Peter Hall defied the unwritten criminal code of never betraying your mates. In court, Peter revealed what "Shorty" had told him about the McCulkin murders the day after it happened in January 1974. Peter's contribution, gave closure to victims and helped convict O'Demspey and "Shorty" Dubois. (Photo: Nine 60 Minutes)
Wazza agreed to assist police and tell them everything he knew about Vince and the McCulkins. To the criminal underworld, he would have been considered a "dog". But, Wazza's contribution to the case against O'Dempsey, gave closure to victims and settled his conscience. He was seen as somewhat a hero to the people of Queensland and the State Justice system. (Photo: Nine 60 Minutes)
Garry was one of Vince's oldest criminal associates. He didn't give evidence against Vince, but says how happy he is to see both O'Dempsey and "Shorty" in prison. Garry and Bob - another associate - never knew the extent of Vince's crimes. They were both deeply affected by Vince's crimes, and are still coming to terms with Vince's depravity.
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Whooshkaa Studios: Ghost Gate Road contains graphic details of sexual assault and violence and it not intended for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
The actual Ghost Gate Road outside Warwick may have a beginning and an end, taking you past plowed fields near the foot of Mount Marshall and through a dead landscape of blackened tree trunks and tall grass before it comes out near the little village of Goomburra.
But together in this podcast we have travelled a dark road of the mind that even at this late stage appears to have no sunlit ending. To me it feels like we entered, arm in arm, into Vince’s story and, by the time it was too late, found ourselves in the gravitational pull of a black hole which even light cannot escape.
The black hole of one man’s life.
Yet here we are, perhaps a little battered and bruised. Possibly still trying to comprehend a serial killer’s view of the world, and the actions he takes, and the decisions he makes.
If you are not a murderer, how can you expect to understand one?
I think we’ve come close. Or as close as we want to get to those horrible truths.
For the majority of us, there is something inside that tells us when to stop.
For Vince, maybe he sees in his mind’s eye just a limitless road into an infinite darkness.
It has been difficult, this story, to spend time with the dead. It has been just as uncomfortable to get to know O’Dempsey.
In some ways, I’m looking forward to healing from the Vince virus and getting back to some form of what we call normality. In others, I’m dreading it. Because no matter how far behind I leave Ghost Gate Road and Vince, he has taught me one thing. For all our pretensions to civility and respect, to decent behaviour and the sanctity of life, there have always been Vince’s in this world, and there always will be.
He is, as I said from the beginning, that dark shadow at the back of all of our minds. And the shadow does not just go away with successive generations.
Being submerged in Vince’s life, as horrific as that experience has been, at least tells us what we are NOT as human beings.
But another part of our nature, yours and mine, is just as primitive.
It is an outrage when someone takes the life of innocents. It is horror when young lives are snuffed out prematurely because of the incomprehensible greed and lust of a heartless and cruel person like Vince.
It is that desire for revenge when, as a parent yourself, you wonder what you might be forced to do if one of your own children was murdered by an animal like Vince O’Dempsey.
Would you be able to stop yourself then?
Now, at this point along the road, it is time to exact that revenge.
From Whooshkaa Studios, I’m Matthew Condon, and this is Ghost Gate Road. In this episode, time has finally run out for psychopath Vince O’Dempsey as he’s finally held accountable for the McCulkin triple murder. But that poses more questions than it answers, with a string of deaths and disappearances that may be linked to this remorseless serial killer. And have we found Barbara, Vicki and Leanne? Or did this monster have the last word when it came to closure for the long-suffering McCulkin family?
I was eleven years old, the exact age of Leanne McCulkin, when she, her mother Barbara and her sister Vicki were taken and slaughtered in the darkness of the Australian bush in 1974.
As a child, I had regularly gone to the Red Hill Skate Arena to zoom around the track with friends, just like Leanne and Vicki, and who knows - I may have seen them there on occasion without even knowing who they were.
At 11, too, I often stayed with my grandmother at her house in the Brisbane suburb of Rosalie, and often walked with her down to the local shops. Our route directly passes the Nethercote block of flats where Vince and Dianne were living at that precise moment in time.
Then more than 40 years later, as a middle-aged man, I found myself attending Vince’s trial daily.
The separate trials of Vince O’Dempsey and Shorty Dubois for the McCulkin murders were held in Brisbane’s imposing Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law building in George Street in the Brisbane CBD.
Shorty’s Supreme Court trial unfolded in November 2016. Vince’s went ahead in May 2017.
On most mornings during Vince’s trial I took the train into the city from the Queensland Newspapers building in Bowen Hills and got off at Roma Street station.
And often, on those mornings, I saw the same elderly man and his wife making their way down the tiled pedestrian tunnel out of the station to the nearby court building.
I would learn over time that that elderly man was Graham Ogden. He was the brother of Barbara McCulkin, and most days he made this pilgrimage to hopefully see justice for his sister and young nieces.
There was, too, a daily irony there for all to see in Court 7 during the trial, presided over by Justice Peter Applegarth.
