Vincent styled himself as a Bodgie, (an anti-authoritarian subculture), as his violent acts begin to ramp up.
Warren “Wazza” McDonald, a long-time associate of Vince’s. Wazza was known as Vince’s “apprentice” and close confidante for almost 20 years.
One of Vince’s oldest friends and criminal acquaintances is Gary Lawrence. They say that Lawrence still holds the Queensland record for the most number of years served behind bars for someone never charged with murder.
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Whooshkaa Studios: Listeners are advised this podcast contains coarse language and adult themes, and is not suitable for younger ears. Whooshkaa Studios
MATTHEW CONDON: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears, I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him. The evil that men do lives after them….”
You’re probably familiar with that famous quote. Yes, it’s Shakespeare, from his play Julius Caesar.
It’s a speech loved and adored by actors through the generations. And by Vince O’Dempsey who, in the late 1950s, on a warm night in a park in Warwick, hopped up onto a tree stump and dramatically recited those lines to a group of strangers.
Vince was celebrating. He had just raped a teenage girl in front of shocked onlookers, and now asked his audience to lend him their ears.
Everyone in his hometown of Warwick knew that Vince was trouble. He was scary and unpredictable. But over time he was growing into something far worse.
At the dawn of the 1960s he would be involved in drug dealing, rapes, and police bashings, all on the path to murder.
But Shakespeare? Why Shakespeare?
I think I’ve just figured out why.
From Whooshkaa Studios, I’m Matthew Condon and this is Ghost Gate Road…in this episode I continue my quest to uncover the truth about Vince O’Dempsey, one of the most sadistic killers Australia has ever produced.
News and Archival footage with people close to O’Dempsey’s crimes, with tense music throughout.
LYNN CUTMORE: “He always buried his victims standing upright…Nobody’s going to say anything because you know, you could end up like the rest of them”
RON: “Did he go for a drive with Vince? Was it Vince that took him for a drive?”
MATTHEW CONDON: The last time he was ever seen alive was in that holden car of Vince’s…
GARY LAWRENCE: “No, never fucking heard nothing. I didn’t know anything about all this fucking killing and all this fucking shit until I got out.”
RON: “Dingoes they’ll just chew your bones up - if they are hungry enough they will just eat bones and all”
POLICE SPOKESPERSON: “Justice is eternal, and so too are the rights of victims…”
I’m driving around Warwick and it just struck me as interesting how there are so many touchstones to O’Dempsey’s past still here, still so well defined, almost to the point where you can see back fifty years in time, to the movements of this man. This creature of habit who kept coming back here to Warwick, the call of Warwick, and the myths he made for himself en route.
Every time I visit the township of Warwick, with its rowdy pubs and beds of thorny rose bushes down the centre of Palmerin Street, the rumours about Vince are as pungent as the flowers. Like the day I visited Les Cutmore and learned about the time he was sexually assaulted by Vince in the milk bar all those years ago, Les and his wife Lynne rattled off a string of long-held Vince rumours.
MATTHEW CONDON: What about the rumor that’s been around forever, that he’s… Vince has got his own private graveyard?
LYNNE CUTMORE: He always buried his victims upstanding, upright.
MATTHEW CONDON: Did your father tell you that story?
LYNNE CUTMORE: Yeah. It’s been going on for years.
The most persistent gossip was that Vince had killed a man and buried him in the wall of the dam.
It was the stuff of the movies. Straight out of Hollywood and onto the big silver screen at Kings’ Theatre in Warwick.
It’s August 1954 and the film The Wild One has premiered at Kings’, literally a block away from where Vince lived in Stewart Avenue.
The movie is all about outlaw motorcycle gangs, hooliganism and lawlessness and stars Marlon Brando. It causes controversy around the world.
Local authorities fretted that the film might trigger gang violence and juvenile delinquency.
As it happens, The Wild One depicts anti-social gangs of disaffected teenagers at the time, who in Australia called themselves “bodgies”, for the males, and “widgies” for their female counterparts. There were similar subcultures around the globe such as the ‘American greaser’ and ‘UK rocker’. They were aggressive and cared little for rules.
Their philosophy was everything that Vince embodied. Violent. Without conscience. A rebel. A grenade with a loose pin.
