"Shorty" Dubois, Vince's accomplice, confessed the details of the horrific McCulkin murders to Peter Hall. Peter watched as the impact of his crimes crept into O'Dempsey's behaviour, and saw Vince become increasingly erratic. (Photo: Nine / 60 Minutes)
Vince had murdered Barbara McCulkin and her daughters in cold blood. He had broke the number one rule, "no women or children"... and now he was on the run.
Tony Murphy's recent promotion to Assistant Commissioner meant he was responsible for solving the McCulkin murders. His top informant Vince O'Dempsey was now a suspect, and on the run. Their relationship was in bits, and Murphy needed to convict Vince to save his own skin.
Dianne Pritchard was Vince's partner for many years. She endured years of physical, emotional and pschological abuse, and was on the run with Vince following the McCulkin murders.
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Whooshkaa Studios: Listeners are advised that this podcast contains coarse language and adult themes, and is not suitable for younger ears.
It’s a cloudy winter’s morning and I’m back in Farmer *’s battered ute driving through bushland on the outskirts of Warwick.
The ute is shuddering across a potholed dirt track.
You’ll remember Farmer *. He was fossicking a few years ago through a public reserve called Morgan Park, outside town, and believes he may have stumbled across killer Vince O’Dempsey’s private graveyard.
Morgan Park - a tract of thick bushland just outside Vince’s hometown, like Ghost Gate Road, with the same hollow deadness and eerie remoteness. The same hardwood trees, granite outcrops, caves and tall grass.
A place with an identical type of atmosphere that puts all your senses on alert and whispers to you - stay sharp, something terrible has happened here.
We’re getting closer.
And this time I’ve come back with a singular purpose - to see if the story we know about the McCulkins, and their last horrifying moments, matches this landscape.
MATTHEW CONDON: So in ‘74 the possibility of you being seen here would be pretty remote.
FARMER *: You would never be seen here.
MATTHEW CONDON: Why I’m thinking it’s so attractive to someone like O’Dempsey is that it’s not far from town, is it? It’s not far from Stewart Avenue.
FARMER *: That’s right, and he used to meet… later on, when they were growing their stuff… he used to meet Wazza at that road just opposite Morgan park down there.
MATTHEW CONDON: Yeah.
FARMER *: Dead Horse Lane.
MATTHEW CONDON: Wazza said that, that they had meetings there, I think one of their last meetings, before Vince’s arrest, was down at that juncture there. So he knew this area.
FARMER *: Yeah, he knew this area for sure.
All we know from Peter Hall, who was told the story of the murders by Vince’s accomplice and his then friend, Shorty Dubois, the day after the killings, is this: Vince parked the orange Charger close to bushland so the car wouldn’t get scratched; Barbara and the girls, Vicki and Leanne, had their hands bound and were marched through a shallow creek; along the banks of the creek were some willow trees; then the murder party proceeded up a hill for some time. They reached the graveyard. Then the McCulkin girls were raped and killed.
MATTHEW CONDON: The story…the story as told by Shorty Dubois to Peter Hall the next day, January 17, 1974, was that it was somewhere outside Warwick, that they’d walked Barbara and the girls through a shallow creek, and up a slight rise…there’s a creek at the back of this site, isn’t there?
FARMER *: Yes, I’ll take you out that way.
MATTHEW CONDON: Yep. I mean, what do you think you’ve found?
FARMER *: Well I reckon there’s bodies buried there.
MATTHEW CONDON: Yep. And there’s more than one gravesite there.
FARMER *: Oh yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: I mean if the stories are true, the quote private graveyard of Vince O’Dempsey…there’s more than one person in there.
FARMER *:: Yeah, that’s right.
I need to know if there was a back road to the Morgan Park reserve. Vince would not risk being seen by driving the bright Charger, with three women tied up in the backseat, through the main entrance.
MATTHEW CONDON: So in 1974 if you wanted to get into Morgan Park but you didn’t want to park where your car could be seen at any point, is there a back way into it? Or was there?
FARMER *: Well…where we come from the yards down there…along there, I think there was a couple of old gates.
We drive around the perimeter fence of Morgan Park, and true to his word, Farmer * takes me to the rear entrance to this tract of bush. He knows this place. He says the dirt road into the rear of this bushland has been there for decades.
MATTHEW CONDON: So this would’ve been the road into the back of Morgan Park?
FARMER *: Yep. Yep. Well, you could come in this way, or the other way…here’s the creek
MATTHEW CONDON: Here’s the creek. Has it got a name?
FARMER *: Glengallan and Connelly Dam’s on it, and it comes down into Warwick.
MATTHEW CONDON: possibly. So where would the willow trees have been? By the creek?
FARMER *: Well there’s willow trees just along there, everywhere…
MATTHEW CONDON: Oh yes. It’s got willow trees on it.
Farmer * identifies a decent road where a car might be parked without getting damaged. Then the creek. And the willow trees.
All that remains is the final journey up a rise to the gravesite.
FARMER *: Here’s the track that runs up to the graves.