When the electronic window shades were open at the rear of the court, behind Justice Applegrath, it was possible to catch a glimpse, beyond the city skyscrapers, of the suburb of Highgate Hill, across the river, where the house at 6 Dorchester Street sat, immovable and frozen in time.
In the court, Vince - in the dock - wore a dark suit, white shirt, tie and black slip-on loafers. I wrote at the time that he wore his suit as a farmer might wear a suit to a funeral.
What was his demeanour? He was facing the remainder of his life in jail. And yet he wiggled his fingers at family members through the thick dock glass, and seemed completely unmoved by the hideous allegations levelled against him.
It’s impossible not to go right back to the start of this story, and the assessment of Dr Peter Browne Rowland who diagnosed Vince as a psychopath when he was 15 years old.
How extraordinarily accurate that assessment turned out to be, holding true and echoing into a modern courtroom almost 70 years later.
I vividly remember Wazza McDonald being called into the witness stand to be questioned. He had spent years preparing for this moment. He had agreed to assist police and tell them everything he knew about Vince and the McCulkins. To the criminal underworld, he would have been considered what they called a dog.
To the people of Queensland, and the State’s criminal justice system, he was a hero.
Wazza looked uncomfortable in his suit.
He was naturally nervous.
He had sweat on his top lip.
CONDON: Mate, how did it make you feel when you had to walk into court?
WAZZA: Oh bloody terrible, that was terrible walking into court. No that wasn;t a good feeling at all. Everything I’d been taught and trained not to do, I’m there doing it.
CONDON: Did you catch Vince’s eye or did he catch yours?
WAZZA: Oh god yes.
CONDON: Describe that.
WAZZA: He looked at me. He didn’t shake his head, he just glared at me…in disbelief. And that was in the trial. Then after the trial…with the drug matter, the look on his face was totally different, he was just horrified at me, he couldn’t believe I was there, and the look on his face could kill me.
CONDON: And had you seen that look before?
WAZZA: Not at me.
CONDON: Not at you, but maybe directed towards others.
WAZZA: Oh yeah, god yeah. Absolutely.
It was also a difficult moment for Peter Hall.
He too had defied the unwritten criminal code of never betraying your mates. He too felt regret at what he was about to do. But common decency outweighed those negative thoughts.
Would he hold up under pressure?
In court, Peter revealed what Shorty had told him about the McCulkin murders the day after it happened in January 1974.
And while the courtroom was tense, there was also a distant feeling that the tectonic plates of this case had finally shifted.
That good just might prevail.
__CONDON:__You knew by telling the truth, thank God you did, that you would have to go through a court case. That your past would be dragged into the light, because they would try and make you look bad, obviously. The defense.
CONDON: So, it was a big, big call to expose your life there just to have the courage to tell the truth as you did. How did you feel in the court?
CONDON: I obviously saw you come into the court and give evidence, but how did it feel to you?
PETER: It didn’t feel real good. I knew in my heart that I was doing the right thing, but I said in my head I had turned into a dog. That was hard, really.
CONDON: But, I guess, at the forefront is the resolution for the McCulkin family, of Barbara and those two little kids.
PETER: I saw the relatives in the courtroom. I didn’t know who they were at first, but I found out later who they were. Yeah, I got a text message passed on by Vee, thanking me for what I had done.
PETER: And all I could think of is, it would have been too late for the McCulkin’s, but if I’d killed him when I was thinking about it, how many others would I have saved?
There was one moment I’ll never forget in Vince’s trial.
When Peter had finished giving his evidence and was excused as a witness, he walked towards the dock, which held Vince and Shorty, and headed for the exit.
As he approached Vince he deliberately stared him straight in the eyes as he passed. Their eyes locked. Peter didn’t flinch. And then Peter was gone.
It was an act of defiance. It was also an act of courage, and, in a way, a gesture of victory.
This time, Hall was saying without words, the truth will triumph.
This time, the McCulkins will get what they’ve long deserved.
Brisbane Channel 9 court reporter Tessa Hardy broadcast live the verdicts on the final day of Vince’s trial from the grassy forecourt of the Queen Elizabeth II court complex.
It was a tense report on what many hoped would be a fitting and just conclusion to the McCulkin mystery.
REPORTER: We’re waiting for a verdict. Court reporter Jessa Hardy is with me. Tessa, you can hear the judge speaking right now.
JESSA: Yeah, we’ll just explain what we’re doing here. We have a media room for big trials like this and we have our reporter in the media room right now. This is the connection I’ve got in my ear. So I can hear what is happening in the courtroom right now just as Peter Applegarth has told everyone in his courtroom in Vincent O’Dempsey’s murder trial that they do need to remain calm when we do get these verdicts which are possibly only a couple of minutes away, saying pretty much he won’t tolerate anyone overreacting or any kinds of displays of emotion in the courtroom…it’s quite a clinical place where they just want to hear the verdicts and that’s it…so they’re bringing the jury in right now….
REPORTER 1: So this case, Vincent O’Dempsey is facing three charges of murder and one of deprivation of liberty…it’s a 43 year old case.