It’s eerie to think that if you stood outside Vince’s childhood house in Stewart Avenue, you would have been able to see the rear of Kings Theatre, just a couple of hundred metres away, and its red neon sign.
You can almost see him passing through the foyer of the theatre, settling into the stalls, and hearing a woman ask Brando’s character - what was he rebelling against?
Marlon Brando answering: “Waddhya got?”
“The Wild One” clip Marlon Brando scene
ACTOR: “Hey Johnny, get a load of this.”
ACTOR: “They’re real bells.”
ACTOR: “Aren’t they cute?”
ACTOR: “Hey, somebody tell me what that means. BRMC. What does it mean?”
ACTOR: “Black Rebels Motorcycle Club.”
ACTOR: “Isn’t that cute.”
ACTOR: “Hey Johnny, what are you rebelling against?”
MARLON BRANDO: “Waddhya got?”
Sounds of laughter
I’m thinking this is the moment, hypnotised by the silver screen teeming with motorcycles and fist fights, that Vince began to idolise Marlon Brando.
A few short years after Brando thundered into Warwick, Vince had been charged with several offences, including the indecent dealing of a young girl, and as we learned in episode one, he had raped a 14-year-old boy with an ice cream in a totally unprovoked attack.
In Warwick, Vince relished in his reputation as someone to fear.
But he attracted attention for other reasons.
Vince became a full-blown bodgie.
The growth of this American-inspired subculture caused fear and alarm in conservative post-war Australia.
As the subculture grew, reports into their anti-social attitude and peculiar way of dressing began appearing on Australian television.
Here is one example from the 1950s:
Archival video of Bodgies and Widgies
MALE BODGIE: I’m a Bodgie.
FEMALE WIDGIE: And I’m a Widgie. So what.
REPORTER: A Bodgie is a male with long hair and unusual clothes. A widgie is a female with short hair and unusual clothes. Unlike the rest of society the male is the more colourfully, even exotically, dressed. Mostly they’re teenagers. Usually, they come back to normal after 22. If they don’t by then, sound the warning siren.
Vince loved this culture. It was as if it had been created just for him.
But this was Warwick, as rural and conservative as they come. It was cattle and rodeos and farms. It was work trousers and boots. And a pressed shirt and thin tie for church.
Vince’s new look certainly shocked the locals, as I discovered during my investigation.
There was Les, who had boxed with Vince.
LYNNE CUTMORE: He was like the…he was a bodgy wasn’t he, Vince.
LES CUTMORE: Yeah. Like there are the Bodgies and the , the Bodgies come in… He used to have those pants and I think he with the flair are…
MATTHEW CONDON: Leopard skin.
LES CUTMORE: The leopard skin pants. I can remember him in leopard skin pants, yeah. I remember him in the leopard skin pants, tight, tight pants.
MATTHEW CONDON: It must have looked ridiculous?
LES CUTMORE: Yeah. Ah geez, tight, real tight they were. Tight and stove pipe bottoms as we used to call them, those stove pipe bottoms.
Then there was retired Queensland police detective Alan Marshall, who spent more than two years sifting through every aspect of Vince’s life in the late 1970s, when he thought he had Vince cold for the McCulkin murders.
I visited Alan in his small, neat home not far from the Queensland border at Tweed Heads. He made coffee, and sitting at the kitchen table he remembered details of Vince and his Bodgie crew back in the day - Raymond Vincent Tommy Allen, Dessy Locke - all prowling about town in their Bodgie gear.
He’d gathered a few of the local toughs around him, and everywhere they went there was disruption.
He hung out in a dim pool hall in Grafton Street. It was known as Mutch’s Saloon, not far from the town post office, and in a few short years had gone from a respectable billiard room with high, metal-pressed ceilings and bright lights, to a dim hang-out for degenerates. Few women entered. To locals, it was dangerous. It became Vince’s lair.
Vince was also the resident pool shark at the majestic Criterion Hotel in Palmerin Street, a two-storey brick pub with bars downstairs and accommodation upstairs.
I visited the Criterion with Ron Smith, who knew Vince through the Catholic church, school, and later socialising in pubs like these.
Ron witnessed Vince’s prowess with a pool cue.