MATTHEW CONDON: Okay, so that…
FARMER *: And that was always there, that track.
MATTHEW CONDON: So that’s an old track that runs up to the graves about 400 metres.
FARMER *: Yeah.
Creek. Willows. A track and steady ascent through the bush to the graves.
Farmer * and I get back into his ute. And for a while, we say nothing.
This just might be it.
The map to Vince’s best-kept secret.
From Whooshkaa Studios, I’m Matthew Condon and this is Ghost Gate Road. In this episode, Vince and Dianne, on the run, spend years trying to keep one step ahead of the police. People around Vince continue to go missing. Even a coroner’s recommendation that he be charged with the murder of the McCulkins fails to stick. And he looks home free, until two modern-day cold case detectives set their crosshairs on this relentless killer.
News and Archival footage with people close to O’Dempsey’s crimes, with tense music throughout.
GARY LAWRENCE: There was no DNA, there was no fucking cameras. You could kill back in them days and the chance of getting pinched if you left no body or stuff around, would be fucking zero, if you never talked. Now, fuck me dead, you couldn’t even go down the fucking road here
BOB: So then we were driving back and there’s this girl hitchhiking on the other side of the road. He said go down where she can’t see and turn around and we’ll throw her in the car and do a coldie.
GARY LAWRENCE: Too much happens around him. That’s not coincidence, They just disa-fucking-pear.
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: When you start off with this investigation, as we did, “Righto, we’ve got to wipe everything out of our mind that we’ve either read or heard,” particularly hearing from other police, because that can be tainted. So we said, “Right, no contact with any of the former police until absolutely necessary.” And that’s why we went about… And then when you start to pull these other ones together you say, “Oh, far more than a couple incidents.”
BOB: and she grabbed the stock and pointed it at him and pulled the trigger.
Vince, on the run, might logically decide to keep a low profile. To draw no attention to himself. To damp down his wildest instincts and disappear into the crowd.
He had police looking for him. Then two Queensland detectives would launch the most serious investigation ever conducted into his life and crimes.
You’d think, being the chief murder suspect in a triple murder involving innocent children, it would have been sensible for Vince to have gone off grid.
But the opposite happened.
In the almost six years between the murder of the McCulkins outside Warwick and Vince’s arrest and appearance at a Coronial Inquest in Brisbane in 1980, he wandered the east coast of Australia, shacking up with criminal associates, taking refuge in Catholic presbyteries and remote Christian camps, sometimes hiding out in a caravan.
He learned, during those lost years, to bury what might be called “escape kits” off highways and byways if he ever got caught in a jam - bundles of drugs, cash and weapons. Just in case.
And during that time frame, Brisbane brothel madam Simone Vogel, who had strong links to both Vince and Dianne, disappeared. Hitchhikers on roads and highways familiar to Vince vanished without trace. There were murders, including that of a child linked to Vince’s psychopath mate, gangster Stuart John Regan, and a petty thief who was involved in rebirthing stolen cars with corrupt police in Brisbane.
Vince allegedly raped both men and women, his mates having either witnessed or been told about the atrocities by Vince himself, and brutal assaults on his long-suffering de facto partner, Dianne Pritchard.
One of those who had a firsthand view of Vince on the run was his old mate Garry Lawrence. Lawrence lived and worked with Vince on and off during that time, and saw things he’d rather forget.
GARY LAWRENCE: So, I think why he got away with all these fucking murders and everything because there was no DNA, there was no fucking cameras. You could kill some cunt back in them days and the chance of getting pinched if you left no body or stuff around, would be fucking zero, if you never talked. Now, fuck me dead, you couldn’t even go down the fucking road here and fucking six cunts see you on the fucking camera.
MATTHEW CONDON: Do you have any doubt that Vince is a killer?
GARY LAWRENCE: Oh I reckon he is yeah. That’s my opinion. Too much happens around him. That’s not coincidence, too strong, too much evidence. They just disa-fucking-pear.
Almost six years of total madness, before police finally had their man. Six years of blood and violence and fraud and an ever-rising count of missing persons.
What happened to Margaret Grace Ward, the country girl who ended up working in Vince’s massage parlour - Polonia’s - and vanished before she could testify in court against Dianne Pritchard? Did Vince have anything to do with the vanishing of brothel madam Simone Vogel, who was having problems with corrupt police? And had been having arguments with Dianne, who occasionally worked in Vogel’s Brisbane brothels during this period?
Murphy was desperate to find Vince and have a word with him. He’d lost control of his prized informant, his Frankenstein was on the loose.
Within days of the murders, Vince and his de facto Dianne fled Queensland and slipped over the border into NSW. They headed straight to a place called Hawks Nest, a small coastal village just north of Newcastle, a couple of hours drive from Sydney.
Vince knew Clockwork Orange ganger Peter Hall was staying there with a mate, Bob. You might remember Bob. He was the prisoner released from Boggo Road the same day as Vince at the end of 1970, and heard Vince say: “It’s a black day for society today.”
