False Confession Claims on Club Bombing ‘Untrue’ – The Australian (6 November 2018)

Another David Murray exclusive;

False confession claims on club bombing ‘untrue’

A retired Queensland detective has laughed off claims that police fabricated a key confession to the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing.

Evan Griffiths, now 94, is one of few officers still alive who investigated the 1973 Brisbane nightclub blaze that killed 15 people.

Two men — James Finch and John Stuart — were convicted over the fire but suspicions that others were involved are set to be examined in a new inquest.

Mr Griffiths played an important role, as one of six senior officers who said they were in a police interview room when Finch purportedly admitted he lit the fire to help Stuart extort nightclubs.

Finch has always denied confessing and last month repeated his claims that police fabricated his unsigned record of interview.

At his home north of Brisbane, where he lives independently and is still an active member of the community, Mr Griffiths was not surprised by Finch’s protests.

“Oh well, you wouldn’t expect him to say he did (confess), would you?” he said.

Mr Griffiths, a detective sergeant attached to the Brisbane Criminal Investigation Branch at the time of the fire, said Finch “most certainly” did confess to police. “Not to me, but to the team,” he said.

“All those things were put to him. You do it thoroughly, you don’t buggerise around, make up things or anything as you put a statement in.”

Pressed on whether the confession happened, he said: “Well, what did we give in evidence? You couldn’t deny it, you’d be out for all sorts of things, wouldn’t you?”

He said police had been confronted by a “mess” when they ­attended the nightclub in the early hours of the morning.

He said after the charges were laid “I don’t think we even celebrated, I don’t think we had a drink”.

“There was a team of us and we stuck as a team right through. What you did, you did right ­according to the law,” he said.

The Queensland government ordered the new Whiskey inquest after Vince O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were last year given life sentences over the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters Vicki and Leanne.

O’Dempsey’s trial was told he murdered Barbara McCulkin because she could have implicated him in the Whiskey fire.

Finch and Stuart maintained throughout their imprisonment they were innocent. After being released on parole and sent back to Britain, Finch admitted he lit the blaze and named the others he said were involved: Stuart, O’Dempsey, Barbara McCulkin’s husband Billy McCulkin, petty criminal Thomas Hamilton and a senior Brisbane detective.

The real motive for the fire continues to be contested.

Asked this week whether O’Dempsey and the other men could have been involved, Mr Griffiths said: “They were all in the background somewhere, they were all mates.”

He said police had not to his knowledge protected any other players. Asked if a specific local detective was corrupt, he laughed: “Don’t want me to answer it, do you? I had no jobs with him. Hit the nail on the head, didn’t you?”

Police had not been in touch with him about the inquest.

“No one’s mentioned it at all. No one’s come anywhere near me,” he said.

Killer-editor William Stokes prepares to spill on Whiskey – The Australian (13 October 2018)

David Murray’s exclusive is here;

Killer-editor William Stokes prepares to spill on Whiskey

More than 40 years after publishing sensational allegations about who was behind the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing and associated murders, William Stokes is ready to give evidence at an upcoming inquest that will probe one of the darkest chapters in Queensland’s criminal history.

Mr Stokes, the former Port News magazine editor and convicted murderer, lives alone on a pension in a high-rise apartment beside the Brisbane River, with no phone, intercom or internet.

But he opened his door to The Weekend Australian after being ­relayed a handwritten letter ­requesting an interview this week.

Decades after the Whiskey fire in Brisbane that killed 15 people, some of his claims have been spectacularly proven true and he looms as an ­important witness for a new ­inquest into the atrocity.

“The ghosts won’t allow it to settle,” he said. “It’s the biggest untold scandal in Australia’s criminal history, the Whiskey. I’ve been up to my neck in it since day one, more or less. It’s ruined my life.”

Four years ago, Mr Stokes was hauled into a star chamber hearing by Queensland’s crime and corruption watchdog and questioned for five hours about his knowledge of the crimes.

Asked this week if he would be called to the inquest, Mr Stokes ­replied: “Well, I should be. I’d have no option.”

The new inquest was ordered after Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were handed life sentences last year over the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters Vicki, 13, and Leanne, 11. O’Dempsey’s trial was told he murdered Barbara McCulkin because of fears she could have implicated him in the Whiskey firebombing.

