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Underbelly 5, p.1

Underbelly 5, page 1


Underbelly 5

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Underbelly 5

  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.



  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 2001

  Copyright © Floradale Productions and Sly Ink 2001

  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

  Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland, London

  83 Alexander Street

  Crows Nest NSW 2065


  Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100

  Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218

  Email: [email protected]


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

  ISBN 9781742699356 (ebook)

  ‘Silvester and Rule have impeccable sources.’



  1 In search of evil

  2 Burning desire

  3 Getting away with murder

  4 Given up for dead

  5 Three minutes to death

  6 The invisible man

  7 Silence of the damned

  8 The last to leave

  9 Rich and infamous

  10 Who is Mr Cruel?

  11 A boy named Siu

  12 Who killed George Brown?

  13 Mr Livingstone, we presume

  14 Broken on the wheel

  15 King of the road

  16 The one that got away

  ‘Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment,’



  In search of evil

  Even bad men didn’t like him.

  THERE was something about Peter Keogh that men didn’t like. Perhaps it was the way his eyes darted about – never returning a gaze. Perhaps it was the nervous habit of shifting his weight from one foot to the other, as if deciding whether to attack or run.

  Or perhaps it was the way he would grind his teeth, as though he was only one misunderstanding away from exploding into violence.

  Even bad men didn’t like him. When he was in jail, he needed protection from fellow criminals who could see beyond the tough-guy tattoos to the inherent weakness beneath.

  He needed a billiard cue, a broken glass or a knife to express his anger and his targets were usually women – or sometimes little girls.

  But some women could not see that side until it was too late. Not the attractive bar worker, the single mother, the impressionable teenager, or the younger sister of a star footballer who would later enter federal politics. Keogh was short, shifty and not too smart.

  He was unskilled – a drifter – the type many fathers would describe as a ‘no hoper’.

  But the Cleary family didn’t like to make judgments, although they privately hoped Vicki would grow out of her interest in the older man with a past and no future.

  They were confident she would ultimately realise the man, 13 years her senior, was a waste of time and effort. Her elder brother, Phil, VFA footballer, political activist, media identity and federal MP to be, knew that expressing doubts about Vicki’s partner would be useless. He was confident she would conclude the relationship was not long term. Better, he thought, to remain silent.

  He was not to know the man he tried to tolerate for the sake of his sister was dangerous, obsessive and a potential killer.

  ‘People knew things about him that they did not divulge to us,’ he says. ‘I just wish I had known. He was not just a knockabout bloke with a bit of a past. He was a violent man who hated women.’

  Phil Cleary paces the polished boards of his renovated Brunswick home and speaks with the passion of the football coach he once was and with the skills honed in the House of Representatives, where he was an independent member for four years.

  He talks of his sister and the man who killed her. He talks of the system that could not deliver justice and the society that could not protect her from evil.

  Cleary’s politics are of the left. His nature is to believe in rehabilitation rather than revenge.

  But this is not a philosophical debate: it is a real-life tragedy. His sister was stalked and murdered by a man who could, and should, have been stopped.

  FOR more than 30 years Ron Cleary was famous for the sausages he created in the back of his small Coburg butcher’s shop. He married Lorna Dorian in 1951 and they were to have six children. The three boys came first, with Phil the senior, and then the three girls, with Vicki the eldest.

  Philip was nine when Vicki was born. She was just a kid when he became a university student, then a teacher and a footballing cult figure with Coburg in the VFA.

  But as they grew older the age difference seemed to shrink. ‘I was just getting to know her,’ he would say, with the air of a man cheated.

  She was working at the University of Melbourne laboratory in 1983, when she became ill and was admitted to St Vincent’s Hospital.

  Phil went to see her and felt big brotherly concern when he saw four visitors in the room. ‘I didn’t like their manner and I didn’t like them.’

  While she was in hospital a house-mate moved out of their shared home in Beauchamp Street, Preston, and Keogh moved in. She was just 22 and he was 35.

  The young, energetic girl and the older, brooding man were to become a couple. Phil Cleary was concerned when he saw them together. ‘When I first came across him I didn’t like him. He wouldn’t look you in the eye, he ground his teeth and he was covered with tattoos.’

  Cleary and Keogh were a similar age, but opposites in character. Cleary was passionate about causes and, despite his reputation on the football field, not disposed to violence. He has a natural warmth and a quick sense of humor. Keogh was cold, apathetic, prone to anger.