Shorty had given Vince Peter’s phone number down south.
Hall remembers Vince and Di turning up.
MATTHEW CONDON: Did you know that Vince was going to crash in on the scene or did he just turn up?
PETER HALL: He just turned up, yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: He stayed there with you guys for a little bit?
PETER HALL: Yeah, he stayed there with BLEEP for a little bit, yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: Were you staying with BLEEP there?
PETER HALL: Only for the short time I was down there and then I went back up to Brisbane.
Hall said he suspected Vince had killed the McCulkins. He still didn’t want to believe that Shorty was involved.
Peter and Bob remember one startling thing about Vince when they first saw him. He had shaved his hair an inch or two back from his actual hairline. They assumed this was a partial disguise. That Vince was trying to create the illusion that he was balding or that his hair was receding.
Peter recalled that Vince was more peculiar than usual at that time.
PETER HALL: I don’t know what he was doing…he was drawing maps. He come out with things that were really stupid. Some of it might have come from when he was in the Army before they threw him out. He kept coming out with these stupid sayings like – shoot for the chest, don’t try and shoot them in the shoulder or the leg because you might miss.Then he was showing us boulder formations. Tree formations. That had us in stitches of laughter.
MATTHEW CONDON: This is how to camouflage yourself in the bush?
PETER HALL: Yeah. You’re supposed to stand there with one arm up above your head and one out to one side, that was tree formation. Boulder formation, you had to get down and crouch on the ground, on your hands and knees, and roll your body up as tight as you could.
MATTHEW CONDON: Oh God.
PETER HALL: That might help a little bit in the dark, but in broad daylight…you’d still see it was a person.
MATTHEW CONDON: That’s right.
PETER HALL: I honestly thought it would’ve been better to hide behind a tree and not stand like a tree formation. We ran out of the joint, got into the car and drove around the corner, and just couldn’t stop laughing. I don’t know how you can describe it…he is very intelligent in some cases, but he was bordering on being insane in others. Some of the things that come out of his mouth…
MATTHEW CONDON: Was there anything that you noticed…apart from that, which is bizarre…did you notice anything different about him given he’d just murdered a woman and two children pretty much the week before. Hall: No. Not that I knew him that well, but he didn’t seem any different to what he’d normally been.
Peter and Bob tolerated Vince’s bizarre behaviour.
Vince talked about robbing banks. About shoot-outs with police. How you used a 303 rifle for long-range work, and .45 pistols for close killing.
Then one day, Bob took Vince surf fishing. Bob loved to fish and was an experienced angler. Vince was not.
For decades, keen fishermen had thrown a line in around the twin villages of Hawkes Nest and Tea Gardens, separated by the Myall River on the northern shore of Port Stephens. You could almost guarantee catching blackfish off the Tea Gardens jetty, bream and flathead from the Hawkes Nest boat ramp, and plenty of tailor, dart and jewfish off Hawkes Nest’s Bennetts Beach, or The Main Beach as locals called it.
Bob’s favourite spot was up the beach.
Vince and Di tagged along.
At some point, Bob reached into his fishing bag and realised he’d mislaid the paring knife he used to cut up bait.
That’s when Vince said to him - here, you can use my knife.
The knife itself resembled a Scout’s knife. It had some weight to it but the blade wasn’t overly long.
Vince could hardly get the hook and bait in the water. He’d cast and the line would tangle behind him. Dianne made jokes about how hopeless he was.
Then they all went back home.
When Vince asked for his knife back, Bob couldn’t find it in the tackle bag. He’d lost Vince’s knife too.
And Vince went off his brain.
I’ll buy you another knife, Bob said.
But Vince was beside himself. I trusted you to keep it safe, Vince went on.
Vince was so distraught about the lost knife that he went back to the beach to search for it. But it was gone for good.
Peter Hall remembers the blow up.
PETER HALL: (Laughs) That will go down in the annals of history and how lucky was…he blew up about BLEEP losing the knife. He said it’s just a knife, we’ll get you BLEEP another one. That’s not the same! And it didn’t dawn on us until much later that…God knows how many people he killed with that knife. You know, he was so attached to it.
MATTHEW CONDON: You actually saw him blow up at BLEEP?
PETER HALL: I did see him having a whinge later on about the knife. Christ almighty. I thought to myself then, it’s a frigging knife, you know, just replace it.
MATTHEW CONDON: But you wouldn’t have thought at the time it was probably a serial killer’s treasured possession.
PETER HALL: They say they like to take trophies off their victims, but this would be extra special. You could only try and guess how many people he killed with it. The joke was he only told Caroline’s daughter, I’ve only killed 30, or 30-odd, and that was to make her feel safer. More like 130. But I don’t know. Things like that you look back now and think to yourself – we are both lucky that nothing bad happened to us.
Did Vince lose his mind over the knife because it was actually the weapon that had ended the lives of the McCulkins less than a week earlier? Was it a serial killer’s trophy, now lost forever to the tides of Port Stephens?
It was not the only drama involving Vince in Hawkes Nest.