Only two men, James Finch and John Stuart, were charged and convicted over the 1973 Whiskey fire. The pair loudly protested their innocence.

Mr Stokes, now 75, was sent to the notorious Westbrook boys home as a 14-year-old because of his juvenile offending.

He went on to become editor of the Port News, a bi-monthly publication associated with the Waterside Workers Federation.

He says his own connection to the firebombing started when an associate, boxer Thomas Hamilton, boasted to him of burning down another Brisbane nightclub, Torino’s. Mr Stokes says Hamilton later implied to him that he also lit the Whiskey fire.

In the Port News, Mr Stokes shifted his focus from shipping to crime. “Whiskey Au Go Go fire. How it really happened!” one February 1975 article was headlined.

He linked the fire to a man he dubbed “The Loner” and connected The Loner and another man, “Shorty”, to the McCulkin murders. Barbara knew too much, he wrote.

In a later edition he named the Loner as O’Dempsey, and Shorty as Dubois. O’Dempsey has denied any involvement in the Whiskey fire.

Mr Stokes now says the gang was “toying with the idea of putting me in the ground”.

“I knew of their involvement in the Whiskey firebombing and the McCulkin murders. I was just hitting back. I was just defending myself,” he said.

After being sent back to Britain on parole, Finch admitted in 1988 that he lit the blaze. He also named others he said were involved: ­Stuart, O’Dempsey, Barbara McCulkin’s husband Billy McCulkin, Hamilton and a senior Brisbane detective.

Hamilton, whom Finch accused of igniting the blaze with him, was abducted from a Brisbane house by a masked gunman in January 1975 and never seen again.

Mr Stokes was convicted of Hamilton’s murder and served 16 years before being released in 1992. He maintains he was innocent.

“They made me do longer than Finch. He did 15 years. I get framed over a murder, of the bloke who actually lit the fire, and the rotten parole board make me do 16.”

Mr Stokes said he had to cut his union ties because of the Whiskey articles and advertisers deserted him. “That would now be a national publication. I’d be wealthy and employing staff,” he says of what would have happened without the fire.

He said he had asked O’Dempsey and Dubois about the McCulkin murders in prison.

“Dubois snapped at me: ‘That was Vince, he just went off.’ Then he turned his back and walked away,” he said.

O’Dempsey responded only when Mr Stokes mentioned ­rumours the murders were sexually motivated, he said.

“As soon as I said that, he held up his hand like a stop sign, and slowly said, ‘We only did what …’, and never finished the sentence.”

Police knew of these alle­gations but Mr Stokes was not called to give evidence at the O’Dempsey and Dubois trials.

Officers and a prominent local man were involved in the Whiskey fire, he claims.

Finch was this week tracked down in Essex, where he insisted police fabricated his confession.

Notably, he did not deny lighting the fire.

A copy of the newspaper report lay on the carpet in Mr Stokes’s apartment, next to the book The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre.

The book’s author, Geoff Plunkett, said yesterday Mr Stokes was an “essential” witness for the ­inquest. “He named names and got a lot of it right,” he said.

Police commissioner wants convicted Whiskey Au Go Go killer – Sydney Morning Herald (7 October 2018)


Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing – ABC News Online (24 September 2018)

By Peter McCutcheon with Photos from Geoff Plunkett’s ‘The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre’.


The sister of a man killed in the 1973 firebombing of Brisbane nightclub Whiskey Au Go Go says she hopes a new inquest will finally discover the truth of what really happened.

“I’d like to know who gave that order to go and do such an evil act,” Helen Palethorpe told 7.30.

Her brother Leslie was one of 15 who were killed in the fire. He was only 20.

Speaking out for the first time since the Queensland Government ordered the inquest last June, Ms Palethorpe said the tragedy had affected many peoples’ lives.

“Let’s have the truth, let’s have the reason why my beautiful brother had to die that night,” she said.


The Whisky Au Go Go in Fortitude Valley went up in flames after two drums of diesel fuel were set alight in the building foyer.

Police quickly arrested two men — James Finch and John Stuart — who were subsequently convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

But there is evidence others were also involved in the crime.

The new inquest is expected to examine why police at the time didn’t investigate further, and why corrupt NSW detective Roger Rogerson was involved in the original investigation.

Rogerson, who is currently serving a life sentence for a 2014 murder, reportedly told a newspaper he has no “new or secret evidence”.

