Monday, November 12

The Maria Korp Case - Carly Crawford

In February 2005 a conservative Melbourne mother of two (an adult daughter from her first marriage, and a young son from her second) was reported missing by her husband. Four days later her body was found in the boot of her car, parked outside the Shrine of Remembrance - from the length of time missing, the fact that it was high summer, and the smell of decomposition, the police who opened the boot thought she was dead. Until she took a breath.
Rushed to hospital, Maria Korp was treated in ICU until doctors determined that she was irrevocably brain damaged to the point that she would never achieve any meaningful function. She was then discharged to a ward, breathing through a tube in her throat and fed through a tube in her abdomen, until the state's Public Advocate determined that feeding be discontinued, and Maria died on August 5th. As hospital staff tended her body, the police investigated what happened, and a tawdry tale emerged. Maria's husband, Joe, allegedly elicited his girlfriend, Tania Herman, to strangle Maria and dump her body. Though Joe Korp denied that he was involved, the evidence was fairly compelling. However he never stood trial, committing suicide by hanging (very possibly by accident) on the evening of his wife's funeral.
The story obviously has a number of titillating elements, I was more interested in the ethical dilemmas raised by the case. I also have a connection with the case, and was interested in how the story was handled by Crawford, a Herald Sun reporter.
She's clearly done a lot of research - there are quotes and descriptions of events in laborious detail, even when this adds little to the text, and she certainly gets the personality of Joe Korp - unquestionably the central character - across convincingly. I shouldn't have expected much from a tabloid journalist, but I did. From the very first paragraph the writing was overblown and dramatic:
... although the calendar read summer, autumn's precocious chill had driven most people indoors...

(Which, incidentally, it hadn't.)
The medical detail at times reads as though Crawford was present ("A ghastly array of tubes protruded from her mouth and throat"), which she was not; although the decision making of the Public Advocate is discussed, and contextualised in terms of recent relevant ethical issues (like the then-recent death of Terri Schiavo), this comprised only a small portion of the book. I appreciate that this is not necessarily of general interest, but there were huge swathes of journals reproduced, as well as minute discussion of barely-tangential material included, so it's not as though the whole thing was cut down to bare bones. What was missing in depth and resonance was made up for by insinuation, strained metaphor -
The Korp's... home was a fitting symbol of Joe and Maria's empty relationship. It looked good on the outside, but on the inside it was devoid of genuine warmth

- and hyperbole: "an indulgent spa bath", "Gust speaks quicker than a sinner at confession", "the storm of betrayal that was about to come thundering down" and more in similar vein.
In fact the tone was the hardest thing - I skimmed through it as quickly as I could, because the writing - jarring, prurient and florid - was almost painful:

For months death danced with Maria in an ugly, languid waltz. It courted her like a smitten schoolboy for a whole semester. It teased her in the playground. blocked her airway as she lay in hospital... But death gnawed through her tenacity. Beguiling, determined and with fate on its side, it prepared its reluctant partner for the last act.
Ugh. Ugh. ugh, ugh. If you're interested in the case you'll learn more from the transcript of the ABC's excellent episode of The Law Report. - Alex

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