Underbelly 11, p.1

Underbelly 11, page 1

 

Underbelly 11
 


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Underbelly 11


  Allen & Unwin’s House of Books aims to bring Australia’s cultural and literary heritage to a broad audience by creating affordable print and ebook editions of the nation’s most significant and enduring writers and their work. The fiction, non-fiction, plays and poetry of generations of Australian writers that were published before the advent of ebooks will now be available to new readers, alongside a selection of more recently published books that had fallen out of circulation.

  The House of Books is an eloquent collection of Australia’s finest literary achievements.

  John Silvester has been a crime reporter in Melbourne since 1978. He has co-authored many crime books with Andrew Rule, including the Underbelly series, Leadbelly and Tough: 101 Australian Gangsters. In 2007 he was the Graham Perkin Journalist of the Year and Victorian Law Foundation Journalist of the Year. He is currently senior crime reporter for The Age.

  Andrew Rule is a Walkley award-winning reporter who has worked in newspapers, television and radio since 1975. He wrote Cuckoo, the inside story of the ‘Mr Stinky’ case and has co-written, edited and published a number of crime novels, including the Underbelly series. Twice Australian journalist of the year, he is Associate Editor at Melbourne’s Herald Sun.

  The authors’ work has been adapted into the top-rating Underbelly television series.

  HOUSE of BOOKS

  UNDERBELLY 11

  John Silvester & Andrew Rule

  This edition published by Allen & Unwin House of Books in 2012

  First published by Floradale Productions and Sly Ink, Melbourne in 2007

  Copyright © Floradale Productions and Sly Ink 2007

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The Australian Copyright Act 1968 (the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or 10 per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

  Allen & Unwin

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  83 Alexander Street

  Crows Nest NSW 2065

  Australia

  Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100

  Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218

  Email: info@allenandunwin.com

  Web: www.allenandunwin.com

  Cataloguing-in-Publication details are available from the National Library of Australia

  www.trove.nla.gov.au

  ISBN 9781742699318 (ebook)

  ‘The culture In the Underworld has changed. We have, for at least the forseeable future, broken the model that there is honour among thieves.’

  JUSTICE PAUL COGHLAN, FORMER DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS

  CONTENTS

  1 Jacked off

  2 The face of evil

  3 Playing on thin ice

  4 Blood on the streets

  5 Where there’s smoke

  6 Peter Dupas: the predator

  7 The long road to justice

  8 Hitting back

  9 Boys with toys

  10 A fatal miscalculation

  ‘The problem is that it is so well done that it’s very hard to distinguish what is fact and what is fiction.’

  JUSTICE BETTY KING ON BANNING THE SCREENTIME TELEVISION SERIES UNDERBELLY IN VICTORIA

  CHAPTER 1

  Jacked off

  ‘He’s a monster, you don’t know what he’s like.’

  IN HIS 22 years as a fireman, Brian Thompson had attended many tragic accidents, but there was something about the scene that day – where a young mother was crushed under her own car – that left him with a lasting sense of unease.

  At first Thompson was too busy looking for signs of life to worry about the cause of death. But when he couldn’t find a pulse and the victim’s skin was cold to the touch, he told a neighbour frantically trying to use his own jack to lift the car that it was too late. She was gone.

  Anne Louise Crawford, former primary school teacher and mother of two young children, lay dead under her 1983 brown Ford Fairlane. The car had apparently slipped off the jack as she scrambled for a wheel nut under the sedan while trying to change the driver’s side front tyre on the morning of May 6, 1988.

  The sedan dropped, crushing her skull and killing her instantly – the momentum was so powerful that it flattened the bottom of the metal front disk on impact with the concrete floor. When he realised there was nothing he could do, Thompson glanced around the carport of the neat suburban home in De Havilland Avenue, Strathmore Heights. He saw a stray wheel nut near the sump, a tyre on the ground next to the car and a second leaning against the house. It fitted perfectly the theory that the victim, 35, was changing a tyre when the car slipped.

  He also noticed the jack was poorly constructed and covered in what he described as ‘oriental writing’ – not the standard issue for the Australian-made Ford.

  It looked like a straightforward case of a momentary lapse of judgment combined with unimaginable bad luck. That is, until the veteran fireman walked over and felt the two tyres. ‘They were both obviously flat,’ he would later recall.

  Why, he wondered, would someone struggle to change a tyre with a dodgy jack when the spare was also useless? It didn’t make sense and quickly became the talk of some of the emergency workers at the scene.

  ‘This was the subject of discussion between myself and other people,’ he said.

  Another man used to trying to find order in chaos was ambulance officer Greg Sassella, who would rise through the ranks to become chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Ambulance Service.

  After the firemen used emergency airbags to gently lift the car to free the body, he immediately saw the crushing injuries that ended Anne Crawford’s life.