JESSA: It is…I’ll just confirm I can hear what’s happening in the courtroom…it is a 43 year old case…it is one that has haunted Brisbane for more than four decades now after Barbara McCulkin and her two young daughters Vicki and Leanne vanished without a trace back in 1974…it’s something that’s caused a lot of people to write about it…there’s been a lot of speculation, a lot of theories thrown around and hopefully within the next couple of minutes we’ll finally be able to get some answers into what has been a 43 year old mystery.
REPORTER 1: So Vince O’Dempsey is….
JESSA: Let’s just hang on, the verdicts are seconds away…the jury is being asked if they’ve reached a verdict…they’re saying they have…they say do you find the defendant guilty or not guilty…the first charge is depravation of liberty and Vincent O’Dempsey has just been found guilty of depravation of liberty…we’re moving onto murder charges now…guilty of murdering Barbara McCulkin…Vincent O’Dempsey is guilty of murdering Barbara McCulkin back in 1974…we’re now moving onto the verdicts in relation to the two girls, Vicki and Leanne…Vincent O’Dempsey is guilty of the murder of Vicki McCulkin…we’re now waiting on the verdict on Leanne McCulkin…Vincent O’Dempsey has been found guilty on all four counts, guilty of depravation of liberty, guilty of murdering Barbara McCulkin and guilty of murdering those two young girls, Vicki and Leanne, who were only 13 and 11…back in 1974…this is a case where I said we’ve been waiting for answers for for 43 years and we’ve just got them in the last few minutes.
REPORTER 1: It is incredible this is the last chapter really of this story, we also Garry Dubois, he also was charged with the murders, that case was recent as well.
JESSA: Yes, the jury wasn’t told this because the cases were separated but Garry Dubois, Vince O’Dempsey’s co-accused, he was also found guilty back in December, he had a separate trial, he was found guilty of murdering the two girls…he was actually found guilty of Barbara McCulkin’s manslaughter as well, so now they’ve both been convicted…so now they both face the only penalty that’s available to them which is life behind bars.
After Vince was found guilty of the McCulkin murders by a jury of his peers, finally held accountable for one of the most vile and vicious murders in Australian history, he stood in the dock, turned towards his family in the public gallery, half-grinned and shrugged his shoulders, as if to say - you win some, you lose some.
Shorty had also been found guilty at his trial.
At sentencing in June 2017, these two old partners in crime came together one last time in the dock of Court 7.
Both would spend the rest of their natural lives in jail.
I found my original notes from that extraordinary day.
They read in part:
Thursday June 1. O’Dempsey and Dubois sentencing. Court 7. Level 4.
Packed courtroom. Camera to the left near the jury seats.
Very few of O’Dempsey’s relatives here.
Mood is different. Tangible excitement.
Three or four media sitting in the jury seats.
Virginia Gray and Mick Dowie here. Police sitting in front of the public gallery.
9.54am: no sign of Vince or Shorty.
No sign of Shorty’s wife, Jan Dubois.
One of VOD’s daughters sitting alone behind the dock.
9.55am Dubois enters the court, same khaki pants and floral shirt as in his trial.
Thirty seconds later Vince comes in, suit and tie, sits about four seats away from Dubois in the dock.
Waves to relatives in the public gallery
Two killers, finally brought to justice in this modern court.
In his sentencing remarks, Justice Applegarth was scathing.
He told the hushed court:
APPLEGARTH: O’Dempsey, you were the principal offender in each brutal killing. You are a hardened criminal and a killer who has no conscience. Over the years you have prided yourself on your reputation for having killed many people.
O’Dempsey, you are a cold-blooded killer.
Yours has been a life of crime. You seem beyond redemption. Even if you live to be one hundred, I expect that you will die in jail.
When each of you dies, your family and friends will know where your body is buried or where your ashes are located. By contrast, the friends and family of your victims cannot visit their graves.
That two monsters were jailed for life in one of Australia’s oldest cold cases was not the only astonishing thing that happened on this day in Court 7.
Vince, the man who prided himself on his many nicknames, especially Mr No Comment when it came to talking to police or the courts, declared that he had something important to say.
It was strange, if not unprecedented, that a defendant already found guilty of a triple murder wanted to stand and profess his innocence.
Justice Applegarth allowed Vince to give his little speech.
And so Vince stood in the dock, with his scrap of paper filled with handwritten notes, and denied he had ever harmed the McCulkins. And he claimed that his case had been negatively affected by what he called a “prejudicial smokescreen” that had arisen out of evidence involving the Torino and Whiskey Au Go Go fires in 1973.
Vince told the court he had nothing to do with those firebombings.
It was a jaw-dropping claim. Especially as the trail and giving of evidence was over. And nobody had linked Vince to the Whiskey in the first place. It was like saying - I had nothing to do with the murder of those 15 innocent people in the nightclub when no-one asked him if he had.
Given the trial was well and truly over, Justice Applegarth said he found O’Dempsey’s proposition “interesting”, and revealed evidence to the packed court that he had previously ruled out as being prejudicial to Vince.
