The Problematic Evidence of Star Coronial Witness Kathryn Potter (12 July 2021)

Kathryn Potter is the only witness to the firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub at 2.08 am. Her evidence matches Jim Finch’s confession to Dennis Watt, that three people in a black car stopped near the near the entrance and tossed drums into the foyer.

Potter’s evidence before the Coroner on 16 June 2021 was contradictory and difficult to reconcile.

I welcome Potter’s clarification of the following issues;

1. She was adamant she was in a telephone box at the south east corner of the club (on St Paul’s Terrace and opposite the Shamrock Hotel) when the car made the attack. Photos show there was no telephone at this location.

2. Potter said she saw a black car park near the Whiskey entrance. The entrance is on Amelia Street, which is around the corner from where the phone box was said to be. Potter said she could see the action through the glass windows, even though this was a showroom filled with tile samples.

3. Potter said she was with a friend when the massacre occurred. The friend agrees they had gone together to the Whiskey on occasion, but not on this night.

4. Potter argued she made a statement but was heavied by the police (a week later) to recant. They did not like her stating three had bombed the Whiskey as this didn’t fit with their narrative that only Finch and Stuart did it.

There are hundreds of statements, which I have personally viewed, and this is the only one missing. The inference is that it was destroyed as it contradicted the prosecution case.

In the book I showed multiple statements contradicted the police case. In particular four police staff at the watch house did not hear Finch and Stuart confess, yet all the lead detectives in the case did.

5. Potter is adamant Donna Porter was not on the front desk on the night/morning of the fire. She could not know unless she was there all night. Porter’s presence there is corroborated by usual receptionist Jeanette Zidich (now Little) whose 10 March 1973 statement reads, ‘About 12.30 am I was feeling tired and Brian [Little] suggested that Donna Porter could take over my job…’

6. Potter varied on her time time in the club, from briefly, to an hour and a half (12 am to 1.30 am) and says she was in the phone box about 1.30 am ringing Chequers. As the firebombing occurred at 2.08 am, the call would have been 38 minutes long.

7. Potter saw (only viewable through the showroom) the men roll a petrol drum on its bottom rim toward the club. The maximum weight of a drum was 15 kilograms, easy enough for a boxer like Finch to quickly carry to the foyer.

Potter said they lit it as it was being rolled and before being tossed into the club, which seems a particularly hazardous methodology.

8. The culprits were particularly slow. Potter walked from the south east corner of the club, past the black car, across to the Caltex station, where her car was parked. As she drove off she saw all three offenders still standing in the foyer, while is was alight.

William Stokes Conviction Should be Reviewed (11 July 2021)

William Stokes was convicted of Tom Hamilton’s murder and spent many years in jail.

He accurately said Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois murdered the McCulkin family, and McCulkin and O’Dempsey organised the Whiskey fire. He said this in 1975.

Yet until this article was published in The Australian, the police had no interest.

Until this year, 46 years after his revelations, the police had NEVER bothered to ask him about what he knew.

Ironically, after being ignored, he will be a star witness in the second half of the reopened coroner’s Whiskey Au Go Go inquest.

Stoke’s conviction was based on NO motive, NO evidence, NO body, and cops who fabricated evidence.

Would Stokes be convicted today based on these criteria?

A rhetorical question. Stoke’s conviction needs to be reviewed.

Disgraced cop Roger Rogerson could testify – Brisbane Times (14 June 2021)

Disgraced NSW detective Roger Rogerson, jailed for murder, could give evidence to the coronial inquest into the 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing in Brisbane which killed 15 people.

An inquiry into the nightclub arson, in the inner-city suburb of Fortitude Valley on March 8, 1973, started on Monday after it was ordered in 2017 by then attorney-general Yvette D’Ath.

Lawyer Chris Minnery, representing convicted murderer and key witness Vincent O’Dempsey, made a request for Rogerson to testify.

Rogerson is serving a life sentence in NSW for the murder of 20-year-old university student and drug dealer Jamie Gao in a Sydney storage unit in May 2014.

The former detective was sentenced in September 2016 after the NSW Supreme Court heard he killed Mr Gao to steal 2.78 kilograms of the drug ice.

Mr Minnery’s request was read aloud to the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Monday by Stephen Keim, legal counsel assisting Queensland State Coroner Terry Ryan.