Matthew with Ron Smith walking into the Criterion Hotel. Laughter, Poker Machine Noises, pub atmosphere.
MATTHEW CONDON: So was this the pool area originally? It was right here…hasn’t changed at all…
RON SMITH: …well, new tables.
MATTHEW CONDON:…new tables…and Vince was king of the tables here.
RON SMITH: He was king of the tables…he was king of this pub.
Later, over coffee, as we go through Ron and Vince’s shared history, Ron starts talking about the drug scene in Warwick in the early 1960s and I learn something I’d never heard before.
Ron tells the story:
On location in the Criterion Hotel
RON SMITH: Because There were drugs involved in that.
MATTHEW CONDON: Vince was dealing drugs, even in the early 1960s?
RON SMITH: It was a known fact, yeah, at the Criterion, we used to get …you could get in there anytime you wanted.
MATTHEW CONDON: And was it mainly marijuana?
RON SMITH: Yes. I personally I have never been involved with that sort of thing, too scared, because my father would have chopped my head off.
MATTHEW CONDON: But it was known that if you wanted marijuana you’d go to Vince.
RON SMITH: Yes, that’s where it was.
MATTHEW CONDON: He was an early drug dealer? Or a fledgling, baby steps drug dealer?
RON SMITH: Yes… Where was he getting his money from?
This extraordinary claim is later confirmed by Warren “Wazza” McDonald, a long-time associate of Vince’s.
Wazza was known as Vince’s “apprentice” and close confidante for almost 20 years, and in his younger days was the picture of a gangster on trainer wheels, with his guns and rolls of money. But he moved out of the game and built a new life for himself.
I asked him about Vince’s early years and drugs.
MATTHEW CONDON: A childhood friend of Vince’s in Warwick. We talked about his childhood and teenage years and all the trouble he got into and the shit he got into and kicking the cop nearly to death, but he said that during that time in the early 60s Vince was dealing marijuana in Warwick.
MATTHEW CONDON: And he said sometimes worked out of the Mayfair, in those early days, in the early 60s, if you wanted to get some dope, you went to Vince.
MATTHEW CONDON: Even as early as that, would that be right?
WAZZA: Oh fuck yeah. Yeah, absolutely, and I remember him telling me, he used to swap the marijuana for heroin. And fucking…He’d end up with a big bag of fucking dope and get a tiny bag of heroin.
MATTHEW CONDON: So he transitioned… he bought his heroin with his dope.
WAZZA: Yeah. Yeah. Then trade it off. Most of the moles were on the heroin see.
MATTHEW CONDON: Was he growing, even back in the early days?
WAZZA: Look, I assume so.
MATTHEW CONDON: Because he seems to fall back on what he knows through his life doesn’t he?
WAZZA: I think, like he’s done a lot of study while he’s been locked up, like being a horticultural botanist and all that sort of shit. He done all these certificates and everything while he was in the clink.
MATTHEW CONDON: And is there any doubt now that he was actually studying to be a master at how to grow dope?
WAZZA: Oh there’s no doubt at all. That’s a given, that one.
These anecdotes from Ron and Wazza offer a far richer insight than I’d ever imagined into Vince’s depravity as he moved out of his teens and into his early 20s.
As for his development as a sexual predator, it erupted in his Bodgie period.
Not only was he dealing dope, but he was trying his hand as a pimp.
According to locals, Vince was running a couple of prostitutes out of rooms upstairs in the Mayfair Hotel, not far from the Criterion.
It was a bold entrepreneurial move in a town as small as Warwick.
During our stroll downtown, Ron’s memories came flooding back.
On location where the Mayfair Hotel stood
RON: This used to be the entrance to the bar, there used to be a bar in there.
MATTHEW CONDON: So this was the Mayfair?
RON: This was the Mayfair. Used to be a Mayfair Tav and they still call it the Mayfair…
MATTHEW CONDON: And…Vince ran some girls out of there.
RON: He did. He did. The pub used to be the whole corner…used to include the TAB but where the open sign is there used to be a door here, and a door here and this was the Bird Window, we used to call it, where we’d sit and watch the birds.
MATTHEW CONDON: It was a big pub.