But Queensland crime author Matt Condon, who is writing a book on the Whiskey Au Go Go tragedy, says one possible theory is that police were protecting someone.

“From my understanding and research, police didn’t proceed because one of the unnamed individuals associated with the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing was an informant to a very senior corrupt police officer,” he said.

After being deported to the UK in 1988, Finch admitted at least two other men were involved in the crime.


One of the men he named, Vincent O’Dempsey, was convicted last year for the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters.

The prosecution argued his motive was to keep Barbara McCulkin quiet about his involvement in the Whiskey Au Go Go fire.

“That coming to light sort of sparked it up again,” Ms Palethorpe said.

“I’ve had indications of police corrupt, government corrupt, I’ve been told it could be because of an insurance claim — let’s have the truth.”

Retired police officer Hunter Nicol, who was in the nightclub at the time of the firebombing, was more reluctant to speculate about the reasons for attack.

“It’s like anything, people have theories on the JFK assassination or the moon landing,” he told 7.30.

“They could be right, they could be wrong, so I’ll leave it to the coroner.”

Nonetheless, he welcomed the new inquest, expected to get underway in the new year.

“There are questions people want answered, undoubtedly,” he said.

“Whether they’ll get the answers they’re looking for is another matter.”

Emily Webb’s Book Review on Truecrimereader.com (17 September 2018)

Emily Webb’s review

Get ready for an extraordinary read with this in-depth account of the 1973 fire know as the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub massacre where 15 people were murdered.

This horrific event happened in Brisbane, Australia and has remained one of the country’s most talked about and shocking crimes.

For many years Queensland was a corrupt police state. There was fraud, organised crime and injustices on a large scale.

What was always known and reported was that two men were arrested and convicted for that arson attack and mass murder.

(What’s interesting is that the trial happened in September 1972, six months after the incident. Quick justice so to speak.)

Author Geoff Plunkett is the first person to view the files created by the lead detectives in this extraordinary case. Plunkett is a noted researcher and historian for Australia’s Department of Defence.

This book details never-before-revealed aspects of the investigation and transcripts of interviews. There’s also details about that innocent 15 people who died at the nightclub, building the picture of the absolute tragedy and outrage of this crime.

The inquest into this crime could still be reopened.

Published by Big Sky Publishing.


Secret files detail ‘fake report’ on Whiskey Au Go Go blaze – The Australian (1 September 2018)

David Murray’s exclusive article in The Australian

Previously unseen police files have shed new light on the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing, suggesting former detective Roger Rogerson admitted fabricating a crucial confession that led to two men being convicted of the crime.

Investigative files on the torching of the Brisbane nightclub 45 years ago, which resulted in 15 deaths in what was then Australia’s worst massacre, have been sealed for decades at Queensland’s State Archives under an order preventing their release for 100 years.

But historian and author Geoff Plunkett was granted permission to sift through the eight boxes of evidence, before the Queensland government last year ordered a new inquest into the firebombing.

He says the documents add to longstanding claims that police fabricated evidence and prematurely closed the inquiry, leaving some culprits to remain free.

“The result of the perjury was not innocent — there were a ­series of murders as a result,” Plunkett says.

The fresh inquest was ordered after Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were last year given life sentences over the murder of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters Vicki and Leanne in 1974.

O’Dempsey’s trial was told he murdered McCulkin because of fears she could have implicated him in the Whiskey atrocity.

The only two men charged and convicted over the blaze, James Finch and John Stuart, protested their innocence from the outset.

After being released on parole and sent back to Britain, Finch admitted in a 1988 newspaper interview that he lit the blaze and named the others he said were involved: his co-accused Stuart, O’Dempsey, Barbara McCulkin’s husband Billy McCulkin, petty criminal Thomas Hamilton and a senior Brisbane detective. Finch maintained police fabricated an unsigned record of interview containing his “confession”, in which he was said to have claimed only he and Stuart were involved.

In response, one of the six detectives who witnessed the confession gave an anonymous interview to The Bulletin in 1988, admitting police verballed Finch.

“He was as guilty as sin. He got what he deserved,” the detective said. “He was given a terrible hiding. He was handcuffed to a chair and we knocked the s..t out of him.

“We all laid into him with our fists. The bastard didn’t utter one bloody word. He just sat there and copped an almighty hiding. In the end, we said, ‘Right, f..k you, smart-arse, we’ll do it our way’.