There was the issue of his pathological fascination with female hitchhikers.
One day Peter, Bob and Vince planned to steal a safe from a business in a nearby country town.
They drove to the job. Vince sat in the backseat, heavily armed.
Bob tells the story.
BOB: We had to go and get a trolley to put the safe on. Well fucking Vince he’s sitting in the back with a fucking big gun and fuck knows what else he had there… So we drove up to Macksville and I thought there’d be somewhere around here where we’d buy one of something, but it might have been the Saturday. I think it was over the Easter weekend. There was a newsagent there so I drove down the laneway and I jumped out and the roller door was up a little bit and I rolled under and I come out with a fucking trolley. I threw it on the back seat. It went on Vince’s gun. Ohh, me fucking gun, watch what you’re doing there. So then we were driving back and there’s this girl hitchhiking on the other side of the road. He said go down where she can’t see and turn around and we’ll throw her in the car and do a coldie. Just a cold murder and fucking bury her.
MATTHEW CONDON: A coldie?
BOB: Coldie, that’s what he called it…it was some word like that…that’s what he sort of meant, you know? I said leave me out of that fucking shit. Peter Hall’s laughing. We went for a beer or something and I said to Peter, don’t fucking laugh at that cunt, you’ll be in agreeance with him. He’s fucking silly enough now.
MATTHEW CONDON: Did you say you were sitting in the front seat and you were worried?
BOB: All the hair went up on the back of me neck. Oh god. I hope he doesn’t shoot me or something.
MATTHEW CONDON: So a total opportunist.
BOB: Yeah. How many has he done like that?
MATTHEW CONDON: Yeah.
BOB: He asked me, Mick Dowie, he said how many people do you reckon he’s killed? I said probably a hundred. He laughed. I said I don’t know what you’re fucking laughing at. Time tells you he would have killed that many people.
MATTHEW CONDON: Yep. And the only times he stops is when he’s in jail. BOB: Yeah.
Then there was the incident with Dianne and the gun.
Vince had never had a problem attracting women with his intelligence and charm, but over time his true nature leeched to the surface - the physical violence, the sexual objectifying - and Dianne was no exception.
Bob, for the life of him, couldn’t understand why she stayed in a relationship with Vince. What he witnessed at Hawkes Nest was just a glimpse into what must have been a relentless nightmare for Dianne.
MATTHEW CONDON: Why the hell did Dianne Pritchard stay with Vince? After everything he’d done?
BOB: Do you know what? I don’t know. I don’t know. For the life of me I don’t know.
MATTHEW CONDON: I mean, he played up on her, he hog-tied her, pimped her out as a prostitute. I don’t know what more a man could do, so foul, against his partner, and she still hung around.
BOB: I think she was given to him by that Regan or somebody.
MATTHEW CONDON: Stewart John Regan.
BOB: Yeah, I think so.
MATTHEW CONDON: I mean you met her, was she in an almost permanent state of inebriation? What was her mental state?
BOB: Yeah. If you let her go. I felt…at the way he treated her. He’d never give her…I don’t know what it was…she was sort of the golden-hearted prostitute.
MATTHEW CONDON: She had good qualities, didn’t she? You recognised it.
BOB: Yeah, I could see it.
MATTHEW CONDON: And what were they? What could you see?
BOB: She was as kind as a kitten, she’d do anything if anyone…you know…just say you said I haven’t got any money, well she wouldn’t have had any but if she had she would’ve given it to you. I see her give people stuff. But you couldn’t ever go to a pub or anything, you know, you’d have to get her out.
MATTHEW CONDON: What would happen?
BOB: She was sort of different when he wasn’t there I think. she was just sort of, she’d laugh a lot more and that sort of stuff you know?
MATTHEW CONDON: Did you ever see him beat her or backhand her?
BOB: Yeah I think I..I can’t remember where but I’m pretty sure I saw him fucking backhand her or something. He tied her up, when he came down to where I was.
MATTHEW CONDON: Yep.
BOB: And me and Peter Hall were there…she was getting on the drink and that and Peter used to have a drink…the next thing he’s got her tied up.
But everyone had their limits. And Dianne seemed to have reached hers when they were hiding out in Hawke’s Nest.
Bob saw the moment with his own eyes.
BOB: I know when he backhanded her. There was a gun there or something and he had it and she said, ‘That doesn’t even work.’ And he had hold of it halfway and she grabbed the stock and pointed it at him and pulled the trigger.
MATTHEW CONDON: You’re kidding.
BOB: The safety was on.
MATTHEW CONDON: It wasn’t loaded?
BOB: That was the time when that comment come out, something about – I couldn’t catch it properly…
MATTHEW CONDON: This was down in Hawkes Nest?
MATTHEW CONDON: And she grabbed the gun and she actually pulled the trigger?
BOB: Pulled the trigger. And he backhanded her.
MATTHEW CONDON: No bullets in it?
BOB: No bullets or the safety was off.