It was clear Vince did have something to do with the Whiskey Au Go Go mass murder, althoiugh exactly what remained unclear.
The next morning, the Queensland Government announced a new Coronial Inquest into the Whiskey firebombing of 1973.
Yet another door into Vince’s dark past had sprung open.
This has been a story littered with victims.
Some we know about. Many we don’t.
Families have grieved loved ones who have vanished off the face of the earth. Others caught up in this evil tale have taken their own lives. Children have grown up without parents.
Yet it’s easy to overlook Vince’s friends and associates when he was at the height of his criminal powers in the 1970s, the men who went in with Vince on numerous crimes and scams, some who briefly lived with him or put him up when he was on the run. They were brothers in crime, and they had each other’s back.
But only now, following the McCulkin trial, these old men have put their heads together to freshly reassess their friendship and working relationship with Vince O’Dempsey, and they haven’t liked what they can only now see as an unforgivable betrayal of their trust.
None knew Vince worked as a police informant as early as he did in the 1970s. None knew that on the many occasions they were caught red-handed by police in the commission of a crime, or in possession of drugs or stolen goods, that it was anything more than either excellent police work or their own rotten luck.
No. The pattern these men have finally discovered is that Vince had tipped them in to the coppers for his own benefit. He ratted out his own mates for decades. Many did long prison stretches because of Vince.
In one instance he put out a hit on a long-time criminal associate. But just not him. The contract killing would include that man’s wife, and their two young daughters.
There was no end to O’Dempsey’s depravity.
His former mates are angry. And deeply hurt by Vince’s betrayal.
I talked to Peter Hall about it.
CONDON: Yep, do you ever think, Peter, of Vince behind bars over recent years?
PETER: Oh, like now?
PETER: Well, I’m thinking he wouldn’t be real happy about it. I’m thinking he’d be on protection, he’d have to be. A few years ago he wouldn’t have needed it, but he’s older than me. So, if he had a couple of hard, tough, young crims there that don’t like child molesters, or murderers, he’d be in a spot of bother, so I’d say both him and Shorty would be in protection. I know that Shorty is, he up I think in Bundaberg, up that way.
PETER: All I’ve been told is that Vince is in Brisbane somewhere, or around Brisbane, I don’t know what nick he’s in.
CONDON: You didn’t fear for your actual life by doing what you did?
PETER: I still look over my shoulder. If I see a Queensland car parked anywhere near the house, I keep a good eye on it.
CONDON: Yeah, so if you could say anything to Vince, would there be anything you’d like to say?
PETER: I hope you live a long time and suffer in there.
CONDON: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
PETER: That’d be about it.
Garry Lawrence said he never thought he’d say it, but he’s pleased that Vince and Shorty are in jail for life.
LAWRENCE: And, mate, I just enjoy. I just fucking enjoy life. I really do now.
CONDON: You’re in a better spot than Vince and Shorty.
LAWRENCE: That’s fucking right. And I sit there and I think … can you understand I sit there and think to meself well, they put me in there. And I sat there, and I knew I was going to get out, right? But you know they’re never getting out, mate. They’re fucked.
CONDON: In a box.
LAWRENCE: They’re fucking there. You know? And their mother is a silly looking cunt, and any money they got from trying to fight things. And who are they fucking kidding?
LAWRENCE: What are you fucking fighting? He’s never getting out. You can’t understand that they might never, ever … and then I was starting to think about their kids and the lives they lived, both of them, pretty fucking good. For all them years, you understand?
LAWRENCE: That’s on dirty one. Can you understand what I’m saying? I couldn’t bring myself to love the way I think to tell on them, but geez I’m glad to see them in there. They can believe me, how happy it makes me seeing the pair of the cunts in there. Because I know that they both fucking put me in there when I was giving, giving, giving … everything. And they fucking put me in there, mate.
And Bob still shakes his head over what he’s only now understanding about Vince.
BOB: I didn’t fucking realise…now a lot of stuff is starting to dawn on me that O’Dempsey has done. You cannot believe what he has done to try and affect different people. Me in particular. Besides Garry. He’s been at this for a long, long time. I was just looking at some stuff now and his record and everything sort of fits in. You know when I’ve had problems and all the rest of it, the police and him trying to set me up, fuck, it’s hard to believe.
CONDON: You know when Finch confessed in 88 he said to Dennis Watt the journalist, he said there’s no way Vince O’Dempsey could have operated the way he did without being protected by the coppers.
BOB: When was that?
Bob: You know that whole part when this started with this Whiskey thing, I can’t sort of get me head around how all these people were there…Rogerson, Regan…it’s plain to see that the whole two States were going to run the same as Sydney was run. But who was going to run Brisbane? Who would be the go-between between the police and the money collector for everything? I’d say it’d be O’Dempsey.
CONDON: What does Garry Lawrence think now that he’s joining the dots?
BOB: He hates fucking talking about it.
CONDON: It seemed like a terrible betrayal.