“Fabrication of evidence was something we all took for granted. You know when it’s right.”

The sealed police files include a confidential report dated March 8, 1992, that concluded Rogerson was the source for the article.

The report followed a four-year internal investigation, codenamed Operation Graveyard, into the firebombing and murders. Ironically, the investigation was ordered by then acting police commissioner Ron Redmond, who had typed Finch’s allegedly fabricated record of interview before rising up the ranks. Rogerson was by then dismissed from the NSW police and declined to be interviewed for the investigation.

“An examination of the unsigned Record of Interview reveals the initials R.C.R. on each page,” the 1992 police report states. “These are the initials of then Detective Sergeant Rogerson. In this event, if the allegations are true, then Rogerson himself is liable to possible criminal ­prosecution.

“The fact remains that this rec­ord of interview has been witnessed by five other police officers, tested in every area of appeal, and has remained intact, until spurious allegations have now been made by a totally discredited, ex-police officer.”

The report, compiled by the head of the homicide squad, Detective Inspector Warren Smithers, concludes: “There is insufficient evidence available to charge any police member with official misconduct or breach of duty as the situation currently stands.”

Plunkett has based a new book, The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre, on the sealed police files. He said the upcoming inquest should ensure key witnesses “are made to appear and give testimony”.

Rogerson is serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2016 of the drug-deal murder of Sydney student Jamie Gao.

The author of the 1988 article in The Bulletin, Bruce Stannard, declined to tell police his source at the time. He said he had no comment, when contacted by The Weekend Australian this week.

Whiskey Survivor 6PR Radio Interview with Chris Ilsley (13 June 2018)

Survivor of Whiskey Au Go Go still haunted 45 years later

It’s been 45 years since Fortitude Valley nightclub Whiskey Au Go Go was firebombed, killing 15 people -but the devastating effect on those left behind hasn’t lessened with age.

In his book The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre, author Geoff Plunket wrote about a 22 year-old waitress who was working the floor at the popular hot spot on the night of the attack.

Her name is Donna Phillips and Chris spoke with her about the event that changed her life, on Perth Tonight.

Exclusive Book Extract in the Courier Mail (2 June 2018)

Today the Courier Mail released an exclusive book extract


The author of the latest book on the Whiskey Au Go Go tragedy, Geoff Plunkett, gained access to heretofore sealed police files. These files reveal unsettling facts that indicate the Whiskey probe is not so much a closed case but a cold case. Here is the exclusive extract.

Chapter 50

Despite the stupidity of the act, no one should have died. The Whiskey was a death trap, a building ripe for disaster. With no sprinklers, no fire alarm, no staff training, no evacuation procedure, no fire exit sign and inadequate and cluttered fire escape doors (the sliding door was kept permanently closed), the victims stood no chance. Some newspaper reports blamed the avalanche of patrons rushing towards the exit and the ensuing panic for their fate. This shows an ignorance of fire safety research. Studies have shown that if the items listed above, especially sprinklers, are available, mass casualties are impossible.

The fire not only claimed the lives of the 15 who perished early that morning, but also indirectly those of Stuart and Bolton, the latter dying in 1987 aged 51. Bolton experienced much anguish over the Whiskey fire, but whether or not he turned up on the night of 7 March 1973 was irrelevant. It made no difference to the outcome—it would still have occurred. Stuart wanted him to visit the Whiskey because he believed that Bolton’s presence constituted a strengthened alibi. He was wrong.

Despite the ridiculous articles Bolton published in the build-up to the tragedy, he genuinely believed that something may happen, and gave it his best shot in attempting to warn the authorities. For that, he should be commended. The problem was that he had burnt too many bridges, and the evidence was not there. His only source, Stuart, had no credibility, so he was ignored. In the end, his alcoholism and depression, at least partly caused by his foreknowledge of actions that he believed could have prevented the fire, led to his suicide. He was mistaken in his influence; he had served his purpose, most probably for Stuart alone, as he believed that Bolton was assisting his alibi. The fire was locked in, whether Bolton turned up or not. Stuart and Bolton used each other well before the Whiskey tragedy unfolded, and they danced a co-dependant tango until their separate deaths.