Both Peter and Bob witnessed the altercation, and hear Di say to Vince as she held the gun: “You took my friend away.” She was talking about the young country girl, Margaret Grace Ward, who had worked with Di in Vince’s Brisbane massage parlour, Polonia’s, and had mysteriously vanished in late 1973.
MATTHEW CONDON: And then he backhanded her after that?
MATTHEW CONDON: Oh my god. Do you reckon she knew it was not loaded?
BOB: She tried to kill him.
MATTHEW CONDON: So the only way that she could escape Vince, really, was to kill him.
After a few weeks, Peter and Bob saw enough of Vince’s unhinged and erratic behaviour to prepare themselves for the worst. They both bought new shotguns. To kill Vince if they had to. YB
MATTHEW CONDON: Peter Hall said something really interesting to me, almost like he was talking to himself…he said he wishes he’d personally killed O’Dempsey when he had the chance, and that he might have saved some lives if he did. What do you think about that?
BOB: It’s true because we went and bought two shotguns. When we left I said to Peter this bloke can’t live without us, I said he’ll be trying to contact us. And if he rang where Peter was…I said I’m not going anywhere near that bloke ever again in my fucking life. I said if he starts hassling us and demanding we go down and see him, I said we’ve got to end it because he’ll end up killing us both. So we went and bought two brand new pump actions.
MATTHEW CONDON: Was that after Hawkes Nest?
MATTHEW CONDON: You twigged very early on, and probably Peter too, that you had to be alert around Vince and that he could literally do anything, include kill you.
BOB: He wanted to kill that hitchhiker. Every day he’d come out with a new fucking map he’d drawn and we need long range weapons and short-range weapons and automatic weapons. If the police were going to chase you needed a couple of 303’s. All this shit he used to go on with.
MATTHEW CONDON: How did he view himself? As some weird movie star?
BOB: Yeah, I think…
MATTHEW CONDON: So he actually wanted to be notorious?
BOB: It looks that way, yeah.
MATTHEW CONDON: So that points to very healthy ego, doesn’t it?
BOB: Oh he had the ego.
MATTHEW CONDON: But if you were under threat from this guy, you wouldn’t hesitate to kill him?
BOB: You’d have to make sure you got the drop on him. You couldn’t miss.
MATTHEW CONDON: Did you and Peter ever talk about that, if it came to that?
BOB: That’s why we bought the fucking shotguns, to kill him if it come to that…we knew he only had a pistol, that’s the only armaments he had. We discussed it and we’d get straight into the car and give it to him with the shotguns.
After several weeks in Hawkes Nest, Vince and Dianne were on the move again. They had resolved their feud despite Dianne pulling a pistol on Vince and pulling the trigger.
They dropped into Sydney, a city that had always had plenty of work for a gunman like Vince, but this time around the rules had changed.
The underworld was aware that Vince may have been involved in the disappearance and murder of the McCulkins. He had broken the sacred code - women and children were off limits. Vince had violated both.
So Sydney’s big mobsters and its criminal gangs wiped their hands of Vince O’Dempsey. His work dried up to nothing.
He was forced to live off the earnings of Dianne who was back on the streets as a prostitute.
Maybe the underworld had had enough of psychopaths in its ranks.
In September 1974, when Vince was in Sydney, his doppleganger friend, gangster Stuart John Regan, was gunned down on the evening of Sunday, September 22, 1974, in the streets of Marrickville. He was shot once in the back and fell to the ground, before being shot another seven times in the back of the head and chest. The bullets came from three different .38 calibre revolvers.
Around this time, Vince and Di headed north again, and crossed into Queensland, near Warwick, to meet up briefly with Shorty.
Vince had suggested to Di they disappear into the bush and live in a dugout, surviving off the land. Returning to a primal existence.
She didn’t go for it.
They were back in Sydney in the first half of 1975 where, as we know, Vince was charged with possession of a sawn-off shotgun and living off the earnings of prostitution, and it was at this time that he was interviewed extensively by Detective White from Brisbane.
He served a year in jail on those charges, then felt comfortable enough to return to Queensland where, stoney broke, he secured one of the few legitimate jobs in his lifetime.
He worked, along with his mate Garry Lawrence, painting houses up and down the Queensland coast. Vince turned up each day in immaculate white overalls. And at the end of a day’s work an obsessive Vince would completely dismantle, clean and rebuild the spray-painting guns.
Once, Vince helped a customer pick the colour scheme for her house, with disastrous results. It wasn’t the sort of job to give someone who was completely colour blind.
One member of the painting crew who worked alongside Vince remembered:
At one point, around 1977, Vince and Di moved in with Garry Lawrence and his then wife Deidre at their house in Brisbane’s Holland Park, on the city’s southside. Vince was still painting houses with Garry’s crew in Brisbane.
That’s when Vince and Di had a big fight.
What he did to Di was an act that shocked even hardened-crim Garry. And it terrified Deidre.
She would later tell police:
Garry Lawrence remembers a night when all hell broke loose.
What happened next gave Gary a deeply disturbing snapshot of Vince’s psychopathology.
