By Thom L. Jones
Robbery is a very high-risk occupation. People who go around committing robberies cannot expect to be greeted with open arms. It's not as if they were in the habit of attending Sunday School.
- Kel Glare. Chief Commissioner, Victoria Police.
South Yarra is an inner-city suburb of Melbourne, lying about four kilometers to the south-east of the business district. The main shopping areas are Toorak Road and Chappel Street, crammed with trendy boutiques, bars, cafés, and restaurants. Today, it is home to some of the city's most prestigious, multi-million dollar addresses. In 2005, The Age newspaper confirmed, following a survey, that South Yarra was Melbourne's most livable area.
In the early hours of Wednesday, October 12th, 1988, it was anything but.
About two hours before dawn, two young police officers on the graveyard shift received a call in their divisional police van, from Victoria Police Operational Headquarters, communication room D-24. The call was date-stamped 4:39am.
“Prahran 3-11, if you can slip down to Walsh Street, in South Yarra, Mr. Ellis of Walsh Street, states there's a white Holden Sedan, not known what the rego is (registration plate). It's got its lights on, a smashed window, and is in the middle of the road.”
Peter Ellis was the manager of a newspaper agency in South Yarra. As he left his flat at number 220 Walsh Street on the way to his early morning shift, he noticed the car and reported it by telephone, to the Prahran Police Station on arrival at his office. The station then forwarded the message to police communications center D-24.
The police van acknowledged the call at 4:39am.
What happened next became the legend of Walsh Street.
In the famous 1962 John Ford film, “The Man who Shot Liberty Valance,” one of the characters, a newspaper editor, remarks, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
What came to be known as The Walsh Street Massacre generated information, controversy and publicity, on a scale never seen before in connection with police activity in Australia, so that the line between fact and legend blurred, sometimes to the point that observers found it's hard to distinguish between the two.
It was an attack on law and order that shocked the nation. It led to one of the most extraordinary cases in Australian legal history.
The criminal trial it engendered, produced 230 witnesses, 900 witness statements, 700 exhibits, 6500 information sheets, 700 audio tapes, and 12000 telephone recordings. It was estimated that the total cost was in excess of $30 million.
It remains, to this day, one of Australia's most notorious, and unsolved crimes. Numerous books, a play, television programs, the film “Animal Kingdom,” campaigns for justice, scholarly studies, features, news items, and literally hundreds, maybe thousands of articles, have helped keep alive an event that caused, and still to this day, causes pain and suffering among police officers in Victoria. Twenty-seven years after the event, the case is still making headlines.
The message into Prahran 3-11 was the ninth received since the two officers manning the vehicle had started their shift at 11:00pm the previous night, working out of Prahran Police Station in Malvern Road. Their beat was Prahran, South Yarra, Toorak, Richmond and St. Kilda. Over 16 square kilometers of retail, light industrial, commercial and private housing containing 70000 plus people.
Driving the van, was Constable Steve Tynan, 22, along with Probationary Constable Damian Eyre, 20, riding passenger, and taking the calls from comm. center.
Steven Tynan, was the senior that night. He had joined the police at the age of 19, and like all recruits, spent 18 weeks at The police Academy before graduating. He had joined the Prahran Station early in the year.
Damian Eyre had been a police officer for less than a year. His father and brother were “on the job,” and his only ambition after school, was to join them.
Steve Tynan and Damian Eyre
Tynan drove the van into Walsh Street from Domain Road, heading north. Halfway into springtime, the temperature this early in the day would have been around 8-10 degrees Fahrenheit. They were less than three kilometers from their base.
The street swelled into a small rise about 200 meters ahead, near the intersection, off to the left, which is Acland Street. Just passed here, the headlights of the van would have picked up the suspect vehicle sitting in the middle of the road, almost opposite a block of apartments at Number 222.
Although it was a dark and cloudy night, two spaced out street lamps to the left of the vehicle threw out a soft, yellow haze mingling with the police van's headlight beams.
Tynan stopped the divvy van a few meters short of the white Commodore, and the two officers got out and walked up to examine the car. It was 4:47am,
The Holden belonged to David Wilkinson who worked for the Myers Department Store group. He had returned home from his job about midnight, parking and locking his car, leaving it on the street, near his flat, number 212. Some time later, at approximately 3:55am or even earlier, the car was broken into, started with a screwdriver, turned around and driven about 20 meters before being left in the middle of the road. Whoever abandoned the vehicle, wanted to make sure someone would notice it and report it to the police. Which is exactly what happened.
The abandoned car had actually been seen by a taxi driver coming through the street around 4:00am but he had neglected to report it. He claimed that the bonnet was up, but the car was undamaged.
The car thieves waited, probably in the shadows of a lane running alongside the apartments at number 222 to the right of the car. After they had witnessed the action of the cab driver, they had smashed in the back window, on the passenger side, and left the driver's door wide open. Maybe they hoped this damage would have the desired effect. It did.
The two police officers moved up to examine the vehicle. Constable Tynan slid into the driving seat and started to check out the interior as Damian Eyre moved to the passenger side and jotted down details of the registration sticker onto his clipboard before moving around the front of the car. He probably leaned in or squatted down beside Tynan. Neither man had any idea how quickly their lives were to end.
Out of the darkness of the shadows, a man moved forward quietly towards the car and the two officers. Stepping up close, he presented a Japanese KTG semi-automatic sawn-off shotgun and fired, first at Constable Tynan, the SG shot coming from about one meter away, into his head, blowing him across the inside of the Commodore, into the passenger seat, then the shooter was swinging into the other officer. The SG cartridge contained nine lead balls, each slightly smaller than a .38 bullet. Devastating at close range.