  But, like her b
ig brother, Vicki Cleary was attracted to unpopular causes.

  Keogh had injured his back while working in a northern suburbs factory and was to be awarded $60,000 in compensation. Vicki Cleary saw Keogh as a person who needed her help. She told her mother she was concerned about his health and long-term future.

  ‘She was worried he would end up an old man in a wheelchair with no one to look after him,’ Phil Cleary said.

  They were to buy a house in Broadford but, in April 1987, Vicki realised her life would be better without the needy, moody older man. Her family was relieved. Their tactic of letting Vicki make her own decisions had been vindicated.

  ‘I had no animosity to him. I didn’t think it would last and I was glad it was over,’ Phil says. There was no property dispute, no children and nothing to make the break-up complex. It should have been straightforward.’

  But Keogh was not a straightforward man. He would never let her go. He began to stalk the woman he claimed to love, while she tried to deal with him without involving her family and friends.

  Fights between former lovers are sometimes called ‘domestics’, but this was no simple spat between equals. There was a blameless victim and a ruthless attacker.

  People who should have seen the dangers refused to become involved and those who could have helped were not told of the dangers. ‘We were from a solid, working-class family. We didn’t come from a background of violence,’ Phil Cleary says.

  He knew his sister was having minor problems getting some property back from Keogh and offered to see him. Not as the heavy older brother, but as an intermediary to tell him gently the relationship was over and to advise him to accept reality.

  What he didn’t know was that Keogh had already told Vicki if any of the Cleary brothers turned up he would ‘iron bar’ their knees.

  The terrified woman was trying to protect her family from a man who was becoming increasingly erratic. ‘I rang her and she said, “He wouldn’t hurt me, don’t worry – there’s no problem”.’

  In June that year she went to the Coburg Social Club to celebrate her elder brother’s 200th game. ‘She was so bouncy and happy.’

  But Vicki was concealing a growing problem. Keogh was having her followed and was harassing her at home and work. Her car was damaged and she was being threatened.

  At the kindergarten in Coburg where she worked, colleagues saw her fear first-hand. She would spend meal and tea breaks in a house across the road from the kindergarten, staring out the window as if she were looking for someone. Once, she was found hiding behind a door. But still Keogh refused to leave her alone. He continued to ring and harass her.

  Vicki went to court for a restraining order in the hope that it could protect her. But the clerk of courts was on sick leave and his replacement did not seem interested. She left without one.

  Her kindergarten director, Marie Mathews-Jessop, suggested Vicki take some time off. She was there when Keogh arrived looking for his former girlfriend. ‘I was so scared I went to close the door but he grabbed hold of the door,’ she was to recall.

  On Monday, 24 August, 1987, Keogh again rang her at the kindergarten from a Preston hotel. He gave her an ultimatum: ‘Get over on Tuesday night or else there will be trouble.’

  Again she was in tears.

  Mathews-Jessop said: ‘Virtually her last words on the Tuesday afternoon when I left, she said: “Marie, I can’t go round there. I’m just too scared”, and I said, “Don’t put yourself at risk”.’

  Her friends were frightened of Keogh and frightened for Vicki. They talked to her and gave advice. Unaware of the real dangers, some saw the situation as uncomfortable rather than life-threatening. They hoped Keogh would eventually lose interest and drift away. They were wrong.

  But Keogh’s mates had no excuse for underestimating the risks. They knew of his violent past and they saw him brooding. They chose to do nothing.

  Keogh spoke to a friend in a pub about six weeks before he killed Vicki. The jilted lover betrayed his growing, violent thoughts. ‘If she keeps going I’m going to neck her,’ he said.

  The friend was worried enough to remember the conversation, but not worried enough to do anything about it.

  Nobody would ring the police. They didn’t want to get involved, or to intrude in other people’s lives. After all, it was just a domestic.

  ON Wednesday, 26 August, 1987, Keogh was outside the kindergarten in Cameron Street at 7am. He was dressed in bright-yellow overalls, peaked cap and blue jacket. Whether by design or coincidence, the overalls were similar to those worn by railway repair crews who often worked on the tracks that ran beside the kindergarten.

  Keogh was now beyond talking. He had with him a large hunting-type knife, a Stanley knife, pliers, masking tape and rubber gloves.

  He tried to conceal the knife against his leg but was annoyed when the blade pricked his calf. He fashioned a cardboard scabbard for the knife and strapped it to his leg.

