Never the silent witness Analysis

Never the silent witness

The ABC podcast Trace has achieved a lot. But ensuring the voices of people with a disability are heard as loudly as others may be its greatest accomplishment, writes Autism Awareness Australia CEO Nicole Rogerson.

Like many Australians, I have been glued to the new ABC podcast Trace for the last week. My teenage son and I stumbled upon it whilst driving up the coast and quickly binged the first two episodes. Like thousands of others, we painstakingly waited for the final episode to ‘drop’ last night and we dove right back into the story of the murder of Maria James over 30 years ago.

Like Serial before it, Trace is a good yarn. The producers of the show masterfully unravel bits of information and clues that keep the listener enthralled. Sadly, this suspense and tale telling, sometimes overshadows that this isn’t an Agatha Christie story. This actually happened.

Maria James was brutally murdered and her two young sons Mark and Adam were devastated by the sudden and horrific death of their mother. The boys were 13 and 11 when their mother died. Adam, the younger son, has Cerebral Palsy.

Trace RACH

Trace host Rachael Brown

Maybe it is because I am the mum to two boys (one with a disability), but it is was Mark and Adam’s story that affected me the most. Much more that the murder itself.

During her investigation into the case, Trace host Rachel Brown managed to do something law enforcement seemingly failed to do 30 years ago. She interviewed both of Maria’s sons. She gave voice to Adam, not just Mark. She let him tell his story. And she listened.

Police in the 1980s didn’t consider interviewing Adam. It was assumed his disability (his speech being effected) meant he wouldn’t have useful or reliable information. How wrong they were!

I won’t spoil the podcast for you, but Adam’s evidence proves crucial to the re-opening of the cold case.

Adam had a lot to say, a lot he needed to say—and the Trace team finally let him say it. They treated the disability issue beautifully and in the final episode, listening to Adam’s voice, it was so genuine and honest. I was reduced to tears hearing this smart, brave man finally being heard.

Trace is an important reminder to all law enforcement that victims and witnesses with disabilities have as much right to be heard as anyone else. Their disability doesn’t define them.

We all must work harder to ensure the voices of those with a disability are heard as loudly as others. It might take longer, we might need to try harder, but they must be considered, heard and genuinely listened to.

All power to Adam, who was brave and clear. These brothers demonstrate the often steely bond between people with disability and their siblings. They remind me of my boys.

Maria James would have be grateful that Adam was finally being heard.

Nicole Rogerson is the CEO of Autism Awareness Australia.

This piece first appeared at