RON: It was a big pub. It nearly backs onto the Criterion back there, only a couple of shops between it. He had a room up there with a couple of girls, yes.
Vince was dealing drugs. He was bludging off hookers. It was just the beginning. He got worse. A lot worse.
Small towns like to keep their secrets close to their chest.
In the case of Vince, though, almost everybody who crossed paths with him has a story.
And none were more shocking than the one told to me by a former Warwick local who would like to be known as Richard. Richard was several years younger than Vince, but certainly knew of him and his reputation.
Richard vividly remembers attending a dance at the little village of Yangan, outside Warwick, when Vince rocked up in his Bodgie gear. Richard says he looked ridiculous, but nobody dared laugh.
Sounds of a pusy pub
RICHARD: Well, of a weekend, I and a few friends would often go to a local pub and sneak in the side door and buy a few what we used to call long necks. A tall bottle of beer, long necks. And sneak out of town somewhere and find a nice quiet place to sit on a log or whatever, and just drink a few beers and tell a few lies and then go back into town.
MATTHEW CONDON: Richard and his mates found a spot dense with trees and shrubs where they could drink their illicit beers without being noticed.
RICHARD: I was driving. It was my car. We pulled it out and then onto a gravel track and got in amongst some trees and shrubs and thought it was fairly quiet. We weren’t there very long. And another car came into the same track and pulled in behind us. And two local louts whom I vaguely knew and a young woman whom I recognized but didn’t know hopped out of the car, followed by Vince O’Dempsey.
RICHARD: Ah, she would have been a little older than us. We would have been 17 or 18, just my guess, but she would have been maybe 18 or 19, but still a young woman. And quite honestly, I used to see her around town and she hung around with the less-than-desirables, shall I say. Hung around with a bit of a rough mob.
MATTHEW CONDON: So that’s interesting, because there was a rough mob in Warwick at the time. And Mr. Vincent O’Dempsey was probably the leader of the pack there, was he not?
RICHARD: Yes, he was. Yeah, so it was a bit of a rough influence. Mid-sixties was getting towards the end of the Bodgie era, but there were certainly some of that ilk in the town. Yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: Yeah. And so Vince turns up. How did you and your mates feel about that? I mean, he had a reputation for extreme violence. Do you remember your thoughts? It must’ve been quite…
RICHARD: Well, it was. I didn’t speak to the other three at that moment, but I know I became very apprehensive very quickly. Yeah. Yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: And what did Vince ask of you? He turned up and what happened?
RICHARD: Well, apparently they didn’t have any beer, and Vince straightaway asked us for our beer, which we gladly, willingly handed over, and they began drinking it.
MATTHEW CONDON: And what happened with the young woman? Something happened after that?
sounds of the bush, and roughly moving through shrubs and dry grass
RICHARD: Yeah. Well, Vince just roughly grabbed her after a very short space of time. Vince roughly grabbed her, hustled her into the nearby bushes and shrubs, and from the sounds and protestations, he clearly raped her. Oh, it was just “Stop, Vince. No, Vince.” Words to that effect. Yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: And there wasn’t any question in your mind that he was physically raping this young woman.
RICHARD: No doubt in my mind and no doubt in the mind of the other three chaps who were with me too, because we were looking at each other thinking… Well, I don’t know. I guess they were thinking the same as I was thinking, “This bastard’s raping her.” And it was obvious.
MATTHEW CONDON: I mean, even if you and your mates were worldly young men, even for your age at that point, something like that must have been a shock.
RICHARD: It was. Yeah. I was shocked, for sure. Yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: And could you at all see them physically or was it just the sounds?
RICHARD: No, no, we couldn’t actually see them because it was a dark night, for starters, and he moved, my guess is four or five, six meters away from where we were sitting around.
Increasing sounds of bush and erratic movement through shrubs
RICHARD: I think he came out first. It was all over in a matter of a few minutes. And then very soon after, I guess the poor young lady was re-dressing herself or whatever. She came out a minute or two later, anyway, after Vince.
I remember he had a bottle of beer in his hand. I even remember that. There you go. And he starts reciting Mark Antony’s oration. Which again, I don’t know what the other three fellows thought of that, but I thought that was bizarre, that a man could switch on to grabbing a young woman, take her into the bushes, rape her, come out as if nothing had happened, as if he’d done nothing more than going to the bushes for a leak. Comes out, hops on a stump and starts reciting Mark Antony’s oration.
