For Paul Delianis and Carl Mengler, who saw the door was slightly ajar and crashed right through it.

Paul Delianis

Carl Mengler

The authors

John Silvester has been a crime reporter in Melbourne since 1978. He worked for The Sunday Times Insight team in London in 1990, and has co-authored many crime books, including the Underbelly series, Leadbelly and The Silent War. He is currently senior crime reporter for The Age.

Andrew Rule started in journalism in 1975 and has worked in newspapers, television and radio. He wrote Cuckoo, the inside story of the ‘Mr Stinky’ case, since re-issued in the collection Sex, Death and Betrayal, and has co-written, edited and published several other books, including the Underbelly series. He is a deputy editor of The Age.



Apart from extensive original research and interviews with sources on both sides of the law, the authors have drawn on published sources listed below. We wish particularly to acknowledge the work of the late Richard Hall and of Keith Moor, Bob Bottom, Tom Noble and gun-for-hire John Kerr.


Booth, Pat: The Mr Asia File.

Bottom, Bob: Connections.

Bottom, Bob: Connections 2.

Bottom, Bob: Shadow of Shame.

Bottom, Bob: Without Fear or Favour.

Freeman, George: An Autobiography.

Goodsir, Darren: In the Line of Fire.

Hall, Richard: Greed.

Hickie, David: The Prince and the Premier.

McCoy, Alfred: Drug Traffic.

Moor, Keith: Crims in Grass Castles.

Noble, Tom and Smith, Arthur: Neddy.

Reeves, Tony: Mr Big.

Reeves, Tony: Mr Sin.

Silvester, John and Rule, Andrew: Tough: 101 Gangsters.

Silvester, John and Rule, Andrew: Underbelly series, 1-11.

Whitton, Evan: Can Of Worms.

Wilson, David and Murdoch, Lindsay: Big Shots.

Wilson, David and Robinson, Paul: Big Shots 2.

Government Reports

Victorian Coronial reports into the deaths of Ray Bennett, Les Kane, Brian Kane, Norman McLeod, Laurie Prendergast and Roger Wilson.

NSW Coronial report into the presumed murder of Christopher Dale Flannery.

Final report of the NSW Drug/Murder Taskforce.

Nagle, John: Special Commission of Inquiry into police investigations into the Donald Mackay murder.

Royal Commission reports from:

Costigan, Frank.

Stewart, Donald.

Williams, Edward.

Woodward, Philip.

Supreme Court transcripts (various).



Leslie Herbert Kane. Born Carlton 1 December 1945. One of three gangster brothers and heavily connected in the notorious Painters and Dockers Union. In the 1970s considered Australia’s most violent man. Shot dead in the bathroom of his Wantirna unit 19 October 1978. Body never found. Three men charged – and acquitted – of the murder.

Raymond Patrick Bennett. The mastermind behind the 21 April 1976 Great Bookie Robbery. Charged and acquitted of the murder of Les Kane. Shot dead inside the Melbourne Magistrates Court 11 November 1979 allegedly by Les’s brother, Brian.

Brian Raymond Kane. Melbourne standover man and suspect for the murder of Ray Bennett. Shot dead in the Quarry Hotel 26 November 1982.

Alan David Williams. Footballer, armed robber and drug dealer. A Melbourne-based gangster connected with failed attempts to bribe and then murder New South Wales undercover detective Mick Drury. Died of natural causes mid 2001.

Christopher Dale Flannery. School drop-out who became an underworld drop-kick. Born Melbourne 15 March 1949, the youngest of three children. Became Australia’s most notorious hit man – reputedly killed 14 people. Charged and acquitted of two contract killings, moved to Sydney and became a key figure in a major underworld war. Known as Rentakill, went missing 9 May 1985 – body never found.

Kathleen Flannery. Blood loyal wife of Chris. She stuck with him when others wouldn’t and was dragged into an underworld war as a consequence. After his death she reclaimed her life and raised her children away from the underworld.

Tom Ericksen. Former insurance salesman who became an influential figure with connections to police and gangsters. A one-legged private detective known as ‘Hopalong Tom.’ In the 1970s, Ericksen employed another shadowy character, Gianfranco Tizzoni, in his repossession business. Tizzoni was the man who later helped organise the murder of anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay. Strongly linked to Chris Flannery and almost certainly helped set up the hit man’s murder contracts. In 1988, National Crime Authority officers charged him with 195 counts of giving secret commissions (bribery) and 11 counts of making threats to kill. On 10 August that year, he was due in court to answer the charges. He died earlier that morning, a 52-year-old blind one-legged diabetic.

George David Freeman. Colourful Sydney racing identity who protected himself by bribing police. Royal Commissioner and former New South Wales policeman Justice Donald Stewart found Freeman was linked to race fixing, SP bookmaking and illicitly protected casinos. He employed hit man Chris Flannery until the underworld and corrupt police decided to make the hit man redundant. Flannery went missing on the way to Freeman’s house and has never been seen again. It wasn’t crooked police but a crook chest that got George in the end. Freeman had chronic asthma. The man who survived being shot in the head died from complications from an asthma attack in March 1990.