Detectives and forensic examiners believed Eyre was squatting at this stage and the gunman had fired over his head. The second officer leaped up, turning, and the gunman fired again, the shot careering across the back of the policeman across his upper left shoulder. Incredibly, badly wounded as he was, his left shoulder shattered and pulped, Eyre, grabbed the shotgun and the two men must have wrestled with it. Two more blasts echoed through the street, one spattering the wall of the nearby apartment building. As the two men struggled for possession of the weapon, another man emerged from the shadows, grasping the constables'.38 caliber revolver, pulling it from its holster, and then shooting the officer in the head. As he fell into the street, to lie near the back wheel of the Commodore, the killer fired another round into the dying man's body.
The men who had committed the shootings ran off into the night taking both guns with them.
It was all over in a minute or less.
Jean Borg, who lived at 225, across from the scene of the shooting, awakened by the commotion, looked out of a window and saw a man running down a lane towards Punt Road, about 100 meters to the east. Jill and Carolyn Jarrett heard loud reports and voices shouting, “Stop. Stop.” then “No.” followed by shots.
An 18 year old student, John Rose, who lived in Airlie Street, which dog-legs onto the cut that ran alongside the apartments at 222, leading onto The Righi, a lane that then connects to Punt Road, heard the gunshots and looked out of his window. He saw a man running down the lane and into Airlie Street, jumping into a small, white car parked by the roadside. Seconds later, another man followed him and then the car sped off, north, no lights showing, into the darkness.
Another witness, Serina Coates, watching from a flat on Punt Road, opposite The Righi, saw two men run down into the road. One leaped over a fence at Number 923, and disappeared, the other stopped under a tree by the roadside and leaped into a dark-colored van that appeared out of the night. The vehicle also headed north into the night.
Jillian Ball, a nurse, was wakened by the noise and heard gun shots. Dressing quickly, she rushed into the street and tried to give aid to the two fallen officers, but realized there was little she could do. She remembers how much blood there was. Blood everywhere. The street shiny and slick. Black and oily under the street lights.
Interestingly, two of the many witnesses interviewed, independently, confirmed that they heard the voices of women during the scuffle.
Calls were coming into the communications center, from responding police cars, the first:
“Two members down. Urgent. For God's sake get an ambulance. We need a Mica (Mobile Intensive Care Ambulance.)”
And soon the area was filled with more police cars then the ambulances. Overhead the police helicopter fluttered back and forward, its Midnight Sun strobes flooding the area with a white glare.
There were little the forces attending could do for the victims. They organized for the two officers to be stabilized -amazingly at this time, they were still alive- and then they were rushed off to the nearest hospital. They were dead on arrival at The Alfred which would have been less than five minutes away at this time of the morning.
Officers and detectives secured the crime scene, and then began the first stages of what was to become the biggest investigation ever undertaken by the Victorian Police. It would last for 895 days.
Police were soon swarming the area searching streets and gardens, apartments, drains, parked cars, knocking on doors, interviewing anyone they could wake up. By the middle of the following day, they were almost sure that between two and four men had been involved in the killings, using probably two getaway cars, parked well away from the scene.
A specialized task force, code named Ty-Eyre (made up from combining the two constables names) was set up but ran into problems almost from the get-go.
John Silvester, a prominent Melbourne reporter stated:
“Police almost immediately set up the Ty-Eyre task force, on October 21st and promised it unlimited resources, but from the beginning there were deep problems.
The investigators had no computer system, could not collate information reports as they flooded in and it took weeks before the task force was provided with vital analysts. Police had just been given the power to tap telephones and some of the secondhand equipment they used was prone to failure. Cheap listening devices were found when suspects swept for bugs. And, there were no clear lines of leadership. Two strong-willed and determined police, John Noonan and Dave Sprague were given joint command that eventually led to a split in the task force. To add to the pressure, other members of the police force started conducting their own heavy-handed investigations.”
Over $50000 was raised quickly by business interests to help equip the task force, but the money disappeared into the general police fund. If logistic problems weren’t enough of a problem, the top-brass decision to make things even more difficult by appointing two officers to lead the task force, automatically creating tension and division.
Detective Senior Sergeant John Noonan and Inspector Dave Sprague (photo left) were the men selected to lead the operation. Noonan was a homicide investigator with a reputation for being a hard case. Sprague, a meticulous, career-oriented policeman, who would rise to the rank of Commander in the Victoria police.
Initially, the force consisted of twelve officers drawn from the Armed Robbery Squad, Major Crimes and Homicide-a gold club of investigators.
Hundreds of police were working for the Ty-Eyre task force as it reached its momentum. The Victorian Police Bureau of Criminal Intelligence took the unprecedented move of dropping an ongoing and long-term investigation into cocaine importing to assist in the investigation. The Drug Squad and the National Crime Authority in Victoria also offered their assistance. By November 1988, at least a dozen people were involved in 24-hour surveillance of suspects. The State Government offered a $200000 reward for anyone who could furnish information to help the police inquiries.
Two weeks after the killings, the Victorian government passed legislation allowing phone-tapping by state police. It went through the system softly-softly. Previously, the Australian states had to work with federal police who had this power only if they wanted to use their recordings as evidence. Five months later, the legislation was made public.
Senior Sergeant John Noonan (photo right) had returned home late the previous night from his investigation into the killing of Graeme Jensen at Narre Warren, forty kilometers away to the south-east. He hardly had time to catch his breath when he was called into the Walsh Street investigation as head of a four-man squad to be the initial investigators of the crime scene. It did not take him long to establish that the two events were inextricably connected.
Highly regarded by the force as a hard-nosed investigator and feared by the bad guys, he didn’t as one observer noted, “......take crap from anybody, including his bosses.” For the next four years, the case would absorb all his time and energy.
The Task Force was made up of detectives from major crimes, homicide, and armed robbery squads, assisted by rank and file officers from every department within the Victoria Police. By October 24th, Noonan confirmed they had isolated at least 20 potential suspects. The pressure on the group was enormous, eighteen hour days being the norm, and the command structure was creating its own problems.
