Margaret Archer is grieving the loss of her son’s fiancé Jody Meyers, who’s vanished without a trace. Sobbing on camera, emotionally distraught, it’s an outpouring of anguish.
Jody’s fiancé Neil Archer is upset too, and pleads for the mother of their two-year-old son to come home.
Margaret and Neil know the nation is watching – wiping away the tears, and playing the part well. But if you look a little closer you’ll see they’re not real tears at all – it’s just one big act.
The Archer’s join a long list of performers in their own twisted screenplay – a concerned fiancé and grief-stricken mother desperate for answers. While all along, they were the murderers who lied to the world and cried crocodile tears to cover up their crimes.
Margaret Archer is the mother of four boys, but her favourite has always been Neil. She raised them by herself in Adelaide before eventually settling in a housing estate in the small town of Mannum, South Australia, not far from the Murray River.
Neil lived at home with Margaret until his mid-20s before moving just up the road with his fiancé Jody Meyers and their son Elijah.
Jody was very close with her younger sister Tania and Tania’s husband Michael. Tania remembers her sibling fondly. “Always smiling. Happy. Loved life. [She] loved Elijah more than anything in the world. When she became a mum, it’s made her so happy.”
Early on, Jody’s mum Lucy had her doubts about Neil. “She said to me one day she [could] finally see what Neil was trying to do – take her from the family.”
Tania agrees that Neil was very controlling. “To the point where he always had access to her Facebook and she was not allowed to text certain people, she wasn’t allowed to come and see people without him, and he had to know where she was all the time.”
And the relationship had one other volatile ingredient – Neil’s mum, Margaret.
“Margaret was controlling over her boys,” Lucy explains. “She’d say ‘Jump’, they’d say ‘How high?’ Anything she’d wanted, they’d do.”
While Margaret was exceptionally close to Neil and doted on her grandson Elijah, she had little time for Jody, always siding with Neil when the couple were fighting – which was happening all the time.
By early 2015, Jody had had enough of her fiancé, and confided in her family that she was planning to leave Neil.
Neil suspected Jody wanted out, but he blamed her mother and sisters for pulling them apart.
Jody’s brother-in-law, Michael Bates, tried talking to Neil. “I said, ‘You either try and work through it, or you break up.’ And straight out, there was no pause, there was nothing, with the coldest look on his face, he said to me, ‘I’ll kill her.’”
The following winter, Jody leaves a party with Neil Archer – and is never seen again.
The day of her disappearance, Jody’s mother Lucy received an SMS from her daughter’s phone number. “I got a message supposedly from Jody saying that she’s left Neil, she’s gone with friends, she’ll contact me – and I knew straight away from then that something wasn’t right, because there’s no way she’d leave her son behind.”
The message was also concerning for two other reasons –Lucy replied to the message but there was no response, and the writing was full of grammatical and spelling errors. “Jody was a pretty good speller, and if she did make a mistake she’d repeat it, like re-text the actual word. That’s when we went to the police station and reported her missing.”
As police searched the town of Mannum and the banks of the Murray River for clues, Neil told anyone who’d listen that he’d been abandoned. Holding his young son Elijah, he fronted the cameras begging Jody to come home.
Even this seems suspicious to criminal psychologist, Tim Watson-Munro. “They like to be front page news and in some ways, that’s reinforcing the delusion. They perhaps think that if the press are buying it, other people are buying it, and they keep going.”
Neil’s media blitz showed no signs of slowing, but right from the beginning, Detective Alex McLean and his team at the major crimes squad had serious doubts that Jody had run out on Neil. Adding to the uncertainty was the discovery that Jody’s ATM card had been used to withdraw $250 dollars at this bank. Hours later, her phone was recharged with credit bought at the local news agency.
The Archers appeared more than happy to help. Based on their leads, police searched up and down the river, and the vast hills and plains surrounding Mannum. But it was all a ruse – nothing more than a performance worthy of a Hollywood film.
Weeks after her disappearance, Jody’s fiancé Neil was still making regular appearances on the nightly news, begging for her safe return.
But his pleas didn’t fool the police. They never let up, and slowly but surely they built a case.
CCTV footage of Neil and his mother Margaret at the bank was taken the day after Jody’s disappearance. Neil is seen leaning against the wall, while Margaret, in a hoodie, uses Jody’s ATM card to withdraw $250, the last of the missing young mother’s savings.
“They’d been interviewed [and] they’d never mentioned withdrawing that money,” says Detective Alex McLean. “They’d lied about it. That was one of the first and most significant tells, I suppose in relation to what raised our suspicion.”
