Whiskey killer dead. The Inquest and Possible Police Link – Brisbane Times (29 April 2021)


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.

Carbon monoxide poisoning killed 15 people inside, with the airconditioning acting “effectively as a chimney” to funnel the smoke into the venue from the ground-floor entry where the fire started.

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.

“I think Finch did his time, but not enough time in my books. He was convicted for one murder, not 15, and that ticks me off.”

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

  1. Colin William Folster, 21, Red Hill, musician with Trinity
  2. Darcy Thomas Day, 19, Holland Park, musician with Trinity
  3. William David Nolan, 21, Indooroopilly, military police
  4. Ernest John Peters, 51, Rockhampton, farmer
  5. Desmond John Peters, 31, Rockhampton, farmer (son of Ernest)
  6. Carol Ann Green, 26, Camp Hill
  7. Wendy Leonne Drew, 24, Norman Park
  8. Brian William Watson, 32, Goodna
  9. Peter Marcus, 23, Petrie Terrace
  10. Fay Ellen Will, 19, Nundah
  11. Jennifer Denise Davie, 17, New Farm, Whiskey Au Go Go waitress
  12. Desmae Selma Carroll, 29, of New Farm, Whiskey Au Go Go barmaid
  13. Leslie Gordon Palethorpe, 20, Indooroopilly, Lance Corporal
  14. David John Western, 19, Norman Park
  15. Paul Ferdinand Zoller, 26, National Hotel kitchen hand

Convicted Whiskey Au Go Go firebomber James Finch dies – ABC (29 April 2021)


A new investigation into one of Australia’s worst mass murders, the Whiskey Au Go Go arson attack, will not hear from one of the convicted firebombers after it was revealed he has died.

Fifteen people were killed in the early hours of March 8, 1973, after the popular nightclub in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley was firebombed.

John Stuart and James Finch were charged over the deadly attack and were eventually convicted of the murder of one of the victims, and sentenced to life in prison with hard labour.

Stuart died in Brisbane’s Boggo Road jail in 1979, while Finch was paroled in 1988 and deported to the UK.

Finch was supposed to be called to give evidence at a newly reopened inquest into the fatal attack, but counsel assisting the coroner told a preliminary conference in Brisbane today that Finch died in England over the past few months.

In 2017, then Queensland attorney-general Yvette D’Ath asked the state coroner to reopen the inquest after two other men were convicted of a cold case triple murder believed to be linked to the arson attack.

Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were sentenced to life in jail for the deaths of Brisbane mother Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters, Vicki and Leanne, in 1974.

In sentencing O’Dempsey and Dubois, Justice Peter Applegarth said it was clear Ms McCulkin had been targeted by the men because she knew too much about their alleged involvement in the 1973 crime and they wanted to silence her.

It has long been suggested other people might have been involved, and the fresh probe will look at who might have also played a role.

The inquest will also aim to determine the adequacy of the investigations carried out at the time and in the subsequent years since the attack.

More than a dozen witnesses are expected to be called to give evidence in the 10-day hearing set down for June, including O’Dempsey and Dubois.

Outside court Donna Phillips, a waitress at the nightclub who survived the 1973 attack, said the inquest had been “a long time coming” and she was ready to move forward.

“I’ve struggled psychologically to be able to do so,” she said.

“A lot of good people have had devastation in their lives from it.”

Ms Phillips said it was disappointing Finch would not be giving evidence, but she was “confident the true story will come forward”.

“The tragedy is not being able to hear from him directly of the stories he would have known until his last breath, that’s the sad thing,” she said.

“The list of those culpable is getting shorter, so thank heavens the inquest is happening now.”

Sonya Carroll, the daughter of Desmae Carroll who died in the blaze aged 29, said she wanted the “truth to come out”.

“We want closure, we deserve closure, and so does everyone else who is involved in this,” she said.

Ms Carroll said the long wait for another inquest had taken its toll on her family.

“This has been dragging out … it’s been a long journey,” she said.

Desmae’s son Kim Carroll said they wanted answers.

“We only know what we were told by our father when we were little kids,” he said.

“We just want to find out exactly what happened to our mother.”

Mr Carroll said it did not mean anything to him that Finch was no longer a witness and he hoped the inquest would still provide closure.

“You couldn’t trust a word [Finch] said anyway, if he did try and give evidence we wouldn’t believe him,” he said.

“Hopefully this is the beginning of the end.”

Other witnesses include journalists, police officers, survivors of the blaze and family members of the victims.