There was also much anger and frustration within Victorian policing so that some officers outside the task force embarked on their own vigilante action. There were stories that circulated of illegal raids, physical attacks on known criminals, and even a suspect being abducted and tortured by men wearing balaclavas.
According to key Ty-Eyre investigator Jim O'Brien, these cowboys unwittingly sabotaged the task force's work.
The unit was initially under the leadership of Detective Chief Inspector Brandon Cole, current head of the Homicide Division. His number two was Detective Inspector Sprague and number three Noonan. It seemed straightforward, but within weeks, lines were blurring and by March, 1989, when Cole returned to his original position as head of homicide, it was down to two leaders, each with his own specific agenda.
Noonan was quickly promoted to the rank of Inspector and saw himself as the chief investigator, with Sprague as the administrator- the paper-jockey.
Colin McLaren a detective on the task force, described the two “as one akin to a tightly coiled spring and the other a loose lace ribbon.”
Problems were compounded by the “interference” of Vaughan Werner, the assistant commissioner of crime, who allegedly insisted that forensic reports came to him first rather than the investigative staff. The task force was also at loggerheads with the other groups attached to help in the inquiry.
As the unit waded through the mountain of paperwork it generated and sifted through numerous informant reports, cross-checking against the other police squads that were assisting, it became apparent that the key to the identities of the killers lay in the link between Graeme Jensen and his connections with the infamous Pettingill crime family. In fact, within hours of the killings it was widely circulated in the Blue World that the shooters were part of the armed robbery gang that had included Jensen.
Oak Park is an outer-city suburb of Melbourne, about 11 kilometers from the downtown area.
On March 31st, 1988, a branch of the State Bank located there, was attacked by a gang of armed robbers who fired a shotgun during the raid, leaving shell cartridges behind. The Armed Robbery Squad which had been set up in 1971, and by1987 was handling twenty incidents a week, believed the robbers were part of the Pettingill clan, often referred to by law enforcement as The Flemington Crew. They knew that the crew was led by Victor Peirce. The distinctive-looking weapon brandished during the bank raid was observed to have been used in three other armed robberies in the period November 1987 to August 1988. The forensic link between these cartridges found at Oak park and the ones left behind at the scene of the double murder became crucial to the case being built by the Walsh Street task force. They matched, and the police needed to find the shotgun.
The Japanese model firearm used in the bank raids and the double killing was imported into Australia in limited numbers, only forty-two guns had been delivered to the distributor. The task force had to eliminate forty-one of them from their enquiry. They got it down to the last two which they discovered had been stolen from Bob Reid's Sports Store in Monee Ponds, and finally nailed the suspect gun as serial number JSA 53108. In May, 1989, a gardener tending a flower bed near the tram tracks, close to the fifth tee at The Royal Park Golf Course in inner-city Parkville, found the missing gun, wrapped in a black plastic bag, buried in the soil.
Police visited the home of Victor Peirce at 86 Chestnut Street in Richmond, the day after the police shootings. He was not at home. He had already gone into hiding and was staying with his sister, Vicky, at her Brunswick home. Across the city, similar raids were taking place on addresses of known associates and suspected gang members. On one day alone, December 6th, 1988, over one hundred raids were carried out on drug dealers, armed robbers, and other known criminals. Some of them were brutal. The cops were sending a message to Melbourne's underworld:
“Until the killers are found, we are going to hit you, and hard. We are going to shake the shit out of the underworld.”
They kept their promise not only with the criminal fraternity, but especially with a house.
On January 5th, 1989, twenty police officers flattened the Peirce house on Chestnut Street. They were searching for clues to the Walsh Street murder-firearms, ammunition or any other evidence- that could be related to the killings. Seven large trucks from the Richmond Council were required to remove the debris and remains. It was not the first time police had come calling at number 86; they had been at least three times in 1987, digging up the backyard in connection with armed robbery suspicions about Victor Peirce. Dave Sprague was there to supervise the total destruction of the property on this occasion.
By this time, Victor was safely locked away in prison.
He had surrendered to the police at St. Kilda Station on October 13th, accompanied by his lawyer, to answer what he thought would be charges relevant to armed robbery. Instead, he was questioned then arrested in connection with the murder of armed security guard, Domenic Hefti, killed in the Brunswick hold up earlier in the year. Peirce would stay in custody for thirty months. The Hefti charges were withdrawn two months later and in December 1988, along with half-brother Trevor Pettingill, Anthony Farrell, and Peter McEvoy, he was arrested and charged with the Walsh Street murders.
Trevor Pettingill had been kidnapped late November, 1988, taken to an isolated area and badly beaten by a group of four masked men. Before they released him, they said, “Go to the police. Tell them the truth.” It was assumed these men were either police officers acting as vigilantes or criminals sick of the police harassment the Melbourne criminal underworld was currently experiencing.
Prior to Walsh Street, Victor Peirce was simultaneously managing two extra-marital affairs. One with Sandra Faure, Graeme Jensen's partner, and the other with a girl called Sissy Wills. Her brother, Tip Richards, had worked briefly with the Pettingill Crime Family, and subsequently became an informant for the task-force. He testified that Trevor Pettingill had confessed to him while they were both at a bar in Melbourne, of his part in Walsh Street.
Along with the testimony of Jason Ryan, this declaration by Richards essentially constituted the Crown case against Pettingill, a man who looked like he had the right pedigree as a professional criminal with a police record listing thirty-two convictions at the time he was remanded in connection with Walsh Street.
Tony Farrell is the joker in the pack when it comes to this story. From a Port Melbourne family well-known to the police, he was about the same age and a close friend of Jason Ryan.
From the start of the investigation, the police had pinned him as not a key figure, rather someone who might know who was. When picked up by the task force on October 26th, he had mentioned McEvoy as a person who was, or knew who was involved, in the killing of the two police officers.