Marlon Brando’s “Mark Anthony’s Oration” scene in “Julius Caesar”
MARLON BRANDO: “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears…
Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears the famous speech goes…
Less than a year before the screening of Marlon Brando’s The Wild One at Kings picture theatre in 1954, the movie house had also screened a film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. It of course featured Marc Antony’s famous speech.
And wouldn’t you know it? None other than Marlon Brando played Mark Antony.
Is it a coincidence, that Vince is quoting a famous speech uttered up on the silver screen by Brando? Had he taken on Brando’s persona in some weird act of idol worship?
Richard only knows what he saw.
At this point Vince is clearly out of control.
And still he found another level of debauchery and violence.
It was a cold Saturday night on June 6, 1959, an off-duty Warwick police sergeant, Frances Joseph Toohill, was wandering down Grafton Street near the centre of town.
Just around the corner from the seedy pool hall Vince hung out in…
It was Vince and his mate Dessy Locke.
Toohill asked them what they were up to and was told: “Keep your fucking nose out of our business.”
Toohill kept walking and soon heard footsteps behind him. He suffered a blow to the back of his head and fell to his knees. Kicked in the back of the skull and the back.
Toohill begged them to stop. They didn’t.
Matthew on location where the police officer was bashed
MATTHEW CONDON: as we go further towards the back of the building - we are getting toward the point where this police office stubbled upland O’Dempsey and Lock and accused them of stealing a bicycle threatened them, and it was the worst thing he ever did to threaten Vincent O’Dempsey, O’Dempsey had a legendary hatred of police even at that point and the officer was bashed so badly, that when police went to visit Vincent O’Dempsey at his property there was boots with scalp and hair tissue found attached to Vincent O’Dempsey shoes.
Vince and Dessy were soon picked up by the cops and charged.
It was big news in Warwick. A merciless attack on a police officer.
But it was hardly a surprise to those who knew Vince.
Wazza McDonald says Vince often brought up the incident.
MATTHEW CONDON: Did Vince ever talk about bashing that copper in Warwick?
WAZZA: Yeah, absolutely.
MATTHEW CONDON: What did he say about that?
WAZZA: That every time he walked up the street and that arsehole would come towards him, he’d go across the other side of the street.
MATTHEW CONDON: The copper would?
WAZZA: The copper would. He feared him.
MATTHEW CONDON: And Vince was satisfied with that?
WAZZA: Oh, he loved that.
MATTHEW CONDON: Loved it?
WAZZA: Loved it.
Vince and Dessy’s trial was held in the Criminal Court in Brisbane before Justice Hanger.
To defend their son, Vince’s parents hired legendary criminal barrister Dan Casey. Casey was a devout Catholic and loved rugby league and boxing, so he was a good fit for Vince.
It did little good.
Vince and Dessy, described in court as “standover men”, were found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. They would have to serve at least two and a half years before being eligible for parole.
Vince had been pushing the limits for years.
Now he was off to the big house – Boggo Road Gaol – in Brisbane.
His apprenticeship was complete.
Vince was now a serious criminal, and he was going to spend a few years with some of the most vile and hardened criminals that the state of Queensland had to offer.
When you talk about Boggo Road in the 1960s, all roads lead back to a juvenile detention centre called the Westbrook Farm Home for Boys in Toowoomba, west of Brisbane up on the Great Dividing Range.
Westbrook, or the Brook, took in truants, thieves, delinquents, and held them until they were 18 years old.
But instead of reforming them, it became the living embodiment of hell.
Over the years, survivors of Westbrook have shared their horror stories in books and television documentaries. Westbrook wasn’t shut down until 2012.
Montage of archival promotional video and victim testimonials
PROMOTIONAL VIDEO’S MALE VOICEOVER: Set in ideal surroundings, just outside Toowoomba on the Darling Downs is the Westbrook farm home, where delinquent boys of the state are given into the care of the farm supervisor. VICTIM: It was a torture chamber, what they did to the kids in there was unbelievable.