BOB: I tried to warn him a few times…there’s other ones I can’t tell you on the phone. It’s absolutely fucking diabolical. So you don’t know what he’s done. I’ve never fully thought it before, but I’m completely convinced that he’s done stuff for coppers and everything. For what he’s done, you couldn’t get away with it. Like even if you get caught in Sydney…it’s hard to buy your way out of some stuff. How do you buy your way out of killing two female kids and a wife? And a mother? You know how do you buy your way out of that? I think it all gets back to the Whiskey.
Many of the players in the O’Dempsey saga never got to see him put away for life.
Some had aided his criminality. Others had fought it.
There are men and women alive today who had to live with the impact of this one man’s evil deeds. There are others with unidentifiable grief who would not even know that he had somehow featured in their family history.
Rat Pack detective Tony Murphy, one of O’Dempsey’s chief enablers, died an old man in late 2010. His funeral was attended by many former Queensland police. A serving Assistant Commissioner spoke to the mourners.
Vince’s old mate Garry Lawrence remains convinced that authorities only started moving in on O’Dempsey after Murphy died.
LAWRENCE: And Murphy and all that fucking paper work and all the things they done, it all just went missing. Can you understand. Murphy, believe me, he would have fucking come and pinched them and verbal them or anything like that with that much evidence. If that would have fucking been me, he would fucking had me tell them fucking stories and fucking the whole deal about it. Vince, they let him go and they didn’t fucking try, can you understand what I’m saying.
LAWRENCE: That’s exactly right. Because he was doing things. But when Murphy died, then they went for Vince, you understand?
LAWRENCE: That’s when they decided to pinch him. Run us all down to the inquest (inaudible). All of a sudden, until Murphy fucking died they didn’t. They could’ve done this fucking four years ago when Murphy retired, they didn’t do it then.
CONDON: Well, he retired at the end of ‘82.
LAWRENCE: That’s right. Well, why wait that long? But as soon as he died.
Glendon Patrick Hallahan, the disgraced detective and friend and colleague to Murphy, who had worked with not just the Clockwork Orange Gang in the 1960s but some of the biggest criminals of the day, died in mid-1991.
On January 1, 1979, convicted Whiskey Au Go Go killer John Andrew Stuart was found dead in his cell in Boggo Road Jail in Brisbane. Officials pronounced no suspicious circumstances, but others weren’t so sure.
There were rumours that prison authorities, on the orders of corrupt police and criminals, had progressively slipped dingo bait into his food which had eventually killed him.
Stuart was buried in section 9, grave 11, of the Lutwyche cemetery in inner-northern Brisbane. He was buried on top of his father, David, who had beat him mercilessly as a child.
Billy McCulkin, husband to Barbara and father to Vicki and Leanne, died in obscurity on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast in 2011.
Not long before he died, he got a visit from none other than former detective Alan Marshall. Like all good cops, he couldn’t leave the Whiskey or McCulkin cases alone, and he decided to pay Billy a visit.
ALAN: When I retired and I was driving up the Sunshine Coast, I had a caravan on the car. And he said, “I need to call him and see me.” I said, “Right-o.” So I called him and saw him and of course that finished up being another night on the job. And at this stage he’d just parted company with that Fifi or whatever her name is.
CONDON: Yes. His then defacto wife or whoever she was.
ALAN: Yeah. Anyway, I stayed there the night. I had my wife with me at the time.
CONDON: You stayed with Billy at his place?
ALAN: In the caravan.
CONDON: In the caravan.
ALAN: Yeah, but at the front door. His house was absolutely immaculate.
CONDON: Is that right?
ALAN: Yep. Yeah. So I thought, “Okay, I’m no longer a policeman.” I thought, “I’ll ask him again. What part did you play in that Whisky a Go Go, Billy?” He said, “I never had anything to do with it.” I said, “Are you being truthful?” “Yes.” I said, " Well, you’re a fucking liar.” I can say that to him and he’d just laugh or he’d come back with some quip and he was very, very sharp off the tongue, I can tell you.
Way back in January 1975, Clockwork Orange ganger and aspiring boxer Tommy Hamilton also vanished off the face of the planet.
Was it the work of Vince? The court heard during Vince’s committal and trial that Hamilton was unhappy with Vince over the murder of the McCulkin children. And Vince knew about Tommy’s anger.
But in the end crook William Stokes was convicted of Hamilton’s disappearance and murder and imprisoned. The Crown alleged that there was bad blood between Stokes and Hamilton over a number of issues, and that Tommy had taunted him by making obscene suggestions about Stokes’ wife. Stokes still protests his innocence.
Tommy’s body, however, has never been found.
In 1985 Vince was sentenced to 10 years in jail for dealing in heroin. He was eligible for parole after seven years. That stretch effectively ended his relationship with Dianne Pritchard.
Then in 1995, in a seedy riverside motel room in Murwillumbah in far northern NSW, Dianne was tragically found dead of a heroin overdose. Everyone said Di might have had an alcohol problem but she stayed clear of drugs.
At her funeral, friends said Vince was distraught.