On November 1st, in fear of his own safety, he had voluntarily surrendered to the police. His committal for trial was based entirely on the evidence of Jason Ryan who claimed Farrell had returned to the South Yarra flat with blood specks on his tracksuit pants. Although the police recovered them, they were never offered in evidence at the trial. His alibi for the night of October 11th through 12th was that he was drunk and high on marijuana at a flat in South Yarra.
Anthony Farrell and Trevor Pettingill
With these four secured, the Task Force could concentrate on finding the missing pieces: Jedd Houghton and Gary Abdallah the two other criminals suspected of being in the Peirce gang. If they could track them down, and lock them into the jigsaw puzzle that was Walsh Street, maybe, just maybe, they could complete the picture.
It wasn't to be.
Thirty-six days after the two constables were ambushed and murdered, Jedd Malcolm Houghton (photo right) was surprised by officers of SOG (Special Operations Group) on November 17th in his caravan at Ascot Lodge, Bendigo, in rural Victoria, 150 kilometers to the north-west of Melbourne.
The SOG had been formed in 1977 to provide an armed response to criminal terrorist activity and were known to the Victorian Police as The Sons of God.
Houghton was shot dead at close range by two officers who stormed the vehicle. One gunshot wound was 100 millimeters. (less than four inches) from his chest. The police claimed he threatened the raiding party with a .357 magnum revolver. His girlfriend, Kim Cameron, who was him at the time of the police assault, claimed he was asleep on the bed.
Five months later, on Sunday, April 9th, 1989, Gary Abdallah was shot seven times by a police officer.
He had been arrested when pulled over in his car, then taken by the two officers back to his apartment in Drumond Street, Carlton. The police had wanted to question him in regard to the attempted murder of a policeman's son, some weeks previously, in the city center. He had run him over, twice, while driving a Sigma sedan. Then, in a confrontation in the dwelling, when he presented a handgun, (which was later found to be an imitation,) he was shot six times, from a range of about two meters, and once more in the back of the head.
After forty days in a coma, he died from the head wound,
The two officers involved refused to give evidence at the coroner's inquest. The lawyer representing Abdallah's family claimed Cliff Lockwood, the detective who fired the weapon, “shot him like a dog on a short leash.”
Prior to the shooting, there had been rumors that he would be killed as payback for Walsh Street.
Many people believed that revenge had overcome reason within the Victorian Police.
According to John Kerr, court reporter and author, Victor Peirce believed for example, that the words and actions of the Armed Robbery Squad, “screamed we are due process and we're into capital punishment.”
He may have had reason to believe this. Lindsay Rountree, an armed robber and associate of the Flemington Crew, had been arrested by the squad and was in police custody in early October, 1988. He claimed he heard detectives state that Victor was marked for execution by them. Somehow, he passed this information on to Peirce.
A lawyer representing a man charged in relation to the Walsh Street killings said in court, while objecting to his client being held in custody, “he is probably safer in Pentridge (prison) than on the streets where he could be subjected to a bullet in the back of his head.”
At the time he was shot, Abdallah had been reporting three times a week to the police station in Coburg, as part of his bail condition while on remand for charges relating to a $300000 fire at a discotheque called Simons in Northcote, an inner-city suburb.
With four of the Flemington Crew behind bars, two dead and gone, the forensic evidence looking good, the Task Force needed an ace-in-the-hole to complete their prosecution framework.
They found it, twice, within the Pettingill family. On October 12th. 1988, Jason Ryan was arrested in connection with the Walsh Street killings. Twelve days later, he rolled, and became an informant and subsequently a witness, for the prosecution, and entered into the witness protection program.
At this point in time, he was the only one charged in the Walsh Street murders.
He was under considerable pressure to offer a version of events that dovetailed the police investigation. As Rod Settle pointed out in his book Police Informers: Negotiation and Power, Jason and the police were entangled in a pattern of power relationships which among other things, is not conducive to clinically-objective truth-telling in the courtroom.
There's an old Australian police saying that informants are like manure: very useful, but nobody wants to handle them. Inspector Noonan was more than happy to slip on his rubber gloves and start shoveling.
Ryan claimed he dobbed in his uncle Victor Peirce, “because those two policemen had nothing to do with Jensen's death.”
A young (seventeen year old) vulnerable and frightened adolescent, he had begun his criminal career as a drug mule for another uncle in the brutal and homicidal Pettingill family, Dennis Allen, the eldest son of Kath. A narcotics dealer, armed robber, pimp, police informer and multiple killer (the police claimed he was responsible for at least eleven murders,) Allen was on his best days, a psychopath, and at his worst, a sociopath monster.
By the age of 13, Jason Ryan was drinking and doing drugs. Life was all downhill from there.
According to Wendy Peirce, “No one wanted him. Even his mother thought he was a cunt.”
Between January 1985 and October 1988, he had been involved in 31 burglaries totaling in excess of $100000. At fifteen, he had stabbed a man in a bar brawl, and he had certainly been a witness to, if not an actual participant in, many of Dennis Allen's murders.
He had stories to tell. The impressionable and obviously terrified youth, gave the police several statements that varied from interview to interview. He would change them four times. In one, given to Inspector Noonan, he had flagged Abdallah as the Crew's getaway car man, who had set up the Commodore on the night of Walsh Street.
In another, he named Emmanuel Alexandridis, a seventeen year old nobody, and small-time crook, as being implicated in the Walsh Street plot, along with Abdallah, Jedd Houghton, Anthony Leigh Farrell, Peter McEvoy, Trevor Pettingill, and Victor Peirce. Evidence down the track would prove this to be patently untrue as Alexandridis was untangled from the conspiracy.
Jason claimed Farrell had boasted he had ripped out the police revolver from Constable Eyre's belt.
“I took the gun off the policeman,” he allegedly said, “and shot him twice.”