Sound Design: Punching, beating and child begging “no”…
VICTIM: he took me into the office and made me get my gear off and hit me across the back and across the backside. VICTIM: very scary for an eleven year old yeah, being taken away from your family environment and going up to that environment VICTIM: you know, it makes me sick that it was probably Westbrook that caused them to do that PROMOTIONAL VIDEO’S MALE VOICEOVER: the boys are taught every branch of farming both agricultural and dairying and are kept so busy that they do not find time to get into mischief through idleness the discipline is strict but kindly.
Sound Design: Showers running and the guard shouts “common hurry up!”
Westbrook’s unique quality was that it became a nursery for a generation of future criminals. And many of those friendships forged in the nightmare of Westbrook continued on the outside.
Many notorious criminals – and you will meet them as we go on with this story – first met in Westbrook. Then once they were out they graduated to Brisbane’s Boggo Road Gaol.
Vince, sentenced to five years in Boggo, was about to meet a bunch of former Westbrook boys, all with their own skills in robbery, safe-cracking, shoplifting, sexual assault and worse.
One long-term criminal, Gary Lawrence, knew all about the Westbrook boys. Lawrence was a legend in Boggo. He held the Queensland record for the most number of years spent behind bars by someone who had never been charged with murder.
I had been intrigued by the character of Lawrence for years.
I admit I felt a bit intimidated by Lawrence given everything I’d heard about him, but one day I telephoned him on his farm on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and he invited me to visit.
It’s a beautiful property tucked away in the hills and Gary has done a great job with the upkeep, the fencing, and has a few houses on his land. He occasionally runs some cattle.
He appears in his working shorts and blue Jackie Howe singlet, and has a larrikin grin on his face. For all the trouble he’s seen, he is kindly and generous and great company.
He told me about the Brook boys and how they ended up in Boggo Road.
GARY LAWRENCE: A lot of them were fucking ruined, mate. Half of them were sexually assaulted, you know what I mean? Mate, it was a terrible place that Westbrook. I never, ever went there, you know what I mean, but I see a lot of kids that come from there and it was really terrible, mate, fair dinkum, what happened to them.
MATTHEW CONDON: And just created criminals, do you think?
GARY LAWRENCE: Mate, the dodgy bloke who run the place, they used to tie them up to posts and make them run round and round in circles…Christ almighty…and they even had the bigger crims chasing the kids and bringing them back and all that sort of stuff mate, you know. It was just a violent, rotten joint, mate, fair dinkum. Terrible.
MATTHEW CONDON: And a lot of them washed up in Boggo Road.
GARY LAWRENCE: Aww, most of them, most of them did, most of them, you know what I mean? Yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: Lawrence explained to me the routine that Vince had to endure during his time in jail.
GARY LAWRENCE: and even that situation in Boggo Road back in them days was really terrible too, locked in cages, in little cells with shit buckets, Christ Almighty, you know what I mean? When you think of it, you know? No wonder so many people come out killing each other and all that stuff.
In the cell you had a bed without sheets, and a shit tin.
And then there was the food.
If you didn’t understand everything Gary said, don’t worry. He speaks in what is known as Australian strine, or language filled with slang and sayings picked up through experiences we can’t begin to imagine.
But his meaning is clear. Boggo Road Gaol was a nightmare, cold in winter, hot in summer, the food inedible, the conditions atrocious, and the treatment of prisoners subhuman.
In Boggo, Vince was assigned to the boot shop.
On the weekends, prisoners could mingle with other inmates, play cards and have a yarn.
For Vince, his jail stint for bashing the Warwick copper was the opposite of time wasted. In fact, those who knew him in Boggo Road during those two and a half years attested that he used his time to almost completely reinvent himself.
Gone was the brash, violent Bodgie lairing about in leopard-skin pants and mesh T-shirts, bringing attention to himself with his dress and his disdain for authority.
By the time Vince got out of jail in late 1962, he was a fit, hardened, wised-up gangster ready to kill at will. He had shed his skin. Again.
In late 1962 Vince returned home to Warwick a very different animal.
Broke and with a burgeoning criminal record, he got a job on the construction of the Leslie Dam out at Sandy Creek, about 11kms from downtown Warwick.
For all the dam workers, it was tough, back-breaking work out in the middle of nowhere, and a lot of them lived on site. But at least it was honest money.
