Club ‘set up’ to burn with people inside – AAP (4 February 2022)

By Cheryl Goodenough

Murderer Vincent O’Dempsey set up the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing so it would burn down with people inside, a Brisbane inquest into the 1973 attack has been told.

Paul Dubois recounted a conversation he had in the 1980s with his brother Garry Dubois – who was later convicted with O’Dempsey of murdering Barbara McCulkin and her daughters.

Garry Dubois claimed he had nothing to do with the Whiskey fire that killed 15 people, but Tom Hamilton who was known to the brothers had been there, Paul Dubois told the inquest on Thursday.

“He said O’Dempsey had set it up so the place would burn down with people in it. He wanted nothing to do with that,” Mr Dubois said.

“He said he couldn’t understand why that was going to happen.

“He said it was beyond his comprehension that that was even thought about.”

Mr Dubois said his brother referred to the men later convicted of the Whiskey attack – John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch – as “a couple of clowns”.

“He said they were set up a long time before the fire to take the fall for it and they were too stupid to wake up to it.”

Mr Dubois said his brother, who died in jail last year, knew a lot of other people including police were involved but didn’t name anyone.

The Whiskey inquest was reopened after the firebombing was mentioned in trials in which O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were convicted of killing the McCulkins.

The trials heard the killings may have been motivated over fears Barbara McCulkin would try to implicate O’Dempsey in the firebombing.

Only Finch and Stuart were convicted over the Whiskey attack.

The evidence came as lawyers called for former police officer Roger Rogerson, who is behind bars in NSW for murder and was part of the initial investigation into the attack, to be called to testify.

Rogerson is the only person still alive who signed Finch’s confession made days after the firebombing, O’Dempsey’s lawyer Chris Minnery told the inquest.

He said Rogerson could also be asked about the possibility of any involvement by Sydney-based criminals.

The application was supported by some legal representatives, but counsel assisting Stephen Keim said information like details of a conversation between detectives and Rogerson had already been provided to the court.

Rogerson’s lawyer had also instructed that his client would not consent to giving remote evidence.

“We don’t think it’s an exercise logistically or financially justified,” Mr Keim added.

Coroner Terry Ryan is expected to rule on the request on Friday.

Whiskey suspect got a ‘touch-up’: ex-cop – AAP (2 February 2022)

By Cheryl Goodenough

A retired police officer says a man later convicted of the fatal Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing “got a touch-up” from police during an interview days after the 1973 attack.

But it was only when John Kolence investigated the disappearance the following year of mother Barbara McCulkin and her daughters he realised the two men convicted were not the only ones involved.

Mr Kolence, a first class constable at the time of the attack, said he was in the adjacent interview room when detectives talked to James Finch, one of two men later convicted.

Mr Kolence, now 77, heard raised voices, banging and crashing from the other room, he told coroner Terry Ryan during the inquest in Brisbane on Wednesday.

“He (Finch) yelled at the top of his voice,” Mr Kolence added.

“I’m not going to f***ing jail … kill me, you bastards, f***ing kill me.”

Mr Kolence said he heard senior officer Syd Atkinson yelling out for Finch to calm down.

After more obscenities that sounded like Finch was trying to “bait” police, Mr Kolence heard furniture moving and something hit the wall next to where he was sitting.

“It clunked into the wall something fierce and it actually moved me on the chair,” he said.

“I got a hellava fright from the wall moving,” he added.

Mr Kolence poked his head into the doorway to check everything was OK, but Mr Atkinson said Finch was just “putting it on”.

Afterwards Mr Kolence saw Mr Atkinson washing his hands in a homicide squad room which he found suspicious.

He later checked Finch closely for any blood or injury, but didn’t see anything to back up his concerns.

Mr Kolence told the inquest Mr Atkinson later read out a record of Finch’s interview that “didn’t sound right”.

It quoted Finch as using the words “gentleman” and “events”, which Mr Kolence told the inquest didn’t sound like words the suspect would use.

“He’d been calling them f***ing c***s and everything for a solid half hour earlier in afternoon so I couldn’t imagine him calling them gentlemen,” he added.

Asked whether he had expressed scepticism about Finch saying those words, Mr Kolence said he wouldn’t dare make such a suggestion to officers who were Queensland’s top investigators.

“I’m the first class constable, I’m the dunce,” he said.

Mr Kolence said he realised while investigating the deaths of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters there were other people involved in the club attack.

He named Vincent O’Dempsey – who was convicted over the deaths of the McCulkin’s – former boxer Thomas Hamilton and Ms McCulkin’s estranged husband Billy but gave no detail.

The Whiskey inquest was reopened after the firebombing was mentioned in trials in which O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were convicted of killing the McCulkins.

The trials heard the killings may have been motivated over fears Ms McCulkin would try to implicate O’Dempsey in the Whiskey attack.

More than 60 patrons and staff tried frantically to escape as air conditioning vents acted as chimneys, pouring black smoke into the Fortitude Valley club about 2am on March 8.

Fifteen people didn’t make it out, dying from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The inquest continues.