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

By Cheryl Goodenough

https://7news.com.au/politics/law-and-order/mother-in-fear-after-firebomb-confession-c-5553570

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

https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7605146/whiskey-suspect-got-a-touch-up-ex-cop/

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.

Cop’s threat to ‘blow lid’ on firebombing – AAP (28 January 2022)

By Cheryl Goodenough

https://www.canberratimes.com.au/story/7599024/cops-threat-to-blow-lid-on-firebombing/

A policeman who went to jail for years warned he would “blow the lid” on the fatal 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing, an inquest has been told.

John Bargenquast – who was charged over stolen vehicles and thought his family would be arrested too – asked the police minister’s press secretary to pass on a message to senior officers, the ministerial aide’s two sons told the Coroners Court in Brisbane on Friday.

Christopher and Graham McGetrick, friends of Mr Bargenquast’s children, gave evidence into the attack on the Brisbane nightclub that killed 15 people.

Christopher McGetrick, a former journalist, said he thought it was in 1979 when his father told him Mr Bargenquast had asked for a favour the previous day.

“He said to my dad in general terms, ‘Look, I’ll cop it myself, I’ll do the time, but I just do not want to see my family brought into this’,” Mr McGetrick said.

Mr Bargenquast asked the aide to pass on a message to then police deputy commissioner Tony Murphy.

“Basically the message was that, ‘let Murphy know if the charges against my family are not withdrawn then I will blow the lid on the Whiskey Au Go Go’, essentially words to that effect,” Mr McGetrick said.

He told the inquest his father let him know Mr Murphy became quite aggressive when approached at a police function and asked about his involvement with “that bastard” referring to Mr Bargenquast.

Mr McGetrick said his father told him Mr Murphy spoke to police commissioner Terry Lewis, then returned, saying they wouldn’t be intimidated and were calling Mr Bargenquast’s bluff.

Mr Bargenquast later thanked Mr McGetrick’s father for his help, saying the charges against his family had been dropped.

Mr McGetrick said he spoke to Mr Bargenquast about the incident and the stolen car racket on his release from prison at a family event.

The former journalist said he believed Mr Bargenquast had evidence about the Whiskey attack, but had no knowledge of what that evidence might be.

Brother Graham McGetrick told the inquest he was living with his parents when Mr Bargenquast visited, but thought his father was asked to speak to Mr Lewis.

“I knew he was going to see the hierarchy and, look, I was pretty sure it was Terry Lewis. I could have got that wrong, but I was pretty sure it was,” he added.

Graham McGetrick said he understood his father was asked to pass on a message that the lid would be blown off the Whiskey Au Go Go if the charges against Mr Bargenquast’s family were not dropped.

Two drums of fuel were thrown into the downstairs foyer of the Fortitude Valley nightclub and set alight about 2am on March 8.

Two men – John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch – were convicted in 1973 of murder over the attack and sentenced to life in prison.

Both men have since died.

The new inquest was ordered after the firebombing was mentioned in a trial in which Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were convicted over the deaths of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters.

That trial was told the killings may have been motivated over fears Ms McCulkin would try to implicate O’Dempsey in the firebombing.

O’Dempsey – who has sat in the court during some testimony – is expected to testify during the last week of the sitting.

Dubois was scheduled to give evidence, but was found dead in his cell at Maryborough Correctional Centre last year.

Australian Associated Press

Whiskey survivor returned to rescue others – AAP (27 January 2022)

https://www.bluemountainsgazette.com.au/story/7597596/whiskey-survivor-returned-to-rescue-others/

By Cheryl Goodenough

An emotional Clarence Bingham told the inquest into the 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go attack on Thursday he found his way out after smoke started to fill the building but went back in.

Mr Bingham – who said he wasn’t there as a nightclubber, but instead to pick up tickets in his capacity as a printer – arrived at the club about 1.50am on March 8.

He sat at a table and spoke to club manager and long-time friend John Bell before noticing black smoke coming up the stairs.

It was only about 10 minutes after Mr Bingham’s arrival that two drums of fuel were thrown into the downstairs foyer of the nightclub in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and set alight.

Mr Bingham tried to follow Mr Bell in the thick smoke to get outside, but the lights went out almost immediately, plunging them into darkness.

He followed voices, finding the fire escape that led into an alleyway downstairs.

Mr Bingham told Mr Bell he was going back inside and first spoke to people coming through the smoke out the fire escape, helping them to safety.

He then got up about six steps, but the smoke was too thick and he had to come out.

They tried again to get inside, but the fire escape door had closed.

Mr Bingham and Mr Bell hit it with a hammer, but it was only after the fire brigade arrived the door was bashed down.

At the top of the stairs Mr Bingham saw an older man sitting gasping for breath, but firefighters said they had to get inside.