Vince and Di had been a couple for about five years, and during that time he had pimped her out as a prostitute, slept with other women, verbally and physically abused her and left her tied up and alone for days at a time.
She was surely aware that he was a rapist and now a woman and child killer.
What kept Di in Vince’s orbit?
Friends and colleagues who knew them both uniformly shake their head over the partnership, even today. They said Di was a hopeless drunk. A woman trapped in a cycle impossible to escape.
Bob remembers her with sadness.
MATTHEW CONDON: I’m tempted to look at poor Di and say that she had a death wish staying with him.
BOB: She could have done, too, yeah. She had nothing, he never gave her…there was just nothing.
MATTHEW CONDON: But there was a good soul in there somewhere.
BOB: Yeah…geez it was well buried though.
MATTHEW CONDON: I don’t want to criticise her because she’s dead, but what was she like as a mother?
BOB: Well she wasn’t the Virgin Mary. She tried for the kids…but she was like a kid more than anything, you know what I mean. She must have had a shit of a life in her day, I don’t know what happened to her, but I know she got that sentence in Sydney. And the fact that she used to go out and prostitute herself and come back and give that cunt the money. Garry told me that he used to make her hitchhike than catching a bus or a train to save money.
MATTHEW CONDON: So very sad.
BOB: I don’t believe people should be degraded like that.
It’s a Friday night in early 1977 and police of all ranks have gathered for drinks after work in the Queensland Police Club, on the top floor of a building in Makerston Street in Brisbane.
The club was famous for its conviviality and one specific item on the menu. Crab pot lunches. It was said some senior police regularly flew up from Sydney under the guise of business, but really came for the meaty Moreton Bay crabs.
And the club tradition had always been that if senior officers had a few too many, young police would be tasked with getting their superiors home safely.
On this particular Friday night, Queensland police constables Alan Marshall and Trevor Menary were asked just that - to chauffeur home a boss. This time it was none other than Detective Tony Murphy, head of the Brisbane CIB, who had recently been promoted to Assistant Commissioner.
Marshall recalls the moment that changed his and his partner’s careers.
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Friday night he’d been to the police club. We’ve asked to go over and pick him up, been conveying to his residence. And he said, I want to look at cleaning up some more of these unsolved murders. It was obvious by the time he wasn’t real happy with what was happening, in the homicide squad. And, anyway, he said, “look there’s one there, it’s the McCulkin from the Gabba, it’s in your area I’d like you to think about whether you’d like to do this or not,”.. And Trevor said, well when the chief for the CIB ask you to do something, you don’t turn around and say no. And we met with Murphy, and he said that we would have to work from the Gabba.
MATTHEW CONDON: So do you think he was serious about this investigation?
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Yeah, I did.
MATTHEW CONDON: So you’ve agreed to do the McCulkin re-investigation. So this is three years after the disappearances.
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Yeah I’m sure it was.
MATTHEW CONDON: Was the first thing you did, grab the case file?
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Yeah. Yeah, if you could call it that.
MATTHEW CONDON: What did you find? How did even after all these years, what did you find?
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Well, we found several sheets of paper, of running sheets and, that was about it.
MATTHEW CONDON: Totally disorganized.
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Absolutely. Not too much detail at all. MATTHEW CONDON: Was it almost like starting from scratch?
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: It was. Well that’s what we did. We sat down and look, we had to organise photographs that had been taken and never been developed.
MATTHEW CONDON: You’re kidding. They’d never been developed?
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Never developed.
Finally, more than three years after the McCulkins vanished, two honest police officers were asked by Murphy to solve the suspected triple murder cold case.
But why, especially as Vince, the prime suspect, was Murphy’s star informant? Why would Murphy try and bring down Vince?
Or was that really what he was doing?
On the surface, Murphy had two good men looking to solve an horrific presumed triple murder. As head of the CIB, it appeared that Murphy was acting responsibly. Marshall and Menary reported directly to him.
But let’s play the Devil’s Advocate for a minute. Murphy was solely in charge of the new investigation. And ultimately it gave him control of the narrative, should anything surprising be uncovered.
Murphy had a second agenda. He was trying to find his loose cannon. Vince was of no fixed address, a psychopath without anchor.
What Murphy didn’t know at that moment, however, was that Vince had taken refuge in the arms of Jesus.
PASTOR CLARK TAYLOR: Welcome to A New Way of Living, coming to you today from Christian Outreach Centre, located at 100 Victoria Street, West End, Brisbane. I invite you to stay tuned as we worship and praise our God together.
SINGING AND CLAPPING OF WORSHIPPERS
That’s Pastor Clark Taylor, son of a Queensland farmer and Australia’s first tele-evangelist. He helped found the Christian Outreach Centre ministry which, by the late 1970s, had several churches and a special Bible College at the foot of Mount Tuchekoi outside Gympie, north of Brisbane.