  He hid behind a tree for more than an hour and was seen drinking from a tap in the front garden of a house in the street. He would later claim he planned only to damage Vicki Cleary’s car. He did not explain why he needed masking tape, gloves and a sharp hunting knife to vandalise a Ford sedan. Police believe he may have planned to abduct his former partner and murder her, but stabbed her in the street when she struggled.

  Vicki rarely drove her silver Ford Fairmont sedan to work, fearing that Keogh might follow her. But this day she chose to take the risk. She pulled up at the Shirley Robinson Children’s Centre in Coburg at 8.10am.

  She got out of the car and he grabbed her. Witnesses were to say he tried to strangle her as she screamed for help. He forced her into the front passenger seat, slashing her face and hands as she tried to protect herself.

  Vicki Cleary was dragged from the car and Keogh stabbed her at least four times in the body, perforating her liver. She collapsed in the gutter, bleeding to death.

  The first people at the scene tried to use a blanket and a windcheater to stem the bleeding. She identified Peter Keogh as her attacker and then said quietly, ‘It hurts.’

  She was taken to the Royal Melbourne Hospital at 8.46am and rushed to an operating theatre, but doctors could not stop the bleeding. She died at 10.40am.

  Onlookers were to remark that Keogh ‘walked casually’ away after the stabbing and did not appear to be deranged or unbalanced.

  One witness watched him calmly wipe the blood from the knife before placing it in his scabbard. ‘I was struck by the callousness of it.’

  Much was made at his trial that Keogh was in a confused and disturbed state and his attack on Vicki Cleary was not planned.

  While the woman he claimed to love was bleeding to death, Keogh was seen ‘ambling along’ as he walked about 500 metres to an auction room at 793 Sydney Road, Coburg, where he had previously bought and sold second-hand goods.

  Less than 10 minutes after the attack, he hid his blood – spattered overalls and weapons in a cardboard box. He then made himself a cup of coffee and calmly discussed business in the auction house. ‘It’s an impressive sale,’ he said to two men in the shop.

  They noticed he kept looking at the front and back doors, but they put it down to his usual distracted nature. He picked up the cardboard box and left.

  Police were later to find he had taken the murder weapon from a friend’s house in Preston where he was living. ‘It was used to cut up the meat for the dogs,’ the friend, Brian Freake, later said.

  Keogh rang Freake at the house in Highview Road about 11am that day. He asked, ‘Have they been there?’

  Later that day, Keogh went to police with his solicitor. Experienced homicide squad detective, Jim Conomy, said that while the suspect was nervous he was not particularly traumatised. ‘He just seemed a normal person.’

  Yet, at the Supreme Court trial, his defence was that the disturbed and broken-hearted killer had somehow been provoked by his victim. He was eventually found guilty – not of murder but of mansla

  Vicki Cleary was stalked and terrorised. She tried to get a restraining order, and then was attacked without warning in a Melbourne street. She was just 54 kilograms and 157 centimetres. She did nothing wrong, but the man who took a taxi, a hunting knife and a disguise to the kindergarten where she worked, was found not guilty of murder.

  Keogh was sentenced to eight years with a minimum of six. He was released on 18 July, 1991. He’d served three years and eleven months.

  Years later, Vicki’s mother Lorna still cannot understand the decision and the sentence. ‘We do not believe in capital punishment, all we wanted was justice.’

  Lorna Cleary had a dream the night before Vicki died. One of her daughters lay dead in a rosewood coffin. She could not see her face.

  Three days later, Vicki lay in a funeral parlor – in an open rosewood coffin.

  IT is many years since his sister was stabbed to death, but Phil Cleary remains angry and disgusted. This passionate man, who has spent much of his life lobbying for the powerless against the powerful, remains frustrated that his sister did not turn to him.

  People started to tell him stories at her wake about what she had been through. ‘I was furious. She did not confide in us. I think she was trying to protect her family. She would have been worried that her brothers could have become involved.

  ‘She didn’t want to escalate the violence. She was concerned it could all blow up. She thought she could ride it out.’

  He remains disgusted that the legal system could find an ambush killer not guilty of the murder.

  Phil Cleary has had a full and interesting life. A stint in federal parliament, an elected delegate at the Constitutional Convention, an author, teacher, media commentator and the father of a young family.

  But he is still drawn back to the sister who was murdered and the man who took her life outside a Coburg kindergarten. He has spent years collating information about Keogh, documenting incidents about his past. The man with the knife knew Cleary was investigating him and the stalker didn’t like the idea of being stalked.

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