“So I don’t know what happened to that fellow,” Mr Bingham said, his voice cracking with emotion.

“I never saw him again so maybe someone else took him out.”

Mr Bingham told coroner Terry Ryan he couldn’t recall how many people he helped get outside.

Asked whether he had any long-term health issues, Mr Bingham replied: “I had a cry in the shower that night when I got home and that was it. I still get a bit emotional though.”

He had to throw away the clothes he was wearing because “it was as if they had been dipped in oil,” he said.

More than 60 patrons and staff tried frantically to escape as air conditioning vents acted as chimneys, pouring black smoke into the club.

Survivors smashed windows to scramble to neighbouring roofs, but 15 people succumbed to deadly smoke, with autopsies confirming their death from carbon monoxide poisoning.

Two men – John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch – were convicted in 1973 of murder over the attack in 1973 and sentenced to life in prison.

Both men have since died.

The new inquest was ordered after the firebombing was mentioned in a trial in which Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were convicted over the deaths of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters.

That trial was told the killings may have been motivated over fears Ms McCulkin would try to implicate O’Dempsey in the firebombing.

O’Dempsey – who sat in the court during some testimony – is expected to testify during the last week of the sitting.

Dubois was scheduled to give evidence, but was found dead in his cell at Maryborough Correctional Centre last year.

The inquest continues.

Australian Associated Press

Revealed: 23 pages a top detective didn’t want made public – Brisbane Times (24 January 2022)

https://www.smh.com.au/national/queensland/revealed-23-pages-a-top-detective-didn-t-want-made-public-20220124-p59qt5.html

By Toby Crockford

Twenty-three pages containing criticisms of police investigations into a fatal Brisbane nightclub firebombing have been made public for the first time.

The pages were removed in 2020 by a Queensland police officer under orders from her superior, Detective Inspector Damien Hansen.

The pages relate to police knowledge and actions in relation to the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing in Fortitude Valley on March 8, 1973.

Fifteen people died in the fire. Two men, James Richard Finch and John Andrew Stuart, were convicted over the attack, but they were only charged with one count each of murder.

An inquest before State Coroner Terry Ryan has examined theories that others were involved in the firebombing but never held accountable.

It has also heard the murder of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters may have been linked to the firebombing, because of what Mrs McCulkin could have told police. Her estranged husband, Billy McCulkin, was accused of being involved in the firebombing but never charged.

Ahead of the inquest, Detective Sergeant Virginia Gray prepared a formal report for the coroner, but was told by Inspector Hansen, her superior officer, to remove a section.

Inspector Hansen has headed various high-profile cold case investigations including the alleged murder of Peter John Enright, and the disappearance and suspected murder of Sharron Phillips.

Sergeant Gray said Inspector Hanson told her “that sort of material should not be included in a report from the police … and that we would leave that to the journalists and police haters”.

The inquest obtained the full report with the 23 pages, and the shorter report – which was initially kept secret.

After a legal application by media outlets, a redacted version of the 23 pages was released by the Coroners Court on Monday.

It is highly critical of the original investigation into the firebombing, one of Queensland’s most infamous crimes.

“The manner in which the early investigation evolved, meant that three days after the fire, the door was effectively closed on the possibility that other parties would be identified and prosecuted for this offence,” states the removed section of Sergeant Gray’s report.

“It has also been alleged that these [other] parties were effectively protected from prosecution for their role in the arson murders and in the subsequent related murder of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters.

“This protection being in the form of either deliberate decisions to protect these other offenders or as an unintentional result of the investigative approach used to ensure the timely arrest and conviction of Finch and Stuart.

“A review of the 1973 investigative file confirms there was information available to investigators at the time implicating others as suspects in the WAGG [Whiskey Au Go Go] arson murders, as well as significant evidence supporting a noteworthy Sydney criminal presence in Brisbane at the time.

“However, there is little or no reference to the investigation addressing these lines of inquiry other than to obtain statements from these parties who claim no interest in Brisbane clubs or knowledge of or involvement in Stuart’s extortion claims.

“Questions around the effectiveness and credibility of the original investigation remain.”

The inquest has been told Inspector Hansen specified to Sergeant Gray he particularly did not want to refer to Finch’s claims that his confession was fabricated.

“Finch stated those police officers verballed him and he did not ever confess to the crime at any stage,” states the removed section of Sergeant Gray’s report.

Verballing is a slang term used to describe police officers implicating someone in a crime by fabricating an alleged admission of guilt from the suspect, either verbally or in writing.

The inquest continues.

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.

Update – 27 January 2022

Under oath to the Coroner, the woman who Potter said was with her when the Whiskey was firebombed, denies she witnessed any of the above ‘eyewitness’ accounts.

What’s more, the woman stated that three weeks after the bombing, she and Potter went to New Zealand for six months and does not recall Potter relating any of the above drama.