(Dr) Nicholas George Paltos. Born Kastellorizon, a small Greek island, in 1941 the youngest of ten children. Migrated to Australia with his family aged six. Completed an electroplating diploma. Won a Commonwealth Scholarship and studied medicine at the University of New South Wales while working nights as a taxi driver. Became a fashionable GP whose patients included Kerry Packer and many of Sydney’s major crime figures such as George Freeman, Danny Chubb and Robert ‘Aussie Bob’ Trimbole. Alleged to have provided morphine for Freeman’s raging habit. Organised the importation of 5.5 tonnes of hashish resin with a street value of $40 million. Arrested as part of the Australian Federal Police Operation ‘Lavender’ – sentenced to a minimum of 13 years. Struck off the medical register. Found guilty of conspiring with former detective Roger Rogerson, of perverting the course of justice for using false names to hide money in bank accounts. Released 1994. Died of natural causes 2003.

Roger Caleb Rogerson. Born January 1941. Rose to the rank of Detective-Sergeant of the New South Wales Police Force. Received bravery awards and the Peter Mitchell Trophy for outstanding police work. Had suspicious links to underworld figures including Arthur ‘Neddy’ Smith, Graham ‘Abo’ Henry and Christopher Dale Flannery. Smith claimed Rogerson protected him while he committed major crimes. Rogerson was responsible for the shooting death of Warren Lanfranchi. During the inquest the coroner found he was acting in the line of duty, but a jury declined to find he had acted in self-defence. Rogerson was later commended by the police force for his bravery. However, it was alleged by Lanfranchi’s partner, Sallie-Anne Huckstepp, and later by Neddy Smith, that Rogerson murdered Lanfranchi for robbing a police protected heroin dealer and for firing a gun at a policeman. Served three years for conspiring to pervert the course of justice and became a colourful after dinner speaker.

Robert ‘Aussie Bob’ Trimbole. Born 19 March 1931. Struggling businessman who discovered he could make a fortune as the front man for the Griffith mafia. Key figure in organising the murder of anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay. Connected to the Mr Asia heroin gang. Fled Australia in 1981 when tipped off he was under investigation by the Stewart Royal Commission. Escaped extradition when arrested in Ireland in 1984 and died a free man in Spain in 1987.

Donald Bruce Mackay. Born 13 September 1933. Ran a Griffith retail store called Mackay’s Furniture. Studied law and learnt Italian. Became known locally for his tough stance on drugs and his desire to expose local members of the crime group known as The Honored Society. Disappeared 17 July 1977 after having a drink at a local hotel. His body was never found.

Paul Delianis. Former head of the Victorian armed robbery and homicide squads. Involved in the investigations into the Great Bookie Robbery, the murders of Leslie Herbert Kane, Roger Wilson, Isabel and Douglas Wilson, Bob Trimbole and the Mr Asia Gang. The first policeman to grasp the significance of the Terry Clark drug syndicate and to realise it had infiltrated key law enforcement agencies in Australia. Retired in 1987 as Deputy Commissioner.

John Carl Mengler. Former head of the Victorian Homicide Squad. Chief Investigator Stewart Royal Commission and later National Crime Authority. Helped crack the Donald Mackay case after New South Wales police failed to do so. Involved in the investigations into Trimbole, the Mr Asia Gang and the murders of Isabel and Douglas Wilson. Described by the Sydney Morning Herald as ‘possibly the greatest detective of his generation.’ Retired as Deputy Commissioner Victoria 1990.

Peter Lamb. Spent three years with a wool-classing firm before joining the Commonwealth Police in 1961. Heavily connected to Operation Lavender and many of his investigations uncovered the corrupt links between New South Wales police and Sydney gangsters. Had three postings overseas as an Australian Federal Police liaison officer where he learnt the latest international organised crime investigation tactics. Promoted to Assistant Commissioner Federal Police, Director of Operations with Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales and General Manager of the National Crime Authority.

Frederick Joseph Parrington. Honest New South Wales policeman who doggedly investigated the murder of Donald Mackay. Unfortunately he was barking up the wrong tree. Concealed evidence from Victorian police in the hope of convicting the killers in New South Wales.

Brian Francis Murphy. Colourful Victorian detective with contacts on both sides of the fence. Deeply religious, a gregarious teetotaller with Irish charm and a persuasive manner. Charged and acquitted of manslaughter after a prisoner in his custody, Neil Stanley Collingburn, received fatal injuries in an interview room. Joined the Victoria Police 1954. Retired 1987.

Albert Jaime Grassby. Born Albert Grass Brisbane 12 July 1926. Immigration Minister in the Whitlam Government and colourful front man for multi-culturalism. But it was the political connection for the Griffith Honored Society that helped fund his election campaigns. Charged in 1980 with criminal defamation over asking state politician, Michael Maher, to read in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly a letter claiming Mackay’s widow Barbara and her family solicitor were responsible for the murder. Cleared of the charges in 1992. Died April 2005, his reputation deservedly in tatters.

Terrence John Clark. Born 1944. Small time New Zealand crook who became a big time international drug dealer. Made millions importing heroin into New Zealand, Australia and Britain. Ordered the murders of drug couriers Isabel and Douglas Wilson after he was told they were informing to police. Convicted of killing long-time drug associate Marty Johnstone, whose handless body was found in Eccleston Delph, a flooded quarry in the north of England. Died in prison 1983. Death listed as non-suspicious but there were suspicions he was killed by IRA inmates who suspected he was an informer.

Karen Soich. New Zealand lawyer who embarked on an affair with Terry Clark. Later regained control of her life and is now a successful entertainment lawyer in New Zealand.

