true crime

Vicki Cleary was killed by her ex-boyfriend. In court, she was blamed for her own death.

May is Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month and at Mamamia, we're sharing women's stories of bravery and courage. If you have the means, please donate to RizeUp to help women and families move on after the devastation of domestic violence.

This post deals with domestic abuse and might be triggering for some readers.

On August 26, 1987, Vicki Cleary pulled up outside the kindergarten where she worked in the Northern Melbourne suburb of Coburg.

Within moments of parking her car, Vicki was accosted by her ex-boyfriend, Peter Keogh. He was armed with rubber gloves, masking tape, and a large hunting-style knife.

In the ensuing attack, Keogh dragged Vicki from her car, stabbing her four times. He later fled the scene, grabbing a cup of coffee at the nearby auction rooms while leaving Vicki fatally wounded in the gutter, just metres from her workplace.

In her last words, Vicki told an ambulance officer: "Please don't let me die."

She was just 25 years old.

Watch a clip from SBS documentary series See What You Made Me Do below. (Warning: The following clip deals with domestic abuse and might be triggering for some viewers.) 


Video via SBS.

Three months before the attack, Vicki had left Keogh. 

During their four-year relationship, the couple had purchased a home together in Broadford, Victoria. But as their relationship went on, Vicki realised she needed to leave the relationship. She knew Keogh's behaviour wasn't right.

In the months that followed, Keogh began stalking Vicki. According to The AgeVicki's colleagues had even noticed that she was scared. 

But while Vicki went to court to get a restraining order against him, she ultimately left without one.

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When the trial later began following Vicki's death, Keogh was essentially painted as the victim in the case.

Although there was witness testimony as well as clear evidence of harassment, Keogh was acquitted of murder. 

Instead, Keogh, who had a prior criminal history, was found guilty of manslaughter on the grounds of provocation. In the eyes of the court, Vicki had "provoked" her killer by leaving him.

"I will never forget Valentine’s Day 1989, or the trauma my family suffered seeing our girl, Vicki, a 25-year-old woman blamed for the violence her ex-boyfriend inflicted on her," Vicki's brother, Phil Cleary, wrote for Mamamia in 2014.

"That verdict and that sentence were emblematic of the way our society viewed violence against women by men known intimately to them."

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Keogh was sentenced to just six years in jail for fatally stabbing his ex-girlfriend. In the end, he served less than four years.

Speaking to The Age, Phil Cleary remembered standing outside the court after the verdict was read.

"I will never forget our mother accidentally walking into the path of the jurors after the verdict on Valentine’s Day 1989 and saying: 'She was just a girl, do you known what you’ve done? You’ve let a murderer go free,'" he recalled.

Keogh was released on July 18, 1991. He'd served just three years and 11 months behind bars. He later died by suicide in 2001.

Since then, Phil Cleary has spent more than 30 years campaigning for his sister.

In fact, in 2005, the government closed the provocation defence that Keogh used. The move was largely thanks to continued pressure from Vicki's family.

"I looked at the courts and I said this is a misogynist narrative, this is a misogynist discussion, this is a misogynist treatment of women," Phil Cleary told The North Central Review

"These laws are rooted in the idea that women are property. What? Vicki couldn’t leave this man without triggering provocation as a defence."

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Over the years, Phil has used his platform and political career to continue to shine a spotlight on violence against women. 

"Because I’ve been campaigning around Vicki’s life and death, that’s meant that I’ve re-visited her life again and again, with people who have known her, with my own memories and with my mum and dad and my siblings," Phil told The North Central Review.

"You know – she could light up a room. She was diminutive, she was bursting with energy. Anywhere she was she was lively, gracious, engaging. She wasn’t one to take the mickey out of anyone, she was one to laugh and enjoy the moment."

Now, Phil will appear in the third and final episode of SBS' See What You Made Me Do to pay tribute to his late sister.

The final episode of See What You Made Me Do premieres 8:30pm Wednesday, May 19 on SBS, NITV and SBS On Demand. 


If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home. 

 You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.


Feature Image: ABC.