party companions, the lawyers and doctors and businesspeople of middle-class Melbourne? Some of them would be useful at his trial for the murder of his wife, Julie. But not now. Not with Julie’s bruised and bleeding body, wrapped in a bed ruffle, rocking in the boot.
Jamie later said that when his hands were around Julie’s throat she fought him a little, but not for long. It was a lunchtime in July, a mid-winter Monday, but one of the neighbours in the quiet street they lived in had her doors and windows open because it was her cleaning day. She heard nothing. Strangulation is like drowning: a silent death. All the talking Jamie had done in the past five weeks, with Julie, friends and a bevy of counsellors – the phone calls, the coffees, the therapy sessions, the obsessive pleading for help – that whole great torrent of words ended in this terrible, bloody silence…
The people who mixed with the Ramages were people who had faith in the law. They expected it to provide justice. But Jamie Ramage had dominated and abused his wife Julie for more than 20 years, and he did it again at his trial. Julie’s voice was strangled out of her a second time by the laws of evidence and the legal defence of provocation. That very silencing, however, turned the case into a much-debated cause celebre. Julie’s story exposed the brittleness of the middle-class veneer and the subtle viciousness of another kind of silent death: the abusive marriage. Jamie’s trial for murder exposed the way ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women were still enshrined in the law – and how the notion of ‘crimes of passion’ favours the passions of men….
Silent Death was shortlisted for Best Book in the 2006 Walkley Awards. It won the Davitt award for Best True Crime and shared the Davitt Readers’ Choice award in 2006.
The Davitt awards are presented by Sisters in Crime Australia to female crime writers. They are named in honour of Ellen Davitt, who wrote Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and Fraud, in 1865.
Hard copies of Silent Death are available through Australian bookstores and e-books are sold through iTunes.