Isabel and Douglas Wilson. Key couriers for the Mr Asia drug syndicate. Their bodies were found buried on the back beach at Rye, May 1979. The Wilsons were killed on the orders of the Mr Asia drug syndicate boss, Terrence John Clark, after corrupt police told him the couple were talking to Queensland detectives.

Gianfranco Tizzoni. Migrated to Australia 1955 and later naturalised. Became a private investigator and worked with notorious underworld figure Tom Ericksen as a debt collector. From 1971 became the Melbourne distributor of cannabis for the Griffith cell of the Mafia and distributed about 200 kilograms a week. Helped set up the murders of Donald Mackay and drug couriers Isabel and Douglas Wilson. Became a police informer code named ‘Songbird’ and died Italy July 1988 aged 53.

James Frederick Bazley. Known as Mr Cool. Career gunman and key member of the Painters and Dockers Union. Police allege he completed the contract killings of Donald Mackay and drug couriers Isabel and Douglas Wilson. Expected to die in jail but was released from prison in 2000 aged 75.

Russell Cox. Born Melville Schnitzerling Brisbane 15 September 1949. Became known as Cox the Fox because of his cool head and ability to plan armed robberies. Escaped from the maximum security Kattingal section of Long Bay Jail 3 November 1977 and spent 11 years on the run. Released from prison 2004 and returned to Queensland a reformed character. Remains a suspect for the murder of Brian Kane.

Thomas Christopher Domican. Born Ireland 1943. A London nightclub bouncer who migrated to Australia in 1968. A fearsome fitness fanatic with links to the New South Wales division of the Australian Labor Party. Has always rejected claims he was connected to the underworld. Charged with a series of offences, including murder and attempted murder in Sydney. Beat the lot.






Robert Trimbole

Roy Billing

Terry Clark

Matthew Newton

Allison Dine

Anna Hutchison

Chris Flannery

Dustin Clare

Dave Priest

Jonny Pavolsky

George Freeman

Peter O’Brien

Jim Bazley

Scott Burgess

Frank Tizzoni

Tony Poli

Joe Messina

Peter Phelps

Liz Cruickshank

Asher Keddie

Brian Alexander

Damian de Montemas

Laurie Prendergast

Teo Gebert

Dr. Nick Paltos

Wadih Dona

Andy Maher

Damon Gameau

Brian Kane

Tim McCunn

Les Kane

Martin Dingle Wall

Maria Muhary

Jenna Lind

Merv Wood

Anthony Phelan

Bill Allen

Jeff Truman

Warwick Mobbs

Matt Passmore

Ray ‘Chuck’ Bennett

Nathan Page

Young Alphonse Gangitano

Elan Zavelsky

Lennie McPherson

John McNeill

Vinnie Mikkelsen

Wayne Bradley

Doug Wilson

Gareth Reeves

Isabel Wilson

Ashley Fairfield

George Joseph

Harold Hopkins

Donald Mackay

Andrew McFarlane

Greg Ollard

Chris Sadrinna

Karen Soich

Katie Wall



He told them why they were to die and shot Wilson first, then his wife. But he did not shoot their dog.


THE bitch was a stray – part cattle dog, part fox terrier, mostly lucky. When she wandered into the Altona street where a meat inspector called Dennis Brown and his wife lived in the mid-1970s, instead of calling the dog catcher the couple adopted the little black and white mongrel. They called her Mitzy.

When the Browns bought an unfinished fibro holiday shack in the ti-tree behind Rye on the Mornington Peninsula, Mitzy was in her element. There were kangaroos and rabbits to chase, smells to investigate on walks along the tracks winding through the scrub-choked vacant blocks. The only danger was snakes in the grass.

Almost thirty years on, Danny Street is filled with houses, some of them expensive. But in 1978 it was an unmade road with a handful of shacks in it. The Browns were at Lot 55, and the two blocks to the south were covered in scrub. Dennis kept a few bee hives in the ti-tree and sometimes went shooting rabbits, Mitzy at his side. Man and dog didn’t miss much.

Early that year, Brown was checking his hives when he noticed that a long, narrow hole had been dug in the sandy soil under the ti-tree on Lot 59. Intriguingly, it had been covered with scrub. On visits after that, he would glance at the hole. For more than a year, nothing changed. But in April, 1979, he saw that the unknown digger had cleaned out and deepened the hole and covered it again with some fresh scrub.

About five weeks later, on 18 May, a Friday, Mitzy and her master came down early for the weekend. They were going for their usual walk when she stopped where the hole was and started to scratch furiously. Brown realised that the hole had been filled in – and saw signs that foxes and other dogs had already been scrabbling in the freshly turned sand. Whatever was in the hole attracted carnivores.

A less observant man might have missed it. A less curious one might have shrugged it off. Dennis Brown had worked at abattoirs all over Australia, among rough men in a tough business, and his instincts were high. Since he’d first seen it, he had fancied that the long, narrow hole looked a little too much like an empty grave. Now it was filled in, his fancy hardened into suspicion: if it were a grave, maybe it was no longer empty.

He whistled his excited dog away, got into his maroon 1976 Holden Kingswood and drove the four kilometres into Rye to talk to the police about the sandy grave in Danny Street.

At first, local cops thought it might be a cache of stolen property. Then they stuck a probe into the sandy soil and caught a whiff of something that made them feel sick.