Garry Lawrence remembers Di with sadness.
Many years after they worked together on the McCulkin case, Detective Alan Marshall’s partner in crime, Detective Trevor Menary, who had also developed a problem with alcohol, took his own life.
And Brian Bolton, the reporter who blew the whistle on the Whiskey before it went up in 1973, also struggled with grog. He committed suicide in March 1988, and was never able to forgive himself for missing that meeting with John Andrew Stuart on the night the Whiskey went up.
Bolton believed he could have saved lives. Instead, he lost his own. Years before Vince was arrested for the McCulkin killings, when he was living with his lover Kerri-Anne Scully, niece to Tommy Hamilton, in Warwick, she would later tell police about a frightening conversation she had with Vince.
She said in a police interview:
So what can we make of the alleged number of 33 victims?
Vince’s criminal mates all say he only said 33 to make Scully feel less frightened than if the actual figure was revealed, which they all believe to be over 100. We may never know the truth.
Over the years the rumour mill around Vince has always been rife, not diminished by Vince himself revelling in his reputation as a man who made people disappear at will. Fear for him was a permanent weapon.
But we could speculate with some loose math, and look at the names that have been mentioned in relation to Vince down the decades.
There is Tommy Allan, the jug-eared Bodgie who vanished in 1964. And..According to his criminal associates, Vince often talked about “jarring” two Sydney criminals associated with the notorious Toecutter’s Gang in Sydney in the early 1970s. He alleged he’d buried them along a fenceline in western NSW.
Fast forward to 1972 and there is the disappearance and presumed murder of Gaye Baker, 23, who was in the Women’s Royal Australian Airforce based in Brisbane and was about to meet her first “blind date” as a job for a hostess service when she vanished into thin air. At this time Vince was the king of the Brisbane brothels and escort agencies.
In late 1973, country girl Margaret Grace Ward was lured into working at Vince’s massage parlour, Polonia’s, and following a police raid was about to give evidence against Dianne when she too disappeared.
In 1977, big brothel madam Simone Vogel, who was paying tens of thousands of dollars in kickback money to corrupt police was set to get out of the game and potentially blow the whistle on the lot of them. She had arranged to meet a man to make a final cash kickback payment to police, but completely vanished. Was Vince the man she met that day?
In early 1979, Sydney couple Anneke Adriaansen and fiance Alan Fox hitchhiked to far northern NSW to seek a new life. They’d bought a property at Burringbar, north of Byron Bay and mysteriously disappeared. Over the years the press speculated that it was the work of that other Australian serial killer Ivan Milat. Vince had lived in Mullumbimby, a short drive to Burringbar, in those years on the run through the 1970s.
Crook Norman “The Doorman” Ford was working with corrupt police on a stolen car racket when he also disappeared in early 1979.
Then there is Tanya Buckland, the mother of three children, who disappeared from Warwick in August 2013. She was 36 when she vanished.
A few months later notes and photographs were posted to Tanya’s family, the police and a local newspaper. She was fine, she wrote. She apologised for causing any inconvenience. The letters were postmarked from the Hunter Valley region, a seven and a half hour drive south of Warwick.
As we were putting together this final episode of Ghost Gate Road, I received a tip off about Tanya’s relationship to Vince, and I learned that she and one of her young daughters had been living with Vince at his property on Willowvale Road at Massie, outside Warwick.
Several locals told me Tanya and Vince also had a sexual relationship.
This has never been reported in the media.
After finding a Facebook page dedicated to finding Tanya, last week I telephoned Tanya’s parents - Gordon and Sheralyn - who live outside Orlando, Florida, in the United States.
After seven years of hearing nothing from their daughter, they have their theories.
CONDON:… as the years have rolled on, have you come to any conclusion of what you think might have happened?
SHERALYN: … I think she’s… I think things like this, you know what’s happened and… because she couldn’t stay away from us this long. I know my daughter.
GORDON: Yeah, I think if she’s alive she’s a captive somewhere, that’s all I can say. If she’s still alive, and we pray that she is, but she’s in captivity in some way, is all I can say. I don’t believe she would voluntarily be away this long, just never, ever been seen or heard from again.
CONDON: And do you think O’Dempsey was appropriately enough interrogated in terms of his role? I’m just staggered that he-
SHERALYN: Everything was focused on the cold case, not Tanya.
GORDON: Yeah, they were just interested in convicting him of what they already had, and the situation with Tanya wasn’t even a thing as far as they were concerned that I can tell, because Tanya left voluntarily and there was nobody putting any effort into investigating it at all.
CONDON: Well, I didn’t think of that, but you’ve just made me think that the timing of her so-called disappearance quite literally collided with that intense McCulkin investigation.
GORDON: And they did make a visit to question him about Tanya’s whereabouts, but they just basically said that he just had refused to talk. So that was a waste of their time and effort
SHERALYN: And Tanya’s belongings were there when they raided the property.
GORDON: Yeah, that’s right. When they did those raids Tanya’s stuff was all there.