At the dam, Vince met Raymond Vincent Tommy Allen, 22, who had been partial to the Bodgie lifestyle himself. He was short – five foot six – but had a larrikin streak. Like Vince, he wore leopard skin pants when he went out on the town. Like Vince, he played recreational rugby league on the weekends.
He even set Vince up on a blind date.
That’s when Vince met Margaret, a local girl, who would go on to become his first wife.
Margaret soon learned a few things about Vince. Over time, she grew to fear him.
This is Margaret, being cross-examined by lawyer Garry Forno, who you met in episode one, at a coronial inquest many years later.
Read from the 1980 McCulkin coronial inquest transcript
GARRY FORNO (voiced by an actor): You told us before that you considered O’Dempsey had a large ego, was egotistical.
MARGARET EVANS/O’DEMPSEY (voiced by an actor): I didn’t actually mean it that way. He has a male ego. Which every male seems to have.
GARRY FORNO (voiced by an actor): Well, what do you mean by a male ego?
MARGARET EVANS/O’DEMPSEY (voiced by an actor): Well, he likes to think he’s good looking, attractive to women. That is what I meant by ego.
GARRY FORNO (voiced by an actor): Well, further on, you said, ‘Yes and he tried to murder me once too.’ You’ve told of an occasion when he used violence towards you. Did he threaten to kill you on that occasion?
MARGARET EVANS/O’DEMPSEY (voiced by an actor): He didn’t threaten but I was very frightened at the time.
GARRY FORNO (voiced by an actor): What, frightened for your life to that extent?
MARGARET EVANS/O’DEMPSEY (voiced by an actor): Just frightened of being hurt in some way.”
Vince had been locked away in prison for more than two years, his psychopathic nature bottled up and controlled by the routines of jail. A cluster of his madness was gathering a head of steam.
That broke on the first weekend of March, 1964, when police discovered that the Piggott & Co store in Palmerin Street and Creighton & Co., auctioneers and real estate agents, had been broken into and robbed. Watches, clocks and jewellery had been taken from Piggott’s. Three safes were lifted from Creighton’s.
Piggott’s had been in Palmerin Street forever and was known and loved by generations of locals. Were the thieves men from out of town? Who would violate a Warwick institution?
I have stood in front of what was the old store. The Piggott’s name is still there, high up near the roof of the building.
It was a decent heist for a small town.
Through some excellent police work, detectives traced tyre marks at the scene to the vehicle of a worker at Leslie Dam by the name of Gunther Janke.
Janke shot through to Sydney in Vince’s 1957 Holden Special sedan, taking some of the proceeds of the robbery with him. He left Vince’s car at the wharves at The Rocks, near the southern end of the Harbour Bridge.
Vince managed to hitchhike to Sydney where he found his car. In it, he discovered one of the watches from the Piggott’s heist, so he mailed it back to himself in Stewart Avenue, Warwick, just in case police pulled him over and discovered him with the incriminating evidence.
He then drove back to Warwick.
But people had been talking, and suspicions over the robbery fell on Vince. He was rounded up by police and questioned.
How do we know so much about this long-forgotten case?
Well, I can tell you, because long investigations like this one into Vince sometimes produce surprising finds. And if I hadn’t done a public event for a book up on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast a few years ago I would never have met Kerry McGrath.
Because as it turned out, Kerry’s father was Jack McGrath, the Warwick detective who investigated the Piggott’s robbery, and we wouldn’t have known any of the details of this smalltown crime if Kerry hadn’t stumbled across a copy of official case files in his father’s papers.
I called Kerry on the phone and asked him why his Dad held onto the old documents.
Police charged Vince with the robberies. And some locals were going to have to appear as a witness against him in court.
As it stood, Vince was not going to go back to jail if he could help it.
Vince’s committal hearing was set down for June 30.
And the witnesses? They never showed up in court.
So the case against Vince evaporated.
That Vince got away with the robberies did not change officer Jack McGrath’s opinion of a young Vince. Jack often talked to his son Kerry about the Warwick hooligan.
Vince had dodged a bullet and this close shave unsettled him.
He quit his job at the dam and went to live briefly in Brisbane with Margaret near the end of 1964.