The homicide crew came late that afternoon and forensic experts soon after. Portable generators throbbed all night to power the crime-scene lights. Dennis Brown didn’t hang around to see what he had found; he had a pretty good idea it wouldn’t be pretty and he was right.

There were two bodies. The first out was a young woman, fully dressed except for one boot – the other was later found on the road nearby. It didn’t take ballistic experts to see that she had been shot through the breast and the head. Underneath her was a man of about the same age. He had been shot twice in the chest and once in the neck.

Some distinctive clothing and jewellery – wedding ring, brooch and hair comb – gave the police a lead, but they must have suspected who they were looking for. It took less than 48 hours to identify the dead pair as Douglas and Isabel Wilson. It was, as police were learning to say in the 1970s, clearly drug-related.

The Wilsons were from New Zealand and they had form. The Victorian homicide squad, then headed by the renowned Paul Delianis, were keen to talk to their associates. Especially a Martin Johnstone and one Terry Sinclair, who had recently changed his surname by deed poll from his birth name. Johnstone and Sinclair were also New Zealanders, who had joined thousands of their countrymen to flock to the bright lights of Sydney.

So why had the Wilsons turned up dead outside Melbourne, a full day’s drive and almost 1000 kilometres south of where they had been living in Sin City? Delianis and his detectives were determined to find out. Not everyone in other Australian law enforcement bodies seemed to have the same enthusiasm for the task.

THE path that led the Wilsons to a shallow grave in a sleepy Victorian holiday town started on the other side of the Tasman where, a decade earlier, the teenage Douglas Wilson started dabbling in drugs while an above-average student at Auckland Grammar. But when his family treated him to a year in America in his final year, he developed a taste for drugs, spurning his private-school education and a comfortable middle-class start in life by dealing to support his own growing habit – and his scorn for the workaday world. His slide across the social divide to the dark side continued until he dropped out of a university accounting course and was arrested for trafficking marijuana and LSD in early 1972 when he sold an undercover cop some drugs. This slip earned him a short jail sentence.

Jail hardened Wilson’s habits into vices, pulling him further from the life he might have led into the one that would destroy him. By this time, he already knew Isabel, who was a year younger and had been mixing in a group which used drugs after she’d left home at sixteen.

Not long after getting out of prison in mid-1973, Wilson had returned to working as a tiler with his father’s business when a small-time crook recruited him to sell Thai ‘buddha sticks’ to the university crowd that the middle-class Wilson could mix with more comfortably than working-class criminals could. The man who recruited him was Terrence John Clark, who would use a string of aliases and later change his surname to Sinclair.

Wilson met Clark through a small-time criminal called James McBean, sometimes referred to as ‘Jim the Grammar School man’, who had helped Clark sell buddha sticks.

Wilson was good at selling dope: he sold 40,000 of a payload of 200,000 sticks that the edgy Clark and his smooth-talking associate Martin Johnstone had smuggled into New Zealand on a yacht called Brigadoon, netting each a million dollars at a time when that was enough to buy a street full of houses. But Clark and Johnstone weren’t interested in real estate just yet. They were bankrolling a bigger foray into international drug trafficking.

For all three, this early success was the bait that would lure each to his destruction. As for Isabel, she was fated to hook up with the drug-dealing, freewheeling Wilson as well as to drugs, and went along for the ride. She married him in 1977, and rarely left his side, but devotion didn’t help. It was a fatal attraction. They both ended up with raging heroin habits and clouded judgment. And that would eventually put them in the wrong place at the wrong time, with a ticket to a sandy grave.

THE wrong place and time was the Gazebo Hotel in Brisbane in June, 1978. By then the Wilsons had been in Australia a few months. They were just two of several ‘kiwis’ Clark had recruited to distribute heroin in his expanding empire. Douglas Wilson was being paid a retainer of $400 a week by Clark, who had skipped bail and left New Zealand two years earlier, in 1976, after being charged with importing two cigarette cartons full of heroin fetched from Fiji by a woman friend. He had been living in Brisbane and Sydney under a string of aliases, moving from place to place. All the while building the drug running syndicate he liked to call ‘The Organisation’, but which would later become tagged by the media as the ‘Mr Asia’ syndicate.

Clark had developed a theory of avoiding detection through caution and planning. If he had stuck to the rules he laid down for the rest of the gang, he might have made and laundered millions of dollars and eventually lived the dream of ‘going legitimate’ and getting out in time.

Recruiting the Wilsons was an early example of the flawed reasoning and carelessness that would bring him undone. According to his contemporaries, Clark despised drug addicts, almost as if he wanted to ignore the effect of his obscenely profitable trade. But despite this contempt for ‘junkies’, he had chosen the Wilsons to work for him as drug and money couriers – and even part paid them in heroin for their own use, as well as the hefty retainer.

In Australia, he favoured using fellow New Zealanders and perhaps saw the Wilsons as more malleable – more reliant on him – because they were slaves to the drug he could supply along with the easy money they needed to support their indolence. Clark came to realise that slaves might obey cruel masters because they have to – but are not loyal to them. He could rule by fear, but fear is a form of hatred.

At first, Clark had encouraged the Wilsons to seek medical help to get ‘clean’, by entering a private hospital. When this failed, he turned against them, as he had done before – and would do again – with people that he lured with fast money then ruled by intimidation. So when Clark invited the Wilsons to Brisbane in June 1978 for a boat cruise to help get over their addiction, they accepted the offer at face value, as far as their contemporaries could tell. But – as they would subsequently confide – Clark had started saying things that played on their minds. He had a black sense of humour and made cryptic comments that fed junkie paranoia.

