In December of 2010, Keli Lane was convicted of murdering two-day-old Tegan Lee Lane and disposing of the body in a place that only she knows. The baby’s body has never been found. On Friday, she was sentenced to a maximum term of 18 years in prison. Miss Lane is appealing the conviction.
The woman convicted of the crime was not the same woman who once used to front Alissa Warren’s classes at school. Alissa saw a very different side to her. This piece was first published in The Daily Telegraph. We think you should read it.
“I knew convicted child murderer Keli Lane simply as Miss Lane. She was my high school physical education teacher at Ravenswood School for Girls, a Uniting Church school in Gordon, on Sydney’s north shore.
It was 2001 and I was 17. Miss Lane was 26.
Nobody knew it at the time but five years earlier, this young woman had murdered her own newborn baby, Tegan, after going through pregnancy without the knowledge of her family or friends. Later, police would discover she had gone through several other secret pregnancies, which resulted in either abortion or adoption of the babies.
I don’t want to believe Miss Lane murdered Tegan.
She was the sort of teacher we all admired. She treated us with respect and we respected her in return. Mostly, I remember this: Miss Lane didn’t put up with any rubbish. Everything from wagging to whingeing – she never allowed it. Not on her watch.
Like in any high school, there were two types of teachers. Those who can’t control a classroom, and those who can. Miss Lane was the latter.
You couldn’t put much past her. She accepted no excuses. She made you work for her trust. She taught lessons outside the classroom about respect and manners: valuable lessons for many impressionable teenage girls. She made no special allowances for girls who came from families with money or had important parents.
But she wasn’t just a tough teacher with a gruff voice. She was fun. She cared. Believe it or not, she gave us sex education lessons. There, we heard about how to practice putting condoms on bananas. She showed us slides of the anatomy on the overhead projector. I don’t remember her talking about abortion. Or adoption.
In hindsight, I wonder: was she ever thinking about Tegan?
There was certainly no hint that this capable young woman was leading a complicated, secretive life.
Suspicions had first been raised in 1999 – but when the Department of Community Services and then the police began making inquiries about what had happened to baby Tegan after her 1996 birth, Keli first said she had given Tegan to an unnamed Perth family, and later claimed she gave Tegan to the baby’s father, Andrew Morris or Norris, and had no idea where he or the baby had gone.
As a PE teacher, she’d heard every excuse. I remember her telling us she kept a record of when we claimed we couldn’t partake in swimming lessons because of “female reasons”.
Suddenly, there were fewer girls gossiping on the benches and more of us in the pool. Did she really keep tabs on our menstrual cycle? I doubt it. But I’m glad we believed her. Or we would have gone through yet another swimming season learning nothing but who was currently best friends with whom.
I remember noticing Miss Lane was pregnant. I now know much more about her private life and it is clear this was the baby Miss Lane kept and raised. There wasn’t much gossip about Miss Lane – but as her belly grew, so did the judging glances and snide remarks between parents.
Miss Lane was young, obviously pregnant and not married. And toxic innuendo flowed from some of the unsupporting sisterhood. Who knows? Perhaps it was such gossip that made her conceal her previous pregnancies.
Almost a year ago I gave birth to my first child. I was 26 – five years older than Miss Lane was when she gave birth to Tegan. Regardless of how it happens, it’s a moment most women don’t forget. I still remember seeing my son’s arms flinging around in the air, crying like most newborns do. I wonder if that’s a memory I now share with Miss Lane.
I want to believe Miss Lane is innocent. I want to believe Tegan is living a great life with a great family.
I want to believe Miss Lane is paying the ultimate price for sheltering her child. I want to believe she’s the ultimate mother – putting her child first. I desperately want to believe she didn’t do it.
But I think she did. It’s sickening. And surprisingly devastating.
Miss Lane wouldn’t even let us pass notes, let alone break the law. Whether you were in her class or not, if you did the wrong thing and she found out, heaven help you. She was never physical but her tongue was more fierce than any detention slip.
Halfway through one of my final school assemblies in the gym, two naked boys streaked through the doors. It was a muck-up day highlight. About 500 girls sitting cross-legged on the floor began screaming, pointing, laughing. The streakers fled. And while the other teachers looked at each other in disbelief, Miss Lane bolted after the boys. She caught them.
Of course, the yarn got bigger and better as the weeks rolled on. But rumour has it she jumped over bike racks, dodged cars and sprinted across the footbridge to get them. And when she caught them – she gave them an almighty talking to.
There’s no doubt, I liked Miss Lane. Perhaps not all the time: after all, most teenage girls don’t like being pulled into line. But I respected her. I even admired her.
Many of my former classmates are still shocked by Miss Lane’s conviction. There seems to be a certain amount of fear, regret and anger tainting those precious high school memories. But the most heartbreaking is that betrayal of trust. And many of us – including our parents, the staff – gave it wholeheartedly to Miss Lane.
But her hundreds of students are far from the only victims.
Keli Lane touched the lives of hundreds. She excelled at sport and had a huge circle of outgoing friends and family. For them, I imagine this crime is not only tragic but a devastating betrayal of their trust.
Yet the ultimate betrayal was of the bond between a mother and her child; between Keli Lane and Tegan.”
Have you ever experienced a side to someone you didn’t know they had? Has someone surprised you with what they are capable of?