Convicted Whiskey Au Go Go killer James Richard Finch has died, a Brisbane court heard on Thursday, as it was revealed a coronial inquest would probe possible police involvement in the nightclub arson attack that killed 15 people.
Finch was one of two men convicted of murder over the mass killing at the Fortitude Valley nightspot in 1973. The other, John Andrew Stuart, died in his cell in 1979 after a hunger strike.
During a pre-inquest conference in Brisbane on Thursday, it was revealed Finch, who was deported to Britain in 1988, had died this year.
The arson took place at the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub on the corner of Amelia Street and St Pauls Terrace in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley about 2.05am on March 8, 1973.
In 2017, then-attorney general Yvette D’Ath directed State Coroner Terry Ryan to reopen the inquest into the tragedy.
An initial inquest was conducted in 1973, but postponed after three days when Stuart and Finch were arrested and charged.
On Thursday, barrister Stephen Keim, assisting the State Coroner, said there was evidence Finch and Stuart were not the only ones involved in the arson.
“The evidence also raises concerns that the focus of the police investigation activities in the aftermath of the fires was not directed at finding all of the persons responsible for the fires,” Mr Keim said.
“These concerns extend to fears that a broader group of persons, including possibly police officers themselves, had some role in planning the attack of the nightclub.”
Mr Keim said some findings of the 1989 Fitzgerald Inquiry into widespread Queensland police corruption would be used in the two-week coronial inquest, set to start on June 14.
Finch and Stuart were charged with the murder of the youngest Whiskey Au Go Go victim, 17-year-old Jennifer Denise Davie, and were each sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour.
Finch died earlier this year, according to a family member.
Sonya Lewis, whose mother Desmae Carroll died in the fire, said outside court that “karma came around and bit him [Finch] in the arse”.
“It would have been nice to get more answers out of him, but whether he told the truth or not that’s another thing,” she said.
“He was scared to come back because he knew he would be indicted for 14 other murders.
Donna Phillips, who was the drinks waitress and cashier at the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub on the morning of the fire, heard the news of Finch’s death in court on Thursday.
“I think a lot of people will be pleased to hear he’s gone, but for me, the tragedy is not being able to hear from him directly, of the stories that he would have known to his last breath,” she said.
The Whiskey Au Go Go victims
- Colin William Folster, 21, Red Hill, musician with Trinity
- Darcy Thomas Day, 19, Holland Park, musician with Trinity
- William David Nolan, 21, Indooroopilly, military police
- Ernest John Peters, 51, Rockhampton, farmer
- Desmond John Peters, 31, Rockhampton, farmer (son of Ernest)
- Carol Ann Green, 26, Camp Hill
- Wendy Leonne Drew, 24, Norman Park
- Brian William Watson, 32, Goodna
- Peter Marcus, 23, Petrie Terrace
- Fay Ellen Will, 19, Nundah
- Jennifer Denise Davie, 17, New Farm, Whiskey Au Go Go waitress
- Desmae Selma Carroll, 29, of New Farm, Whiskey Au Go Go barmaid
- Leslie Gordon Palethorpe, 20, Indooroopilly, Lance Corporal
- David John Western, 19, Norman Park
- Paul Ferdinand Zoller, 26, National Hotel kitchen hand