Before the Brisbane trip, talking about the proposed boat cruise, he asked if the couple’s dog, a pampered Belgian keeshond called Taj, would get seasick. When Wilson said he didn’t think so, because keeshonds were ‘barge dogs’, Clark deadpanned: ‘Does he freak out on guns going off?’

As the late Richard Hall observed in his book Greed: The ‘Mr Asia’ Connection, ‘Whether the plan was to kill the Wilsons or just give them a convalescent cruise will never be clear, for … Clark was about to pay the price for that sense of humour.’

Clark fancied himself as a cool and cautious criminal ‘executive’ who made a show of running his drug syndicate on pseudo-corporate lines, but behind the cool mask was a boastful smartarse who couldn’t help wanting to show how much cleverer he was than the herd. So when he checked into the Gazebo Hotel he signed the register not with one of his many aliases, some of them backed with false passports, but with the words ‘J. Petersen, MP’.

He might have got away with ‘Petersen’ but adding ‘MP’ was stupid for a man with so many reasons to avoid attracting attention. The Hon. Joh Bjelke-Petersen was at the time the longserving Premier of Queensland and a nationally-famous public figure, respectively loved and lampooned by his many admirers and detractors. Using the Petersen name in vain was asking for trouble, and he got plenty.

The worried hotel manager spotted the false name and concluded the hard-partying guests were not only subversives mocking the Premier but running up a huge champagne bill, and so probably were fraudsters who would not pay their bill. He called the police.

Queensland consorting squad detectives of that time were what are now sometimes referred to as ‘old-fashioned’ and ‘robust’. When the squad came knocking, they found the sort of evidence that quickened an old-fashioned detective’s pulse: $5276 in cash, for a start. After what Clark would later describe as some tough questioning, they searched his Jaguar and found an unregistered pistol which, it would turn out, was probably a murder weapon. Meaning Clark was in big trouble. As were his Brisbane ‘representatives’ and his right-hand man, Jimmy Shepherd, also pulled in by the police. More significantly, so were the Wilsons, taken in for questioning after arranging to meet Clark at the Gazebo.

The Queensland police and the Narcotics Bureau soon ran checks establishing that Clark was wanted in New Zealand on heroin charges laid two years before. Clark, a dab hand at corrupting officials, tried and apparently failed to buy his way out, although word might have spread about his almost bottomless financial resources.

A detective sergeant, Ron Pickering, later dutifully reported that Clark had offered $50,000 to obtain bail. The obvious conclusion was that had Clark got bail, he would have disappeared again, using one of his many false identities.

In other circumstances – such as, say, if Clark had been picked up for drink-driving and fingerprinted – the old heroin charge hanging over him in New Zealand might have seemed disastrous. But, given the gravity of the charges he risked in Australia, being extradited to New Zealand might well have been a better bet than facing the music here – a fact that later stuck in the craw of Victorian police investigators who began to question how and why Clark had been released to New Zealand when he was a suspect for so many serious crimes in Australia, including murder.

These accusations came to light within days of the Gazebo Hotel arrests, when the Queensland police interrogated the nervous Wilsons.

‘Still suffering from the long, drawn-out process of withdrawal, frightened of Clark’s growing coolness, and finally apprehensive of his growing talk about the sound of guns, they talked. A lot.’ writes Hall.

By the end of the week, when the Wilsons (and their pampered pet dog) were turned loose with strict instructions not to bolt, the police – and, by extension, the Narcotics Bureau – had heard a long, rambling story painting Clark as a huge heroin dealer, a callous killer and, significantly, a high-level corrupter. In the 112-page transcript of the tapes the police secretly made over six days, they made some startlingly specific allegations.

One was that Clark had a senior Customs official in his pocket in Sydney – ‘an embittered, cynical old copper’ on a $25,000 annual stipend plus bonuses for extra valuable information. They told how Clark and his helpers stashed heroin in Thermos flasks buried in Frenchs Forest in Sydney and that Clark had recently bought blocks of land in Fiji. But, most tellingly, they said that the purple Jaguar and the pistol Clark had brought to Brisbane were the same car and weapon he used to murder a drug courier known as ‘Pommy Harry’.

It would not have taken much checking, even in the pre-computer age, to reveal that ‘Pommy Harry’ was the nickname of one Harry Lewis, who had disappeared in late May 1978, soon after being apprehended at Sydney Airport with some Thai buddha sticks. As would be revealed later, Lewis had been nabbed at the airport on 13 May and released on bail posted by one of Clark’s lieutenants, Wayne Shrimpton. On 19 May, just six days later, the Narcotics Bureau opened an individual file on Clark. Clark knew this because his ‘inside man’ leaked it to him in return for cash. The fatal conclusion was that Lewis had said too much under interrogation.

Clark, in Singapore enjoying a secret liaison with Wayne Shrimpton’s girlfriend, Allison Dine, at the time of Lewis’s arrest, had flown back to take charge of the situation like the troubleshooting executive he fancied himself to be. He arranged to drive Lewis to Brisbane, promising him he had arranged for him to escape on a boat. Lewis agreed. He had little choice: to run from Clark, without any money to survive, would prove conclusively that he had ratted, something he did not think Clark could know for sure. He had to keep up the pretence of normality, hoping Clark meant what he said about an escape by sea.