They then moved briefly to Sydney, where Vince established his links with Sydney organised crime and became a gun for hire.
He earned the admiration of one gangster in particular – Frederick “Paddles” Anderson - the unofficial Godfather of Sydney organised crime. If you needed a job done, you could rely on Vince. And as Vince himself always said – business is business.
Wazza McDonald says of Vince’s friendship with Paddles:
MATTHEW CONDON: I’m trying to remember what you said about that.
WAZZA: How he loved tough guys?
MATTHEW CONDON: Yep.
WAZZA: He was the godfather of the Sydney underworld, and he was the true godfather, and that came from Vince as well. And Dad. But that come from Vince and Old Paddles
MATTHEW CONDON: And he would have liked Vince?
WAZZA: He loved Vince.
MATTHEW CONDON: Why do you think?
WAZZA: Because Vince would go and do work for him.
That work was contract killing.
I’m not sure even Paddles Anderson knew what he had on his hands with the likes of Vince O’Dempsey.
But his days as a Sydney gangster didn’t last long. In November 1965 - just as Margaret gave birth to their first child, Sharon - Vince was arrested and charged with being in possession of a firearm. As a convicted felon, he was sentenced to one year in jail. He would serve about six months.
Shortly after his release from prison Vince struck up a friendship with Brisbane crook Billy McCulkin, who was kicking around in Sydney at the time, and back in Brisbane in 1966 they hatched a plan to rob a safe from the Waltons department store in Fortitude Valley.
Vince had learned the safe-cracking trade from the best in the business when he was in Boggo Road, and was applying his new skills on the outside.
They did the job, but someone ratted them out to then corrupt Queensland detective Glen Hallahan.
Vince was sentenced to five years in Boggo Road. McCulkin spent one month on remand and was released.
It was during his second tour of duty in Boggo, however, that Vince established relationships that would last the rest of his criminal career.
It is where he met, and became very close to, Gary Lawrence.
I asked Gary when he first met Vince, and he takes me back to Boggo Road Gaol in Brisbane in 1966. Lawrence was already serving time there when Vince went in on the safe job conviction.
Gary was in his early 20s. He’d been in and out of jail before being charged for a gang assault on a young male university student in a Brisbane park. The case, investigated by Detective Tony Murphy, was a front-page scandal.
Here is Gary talking about when he first met Vince…
LAWRENCE: Well, yeah. He come in the yard and straight away he knew… mates straight away. The water finds the same level.
MATTHEW CONDON: Had you ever heard of him before?
LAWRENCE: No, never fucking heard nothing. I didn’t know anything about all this killing and all this shit until I got out.
Inside, they gasbagged and played cards.
As Lawrence recalls…
Gary Lawrence also recalls a horrifying conversation he had with Vince during their time together in Two Jail.
It was a passing chat that Garry has never been able to get out of his head.
Vince told Gary that the devil had visited him in his cell, and had spoken to him, but Vince couldn’t work out what the Devil was saying.
So Gary and Vince become close friends. Then convicted rapist “Shorty” Dubois gets on with Vince. And through Shorty, Vince gets to know Tommy Hamilton and Peter Hall and Keith Meredith. These men would form the nucleus of the notorious Clockwork Orange Gang. We’ll learn more of their criminal activities soon.
But Vince had joined a powerful alliance that would serve him well decades into the future. And when it came to Shorty, they would be bound for life by murder.
Vince served his time and was released from prison in late 1970.
By chance Vince’s friend Bob was released at exactly the same hour, on exactly the same day as Vince.
Both men walked out of jail together.
This is what Bob told me about that haunting moment.
MATTHEW CONDON: You said that great line to me…he came out a bright, shining monster…what do you think that stretch, that second stretch in Boggo Road for Vince…it was probably the worst possible thing, literally for society, to put a psychopath like that in Boggo Road at that moment in his life when he’s going to come out as this total, fully-fledged psychopath.
BOB: Well he was one before he went there.
MATTHEW CONDON: What do you think Boggo Road did to him?
BOB: It makes you a bit harder and more determined to, you know, break the law…
Bob told me that at this moment, Vince turned to him and said: Today is a black day for society.
A monster had been unchained.
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