It’s where killer Vince and his partner Dianne Pritchard turned up while on the run from authorities. Vince had quit the house painting trade with his mate Garry Lawrence, and had moved north to the christian compound, helping with manual labour and maintenance around the property, and occasionally ran some Bible courses.
As for Dianne, she continued to earn money by hitchhiking to Brisbane and working shifts for brothel madam Simone Vogel, who had taken over Vince’s massage parlour, Polonia’s, after he was forced to abandon it following the McCulkin murders.
The Bible college suited Vince. He knew the Good Book back to front.
And this is one of the more curious contradictions about him.
He had been raised a good Catholic boy in Warwick, to parents who were devoted to the church and worshipped every day.
At the same time, Vince had criticised the Church and was certain that the decorative markings on the Pope’s tall hat, or mitre, was the 666 mark of the devil.
Hadn’t he been visited by the devil in his cell in Boggo Road Jail in Brisbane in the 1960s?
Still, during his years on the run after the McCulkin murders, according to police investigations and criminal associates, he often sought shelter with religious groups.
He and Di had been taken in variously by the Church of the Latter Day Saints in Mullumbimby in far northern NSW, in Catholic quarters in Brisbane, and now by Pastor Clark and his spiritual family at the foot of Mount Tuchekoi.
Pastor Clark had even formally married Vince and Di in early 1979.
But Detectives Marshall and Menary were on Vince’s tail.
In mid-1979, he and other police went to pay Vince a visit at the Bible College. Also present were two Federal police officers who wanted to interview Vince about a scam linked to the national health insurer, then called Medibank, that he’d been involved in with Gary Lawrence.
The scam had been cooked up a couple of years earlier, when Vince and Gary were working together as house painters.
Gary and others were arrested, charged and jailed for the fraud. But no authorities came near Vince. Until now.
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL(voiced by an actor): So, we went up there with the view that, okay, we want to talk to him about the murders. Conroy and Adams had sufficient evidence to just put their hand on his shoulder and say, you’re under arrest for imposition, forgery, this and that. That was all to do with Medibank frauds.
MATTHEW CONDON: That’s right. Yeah.
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: So what we thought we’d do, we would let Conroy and Adams, this was a fatal mistake, Conroy and Adam’s to talk to him. And if he told him nothing, well they were then to leave the room and then we’d come in and we would start interviewing him about the other things. But it didn’t happen that way. They went in and they sat down and said, “Well, we only want to talk to you about imposition. We’ve got these documents, all these things, dah, dah.” And he said, “The state police…” Adams said, “The state police want to talk to you about some murders.” So guess what happens? He says, “Look, I’ll tell you what. I’ll do a deal with you. If you get me a solicitor, I will admit to these things for you.”
MATTHEW CONDON: To their charges of imposition etc?
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Up until this point in O’Dempsey’s career, he has never confessed to a thing. If you have a look at all court documents and everything, O’Dempsey will tell you, you’re the detective, you go and fucking well find out.
MATTHEW CONDON: Or no comment.
FORMER DETECTIVE ALAN MARSHALL: Or no comment. That’s it. So, this solicitor turns up. So we’re hovering around out on the ground and waiting on our turn to get hold of him. And of course we get in, there was no comment, no comment, no comment. We’ve got nowhere to go. So, that was our interview with him.
Somehow Vince had managed to use the Federal Police and their petty charges to blindside the Queensland police, who were desperate to interview him about the McCulkins.
Then they pulled Dianne Pritchard aside.
According to a record of that interview by Marshall, and later repeated in court, Marshall found Di in a caravan on the Mount Tuchekoi property. Police went to search the van. The exchange went like this:
ACTORS: DIANNE PRITCHARD AND ALAN MARSHALL (voiced by actors):
DIANNE: Would you mind if I got a Christian here whilst you search? We haven’t got any guns here. We are Christians now and we don’t need them.
MARSHALL: We are making investigations into the disappearance of Barbara May McCulkin and her two daughters. Was Mrs McCulkin and her two daughters known to you?
DIANNE: Yes. You’re not trying to put that onto Vince too, are you? Vince told me not to say anything to you and I’ve already said enough. I was a prostitute. I’ve found God now. I’m a Christian. These people here are wonderful. I’ve even seen them make legs grow. I went close to the stage to have a look before I believed it.
As for Vince, he could feel the noose tightening.
In an act of supreme arrogance, he issued a press release.
He said of being questioned by Detectives Marshall and Menary:
He protested his innocence. And Vince said Barbara McCulkin had left the family home in Dorchester Street because of Billy’s philandering.
Despite their setbacks, Detectives Marshall and Menary believed they had enough evidence and witnesses to get Vince and Shorty Dubois charged with the McCulkin murders.
On a humid February day in 1980 the Brisbane suburb of Holland Park, 6kms south-east of the Brisbane CBD, hosted the biggest show in town in its dour magistrates’ court - the inquest into the disappearance and suspected murders of the McCulkins, massage parlour worker Margaret Grace Ward and Tommy Allen.