But Lewis was doomed. He was given a 24-hour reprieve because Clark saw the chance to hook up with the opportunistic Allison Dine, a former trainee kindergarten teacher with an eye for the main chance. After sending Dine’s boyfriend Wayne Shrimpton to Singapore to buy gems, Clark calmly postponed the Brisbane trip to take Dine to the Hilton Hotel, as his wife Maria was in hospital having some plastic surgery. The lovers got drunk, booked the king size suite and stayed the night.

When Lewis came around to the Sydney Hilton next morning for the trip north, he struck Dine as ‘pensive’. She thought at the time (or so she would claim later) that he was sad about leaving his girlfriend. Perhaps Lewis’s instincts were stronger than hers, and he feared driving 1000 kilometres with the man he’d informed on the week before.

Clark was driving a new purple Jaguar. Somewhere in northern New South Wales, they damaged the exhaust system and Clark decided to head back to Sydney – his intention all along. At dusk he pulled over, claiming the transmission was slipping, and asked Lewis to have a look under the bonnet. Obediently, he obliged and Clark shot him in the head.

It would later be revealed that Clark, the supposed cool master criminal, lost his nerve and bolted after rolling the body into a ditch. After driving for more than an hour, he turned back, found the body and loaded it into the boot and took it down a bush track. Then he lugged it into the bush and dumped it, after cutting off the hands and smashing the teeth to hinder identification. Having made the mistake of killing Lewis instead of sending him far away, he compounded it by not burying the body so it would never be found. Then he drove back to Sydney, wearing blood-spattered clothes, and promptly told Dine his version of the killing – that Lewis had attacked him.

The story of Pommy Harry’s murder was soon known to everyone in The Organisation … including Douglas and Isabel Wilson. Clark no doubt meant Lewis’s death to inspire fear, but it was never going to guarantee silence. The Wilsons were so frightened they would be next that it would become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By talking to the police, they signed their own death warrant.

The question still is: did anyone in authority believe the Wilsons’ tale when they told it? Or was it, in the beginning, more convenient to dismiss it all as the paranoid delusions of heroin addicts?

This decision to allow Clark to leave the country – and to shelve the charges against him in Queensland – would later be prodded in court. In committal proceedings against two Narcotics Bureau officers and a bent law clerk in Sydney in April 1980, a senior Victorian policeman, Assistant Commissioner Rod Hall, made withering answers under cross examination that made it clear the Victoria Police suspected Clark had been given a ‘green light’ by inept, or corrupt, investigators.

Hall knew his stuff. He had run a joint Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and Federal investigation into the Mr Asia drug syndicate but without the powers to check bank records and demand answers.

He said the experience showed him there was a need for a standing Royal Commission or National Crime Authority.

Many senior police were concerned that Hall had broken the coppers’ code of silence and was prepared to publicly speak of corruption.

Three decades later, he remains unrepentant. ‘There is no doubt that Clark was paying off investigators inside the Narcotics Bureau,’ he told the authors.

He also found that some states involved in the taskforce were more enthusiastic in uncovering corruption than others.

Later in his investigation when Clark was jailed in Lancashire, Hall went to England and asked a local policeman to interview the inmate. ‘What questions do you want asked and what answers do you want written down?’ the local responded.

It was, after all, a different era.

The evidence against the Narcs was damning. So much so that Justice Sir Edward (Ned) Williams in yet another Royal Commission into Drugs eventually called for the Narcotics Bureau to be disbanded and its role to be absorbed into the newly formed Australian Federal Police.

One of the criticisms of the Bureau was that it took credit for the jobs conducted by state police. Some things never change.

Meanwhile, back in Brisbane, Terry Clark was in an uncomfortable spot …

TWO Queensland undercover police put in the cells with Clark and Jimmy Shepherd overheard conversations between the pair that supported what the Wilsons were telling their colleagues in an interview room not far away. Clark and Shepherd whispered to each other about running The Organisation. Why such streetwise operators would be so careless is hard to say – unless Clark was already confident he could pull strings in Sydney or Canberra to get extradited. And that he was equally confident he could bribe enough witnesses to beat the old New Zealand heroin charge. (Which, in fact, he later boasted of doing.)

Whether it was apathy or something more, Sydney police did not do anything to protect the Wilsons from Clark’s revenge. On 30 March 1979, Douglas Wilson called the New South Wales homicide squad. He said he was frightened because Clark had come to his house the previous day and threatened him. A detective called Dawson gave Wilson his home telephone number and reported the call to Sergeant John McGregor, telling him Clark was in New Zealand and under surveillance. But ten days later the homicide squad got a fax from New Zealand police informing them that Clark was in Australia. Notwithstanding this, the police did not put the Wilsons in protective custody, or even contact them.

It was odd. Somehow, the Wilsons’ story was not considered strong enough to hold Clark and investigate him for murder and serious trafficking. And yet someone, somewhere – perhaps in the Narcotics Bureau – thought the Wilsons’ story was strong enough to sell. And Clark certainly thought it strong enough to buy. He complained later that he’d had to pay $250,000 for the Wilson tapes. And another $250,000 to have them killed.

To do that he needed local talent – a trusted middleman who could arrange a hit.

Enter ‘Aussie Bob’ Trimbole.

