The year Ray McAlpine was murdered there was very little guitar music worth remembering, but lots of big hair. The bloodbath that was to come to the Carlton Crew was a decade away.
Melbourne was preoccupied with U.S. style mass shootings. Hoddle Street was known for more than just traffic jams, and Julian Knight became a household name. In the same year, Frank Vitkovic gave fresh meaning to ‘going postal’. The following year the unthinkable happened. Two young constables were ambushed and murdered. Their murderers walked free when a key witness changed her testimony. With all this going on most people’s attention was not on organised crime.
It flourished in the shadows.
The year before, a car bomb exploded outside police headquarters, which was then located at Russell Street.
There was a secret war going on between elements in the police force and criminal gangs responsible for several violent armed robberies.
As always, the selling of illegal drugs was big business.
Ray McAlpine was very much a part of this dark world.
He lived in it, and he died in it.
How and why were questions occupying Sam Bennett?
The ‘how’ was partially known.
The police still had a healthy file on the case, and most of it had recently been removed from storage. A lot of it had been digitised, but the old paper records still existed.
Among the boxes of evidence were the usual things that you would expect to find.
“It’s always the thing that doesn’t fit that leads you to an interesting place.” Sam was speaking to property Sergeant, Karl Stippich.
After his first run-in with the Cold Case Squad, Sam believed that he was not going to get any more out of them, but after Mary was found guilty, he received a message from Senior Sergeant Robert Willis.
“Property Sergeant Karl Stippich is expecting to hear from you.”
Sam wasn’t exactly sure who Property Sergeant Karl Stippich was, but it didn’t take much to find out.
“I’m not sure what you mean Mr Bennett, but this is all the evidence we have on the Ray McAlpine murder. You’ll understand that it has been a long time, but everything seems to be here. At least everything that was here when they started putting stuff on disk in the 90s. I’ve laid it all out for you, from most important to least important, just like I was told.”
“Told? Told by whom?”
“Can we just get on with this? My boss doesn’t like civilians being down here. Lots of sensitive stuff in here.”
The Property Sergeant’s domain was a huge old factory site on the outskirts of the central business district. Storage racks reached almost to the ceiling which was at least twenty feet high. Nothing fancy about the inside of the building, just bare red-brick wall. There was very little natural light, and Sam was reminded of the nameless warehouse in ‘The X-Files’.
“You haven’t got any dead aliens in here, have you?”
“No, but plenty of dead people. These paper files go back a long way. The whole lot is being moved out to a new complex in Broadmeadows late next year. Gonna be a hell of a job to move it all. I remember when they bought it all here — Hell of a job.”
“Of all the stuff associated with this case, what is the one thing that seems strange to you?”
Stippich thought like a policeman, so this was a tough assignment. As far as he was concerned it was all evidence; strange was for detectives and way above his pay grade.
Sam could see him struggling with the question.
“If you had to pick one thing that seemed the least likely to be associated with this murder what would it be?”
Stippich’s eyes widened just a little when he looked at the coat near the end of the evidence table.
“This coat was found a few metres away from the body, and as far as I know, it’s not linked to anyone involved or suspected in the case, which is unusual. The list of suspects was pretty long, and anyone who was anyone in Scumbag Town was on that list.”
“Nice one,” said Sam.
It was a three-quarter length pure wool coat with a designer label. It was in good condition considering how long it had been stored. The coat itself was a camel colour, and the lining was a light brown silk.
Not the sort of coat anyone would expect to find in a run-down suburb and close to a murder scene.
The only visible damage on the coat was a long slit in the lining at the bottom of the coat on its right-hand side. Without asking for confirmation, Sam decided that the lining had been cut with a knife rather than scissors.
Sam photographed the coat while the Property Sergeant looked the other way. With a bit of luck, the maker’s label might lead him somewhere.
“I think a trip to visit Tony Bone is in order,” said Sam.
“I don’t even want to know what that means,” said Property Sergeant Karl Stippich. He had learned, long ago, that too much knowledge only got you into trouble. Being eighteen months from retirement, his goal was to keep his head down and dream of being retired. He was still young enough to enjoy it, and his missus had the whole thing planned.
They bought a very cool old Airstream caravan at a police auction. It had previously belonged to a nefarious character who moved drugs for a Melbourne gang. He and his missus drove up and down the Hume Highway between Melbourne and Sydney at least twice a week. The gang paid him five thousand dollars per trip, and that was one trip in each direction. Drugs went up, and cash came down. Twenty thousand dollars per week. Even when you took petrol, tyres and wear and tear into account, that was a good weekly wage.
They had been at it for about eighteen months when an officer who was stationed in Albury wondered why he kept seeing the same vintage Airstream caravan, week in and week out. The older couple had spent many a happy hour in Albury in their youth so they rather foolishly stopped there every time they made the trip north. The constable didn’t mention it immediately, but after he had observed them a few more times, he told his sergeant. The Police waited for the polished aluminium caravan to arrive one more time and nabbed the older couple and several kilogrammes of cannabis.
The arresting officers were from the drug squad, and the eagle-eyed traffic constable didn’t receive any credit. His sergeant thought this was grossly unfair and wrote to the Commissioner on his behalf. The young constable’s commendation arrived ten days after he drowned trying to save two teenage girls who had unwisely gone swimming in a swollen Murray River. He saved the girls and lingered for more than a day before succumbing. His wife accepted the award on his behalf. She spoke to reporters about his courage and his desire to help people, but secretly she wished he had been a bit selfish and had waited for help to arrive instead of diving in and leaving her alone. In time, she would have a bravery award to add to the memories of her heroic young husband.