And yet in other testimony, this time, by Lindsay Rountree, he claimed Victor had said to him:
Jason Ryan (photo right) was the first building block the Task Force erected on their wall of revelation.
However, it turned out to be made more of straw than cement.
An investigation, as Rod Settle points out in his book, “is fraught with ambiguities and duplicity and almost every aspect of a complex investigation and prosecution takes on a deeper significance when seen as part of a tangled web of betrayal and trust.”
Sir Walter Scott knew his onions when in his famous poem Marmion, he proclaimed:
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave When first we practice to deceive!”
The second and bigger block by far, was the mother lode, literally, the woman who had lived with Victor Peirce and borne him three children, Wendy.
She had been interviewed by a Homicide Squad Detective, Jim Conomy, on November 9th 1998, but had refused to implicate Victor in Walsh Street, claiming they had spent the night together in a motel in Tullamarine, a northern city suburb. On July 18th, 1989, she became the star witness in the case being built against the Walsh Street killers.
She signed off a thirty-one page statement compiled over three days with Sprague and Detective Colin McLaren, that revealed everything the Task Force was looking to confirm in their own investigations. Implicating her husband and others in Walsh Street, tabling the shooters as Houghton and McEvoy, and Abdallah as the car-shifter, she confirmed that Victor had left the motel in Tullamarine, (Peirce's alibi for the night of the shooting) at 11:30pm and was absent until the following morning.
He had planned and set the operation up.
She claimed that late that night, (October 11th) he had got out of bed, dressed and left the unit, claiming he was off “to knock them dogs,” --kill police. He came back about 7:30am. He said he'd killed the “jacks” with Jedd and Macca (McEvoy.)
The ambush had been planned in its early stages, in a flat in Davies Street, in Brunswick belonging to Vicky Brooks, the sister of Victor, where McEvoy lodged. The details were finalized in another flat, this one at 2 Gordon Grove, South Yarra, two blocks east of Walsh Street, owned by a girlfriend of Anthony Farrell, called Belinda Rice. She and her sister, Colette, shared unit 4. It may have been the destination of one the figure seen by Serina Coates on the night of the killings. Although she back-tracked when giving evidence, claiming her memory was no longer clear. The panel van testimony was crucial to the crown's case that at least four men had been at the scene of the Walsh Street killings.
It has been suggested that, in fact, neither of these meetings took place and that the logical venue for any planning of this nature would have been the house in Chestnut Street, Richmond.
It all seemed too good to be true, and like her nephew Jason's testimony, it turned out it was.
Two and a half years after the murders in Walsh Street, the trial to determine the guilt or innocence of the alleged killers, began, on February 5th, 1991, in the supreme court of Victoria.
Lawyers for the prosecution were confident that the testimony of the wife of Victor Peirce would send the accused to prison, for a very long time. She was to be their jewel in the crown.
However, the moral hazards and asymmetric risks in seducing this woman into an informant's rule were never truly appreciated. It would have devastating consequences.
Wendy Peirce was the ninety-fourth witness to be called, but she never appeared before the jury.
In her evidence in the pretrial voir dire (the closed hearing before a jury was selected) at the Supreme Court, in January 1991, she recanted her previous statement, effectively sabotaging the prosecution.
Wendy's apparent move to and from the prosecution seemed to have been a well-thought out ruse to weaken the case against her partner. She effectively ran with the hares and hunted with the hounds. The idea would have come from Peter Allen, Victor's half-brother, considered one of the best jail-house lawyers in Victoria. He had told her if she somersaulted on the prosecution, the most punishment she'd get would be eighteen months inside. He was right on the nail.
In December 1992, she was tried and convicted of perjury and sentenced to eighteen months imprisonment.
Jason's testimony was shot down in flames by the defense lawyers. His credibility hammered and his sordid background exploited. Like a moth drawn to those flames, he self-destructed on a pyre of legal innuendo and connotation. He was described in court as both a manipulator and manipulated as well as a puppet of Detective Inspector Noonan. Defense lawyer, David Ross, QC, representing Anthony Farrell, claimed, “Jason Ryan was a liar of epic proportion.”
It was Ryan who held the key to the jury's decision. If they doubted his story they must have struggled to find signs or indications elsewhere on which to find the accused guilty. The prosecution had not offered them a compelling reason to do so.
So much of the testimony presented to the jury was a pastiche of some truth, part truth, debatable truth and simply lies. After almost three years of investigation, what ended up in the courtroom was confusion, overlaid by disregard, sandwiched between distrust and suspicion operating as the main machinery powering the prosecution's case. Statements from career criminals, many of whom would have an axe to grind, trying to cut deals and curry favors with the law, simply emphasized the sense of desperation that was emanating from the Crown who had seen their case collapse like a pack of cards when Wendy withdrew her evidence.
After a seven-week trial, the jury retired, and six days later on March 26th, 1991, at 10:35am, came back to court with their verdict of not guilty for all the accused.
The Crown case was history from its opening address. They had no eye-witnesses to the crime. No admission of guilt from the defendants. No conclusive link between the murder weapon and the accused. And a distressing lack of accord with the evidence of the various informers they called, who formed the main platform of the case for the prosecution.
The four men in the dock had chosen on remand, to make unsworn statements and this had exempted them from cross-examination in court. It also allowed them to offer potentially untrue testimony that could not be tested by the Crown. So the jury could have been presented with lies masquerading as the truth, but with no way for the prosecution to question its credibility. If, in fact, the trial was justly processed within the legal system, the verdict was manifestly unjust. The Walsh Street trial emphasized the urgency for the reform of the rules of evidence, in particular, unsworn statements. The Evidence Unsworn Act Vic.1992 was created ensuring this could not happen again.
Within minutes of the verdict, police communications sent out a message to all of its mobile units and to every officer on patrol:
"Announcement all units. The verdict in the Walsh Street trial was all four not guilty. Repeat, not guilty. All units are warned. Keep yourself under control." D24 operator March 26, 1991.