“The request put forward by my friend is on the basis, as I understand it, that Mr Rogerson’s view in 1973 that Mr O’Dempsey was not involved in the attack on the Whiskey Au Go Go fire might be of some assistance to your honour,” Mr Keim said.

“Counsel assisting can see that there may be merit to call Mr Rogerson in relation to the adequacy of investigations carried out into the causes of, and the parties involved, in the fire, and the deaths immediately thereafter and in subsequent years.”

Mr Keim also pointed to a newspaper article that said Rogerson believed convicted Whiskey Au Go Go killer James Richard Finch did not make the admissions attributed to him by police.

“Mr Rogerson’s evidence on that subject alone may be of assistance to the court,” Mr Keim said.

“Therefore counsel assisting will request an inquiry be made of NSW Corrective Services as to the practicality of Mr Rogerson giving evidence by remote means and will report back to the court.”

Finch, who died in Britain earlier this year, was one of two men convicted of murder over the nightclub fire.

The other, John Andrew Stuart, died in his cell in 1979 after a hunger strike.

During a pre-inquest hearing in April, Mr Keim said the new two-week inquest would focus on evidence that 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 earlier this year.

“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 inquest.

McCulkin killer Garry Dubois dies – Brisbane Times (7 June 2021)

Infamous Queensland criminal Garry Dubois, who killed Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters Vicki and Leanne McCulkin, has been found dead in his jail cell overnight.

Queensland Corrective Services confirmed a 74-year-old male prisoner was found dead in his Maryborough Correctional Centre cell about 4.30am on Monday.

Prison officers and paramedics tried to revive him in his single-occupancy cell, but he was declared dead about 5.20am. The death is not being treated as suspicious.

QCS will assist Queensland police in preparing a report for the Coroner.

In 2016, more than 40 years after the McCulkins went missing, Dubois was found guilty by a Brisbane Supreme Court jury of the manslaughter of Mrs McCulkin and the murder of her daughters, Vicki, 13, and Leanne, 11.

Dubois and accomplice Vincent O’Dempsey maintained their innocence despite being found guilty.

The pair, in their 70s, were jailed for life for killing the McCulkins in bushland near Warwick on the night of January 16, 1974, after taking them from their Brisbane home.

At their trials, the court was told the men might have been motivated to kill Mrs McCulkin over fears she would try to implicate O’Dempsey in the firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub.

Mrs McCulkin’s estranged husband Billy had connections with O’Dempsey and Dubois, so she might have been able to implicate them, through what her estranged husband may have told her.

Billy McCulkin died in 2011.

O’Dempsey was found guilty of all three McCulkin murders.

Dubois was found guilty of raping and murdering Vicki and Leanne. He was convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter against Barbara.

Dubois was also due to testify at the new coronial inquest into Brisbane’s horrific Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing in Fortitude Valley on March 8, 1973, that killed 15 people.

The two-week inquest will begin in Brisbane next Monday.

Key witness death will not delay inquest – Brisbane Times (7 June 2021)

From Tony Moore;

The death of a second key Whiskey Au Go Go witness will not delay the start of a new inquest into the firebombing mass murder, the Queensland Coroner’s Court insisted after convicted killer Garry Dubois was found dead in his cell on Monday.

But a spokesman for the court said Dubois’ death could still have an effect on proceedings, which would examine the 1973 events that resulted in the deaths of 15 people.

“The impact, if any, that Mr Dubois’ death will have on the inquest will need to be considered,” a spokesman for the court said.

Dubois, a convicted killer and rapist, died early Monday morning in his Maryborough Correctional Centre cell.

“Mr Dubois was not scheduled to give evidence during the two weeks of sittings commencing 14 June 2021,” the court spokesman said.

“Further sittings will be scheduled later in 2021.”

The new inquest into the March 1973 firebombing of the Fortitude Valley nightclub, on the corner of St Pauls Terrace and Amelia Street, began in April.

It was ordered in June 2017 after Dubois and Vincent O’Dempsey were handed life sentences over the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters, 13-year-old Vicki and 11-year-old Leanne.

At their separate trials, the courts were told the pair murdered Mrs McCulkin due to fears she might try to implicate them in the bombing.

Both denied being involved.

Whiskey Au Go Go researcher Geoff Plunkett said Dubois’ death meant the inquest had lost another key witness.

Mr Plunkett wrote The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre in 2018 after gaining exclusive access for five years to formal police records, transcripts and interviews from the investigation.

