IN MANY ways, Keli Lane was her father’s daughter. Fit, charismatic and sociable, she was following in his footsteps as a gifted athlete. But when her life came crashing down around her, she felt utterly alone.
Police interviews and phone taps released last week shed new light on the extent of the psychological pressure Lane was under. She herself suggested her fate could have been so different if only she hadn’t been too ashamed to seek support from those closest to her.
”This whole, this whole mess is because I didn’t have a thick skin, because I couldn’t ask anyone for help, because I couldn’t stand the embarrassment,” she told her then husband in an intercepted phone call in August 2004.
After a 17-week trial, Lane, 35, was convicted last Monday of the murder of her two-day-old daughter Tegan, who was last seen alive at Auburn Hospital on September 14, 1996.
While the most obvious mystery of the case relates to the last hours of Tegan’s life, another is how Lane’s father, a former police officer and trained observer of human nature, had no idea his daughter had given birth to Tegan and two other children – who were given up for adoption – while under his watchful eye.
On the day Keli was born Robert Lane was so thrilled he shouted the entire Steyne Hotel, and filled the hospital maternity ward with flowers.
Mr Lane was a permanent fixture alongside his daughter as revelations about her hidden pregnancies kept coming during the coronial inquest at Westmead Coroners Court in 2005. Regularly linking arms with his daughter or grasping her hand, he told the inquest he believed Tegan was alive. ”I believe the version Keli has given but I’m not certain of the identity of the people involved.” After she was committed to stand trial last year, Mr Lane stood by his daughter, pledging to forfeit $30,000 if she breached her bail conditions.
Throughout the trial, he has helped shelter Lane’s daughter, now 9, from any news of the proceedings or charges against her mother.
Even on the day of the conviction, Mr Lane was not present in court as he was taking care of his granddaughter at their Fairlight home, according to Lane’s lawyer, Ben Archbold.
And yet police phone intercepts and interviews made public at Lane’s trial demonstrate how terrified she was of him finding out about the pregnancies, the missing child and the police investigation – so much so that she feared he might take away the daughter she gave birth to in 2001 and kept.
In a 2004 police interview, Lane told detectives: ”There’s no way, if my parents found out, that they’ll let me keep her … You don’t know my dad. Can you imagine what he will do?”
Mr Lane did not grant The Sun-Herald’s request for an interview.
A family friend, who refused to be named, said Lane had grown up in ”constant fear” of her disciplinarian father. ”Keli and her brother Morgan were petrified of their dad … She was so scared of failing him, whether it be at school, in sport, anything.”
Mr Lane was an outstanding surfer from Manly in the early days of the sport in Australia. In the 1960s, he, Glynn Ritchie and Nipper Williams – all Manly locals – were known as the ”Bower Boys” because they surfed the reef break at Fairy Bower.
Lane came third to Nat Young and Mick Dooley in the inaugural Australian championships at Bondi Beach in 1963. He was also a talented rugby player, turning out for Manly in the late 1960s and 1970s. In 1981-82 he became the team’s coach. Alan Jones took the helm the following season; Mr Lane returned to the position in 1986-87.
Professionally, he was also rising through the ranks as a career-driven detective at Manly police station. Former player Fred Whiteman described Mr Lane – or ”Moose” as he was then known – as a ”passionate, loyal Manly-ite” who was well respected throughout the area.
Another former club associate described Mr Lane’s coaching style as ”no-nonsense”. The player, who preferred not to be named, said: ”Lane was a real old-style head-kicker. He was a rough, tough copper and that was reflected in his coaching style.”
By the early 1990s, Mr Lane had climbed to the top of Manly’s social ladder. Living in Fairlight, he and his wife Sandra were regular fixtures at parties and functions – and when it came to discussing the children with acquaintances over a glass of champagne the Lanes spoke proudly of the promising futures of Keli and Morgan.
Like her father, Keli loved sport. She was a good swimmer and had found her niche playing water polo. As a member of the Balmain Water Polo Club in the mid-1990s, she was suddenly knocking on the door of the national team, which in turn put her in contention to represent Australia at the 2000 Olympics.
To her father’s delight, she trained hard. But unbeknown to him, she also partied hard, and she never had a problem attracting men.
Having children would have destroyed her Olympic dream, so when she became pregnant five times between 1992 and 1999, Lane addressed the problem clinically. Her first two pregnancies were terminated. Two babies were secretly adopted out, in 1995 and 1999. In between those two births, Lane delivered Tegan on September 12, 1996.
Mother and daughter were discharged from Auburn Hospital two days later. Within hours, Lane was dancing at a friend’s wedding. Tegan had vanished forever.
It took some time for detective senior constables Richard Gaut and Bradley Edgerton to comprehend how Lane could possibly have disguised her pregnancies and births from friends, family and even her long-term lover, footballer Duncan Gillies. Nor did it help that the unco-operative woman under investigation just happened to be the daughter of a renowned retired sergeant who had been based at their station in Manly.
Phone taps soon revealed how aware Lane was of having made ”stupid choices”. They also demonstrated how paralysed she felt by the prospect of telling her father the truth and bringing shame on the family name. The intercepts suggested she had already felt the sting of his disapproval in 2001 when she told him she was pregnant with the daughter she kept.
After a friend tried to console Lane in January 2004, reassuring her that her parents loved her, Lane replied: ”But I don’t think they will after this, do you know what I mean?
I remember dad saying after telling him I was pregnant with [the daughter in 2001], ‘Oh, you can’t top this one Keli,’ and that’s all I keep hearing.”
After finally telling her fiance the truth – weeks before their wedding – Lane informed him how furious her parents were likely to be: ”I’ll cop whatever they say to me … they can call me a slut or a moron or a dickhead or whatever.”
Once Keli’s mother heard the news, she warned that her husband’s reaction would be severe – even advising Lane to keep her young daughter away from the fallout. ”You’ve got to be telling the absolute truth. I’m telling you, because he’ll know how to find out things that you wouldn’t believe.”
Lane said: ”He’s not going to hurt me or anything.”
Her mother said: ”He’s not going to hurt you but he’s going to blow up. You know that, don’t you?”
The phone taps portray a vulnerable woman whose fate might have been different had she felt she could dare to be honest.
”It all seems to be out of my hands, like I really don’t have any choices,” she told her husband over the phone.
”I didn’t have any choices then. I’ve got no choices now.”