FOR a Calabrian peasant’s son raised in the secretive ways of the sinister mafia organisation known as N’Dranghita, Robert Trimbole was different from most of his contemporaries. His parents and many of his relatives had come to Griffith in boatloads, migrating en masse from the poverty and crime-ridden town of Plati in Calabria before and after World War II. They left the grinding poverty behind but brought the crime with them: relatively humble members of the so-called ‘Honoured Society’ established themselves high in a new pecking order in the new country. And because they came in such numbers, and stuck together so strongly, in some ways they still lived in the village their parents had left behind in southern Italy.

But Trimbole, born in Griffith in 1931, showed the ability from an early age to get along with people outside the tight circle of what the Griffith Calabrians called, among themselves, La Famiglia – The Family – the local cell of N’Dranghita. While the clannish Calabrians didn’t all share Trimbole’s gregarious nature and easygoing engagement with the wider world, the senior figures in the secret society recognised his potential usefulness and would exploit it. Unusually, Trimbole married outside the Calabrian community – where cousins often married each other – when he wed Joan Quested, an Anglo-Australian secretary he met while working in Sydney in 1952. They would have several children, all with ‘Australian’ Anglo names – one son was called Craig – and Trimbole did not follow his parents onto the irrigation block. A talented mechanic, he did his apprenticeship in Sydney with Pioneer Tours and later ran a garage in Griffith. But he was always a punter and, inevitably, he lost more than he won in the 1950s and 1960s, although he was well-known for shouting the bar at the local club when he’d had a good win. And although he was good ‘on the tools’, the garage barely supported his growing family and his punting. In 1968, he was declared bankrupt.

‘His trouble was he wanted to be a mate to everybody and never charged enough for the work he did,’ a former garage employee said of his former boss to journalist Keith Moor in the late 1980s.

‘Customers took advantage of his good nature and he was always a soft touch for a hard luck story. He accepted all sorts of things in payment for work done, even down to race tips. He was always a gambler – bet on anything, he would. He was forever nipping away from the garage to put a bet on and racing broadcasts were a constant background noise at work.’

To the outside world, the young Trimbole was a battling small businessman, a mug punter, a loving father and a good mate. The description ‘good bloke’ was often used about him, even after he was disgraced. But no matter how well Trimbole got on with outsiders, he was still connected by birth, geography and instinct to the shadowy organisation that flourished in the irrigation districts of Griffith, Mildura and Shepparton, and whose tentacles reached the fruit and vegetable markets in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

For decades, the Family hierarchy extorted money from fellow Italians by standing over growers and stall holders. But by the early 1970s, there was a new cash crop in town: marijuana.

As proved in the Prohibition era in America in the 1920s, the banning of a substance that was impossible to stamp out and easy to supply created a multi-million dollar black market, created and enriched a criminal class, and corrupted police, politicians, public servants and the judicial system. Not to mention jockeys, horse trainers and racing officials because, one way or another, black money tends to find its way to the racetrack as well as to casinos. Crooks, with rare exceptions, are gamblers by both nature and nurture. More importantly, gambling is a swift and relatively simple way to launder the proceeds of crime.

Marijuana produced mountains of black money that had to be filtered some way before it could be spent on visible assets. Trimbole was never the ‘Godfather’ of the Griffith Family, but he was its most active operator – a fixer whose main task was to handle the marketing of marijuana and the laundering of cash. Punting was in his blood. Now he could attempt to rig races himself or to buy information from race-fixing gangs who bribed or intimidated jockeys and trainers and had horses doped.

As Moor outlines in his book Crims in Grass Castles, the first known turning point in Trimbole’s fortunes came in 1971 when the manager of a local club, Archie Molinaro, suggested he might be interested in taking over a business selling, leasing and repairing pinball machines throughout the Riverina. Trimbole had the necessary mechanical skill to repair the machines, and so he took it on in partnership with Molinaro – and with a Melbourne man called Gianfranco Tizzoni, a onetime debt collector with interesting contacts.

Tizzoni, three years younger than Trimbole, was also Italian but not a Calabrian and, although he was an associate of the Griffith crew, he lived in suburban Melbourne and was never an insider like Trimbole. It was an association that would make them both rich, eventually, and then infamous. But it wasn’t the pinball machines that made the big money. It was the new crop being grown under cover in the middle of the irrigation blocks. Local wags called it ‘Calabrese corn’ and there were stares and whispers around the Riverina as battling ‘blockies’ suddenly accrued the trappings of wealth on irrigation blocks that had been hard pressed to support a family for decades.

Tizzoni would later tell police that it began in 1971, when Trimbole said to him that he had to raise some money for an operation on the eyes of a friend’s son – and that he proposed to sell marijuana to get the money. Whether the story of the eye operation was true is debatable, but Tizzoni agreed to arrange marijuana distribution in Melbourne.

‘He told me there was an endless supply from the Griffith area, and that Tony Sergi was organising the growing part of it and the supply part of it,’ Tizzoni told police.

‘Different farmers were growing it for him (Tony Sergi) and Tony Barbaro was supervising the farmers. Bob Trimbole was organising the distribution and my job was to distribute in Victoria under Bob’s instructions.’

That was the beginning of a decade of greed. By the time Trimbole became one of Australia’s best-known ‘racing identities’ a few years later, he had laundered tens of millions of dollars for himself and the Griffith godfathers, including the aforementioned Sergi and Barbaro. Along the way, the professional ‘good bloke’ had compromised scores of useful people from jockeys and strappers to some of the highest in the land: politicians, senior police and public servants, lawyers and judges.