“My initial thought is that again we lost a major player who well could have had vital information,” he said.

“It is inconceivable that Garry Dubois, who participated in Mrs McCulkin’s murder and is convicted of the [daughter’s] rapes as well, did not know the reasoning why they did it.

“[Convicted Whiskey Au Go Go bomber James Richard] Finch has died recently, and now we have lost another one who must have had vital evidence.

“He could have been brought before the coroner and compelled to give that sort of evidence.”

Two criminal hardmen, Finch and John Andrew Stuart, were convicted of one count of murder from the firebombing in 1973, but there has been decades of speculation that other people were involved.

Finch died in England earlier this year, the first day of the new inquest heard on April 29.

Stuart was found dead in his Boggo Road prison cell on January 2, 1979.

Mrs McCulkin’s estranged husband, Billy McCulkin, died in 2011.

Mr Plunkett said it was almost 50 years since the Whiskey Au Go Go was firebombed, at 2.08am on Thursday, March 8, 1973.

“It’s a reflection that almost 50 years on, a lot of the [alleged] major players like [Billy] McCulkin, Finch and Stuart are not here any longer,” he said.

“It should have been investigated as early as 1975, when [Port News editor] William Stokes nominated the people allegedly behind the fire.”

Stokes was subsequently convicted of the murder of boxer Thomas Hamilton and served 16 years, although he still denies the charge.

Hamilton was a member of Brisbane’s Clockwork Orange gang, of which Dubois was also a member, evidence at his 2015 trial showed.

The gang was accused of firebombing Brisbane’s Torino nightclub earlier in 1973.

O’Dempsey has repeatedly denied he was involved in any Brisbane nightclub fires.

Stokes is listed to give evidence at the new Whiskey Au Go Go inquest.

Finch takes Whiskey secrets to the grave – AAP (2 May 2021)

More often than not it was denial. He claimed to be a victim of corrupt police who drafted a false confession and framed him with it.

But on a few occasions, Finch also told journalists he was as guilty as sin and that he and two accomplices had worked together to torch the place.

In 1988, he let reporter Dennis Watt video tape one such confession, admitting he carried two drums of fuel from a getaway car into the foyer of the club.

One rolled under the stairs, the other ended up against a wall in the foyer. As fuel soaked the carpet, Finch said the late Thomas Hamilton lit a match and dropped it.

The whole thing took 10 to 12 seconds and within 30, the foyer was in flames. Of the 100 or so people inside that night, 15 would perish.

They included 17-year-old Jennifer Davie. She’d only just left Melbourne and waitressing at The Whiskey was her first job.

She died within three to five minutes from the carbon monoxide in the air. Before that there was terror as she and the others fled to the back of the club in a vain bid to escape.

Many of those who did get out jumped from broken windows onto an awning before jumping again, another four and half metres down, to reach the ground.

Finch and fellow Brisbane gangster John Andrew Stuart were the only ones ever convicted of the Whiskey attack.

But for decades rumours have swirled that many others had a hand in the atrocity and that they may have included senior police in on a protection racket.

Stuart died in Brisbane’s Boggo Road jail years ago, apparently from natural causes.

Finch, who was deported to his British homeland after 15 years behind bars, was due to testify at a new coronial inquest into the firebombing later this year.

But a pre-inquest hearing in Brisbane on Thursday was sensationally told he recently died.

It must now proceed without a key witness who might finally – in a court of law – have pointed the finger at others he long claimed were linked to the crime including late former Queensland Police assistant commissioner Tony Murphy.

Junior counsel assisting, Avelina Tarrago, told Thursday’s hearing there were grounds for the inquest to look at Mr Murphy’s possible involvement in the fire and there was evidence to link him to Brisbane underworld figure Vincent O’Dempsey.

When Finch and Stuart were convicted of arson and murder, a jury found the motive for the Whiskey attack was the extortion of local nightclub operators.

Finch’s version, as told to Watt, was that Stuart planned the firebombing to set up a protection racket. He said Stuart received his orders from O’Dempsey, who was in cahoots with Mr Murphy.

With Finch now dead – along with Stuart, Murphy, and so many others – the video tapes Watt made back in 1988 are likely to form crucial evidence of the possible involvement of police.

Author Geoff Plunkett, who painstakingly analysed a mountain of documents before writing The Whiskey Au Go Go Massacre, says the evidence points to Finch being both a mass murderer and a victim of corrupt police.