  He escorted the body to the Coroner’s Court, where he noticed an unexplained injury. Four small bruises at the back of her left bicep described as ‘in the shape of four fingertips’.

  It was as if a right-handed attacker had grabbed her roughly by the arm. It could have been a vital clue if police were looking. But they weren’t.

  A cursory examination of the scene by a trained detective would have raised further suspicions – such as why a woman with a reputation for neatness would choose to change from the tracksuit she wore during her morning walk into freshly laundered camel slacks and white shirt before attempting to change a filthy tyre.

  And why, if she was under the car searching for a wheel nut when she was crushed, she was found flat on her back.

  Or how the safe Ford-issue jack had mysteriously gone missing and would never be recovered. Or why two photographs in the hallway inside the house had been displaced as if knocked in a struggle.

  An expert may have noticed that the victim’s perfect set of pinkish-brown false fingernails had been damaged, leaving the right index one missing.

  A homicide investigator may have considered that the nail could have been lost while Anne Crawford fought for her life before she was placed unconscious under her own car and then crushed.

  The area would have been declared a crime scene and a search would have been ordered to look for evidence, including the missing false fingernail and the Ford jack.

  Perhaps the search would have found the pillowcase carelessly tossed on a pile of clothes in the laundry by a killer who used it to cover her face when he bashed her unconscious before he positioned her under the car to make murder look like misadventure.

  But there were no detectives called. Local uniform police attended and declared it an acc
ident. From the day of the tragedy the case seemed as dead as the unfortunate victim.

  Perhaps they were swayed by the superficial. This was a nice family, living in a nice street in a nice neighbourhood. Best not to pry too deeply and further upset the family and friends of the poor woman who lost her life. There were no pictures taken, no search ordered and no forensic examination undertaken. The car was removed to be sold just weeks later to an air force officer in Canberra and the fire brigade hosed down the concrete carport floor to remove any sign of blood that would disturb and traumatise Anne Crawford’s husband and children.

  Later, when police decided to take another look, they found the crime scene was hopelessly compromised.

  From the beginning, there were many clues that this was no accident.

  But it would take police eighteen years to prove it was murder.

  THE only witness who could explain to police the events that led to the death of Anne Crawford was her husband, Ron. A chemist with a strange nature, an entrepreneurial flair and a wandering eye, he was building a growing business of retail pharmacies.

  According to Crawford, his wife was backing out of their long drive with their two children about 8.10am when he noticed the car was scraping on the ground from a flat tyre.

  Anne slowly drove back into the carport and, according to his version of events (which would later change), he opened the boot and removed the spare tyre. He then looked for the jack and found it to be missing.

  ‘I asked Anne where the jack was, and she wasn’t able to remember what happened to it.’

  He then planned to change the tyre so he grabbed the jack from his Toyota Landcruiser. But realising he was running late for work he decided to return to the job later. They took their young son to school and their daughter to kindergarten in the Toyota.

  He dropped Anne home after she bought some milk, kissed her goodbye and told her, ‘I will be home before lunch so just leave everything and I’ll fix it’.

  Later Crawford’s story subtly changed. When he was questioned, rather than just being allowed to tell his story, he wouldn’t be able to recall who opened the boot and who removed the spare tyre – avoiding the sticking point of why he did not notice the second tyre was flat and unusable.

  In his second version, he claimed his wife declared she wanted to change the tyre, although he insisted he would do it by lunchtime. He said that when she had replaced a wheel two months earlier (implying she lost the Ford issue jack in the process), he had chastised her, stating he felt it was his job.

  The subtext was obvious: the dutiful husband was available to fix the problem while the headstrong wife took on a job beyond her capabilities, with tragic consequences.

  While stopping short of declaring it was her fault, he made it clear it certainly wasn’t his.

  When he drove up his street around 11.45 to change the tyre as promised, he saw the fire brigade and ambulance outside his house.

  As he approached, Thompson gently placed a hand against his chest and guided him away. No husband should be allowed to see his wife in such a devastating scene.

  Crawford would tell sympathetic police they had been happily married for thirteen years and were busy planning for the future with their son, seven, and daughter, four. They had bought a large block and were planning to build their dream home.

  It would be nearly a month before police started to think that perhaps Anne Crawford’s death was more sinister than first thought.

  While some close to the Crawfords had their immediate doubts and the death had become the gossip of the neighbourhood, the reason for the police re-examination came from a seemingly unlikely source.

  It was when a notorious armed robber tried to cut a deal by providing police with information on unsolved crimes and began to talk about the death of Anne Crawford.

  The armed robber said Ronald William Edward Crawford, successful chemist, devoted family man and now grieving widower, had effectively put his wife’s life out for tender and had been trying to find a violent criminal to take the contract for years.

  The armed robber would claim he had been offered (and refused) the contract for $25,000.

  The new information was passed to Detective Sergeant John Johnstone, an experienced investigator who could smell a rat and was trained to deal with them.