According to John Silvester, he was a strange, unstable bottom-dweller, who spent a lot of his life in prison. Tracy Graupaer, a friend of Anthony Farrell, thought he looked like E.T. A gawky, 1.9 meter tall Edward Scissor-Hands type without the mechanical attachments, he first came to the attention of the police because of his link into a gang of youths who attacked and sexually assaulted over twenty teenage girls in the Heidelberg suburb of Melbourne. While in prison on charges related to this, he met Victor Peirce. Although linked into the Pettingill Crew through this connection, he was apparently closer to Graeme Jensen than Victor. At the time of Walsh Street, he was a seasoned armed robber at the age of thirty-three.
Known in prison as “Bubble-head” because of his bizarre cranium and his propensity for violence as a substitute for courage, he also had a reputation as a “lash,” a man who does not readily pay his debts, and outside prison, as someone who chased others men’s wives or girlfriends. He was also despised by the criminal fraternity because he had two brothers on the right side of the law: one a cop and the other a prison guard.
He allegedly went berserk when he heard the news of Jensen's death, screaming, “Two dogs (police) have to die!”
According to Vicky Brooks, McEvoy telephoned her on the night of October 12th and told her he would not be home. He arrived back at her flat about 11:30am the following morning. She claimed he confessed he had been part of the killing team.
“Yeah, that's right,” he said to her, “we knocked the jacks.”
Vicky also claimed that the day after the killings, McEvoy walked into the flat flourishing a copy of the Melbourne Herald with a front page dominated by Walsh Street and said, “Right whack. One of ours for two of theirs.”
A peripheral figure in a mis-en-scène filled with characters better suited to Kafka than Dr. Seuss, Jason Ryan's mother moved from her Brunswick flat and relocated to another home in Melbourne's vast hinterland. She found herself a new job and new friends and essentially abandoned her family connections.
Just before the trial began, she entered the witness protection program.
Wendy Peirce in her testimony stated: Macca took the (Damian Eyre's) handgun. Victor was pissed off with him for that.”
In 1992 while imprisoned in Pentridge for his part in an armed robbery at Bentleigh, in August 1988, he was attacked and badly injured by men who suspected he was a police informer.
On his release, he moved from Victoria to new South Wales and in 2009 was arrested and convicted of fracturing a man's collarbone with a baseball bat. He was living in a suburb of Newcastle when on February 5th, 2010, he was arrested by police for being drunk and disorderly. At this time, he was listed on the record as a “disability pensioner.” It has been claimed that during this arrest, he had snarled at the officers:
“The sweetest thing I ever heard was the police officer's last words as he was dying.”
Subsequently, a police video recording of the arrest and questioning, confirmed he actually said “The sweetest thing I heard about was the police officer's words as he was dying.”
However, during his prison time at Loddon, a medium security prison in central Victoria, prior to him leaving the state in 1995, he ran afoul of one of the guards, Peter West, and was heard by other guards saying:
“I wish I'd shot that West instead of those two coppers.”
McEvoy was given a 9 months prison sentence for the altercation in Newcastle.
He had previously been fined for making a telephone threat on March 29th to staff at the S. Kilda Road Crime department headquarters, in Melbourne.
Silvester called him, “a stupid, sadistic sexual pervert and a cop killer.”
He may well be all of that.
A year after the trial, Victor was arrested and indicted on several charges involving drug trafficking and on April 23rd sentenced to prison. He served six years between 1992 and 1998. When he came out in May that year, Wendy, interviewed by the press, said:
“We are going to make a new start. We are going to grow old together and live happy ever after.”
Although as John Maynard Keynes said, “It's better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.”
In 2005, New Zealander Derryn Hinch, who has made his living as a “shock-jock” on Australian radio, berated Wendy on one of his programs. He called her a hypocritical, immoral, conniving, criminal bitch. That was when she admitted that she never planned to ultimately testify against her husband. It was all part of the game. She had confessed to John Silvester, earlier in the year, that Victor had in fact been part of the conspiracy that early morning in October, although she claimed the actual shooters were Jedd Houghton and Peter McEvoy.
Law and order failed the system of justice in the case of Victor Peirce et al. He himself, however, was never more than a “lock and load” away from natural justice.
It came to him at 9:15pm on May 1st, 2002 in Port Melbourne. Notorious as the home-base of the infamous Painters and Dockers Union, a conglomerate of thugs, desperadoes and killers never seen before or since, in Australia's labor history, the area was now slowly surrendering to inevitable inner-city gentrification which has done more than police forces anywhere in the world, to segue bad things and people into yuppie playgrounds and respectability.
He was sitting in his car, a 1993 model maroon Commodore, outside the Telstra retail shop, on Bay Street, when another Commodore, this one white, pulled up alongside him. Boringly nondescript; no flash squirrel on the back or lowered suspension or flash signage to catch the attention. Nothing to catch the attention.
The perfect hit car.
Holden Commodores seemed to have played an ongoing element in the downfall of Victor Peirce from Narre Warren to Walsh Street and now, the Port.
The passenger walks slowly to Peirce's car, raising a .45 semi-automatic pistol and starts shooting. The first slug hits the drivers-side door pillar. The target by now, is raising his right arm in a natural, but futile defensive action, when the second and third bullets courses through his elbow, down into his chest, ripping open his lungs and liver. The shooter returns to the car which drives slowly away south, towards Beaconsfield Parade.
Victor Peirce is a dead man sitting. Stabilized by paramedics, he is rushed north, by ambulance, to The Alfred Hospital, where like the two police officers fourteen years before, Victor Peirce dies of his wounds.
His killer was Andrew Veniamin, a hit-man used at times by the Italians in their war to control Melbourne's underworld. Why the killing went down was never determined, in a court of law at least. A drug deal gone bad, an insult avenged. It could have been any one of a dozen reasons. It was believed that Peirce was waiting for someone, the one who set him up, to arrange a drug purchase.