More CCTV video emerged suggesting that Neil and Margaret were behind that text message sent from Jody’s phone. Neil’s green Ford was seen parking outside the Mannum newsagency, where they purchased a recharge voucher for the phone. It was a huge alarm for the police.
Despite her initial reluctance, Margaret eventually agreed to be interviewed by media. She can be seen on camera, rubbing her eyes, as she tells Jody they all love her and begging for her to return. However, on closer inspection, it’s easy to spot that there are no actual tears.
The police knew they were shedding crocodile tears, but they needed proof. It began with CCTV footage from Bunnings of Margaret buying 600 kilograms of cement.
Neil drove the load home, and a few days later Margaret’s unwitting husband Lawrence told police Neil had been concreting the shed floor.
“He was away in Tasmania when Jody was killed,” explains Detective McLean. “When he came home to the house, he was surprised to discover that his shed floor had been concreted. He described it as a terrible job. Neil told him, ‘We concreted that concrete floor for Father’s Day, it’s a surprise for you.” Even Lawrence himself said that just wasn’t in his character. He was a lazy man. He wouldn’t do something nice like that for Father’s Day.”
The suspicions police had from the start of the investigation were about to be confirmed. Under the mounting pressure Neil cracked, telling everything to his brother Aaron.
“His first words to me were, he did it… and I am like, ‘Did what?’ And he’s like, ‘I did it, I killed her.’ I asked him, ‘Why?’ And he told me Jody was going to leave him and take Elijah.”
“[I] asked him how, and he told me [he] strangled her. Then I asked him where she was, and that is when the big bombshell happened… he told me that she was under the shed, and he asked what he should do, and I [said], ‘Well, you need to turn yourself in.’”
Aaron told police what his brother had said, and it wasn’t long before a team of detectives arrived at the house. Jody Meyers’ body was discovered in a shallow grave under the freshly laid concrete slab. It was a matter of metres from the spot where they had blatantly lied in front of cameras and the nation.
Even more shocking, Neil and Margaret bought the cement using the cash they had withdrawn from Jody’s bank account the day after she disappeared.
Neil was charged murder. He had strangled Jody to death with a cord from the hoodie he wore during one of his TV interviews. Margaret Archer was charged with
helping her son cover up Jody’s murder. She has always maintained she had nothing to do with the murder itself.
Jody’s sister Tania doesn’t believe that for a second. “I reckon his mum helped him. I reckon Margaret was involved from when Jody was still alive, not afterwards.”
They think they can get away with murder. They’re so confident they won’t be caught that they serve up lie after lie for the camera. But all it takes is a mistimed gesture or an odd expression or a poorly chosen word, and experts like Steve van Aperen can spot their guilt a mile away.
Steve is a body language expert and former FBI profiler, and believes there’s some obvious tell-tale signs. “What’s their response, are they defensive? Are they angry? Are they sidestepping the issue? Are their non-verbal cues indicative of frustration and annoyance?”
Mick Martin played up to the cameras, casting himself as the victim of a violent crime. He claimed he was tied up in his home, and forced to listen while his father was murdered. He was later convicted of killing his father with a samurai sword, then tying to make it look like a home invasion.
The tells in this case are easy for Steve to spot. “I don’t see it, I don’t see remorse, I don’t see empathy, I don’t see concern, I don’t see emotion. I see none of it.”
Then there’s Kristi Abrahams from Sydney, who put on a real show of emotion. But as it turns out, this seemingly heartbroken mum killed her six-year-old daughter Kiesha and shoved her broken body in a suitcase.
Steve claims the emotion quite obviously doesn’t ring true. “It’s staged. It’s like a method actor – think about something sad, which in this case, I believe, probably the reason she is crying is because of what she’s done, and she’s drawing on it to produce those tears.”
John Sharpe played up to the cameras as well. In reality, the man dubbed the Mornington Monster killed his wife and young daughter with a spear gun.
Much like Margaret, his downfall was also his lack of tears. “it’s just not convincing, it doesn’t look authentic, it doesn’t look real, and there’s not that emotion associated with absolute sorrow.”
Gerard Bayden-Clay is another brutal wife killer. At one press conference, he says: “I’m trying to look after my children.” However, Steve says the wording here is all wrong. “What I’d expect him to say is, ‘I’m trying to look after our children.’”
Neil was sentenced to life with a minimum of 22 years, while Margaret was sentenced to six years – but she could be out later this year.
The family has planted a memorial tree for Jody on the banks of the Murray River. Here, family and friends remember the Jody they loved – the beautiful sister, the loving daughter. Mum Lucy especially misses Jody, and now takes care of her son Elijah. “We’ll always keep her alive in his heart, always.”
Reporter: Alex Cullen
Producers: Max Murch