  Police investigations would find the middle-class chemist had several unexplained links to the underworld. His connections were intriguing. He was an associate of bandit Frankie Valastro (who was shot dead by police in 1987), the armed robber talking to police, and another violent criminal who can only be identified as PS.

  The armed robber told detectives that he’d been shot in 1984 and Crawford had provided him with drugs and arranged medical treatment through a Moonee Ponds doctor who would not report the incident to police.

  Crawford was a shooter who kept several firearms at home. The armed robber-turned-informer claimed the chemist provided him with a .38 revolver for a stick-up in 1984.

  Johnstone was able to establish that the chemist drove to Bendigo Prison twice to visit PS, signing in using the alias Jonathan Hart from his favourite television show, Hart to Hart.

  In the series, self-made millionaire Hart and his beautiful wife are amateur detectives who are in constant danger from serious criminals. When asked by Johnstone why he had visited the notorious prisoner, Crawford replied: ‘He was lonely.’ Prison records show the middle-class chemist visited the career criminal in jail at least four times.

  The prisoner told police the chemist had bought him a new pair of runners on each visit. Such acts of generosity seemed out of character for a man who was known to be careful with his money.

  PS told police Crawford was well known in the underworld and provided drugs for some of his criminal contacts, but he said he had no knowledge of a murder contract on Anne Crawford.

  There was another point that interested Johnstone about the prison visits. The seemingly happily married man turned up at jail with his mistress – or at least one of them.

  He would tell Johnstone that while he had multiple affairs, he was happily married. ‘He stated that at times he had the best of both worlds,’ the investigator said.

  Johnstone dug deeper and found Crawford had hired a car from Hertz the day before the death but did not return the car to the Tullamarine depot. It was collected the day after Anne’s death from the rooftop car park of the Westfield Shopping Centre in Airport West, where Crawford had a chemist shop.

  The keys were in the car and the doors were unlocked – it was another action out of character for Crawford, who was known to be security conscious. It had travelled 301 kilometres.

  Much later, police would speculate Crawford drove the car 150 kilometres to Euroa, where he paid PS $10,000 to kill his wife, before returning to the shopping centre.

  As part of the investigation, a police expert from the accident investigation squad used a police car and the Toyota jack to reconstruct the death.

  He found the jack stiff to use and suggested ‘a female could have trouble raising the vehicle sufficiently to clear the wheel for removal’.

  He also found the jack, designed for an off-road vehicle with a higher wheelbase, could only be placed under the Ford at a point where it did not fit safely. While it initially remained stable, once Senior Sergeant Robert Le Guier rocked the car sideways, it immediately slipped from the jack.

  Certainly, Crawford was deeply disturbed about Johnstone’s investigation. So much so that he hid in a friend’s house to eavesdrop as the detective interviewed the potential witness. Certainly, at times, he behaved like a man who expected to be charged with murder.

  Some of the initial actions of the grief-stricken husband started to take on sinister overtones. Such as why he fought against an autopsy, why he refused to allow family members to view the body and why he demanded a cremation when other members of his family were buried.

  Johnstone’s 27-page statement, which included a record of interview with C
rawford, was a damning document that would have exposed the husband as a womaniser who was suspected of organising his wife’s murder.

  But it didn’t.

  Coroner Harley Harber – no doubt concerned that the allegations against Crawford were not corroborated – ordered the court closed when Johnstone gave evidence. Harber made a finding that Anne Crawford died when she was crushed under her car while changing a tyre after she crawled under the vehicle to retrieve a wheel-nut. ‘I further find that the deceased contributed to the cause of death.’

  Officially Anne Crawford was to blame for her own death – at that stage there was no evidence to suggest otherwise.

  Crawford left the court in 1989 with his reputation intact. For the moment.

  CRAWFORD was an unhappy child who grew from a painfully shy, hardworking adolescent into a brooding adult driven by the need for financial success.

  Born with no pectoral muscles on the left side of his chest and a wasted left arm, he was teased as a child growing up in Pascoe Vale and was self-conscious about his disabilities. ‘Kids can be cruel,’ he would reflect.

  But there was one girl, Anne Bravo, three years his junior at Hadfield High School, who could see beyond his disability. ‘Anne and I met at high school. We were high school sweethearts,’ he told his Supreme Court murder jury in 2006.

  They married on December 28,1974, and had their first child nearly six years later.

  Sexually inexperienced when they married, he would later admit to three affairs during his marriage, but he maintained he was hardworking, loved his wife and children and believed his infidelities would not damage his marriage if Anne remained none the wiser.

  But when one girlfriend learnt of another, the results were catastrophic. In November 1985, she rang his wife. Crawford would tell the jury: ‘Anne was very, very upset; she was devastated because she had no idea of my relationship with Pauline. She didn’t suspect it.’

 
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