A prime target as the man behind the man with the gun was Bulgarian Nik Radev, himself to be gunned down a year later. Another potential suspect as the finger man was Vince Benvenuto, (who had been the suppliers of drugs to Victor,) whose brother Frank was shot dead in May 2000. Their father, Liborio had been the undisputed godfather of the Calabrian 'Ndrangetha in Melbourne until his death in 1988.
Vince was actually tried for the crime in 2009, but acquitted. The prosecution claimed the murder was an act of revenge against a man Vince Benvenuto believed had murdered his brother. Victor Peirce had actually worked as Frank Benvenuto's bodyguard during the late 1990s. Ironically, the last cell phone message Frank sent, minutes before he died, was to Peirce.
To the media, Victor's death was a simple gangland killing.
As it turned out, the hit was a wee bit more complicated than that.
Frank Benvenuto was almost certainly killed by Andrew Veniamin who along with Peirce had been contracted by Frank to kill underworld figure, Mick Gatto. But he found out and promised Veniamin the chop unless he whacked Frank first. Veniamin was obviously more scared of Gatto than Benvenuto. When Victor learned of the double-cross he swore revenge on Veniamin and Gatto. So Andrew asked Gatto for help in setting up Victor and Vince Benvenuto, a trusted narcotic supplier to Victor, was brought into the picture. Although he had supplied drugs to Peirce for some time, and was aware that Victor was a friend and one-time bodyguard of his brother, he had come to somehow believe that Peirce had been his brother's killer and was, therefore, more than happy to help arrange the whack out on Victor.
Back to Sir Walter Scott. In spades!
The driver of the getaway car, Faruk Orman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2009 for his part in the hit on Victor Peirce.
On hearing of Peirce's death, Detective Inspector John Noonan said:
“It's just nice that people pay for their sins, isn't it.”
His mother, the notorious Kath Pettingill knew it was coming down. “Without a word of a lie, every day since Walsh Street I have expected this to happen to Victor,” she was reported saying.
In 2004, Veniamin was shot dead by Mick Gatto, his one-time boss, and a powerhouse in the gangland war that ravaged the city from 1998 until 2010, and killed at least 36 people.
At the time of his murder, Victor Peirce was working as a stevedore on the Melbourne docks. Police believed he had moved into the pill and powder market: amphetamines, ecstasy, and cocaine. Once a crook, always a crook.
Infamous Victorian gangster, Mark “Chopper” Read remembered him, “........he thought selling drugs was a legal occupation. These blokes have never worked out that there is no place for middle-aged gangsters. They don't know when to give it away. They have trouble distinguishing their friends from their enemies."
Lachlan McCulloch, an undercover police officer with the Melbourne Drug Squad, who had infiltrated Victor's Pettingill family, had an even less complimentary opinion to express.
“They were not smart people. Victor was a real low-life. I found him to be a dill. If he was organized crime, Melbourne is pretty safe.”
Lachlan had been known to the Pettingills as “Lenny Rogers.” Matriarch Kath (photo below,) on discovering his perfidy, allegedly offered a $20000 bounty for his testicles.
She had sired ten children who have either gone to their graves early or into prison or into the witness protection service. Two of them were indicted but found not guilty of the Walsh Street murders.
She now lives out her sunset years in the township of Venus Bay, South Gippsland. 173 kilometers south-east of Melbourne, it's a holiday retreat with a permanent population of about 500. Here at the age of seventy-nine, she fills her days knitting baby vests and calling bingo numbers at the local community center. She is one of two women in this story who carry the stigmata of lost causes.
The other is Wendy Margaret Peirce.
She was a teenage office worker, from a legitimate family background, when at the age of seventeen, she met Victor Peirce, an apprentice gangster who had already done time. In 1980, at the age of twenty-three she joined the Pettingill Family, and nothing would ever be the same again.
Following Walsh Street, she struggled through the rest of the 1990s as Victor went off again to prison on drug charges. After his death in 2002, her life dissolved into almost a Shakespearean tragedy: a damaged protagonist immersed in an exigent situation characterized by tragic flaws creating fateful consequences.
With her life collapsing around her, heavily in debt, estranged from most of her family, suffering from psychiatric problems, and now living in a Housing Commission flat in Port Melbourne, relying on $650 every fortnight as a disability pension, to cover her basic needs, she careered from one personal disaster to another.
In 2004, she was in court for assault and fraudulent document charges.
In 2008, she was sentenced to prison for six months for threatening two women, one of whom had been a girlfriend of her late husband, Victor.
In 2009, she was tried and convicted of causing serious injury to a man who face was slashed with a meat cleaver while he was drinking at the Clare Castle Hotel, a pub in Port Melbourne.
In December 2009 her daughter Katie, 22, died of a drug overdose, possibly. Her death certificate stated, “pneumonia in the setting of mixed drug toxicity.”
In 2012, Wendy was arrested and charged with shoplifting.
In February 2014 her son, Christopher, broke into the home of an 80-year old woman and stole her life savings. He went to prison for thirty months.
In March 2014 Wendy (photo below,) now fifty-eight, was back in court on charges of failing to pay traffic fines, sixty-one infringement notices, dating back eleven years. She was ordered to do 500 hours of community work to pay off the fines.
As Adam Shand, Australian crime journalist said:
“It's easy to feel pity, but Wendy's story is the inevitable trajectory of all empires of crime. For after years of reckless hedonism, there are decades, sometimes generations, of pain and despair.”
Ten years after Walsh Street, Melbourne and Australia awoke to the news that it had happened again. The unbelievable had taken place once more in a suburb in this city. Two police gunned down by unknown killers, this time, in the eastern suburb of Moorabbin.
On August 16th, 1998, police officers, Sergeant Gary Silk, and Constable Rodney Miller, were shot dead by Bandali Michael Debbs and Jason Roberts.