He says officers seemed hell bent on ensuring only Finch and Stuart were blamed, and points out their arrests forced an end to the initial inquest just four days after the fire.

Plunkett says police never properly looked at Finch’s claims in the videos but he understands they will be presented at the inquest, and Watt is listed as a witness.

He hopes the fresh probe will expose why police wanted only Finch and Stuart on trial: Was it because they didn’t want to be exposed for verballing suspects to secure convictions or was it something more sinister?

Also on the witness list is O’Dempsey, the man Finch said was in cahoots with Murphy.

He is serving a life term for the murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters, who vanished from their Brisbane home 10 months after the Whiskey attack.

Barbara was married to the late Billy McCulkin, the man Finch claimed drove him to and from the Whiskey on the night it was torched.

O’Dempsey’s 2017 trial – alongside co-accused Garry Dubois – heard suggestions Finch and Stuart were not the only crooks behind the firebombing and that O’Dempsey might have killed Barbara to prevent her implicating him.

It was on the back of those imputations Queensland’s attorney-general ordered a fresh inquest.

Plunkett knows many of the Whiskey survivors and relatives and hopes they’ll take some solace from the fresh inquest but with so many suspects now dead, he’s not sure it will be a sense of justice.

“What are we seeking then? To get closer to the truth.”

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.


New inquest for Whiskey Au Go Go begins in June – Brisbane Times) (18 March 2021)

Tony Moore from the Brisbane Times reports;

Two weeks have been set aside in late June for a new inquest into Brisbane’s horrific Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing in Fortitude Valley on March 8, 1973, that killed 15 people.

A pre-inquest hearing will be held next month on April 29 and 30.

Barristers Stephen Keim and Avelina Tarrago have been briefed as counsel assisting state coroner Terry Ryan by a taskforce of detectives who have gathered evidence for more than three years.

Mr Keim received the Human Rights Medal from the Australian Human Rights Commission for his successful defence of Indian-born doctor Mohamed Haneef, who had his visa cancelled in 2007 and was falsely accused of aiding terrorists.

Ms Tarrago is a former federal prosecutor with the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and president of the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland.

It was 48 years ago when two 18-litre barrels of petrol were used to set fire to the nightclub, on the corner of Amelia Street and St Pauls Terrace, just after 2am.

Two career criminals, John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch, were quickly arrested.

Stuart and Finch were each found guilty of murdering Jennifer Denise Davie, one of the 15 nightclubbers who died at the popular club that night, and sent to Boggo Road Prison.

But questions persisted, with crime experts repeatedly asking who else was involved and why the nightclub was set alight.

Eight years ago, crime writer Tony Reeves asked the Queensland Parliament for a new inquest into links between fires at four Brisbane nightclubs before the 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go fire.

He had researched fires at Torino’s Nightclub in Ann Street on February 23, 1973, Alice’s Cafe in Brunswick Street in December 1972, and two at Chequers Nightclub in Elizabeth Street in early 1973.

He believed the Whiskey Au Go Go fire was an insurance job done under a climate of fear that Stuart perpetuated, manipulated by crooked police officers in Queensland and NSW at the time.

Department of Defence researcher Geoff Plunkett, who spent five years researching the original investigating police officers’ notes, also argued a new inquest was needed.

The original Whiskey Au Go Go inquest was adjourned on March 12, 1973, immediately after Stuart and Finch were arrested.

Queensland’s former attorney-general Yvette D’Ath ordered a fresh inquiry in June 2017, the day after two other Brisbane criminals, Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois, were sentenced to life in prison for murdering Brisbane mother Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters, Vicki and Leanne, in 1974.

At O’Dempsey’s trial evidence was given that he may have been motivated to kill Ms McCulkin because he believed she was about to implicate him in Brisbane nightclub bombings.

O’Dempsey denied being involved in firebombing any nightclub.

Stuart died in 1979. Finch was deported to London in 1988.

On Thursday, Queensland’s Department of Justice said it was not possible to extradite a witness to give evidence at an inquest, when asked if Finch would be returned from London to answer questions.

In 2018 Ms D’Ath said how the inquest was run was matter for the state coroner.

“Mr Finch is not wanted on any criminal charges in Queensland so extradition proceedings are not warranted in this case,” Ms D’Ath said.

However, former Queensland police commissioner Ian Stewart said in 2018 he wanted Finch returned to Queensland to answer questions about the Whiskey Au Go Go tragedy.