After the stabbing, as the butcher's daughter lay bleeding to death in the gutter, a witness watched Keogh walk calmly away, wiping the blood "callously" from the blade. He then strolled around the corner to an auction room he knew and sipped coffee before leaving to hide the knife. By then, an ambulance officer was leaning over Vicki, trying to stem the blood flow. "Please, don't let me die," she asked him.
But by then it was all too late. Too late to stop Vicki's life ebbing away and far too late for a band of brothers to knock on a door and order their sister's lousy boyfriend out of her life. Now, they would never be rid of him.
Phil Cleary has written a book, called Just Another Little Murder, about the injustices of his sister's death and its lingering impact. It's a passionate book, because he knows no other way. He's a man with a considerable ego, and his narrative voice, as in his public life, is often hectoring, sometimes profane and typically belligerent. Cleary sees class war everywhere; to him, society has as many classifications as the natural world has to a biologist.
The book's main purpose is to document Cleary's pursuit of Keogh, his 15-year obsession with the man who killed his sister and the justice system that Cleary maintains allowed him to get away with murder.
Vicki's killing was bad enough, he says, but what followed at Keogh's trial two years later was the real trigger for all the anger that has festered since within the Cleary clan. "People like to construct murder as the dark stranger," he says, "but the most common kind of murder is killing by an intimate. If you've got a killing by an intimate that involves a man like Keogh who lies about everything he does, and is then exonerated, then you've got the recipe for deep, deep suffering. If people wonder why I've pursued this, ask them this: 'How do you think you'd feel if a court told you that your sister somehow contributed to her own murder by way of provocation?'"
At the trial in the Victorian Supreme Court, Justice George Hampel allowed Keogh a defence of provocation. This was, says Cleary, based on the so-called provocative language Vicki had allegedly used when confronted by Keogh that morning (Keogh claimed she told him to "f... off" and leave), and on the claim that Keogh was an alcoholic depressive supposedly tormented over Vicki's departure and a new boyfriend.
The Clearys sat through the trial, growing more bewildered by the day. Who was there to speak for Vicki? Keogh had become the victim. "It was the state that was almost an ally of his," says Phil. "Parole officers continually blamed his mother. Shrinks always found an excuse for him or an explanation for his violence. He took no responsibility. Throughout his life he had barristers to speak for him, no matter how vile his crimes were.
Cleary's anger with Justice Hampel and his allowing of a provocation defence has not waned in the 13 years since the trial, at which Keogh was sentenced to eight years with a minimum of six. (He was released after serving three years and 11 months.) A few years after the trial, Cleary saw the Hampels dining at a Thai restaurant in Carlton. He bided his time and thought about whether he should approach the judge. There was never really a choice, not in Cleary's mind. "When I left, I went over and said, 'George, Phil Cleary. How are you? I just wanted to tell you I thought your decision was very bourgeois.'"
Bourgeois? "What I meant was that it related to the whole concept of marriage and property. I was saying my sister had been turned into a chattel as per the old marriage acts. And this was what the real message of the court was. He sort of smiled at me. I didn't abuse him. I left and walked away.
"If George Hampel had denied Keogh a provocation defence, my family would have just moved on. We would have remembered a beautiful girl we lost, but we would have moved on. But the provocation defence changed everything. I could never allow that verdict or ruling to stand unchallenged. I'm a political beast and that trial was a political trial, in the sense that every trial that involves the killing of a woman by her ex is a political trial. It deals with the politics of society, the politics of sex."
He never let up. After his release, Keogh had begun a relationship with another woman. When she ordered him to leave, her house was torched not long afterwards. Cleary gathered evidence and went to the police, naming Keogh as the main suspect.
One of Cleary's sisters, Donna, admits her brother has an obsession. But no-one in the family, she says, has ever told him to let it go. "I can't say that to him because I don't think he has to let it go. That's the way Phil has always been. No-one has the right to tell him to stop. And what he says, we all agree with it."
The thing about Vicki, says Donna, is that you can never remember her without the killing getting in the way. "While she was being stabbed, she never fell into unconsciousness. She fought so hard to get away from Keogh. Every time I picture her, all of that becomes part of the memory, too."
"Some of Phil's mates say he's been completely obsessed by the case, but I don't think that is entirely true," says Cleary's close friend and mentor, Doug White, a former editor of the leftist political journal Arena. "He's certainly been driven by it. Phil is an old-fashioned person in a way: he has this almost chivalrous approach, this idea that men should look after women, protect them."
Over the years, Cleary, who has two daughters in their twenties from his first marriage and two young boys with his current partner, Christine, has immersed himself in the intricacies of criminal law, hitting the books to learn more about provocation defence. There were cases he leafed through - cases of gang rape and outright brutality - where those middle-class barristers had smirked and sneered their way through trials, portraying women and young girls (working-class girls, of course) as nothing more than whores and easy lays. Like Vicki, they were women who the law was only too ready to believe had provoked the violence visited upon them.
Cleary, now a consultant at La Trobe University, never used his four years in Canberra to try to bring about changes in the justice system because, he says, he felt it would be wrong to put his own needs ahead of his electorate. But now, "on reflection, yes, I should have done more. I should have generated a big debate in the Parliament about what produces these kinds of verdicts. The right time would have been to do it then."
But that's another thing about murder. It forever condemns those affected by it to a life of "what ifs" and "could have beens".
Peter Keogh committed suicide a year ago at the age of 53, gassing himself in a car. Cleary would like to think that his haunting of the man, his constant hounding and investigation into all his crimes, had convinced Keogh he would never be free.
But, like Donna and the rest of them, Phil experienced no satisfaction with his passing. Keogh's death, he found, did not bring any closure to the case. Even the writing of the book, he admits, has still not answered the questions that keep tumbling over and over again. "This book is the retrial we never had ... hopefully it will bring some kind of closure."
Murder, he writes, changes everything. It never goes away. And Phil Cleary, the angry political firebrand from a family of Irish storytellers, will forever be a character in a tale that will never, truly, find an ending.
"He needed a bit of old-style treatment.
He needed the brothers to appear on the doorstep ... But we didn't do that":
This was just one of the great articles on Phil Cleary's website, you can go here to read numerous others, or just purchase his book. (I stumbled upon his story on a domestic violence website and realised that he was one of the teachers from my high school, many years ago - what a small world it really is!)