According to John Silvester, writing in The Age:
“In October 1991 Debs, first with his nephew Jason Ghiller and later with his daughter's boyfriend, Jason Roberts, committed 38 armed robberies around Melbourne.
They picked soft targets such as large suburban restaurants, terrorized customers and staff and then fled into the darkness. The pattern did not point to any established crooks and as they were unknown in criminal circles there was no chance of an informer creating a breakthrough.
In August 1998 police ran a secret operation, codenamed Hamada, which identified 60 likely targets that might be hit by the armed robbery crew. Ten were highlighted as the most likely and on that shortlist was The Silky Emperor in Warrigal Road, Moorabbin.
Two respected policemen, Sergeant Gary Silk, and Senior Constable Rod Miller, were staking out the restaurant when they pulled over a Hyundai hatchback in Cochranes Road. Detectives believe Debs and Roberts had made a pact to shoot police without warning if they were ever pulled over, and that is exactly what they did, killing Silk and Miller.”
The case was another of the magnitude of Walsh Street, and it was two years before the killers were brought to justice and this time, sentenced to life imprisonment on February 24th, 2003.
There are 329 police stations in Victoria.
Officers Eyre and Tynan, Silk and Miller, were all based at the same one: Prahran.
It was as Yogi Berra was won't to say: “Deja Vu. All over again.”
The Metropolitan area of Melbourne covers over 2000 square kilometers, divided into thirty-one local government areas containing over three hundred suburbs.
Degrees of separation. Small-worlds theory. Mere coincidence. A hidden key to a network interaction. Call it what you will.
Bandali Debbs lived on Springfield Drive, less than ten minutes by car from 7 Morray Court which had been the home of Graeme Jensen. One a tiler and part time armed robber, and one a full time armed robber. Both living in the same neighborhood. Perhaps they even knew each other. Maybe they drank in the same pub, went shopping in the same mall. Linked together by some amaranthine congress into a level of evil that most humans, fortunately, never have to experience.
In a surreal coincidence, another that seems to haunt this story, this tangled weave, Debbs' youngest son, Joseph, died of a drug overdose in December 2003, in a house in Greensborough. Seven years later, Wendy Peirce's daughter, dies a similar death, in the same suburb.
The most incomprehensible thing about the world is that it is at all comprehensible. Albert Einstein who said this, knew a lot more about life than simply the matter that made it.
There are memorials to those two young police officers killed in Walsh Street.
Across Melbourne, an eternal flame flickers in perpetuity at The Police College in Glen Waverly. A commemorative rose garden blooms year in and out at the Prahran station. A dedication plaque was unveiled in Walsh Street, on October 27th, 1988, but this seems to have mysteriously disappeared. There is a memorial to them and all the police who died in the line of duty in the Kings Domain Gardens, two hundred meters to the west of Walsh Street. A memorial scholarship in their names was established to give study grants to members of the Victorian Police. The Tynan Eyre Memorial Foundation was created to assist hospitals and raised in excess of one million dollars. There was even a race horse-The Tynan and Eyre Welter- named after them. Twenty-seven years after their shocking and unnecessary deaths, they are still remembered, not only by their immediate family, but also by their much bigger one: their Blue Family.
It's unlikely they will ever forget them.
Maybe they died that early morning in October for no other reason than they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. The place could have been anywhere. The time could well have been something even less predictable. According to some sources, there never was a time when violence was not part of Australia's D.N.A. Those early settlers may well have a lot to answer for. By 1939, for example, Melbourne had proportionately a higher crime rate than London.
As author Nicholas Freeling commented: “Crime is the pathology of the human condition, the moment at which the delicate balance of metabolism tilts into morbidity.”
However, the city, if it ever had it, it lost its innocence in one decade: the 1980s.
In 1986, there was the Russell Street Bombing, an attack by criminals on the very bastion of law and order, the city's police headquarters. This was followed by the Hoddle Street Massacre in 1987, a mass shooting involving twenty-six people, followed by the Queen Street Massacre another multiple shooting incident with a tally of nine deaths and five injuries, in the same year. And then, in 1988, there was Walsh Street.
Bill Longley a factional leader in the Painters and Dockers Union, a stand-over man on the docks in the 1960s and 1970s a feared hard man in the union who served time for murder, when interviewed on National ABC Radio said:
“Melbourne is your murder capital. You know, it's not only the murder capital of Australia, you could say it was one of the murder capitals of the world, because it's been going on ever since I can remember, you know, always your odd gangland shooting. Always, always.”
In September 2014, the Queensland Commissioner of Police at a memorial service to honor all Australian police who had given their lives while serving the community, highlighted the risks every officer faced, every day. Each police officer swore an oath to protect and serve the community, Commissioner Stewart said.
“There are times, however, when no matter how dedicated, committed, and courageous our officers are, they face unbeatable odds.”
Walsh Street remains one of Australia's most infamous and unsolved crimes.
It was not simply a brutal and seemingly senseless double murder. It was in effect, an attack on society. Radio station 3AW reported, “For the first time in Australia, criminals have declared war on society by executing two innocent policemen.”
This story, inextricably linked to the violent death of Graeme Jensen, begins and ends in Narre Warren.
According to John Kerr, Narre Warren became a black police labor pool for young male recruits, established around 1840, (three years after the first Australian Aboriginal mission was set up in South Yarra) who killed and disposed other blacks before dying of drink-related diseases and despair at ripe old ages like seventeen and twenty-seven.
The place name, translated into English, means “No Good.”
It's hard to argue with that in the context of this narrative.
Some of the facts for this story came from:
Walsh Street by Tom Robb which is one of the definitive accounts of the Walsh Street killings.
Read Part 1 of this story here.
You can read more of Thom L. Jones’ stories at his Mob Corner at Gangsters Inc.
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Copyright © Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc. 2015