Why a case of such importance was shoved into a suburban courthouse is a mystery, but the inquest, held before coroner Robert William Boujoure, saw a daily parade of the city’s criminal underclass, dodging newspaper and television journalists and their cameras out front.
Chief suspect Vince O’Dempsey, who happened to be in custody on minor cannabis charges. You will hear more about his drug operations later in the podcast. - was brought from the cells and into the court, guarded by eight police officers. He was manacled to the bar table with two sets of handcuffs.
In Boggo Road the screws had nicknamed him Silent Death.
He was the first witness.
And these are the initial exchanges between Vince and counsel assisting the Coroner, Garry Forno:
ACTORS: GARRY FORNO and VINCENT O’DEMPSEY (voiced by actors):
GARRY FORNO: Mr O’Dempsey, your full name please.
VINCENT O’DEMPSEY: No comment.
GARRY FORNO: Would you tell us your present address please?
VINCENT O’DEMPSEY: No comment.
GARRY FORNO: Are you married or single?
VINCENT O’DEMPSEY: No comment.
GARRY FORNO: You’re aware, Mr O’Dempsey, are you not, that this is…or these are coronial inquiries into the disappearance of firstly, Vincent Raymond Allen. Secondly, Margaret Grace Ward. And thirdly, Barbara May McCulkin, Vicki Maree and Barbara Leanne McCulkin. Are you aware of….
VINCENT O’DEMPSEY: No comment.
GARRY FORNO: First of all, do you know Vincent Raymond Allen?
VINCENT O’DEMPSEY: No comment.
GARRY FORNO: Do you know Margaret Grace Ward?
VINCENT O’DEMPSEY: No comment.
GARRY FORNO: Do you know Barbara May McCulkin?
VINCENT O’DEMPSEY: No comment.
GARRY FORNO: Or Vicki Maree or Barbara Leanne McCulkin?
VINCENT O’DEMPSEY: No comment.
And so it went on.
In the end, Vince answered “no comment” thirty-nine times before the Coroner, counsellor Forno temporarily abandoned his cross-examination.
In the end, on April 2, 1980 - after almost two months of evidence - Forno and Vince’s legal counsel, Mr Claire, gave their final submissions. And Coroner Boujoure announced his findings.
The Coroner didn’t believe there was sufficient evidence to place anyone on trial for the deaths of Allen and Ward.
As for the McCulkins, that was a different story.
He was also charged with the murders of Vicki and Leanne.
An arrest warrant was issued for Dubois.
On hearing this, Vince finally spoke.
Vince was committed for trial in the Supreme Court.
Did he seem worried?
He didn’t need to be.
Vince had been charged with three murders.
But he knew he wouldn’t spend a minute in jail for those crimes.
Because the fix was already in.
Incredibly, while in custody on triple murder charges, Vince received a message from the corrupt elements of the Queensland police hierarchy his case would never reach trial.
And that message was that Vince might be charged with the McCulkin murders as a result of the inquest, but “he would not be convicted”.
It begs the question: was the system so venal, so corrupt, and Vince such a protected species, that he could literally get away with murder?
In late 1980, several months after Coroner Bougoure’s recommendations that Vince and Shorty be tried for the triple murders, Queensland Crown legal officer Angelo Vasta recommended that the charges against both men be dropped. The evidence, he concluded, was incapable of establishing a prima facie case for murder.
A No True Bill was filed. There was insufficient evidence to proceed to trial. Although that didn’t mean that Vince and Shorty could never be charged with the same offences in the future.
Vince had slipped the noose.
Just as the little cottage in Dorchester Street has, for years, drawn me back time and again, I have developed a more recent obsession with Morgan Park outside Warwick, and those haunting depressions in the earth that just might be human graves.
The police always said: Vince’s private graveyard will be located somewhere where he feels comfortable.
But right now, there’s an important matter of business to attend to.
MATTHEW CONDON: Oh Helen, hello, my name’s Matt Condon.
MATTHEW CONDON: How are you?
HELEN: I’m good thank you.
MATTHEW CONDON: I’m just completing a podcast about a serial killer called Vince O’Dempsey out of Queensland, and in the course of my investigation I’ve appeared to have found human graves outside a town called Warwick, and I have samples from those graves of soil and other matter, and I’m just looking peripherally whether there is an institution or a group such as yourself that could deal with the testing of that material for human bone.
Helen: Yeah, so if you’re looking at bone material you’d need a specialist unit to do that, and let me just…I’m just thinking of one person who might be useful.
MATTHEW CONDON: So is bone a category unto its own, Helen? What is the situation?
HELEN: Yeah, so we used to call it ancient DNA or degraded DNA. We don’t process bones with the standard technology that we use day to day… to get DNA from bone is quite tricky and it needs a specialist technique, and particularly if you’re talking graves,
HELEN: Somebody you could speak to would be Jeremy Austin, and he has an ancient DNA unit, based at the University of Adelaide. He’s well-renowned in the field so I’d say he’d definitely be a good first call….
Ghost Gate Road deals with serious and sometimes distressing issues. If this episode has raised any issues for you, please seek support.
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