CONDON: Yes. But I can see now, that you’ve mentioned it, that in the blizzard that was the McCulkin case, which was one of the biggest cases in the last 50 years, Tanya seems to have been left in its wake.
GORDON: And hopefully that he’ll maybe somehow reveal what happened before he goes, and that’s our hope. I don’t know how to make that happen, but-
SHERALYN: And in my mind it’s a cold case against O’Dempsey too, because the last known place where she was living was in his house
The case of Tanya Buckland - a young mother who just seems to have slipped through the cracks, having last been seen with Vince - reminds me over and over of the claims by Vince’s former associates that he has allegedly killed more than 100 people.
This figure is, and probably always will be, impossible to verify. But how many other Tanya’s are other there? Vanished women whose cases never made it into the mainstream media, and were dismissed by police as simply as missing persons?
Then there are the innumerable tales of Vince’s obsession with hitchhiking backpackers, or “coldies” as he called them.
There is a temptation, when discussing someone like Vince, to see him as the shadow beneath every rock. The perennial culprit.
But let’s just say these unsolved murders are his handiwork.
This list numbers 10. And what if you added the Whiskey victims, if indeed Vince had a primary role in that mass murder.
Then the tally jumps to 25.
And if what Vince says about his thirty-three is true, and our list is even remotely close to the truth, then who are the lost eight victims?
What, then, of Barbara and the girls, and the possible graves at Morgan Park, outside Warwick?
You will remember from Episode 6 that in 1975 Vince wrote a letter to Shorty asking that he exhume the McCulkins and dispose of them in acid.
I asked ancient DNA expert Jeremy Austin what might still be found in a grave if that was a likely scenario.
CONDON: Right. But if there was DNA present, even though we couldn’t link it that specifically to a person, it is possible, if the bodies had been removed, that there may be some human DNA, whoever that may be, in that burial site?
JEREMY: Yeah. There is a possibility. I’m not sure how big the possibility is.
JEREMY: I know, there’s some research been done recently on looking at the impact of microbial activity on decomposing bodies, on graves, or you can pick up the microbial signature of a decomposing body in the soil around a decomposing body, because these are experiments that have been done on mice and things, not on humans.
JEREMY: I guess, the issue is, as far as I know, possibly someone either has or is doing this research, is how long can you detect human DNA in soil after that person either has been buried or has been buried and then removed? Because, obviously you get lots of sort of liquification of all the soft tissues, which is going to put out a huge amount of human DNA. The issue is, how long that survives inside soil once the body’s been removed, and I’m just not sure anyone’s done those kind of experiments yet.
CONDON: But, the story was that they had dug a deep grave, put the three bodies into the grave the next morning, and that sometime the following year it’s a possibility O’Dempsey returned, removed the bodies and then destroyed them separately in acid. If the three had been bundled into a singular grave and they’d been there for 12 months, is there even the longest shot of a possibility that there might be something in the soil?
JEREMY: Yeah. I mean, there’s always a possibility.
JEREMY: Scientists are always, or at least, I hope most scientists, never like to say never about things. I guess, the issue is what is the possibility, how much of a long shot is it?
When you speak to scientists like Jeremy, a story like this becomes all too real.
I’m not entirely sure if the graves at Morgan Park in fact constitute Vince’s private graveyard. There are dozens of forests surrounding Warwick that Vince was familiar with. As he often said to criminal associates, the best place to hide bodies was in a gazetted National Park. They would never been found.
My instinct tells me that given Vince’s meticulous nature, and the lengths he went to to evade capture, it is more likely he has cleaned up his past. He has expressed to others a keen interest in acid. And prior to his arrest in 2014, he had plenty of time to destroy evidence.
What is a fact is the McCulkin children were denied a full life, were denied a future they were entitled to.
Abd what remains inexplicable is the behaviour of corrupt police over decades, and their critical role not just in this tragedy, but allowing a killer, a psychopath to continue on his merry way in the community at large.
Those police are a disgrace to their badge, to their sworn oath, and just as Vince has been held accountable for at least some of his behaviour, so too should they be damned for all time.
Some time ago we wrote a letter to Vince at the Wolston Correctional Centre west of Brisbane.
I had heard whispers from various sources about how he was getting on in jail as a convicted child rapist and murderer.
I was told variously that he had been bashed in prison by some young punks trying to make a name for themselves. Look at me. I took down a serial killer.
I heard he was suffering from prostate cancer.
Someone rang and said he had not received a single visit from any members of his family since he’d been behind bars.
It was just gossip. Nothing could be substantiated.
In our letter to Vince, we wrote:
We are currently preparing a podcast about your life and times, from your childhood years in Warwick to the present day.
I am writing to ask, in fairness and as a matter of balance, if you would be prepared to share your side of your story for the purposes of this podcast. It would be great to get your version of events on the record.
If you agree, we would be more than happy to communicate with you whichever way is realistically practical.
Several weeks later we received our letter back marked: RETURN TO SENDER: Not approved by General Manager.
It is doubtful Vince ever even saw the letter.
He may as well have been a ghost.
Then in August 2019 Vince was back in the headlines.