The Drug Squad were very pleased with their haul, and it made for good television. The gleaming silver vintage caravan and a large pile of ‘grass’. The old couple did not bother to hide the loot, they loaded it into their caravan and threw a blanket or two over the pile. No one ever asked to look inside the van.
Consequently, the police did not conduct a thorough search. The loot was in plain sight, and despite one detective’s protest, the word came down from on high. “A waste of Police resources. Stick it into impound and get on with your next case.”
When Karl Stippich drove the van home from the auction, his wife was very excited, but she said that the inside had a strange smell. Karl just laughed and said the smell would go away. It didn’t.
Karl was a handy sort of bloke, so he decided to service the van himself and save a bit more money.
Once he had jacked up the van to get the wheels off, he packed the wheel bearings, put the wheels back on and was about to let the jacks down when he decided to check under the floor. The body was aluminium, but the floor pan was steel — and steel can rust.
Considering its age there was very little corrosion, but there was a series of bolted-on compartments that most likely were not original spec’.
Karl tried undoing the bolts on one of the compartments, and they came away easily. There were at least ten thousand dollars in that one and about the same in the others.
It didn’t make sense to Karl. The detectives were sure that the couple loaded the drugs into the van and covered it while doing the same with the cash. So what was this money about? Karl was no fool. He was going to give this a bit of thought before he did anything rash, like handing it in.
In the coming weeks, restoration work carried out by officer Karl revealed several hidden compartments inside the van. When Karl ran out of hiding places, he had amassed slightly more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Mrs Karl voted to keep the money. “It’s probably their personal stash, and they are not going to live long enough to get out of jail and come looking for us. And anyway, what are they going to do? Beat us to death with their Zimmer Frames?” Mrs Karl was wide-eyed and full of plans for spending their bonanza.
Karl agreed and surmised that the couple probably thought that the police had found their stash of cash. He suggested that they wait until he retired in six months and if no one showed up asking about the van, they were probably in the clear.
They were right, and they got to safely keep the money, but money strangely accrued can have a peculiar effect on those doing the accruing, and Karl and his missus didn’t relax until news eventually came that the old couple had died in prison.
Tony Bone couldn’t spell hygiene.
The Health Inspector could, but his spelling was hampered by the smell of money — a large pile of money ironically delivered in a hamburger wrapper.
This happened once a month.
Tony Bone wasn’t in when Sam called, but he rang Sam back that night, and they arranged to meet the following day.
People are rarely there when you want them to be, and so it was when Sam rang Tony Bone, but later that night Tony picked up the phone.
“Is there any chance you could have the place tidied up a bit. I’m allergic,” Sam wasn’t kidding.
“That’s a bit rude Sam, and anyway, what are you allergic to?”
“Death. And I’m pretty sure that I could catch several things that might kill me if I ever went anywhere near your bathrooms.”
“A bloke did die in there once, but that had more to do with a sharp instrument. Which was never found, by the way.”
“I’ll bet it’s still in there somewhere along with the body, not to mention Jimmy Hoffa and Amelia Earhart.”
“I know who Amelia Earhart is but who the hell is Jimmy Hoffa?”
“Forget it. I’ll see you tomorrow. I may be a little late. I’ll need to make sure my inoculations are up to date.”
Sam survived his trip to ‘Cafe What?’ and strangely, Tony was forthcoming. He seemed to know about the coat and who it likely belonged to.
“That was Bruno Mars’ signature. He was Dannie Welner’s enforcer.
Danny, Bruno and the rest of the gang liked to eat at Cafe Bella in Carlton. The owner was a citizen, but a lot of The Crew wanted to hang out in there. The food was particularly good. So good in fact, that when the chef wanted to leave, Dannie gave him a ten thousand dollar bonus to stay. The money was an incentive, but in any case, no one said no to Dannie. That chef worked there until they dimmed Dannie’s headlights. When bodies were dropping all over the place, and Dannie needed someone dead, he would book a table at Cafe Bella. When the owner greeted them, they would hand the owner their coats. On nights like that, they always had coats, no matter what the weather was like. If Dannie insisted that he take his lieutenant’s coat, the owner knew that this was the signal. He would take the coat to a vacant block of land at the back of the restaurant and wait until Bruno walked out of the shadows. Bruno would hand the restaurant owner a knife and tell him to make a slit in the lining and Bruno would remove the cash and the instructions. The owner usually returned the coat, but once or twice the coat didn’t come back. Bruno never kept the coats, but sometimes, no one knew exactly why he would take the coat to the scene of the murder and leave it nearby. Bruno was more than a little bit nuts, so maybe he thought it was some sort of signature. Maybe he thought he was frightening people. He needn’t have bothered, everyone was terrified of the mad bastard. Not even his mother shed a tear when Big Mick shot him in the back of that cafe. Shot him with his own gun, which was a nice touch.”
“Thanks, Tony, you saved me a lot of legwork. You’ll send me your bill?”
This was a euphemism, as Sam always paid Tony with a case of Scotch. Blended if the info was lightweight and twelve-year-old single malt if the info was relevant. This one was worth a case of something very special.
“Don’t bother Sam. This one is on the house. That arsehole Bruno killed my favourite cousin. Anything that heaps shit on his grave comes free of charge.”
Sam was momentarily speechless. Tony had NEVER been known to give anything away for free.
Tony was and still is a low life, but just for a moment, Sam felt sorry for the cafe owner with the dead cousin.