The police received a torrent of abuse from 8 March 1973 onwards stating that through their inaction, they were responsible. Yes, both the state and federal forces had received prior notification. Hicks spent dozens of hours with Stuart trying to validate the threat, but Stuart told him nothing, as he succinctly stated on 10 March: ‘I haven’t told you anything have I?’ Here was a mentally ill criminal who continually lied to him with a nonsense story about trying to stand over a club that was on the verge of bankruptcy. The police read the unbelievable stories that Bolton wrote, as told by Stuart, these by a reporter who had offered to have Stuart knocked off. There was no corroborating evidence, before and after the conflagration, for Stuart’s sophistry. They are free from blame for the horrible fire; blameless before the fire, but culpable for later events if it is eventually found that there was manipulation. For the firemen, medical staff and club staff who had witnessed the heinous scenes in the Whiskey, their only counselling came from a chat around the mess-room table.

The families and friends of the deceased suffered a permanent ‘living death’, with the billion-to-one shot impacting them with the force of an atomic bomb. Like all the victims’ parents, Clyde and Sheila Palethorpe were devastated. Mrs Palethorpe lamented, ‘To have a son killed is heart-breaking enough but to have him murdered in a crime that obviously could have been prevented is really soul tearing.’ Leslie Palethorpe’s sister, Helen, said her mother ‘never got over it; ever, ever, ever. Until she died a year ago. Never.’

Helen herself was 14 when her brother was burned to death. She described Leslie as her hero, as he had literally saved her life: ‘He saved me once when I was drowning. All I can remember is this arm coming down in the water and he dragged me out of the water.’ The psychological scarring was exasperated by her birthday falling on March 9, the day after the inferno. Her ‘beautiful big brother’ never saw his sons grow up and become the confident adults they now are.

Indeed, he never met his second son, Craig, who was born in August 1973. Partly inspired by his father’s career choice, Craig followed Leslie into the Army, serving with peacekeepers in Cambodia and Rwanda. He now works as a policeman in remote Queensland.

At Colin Folster’s funeral, the family remembered mum’s favourite; the apprentice printer and talented musician who had learnt the piano at school and then moved on to the drums. They recalled his first band, Flipside, formed with a couple of mates and a couple of go-go girls who tagged along with the group. Like his mum Dorothy, he loved to sing, especially Que Sera, Sera, so much that some people called him ‘Happy’.

His brother Max heard the tragic news from his wife Maureen, who had caught it on the news. ‘Your brother has been killed,’ she told him. Working for the army, he stoically replied, ‘I have got to go to work.’ After finishing his night shift the next morning, he identified his brother’s body and brought his seared clothes home. The grief at his death was exacerbated by the repossession of Colin’s beloved Holden. The family searched high and low, eventually locating it at the financiers. Despite having only two repayments due, the Folsters did not get it back. The response was, ‘Madam, he’s dead and it’s our car now.’

After the funeral, the family retreated to sister Carol’s house. Parents Dorothy and Marx disappeared into a bedroom and did not reappear. They ‘never ever got over it’. Colin’s drums were donated to a church. There are stories like these for each of the 15 families who lost their loved ones, with parents, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and others all being impacted.

There are stories like these for each of the 15 families who lost their loved ones, with parents, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and others all being impacted.

Chapter 51

One author describes the Whiskey as the ‘horrific epicentre of all the crime and filth, the corruption and deaths that came before and followed that tragic night in March 1973, when 15 innocent people lost their lives’ to which many still seek the answers.

As early as 18 March 1973, the Sunday Sun demanded a Royal Commission, and soon after, Leslie Palethorpe’s wife Nancy demanded justice for her two sons: ‘I want to be able to tell him (the then unborn Craig) and his older brother—Shane Gordon Palethorpe, aged two—why their father was allowed to die in such a horrible way. And the only way I can find out is through an open inquiry. I am bitter because it is quite obvious from the evidence that he died needlessly.’ More than four decades later, the calls remain relevant.

The smoke shrouding the truth behind the Whiskey Au Go Go massacre has never lifted. It smells like a cold case, rather than a closed case. The masterminds have never been called to account. Yet there remains time to unmask them.

There are enough survivors still alive to warrant an inquiry, enough time to finally excise the primary tumour from which the cancer spread and metastasized beyond Fortitude Valley; if more years pass, the chance will be lost forever.

As this book goes to press, the Coroner has been asked by the Queensland Attorney General to reopen the inquest. Like this author, the Attorney General must feel that there is more to the Whiskey Au Go Go story.