By the time Terry Clark asked for Trimbole’s help to get rid of Douglas and Isabel Wilson in 1978, he had already arranged murders. One, in particular, would go down as one of the most shameful episodes in Australian history. That was the murder of another ‘good bloke’ from Griffith – this one a decent man called Donald Mackay.

IT happened on a Friday evening in winter. At 5.30pm on 17 July 1977, Don Mackay closed the furniture store his family had run in Griffith since the 1920s and drove his mini-van to the nearby Griffith Hotel. He had earlier told his wife, Barbara, he would be home by 7pm to look after the youngest of their four children while she went to a meeting.

The Mackays were that sort of family – public spirited, generous, industrious and honest. And also fearless. If there was one thing Don Mackay had, it was moral courage. But in Griffith, in 1977, moral courage was a dangerous quality. Perhaps it still is.

The known facts are bleak, and haven’t changed in half a lifetime.

At the pub, Mackay had a round of drinks and chatted with friends – largely about his efforts to draw attention to the open scandal of large-scale marijuana crops being grown in the area – before buying a cask of white wine in the bottle shop and heading to the car park to go home. He was never seen again.

It was dark, the street almost deserted. Two people were working late in the office building on the other side of the car park. One was Mackay’s solicitor and friend, Ian Salmon. The other was an accountant called Roy Binks.

Salmon heard nothing, although he was later called from home to look for his missing client. Binks, however, later told police he’d heard a noise ‘like someone being sick’ and that he thought he’d heard a sound like ‘whip cracks’.

Years later, understandably, Binks’ recollections were even vaguer. In 1997, on the twentieth anniversary of Mackay’s murder, he obligingly pointed out his old office to the authors – and where Mackay’s van was parked. But he didn’t want to rake over the embers of fading anger and sorrow.

In fact, he seemed faintly embarrassed and nervous, an attitude shared with many other honest Griffith citizens, who still tend to start sentences warily with ‘It’s all such a long time ago’. The unspoken suggestion is that it’s easier to let sleeping dogs lie.

Binks was anxious about being quoted. He didn’t want to stir up trouble, he explained apologetically.

Ian Salmon was not quite so shy. After 33 years in Griffith, he moved interstate to retire and often thought about what happened that Friday evening after a worried Barbara Mackay called to say Don hadn’t come home.

Salmon agreed to drive around looking for him, as Mrs Mackay was reluctant to call the police immediately.

At first he didn’t feel it was sinister, only that it was out of character for Mackay not to go home. But, by midnight, he was getting worried and contacted police. He kept looking and found the mini-van in the Griffith Hotel car park.

First, he noticed the imprint of an adult hand on the driver’s window. Then he swung his car around so the headlights lit the scene. That’s when he saw pools of blood and three spent .22 bullet shells glinting on the ground.

DON Mackay’s body has never been found. No one has been convicted of his murder. No one is likely to be.

An old and dangerous man called James Bazley, criminal and gunman, was convicted in 1986 for conspiring to kill Mackay and for another drug-related double murder, but he’s not the talking type. Finally released in 2001, aged 75, he has never broken his silence to say anything useful, except that he’d been ‘told’ that Mackay’s body was buried on a large Griffith rice farm owned by Gianfranco Tizzoni, the man whose evidence helped put him away on murder conspiracy charges. Where, he couldn’t say.

Neither is George Joseph saying much. The one-time gun dealer sold Bazley a French .22 calibre pistol believed to be the murder weapon and recommended Bazley to do the ‘hit’ when approached on behalf of a Griffith marijuana syndicate keen to hire a killer.

With the exception of Robert ‘Aussie Bob’ Trimbole (who would eventually die on the run in Spain in May 1987) those who ordered Mackay’s death – many of them publicly named by a royal commission – are still going about the business of turning illicit millions into legitimate assets. They do this with the best legal and financial help money can buy. The way, some say, they bought police and politicians.

Mackay’s family, friends and supporters see this but they are powerless where governments and police have pointedly failed. Some avoid certain shops in Griffith, or cross the street rather than share the footpath with certain people. None have ever been willing to be quoted.

It’s hard to credit this nightmarish undercurrent in the bustling main street of an outwardly peaceful country town. But the Riverina, for all its Banjo Paterson red gums and sunlit plains, is in secret ways a little Calabria, still a stronghold of the so-called ‘Honoured Society’.

Sydney had a dark side, too, like Al Capone’s Chicago, where for decades corruption seeped upwards like rising damp, regardless of which premier or police commissioner was in power. Some people in Griffith still wonder why investigations went nowhere, about who tipped off Trimbole to flee Australia in 1981 and why he was not arrested after Victorian police passed on his address to other authorities.

They recall the times that visiting political figures would go straight to the shop of a Calabrian identity, now dead, known locally as ‘The Godfather’. It was suggested that this man – once charged with having unlicensed pistols – could deliver blocks of votes. It was speculated he could also deliver campaign funds. What isn’t certain is what favours he scored in return.

‘Don’t let anybody fool you,’ one long-time Griffith businessman told the authors in disgust. ‘In this town, crime pays. Crime is probably the biggest industry here.’ By this he means drug money used to establish legitimate businesses.

It costs millions to buy and set up modern, irrigated vineyards and orchards but some families have no trouble finding the money, although neighbours on identical farms remember the same people battling to get by before the 1960s – before the marijuana boom.