Police announced that they had charged an 80-year-old man with the murder of Raymond Vincent Tommy Allan in Warwick in 1964. They gave the accused’s address as Wolston, as in the Wolston Correctional Centre.
It was Vince, of course.
The past was rushing to meet him. And it reminded me of that famous speech out of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar that he gave on a tree stump in the early 1960s after he’d just raped a woman.
The evil that men do lives after them.
Police Minister Mark Ryan and Tara Kentwell of the Homicide Squad announced the historic arrest at a press conference.
Detective Senior Sergeant Kentwell then took to the microphone:
Justice never sleeps.
Nor do the hands of time.
Vince is not getting any younger.
And while he may be belatedly tangled up in court proceedings for the crimes he has committed throughout his life, true justice is now a race between police and prosecutors and the only thing that will protect Vince’s darkest secrets - his own death.
Back in the beginning, we warned you that Vince O’Dempsey was not just a remorseless killer, but in some ways a state of mind.
That once you went down the trail of investigating his story, he would infect you, like a virus.
He had that effect on many people he met throughout his life, and still he haunts the dreams of people who happened, by fate or circumstance, to cross his path.
I remember years ago talking to a former prison guard at Boggo Road Jail in Brisbane who was working in the prison when Vince was there in the 1960s.
“You just got the feeling that you could die at any moment with O’Dempsey,” he said. “He’d stick you with a knife. He’d shoot you and wouldn’t bat an eyelid.” He said Vince was the most evil man he had ever encountered in 30 years on the job.
Years after he left the prison service, Vince still haunted him.
He told me: “For years after I used to have a recurring nightmare that my car broke down in the bush and I was out there alone. Then suddenly Vince O’Dempsey came out of the bush.”
Only recently I was talking to Wazza McDonald when he too revealed how this story had entered his mind and taken on a life of its own.
WAZZA: I don’t know that one. I’m not sure about that one, unless he was going around and rooting Barbara. Poor old Barb. I dreamt about her the other night.
CONDON: You dreamt about her?
CONDON: Barbara McCulkin?
WAZZA: Yeah. I fucking woke up, it was fucking real.
CONDON: What happened in the dream? I shudder to ask.
WAZZA: Oh…just…it was like she was thanking me. Thank you. Thank you.
CONDON: You’re kidding me.
WAZZA: No. And I woke up in horror at 1am…I never had a drink…I had me tea and I was rooted…and watched a bit of news…at 1am, I woke up, I was in the horrors. I had to get out of bed and make a cup of coffee and sitting around here at 1 o’clock in the morning is not fucking funny. She was thanking me. Thank you. Thank you.
CONDON: That’s chilling.
WAZZA: That’s me subconscious coming out, isn’t it?
CONDON: That’s absolutely right.
WAZZA: Oh wow. Oh dear.
On location at Ghost Gate Road
CONDON: So here we are again, back where it all began, at Ghost Gate Road. I wanted to return to this haunted place, to plant my feet on the dirt road, just to assure myself that this long journey had been real, and not some strange prolonged dream or nightmare.
I’m not sure how I feel now that I’m here.
I have a nagging suspicion that this story is not over. And in some ways, to be honest, that leaves me with a gnawing feeling in the pit of my stomach.
There are the Morgan Park grave samples we have recovered. Their analysis will be a long and expensive process.
Then there’s the new Whiskey Au Go Go inquest, announced more than three and a half years ago. It will be held in the Coroner’s Court in 2021. With recent changes to legislation around the Coroner’s powers, witnesses will now be in contempt of court if they refuse to give evidence in the Coroner’s Court. The last inquest in the Whiskey lasted just one and a half days back in March 1973. The new inquest may very well produce a much clearer picture of what happened on that terrible night, when 15 innocent people lost their lives. Whether there are any new charges of murder against those involved is entirely up to the evidence offered, and the Coroner himself.
And where is that other missing mother, Tanya Buckland?
Will this ever stop?
As I look out over these fields, and the crooks and crevices of the low hills, having come full circle, what have I’ve learned from this exhaustive investigation? The probing into evil. The stories of death and depravity. The fragments and snippets and observations that go to make up the picture of a serial killer.
Have I spent all this time trying to comprehend what is incomprehensible?
I still don’t know.
But I can say this.
There is a simple message that has come out of the long hours, the terrible details, the sometimes sickening facts, out of people’s grief and pain and fear.
That message is - there is darkness in the world.
The very best we can do is to hold close our loved ones. Yeah. Keep them close.
As for me?
Well, it’s getting dark.
And it’s time to go home to my wife and kids.
I have been investigating this story for over 10 years…and although this is where we close this chapter of Ghost Gate Road…it won’t be the end of my curiosity or investigations.
As I’ve said, this man has embeds himself firmly under your skin, if you let him.
This story will never rest, it is too vast in scope, covers almost three quarters of a century, some dead, some alive.
The one thing I can ensure you is that if I uncover anything that helps solve so many unanswered questions about this hideous individual I promise to let you know.
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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