Billy Stokes book ‘The Riddle Exposed’ is looking for a publisher (October 2020)

William Stokes kindly provided me a copy of The Riddle Exposed : The Whiskey Firebombing’s Link to the McCulkin Family Murders.  He has printed twenty copies (CPX Printing & Logistics) and I was privileged to get one, as he seeks a major publisher, so it can get its deserved major release.

To those unfamiliar with the Whiskey story, Billy Stokes, was a central character in the riddle that was the Whiskey massacre.

Billy knocked about with a group of misfits called the Clockwork Orange gang. They were important because John Stuart, although not naming them individually, threw out multiple hints to reporter Brian Bolton, that this group would firebomb an empty club first and then hit the Whiskey Au Go Go.

And that’s exactly what happened.

One of the gang in particular, Tom Hamilton, was linked to the Whiskey fire. Jim Finch named Hamilton as accompanying Finch and McCulkin when the Whiskey was hit.

Stokes reveals Hamilton and Finch had known each other a lot longer than anyone thought, at least 10 years. 

Stokes knew all the players; the gang, Billy McCulkin, serial killer Vince O’Demsey, the Whiskey management and many others. His voice needs to be heard, as he not only knew them, he correctly linked the McCulkin’s murders and rapes to the Whiskey when he edited the Port News.

He named O’Demsey and Dubois as the McCulkin killers and gave a motive, Mrs McCulkin knew too much. Stokes published this in the mid 70s. After being ignored for more than 40 years, Stoke’s thesis proved correct when O’Demsey and Dubois were jailed for life.

In his book Stokes provides a vivid portrait of how his editorship of the Port News came about, the personalities of  the aforementioned main characters and those on the periphery.

One of these was perjurer Arthur Murdoch, whose evidence was used to convict Stuart. Stokes describes Murdoch as, ‘so sex crazed that he would practically root an empty jam tin’.

Stoke’s has a lot more to contribute, including how Hamilton’s and his life entwined after the McCulkin murders.  Stokes is a great writer who has a book published by MacMillan. I look forward to the next instalment.   

 

New laws could resolve historic Qld crimes – Bega District News (21 May 2020)

https://www.begadistrictnews.com.au/story/6764305/new-laws-could-resolve-historic-qld-crimes/?cs=7

Under new laws that have passed parliament, coroners have greater power to compel witnesses to give self-incriminating evidence at inquests.

It’s hoped the laws could resolve historic cases including whether some people have so far escaped justice over the 1973 firebombing that killed 15 people.

Previously coroners could only force witnesses to give potentially self-incriminating evidence relating to deaths from 2003 onwards.

That time limit has now been lifted, paving the way for a re-examination of historic crimes.

“For deaths prior to 2003, witnesses could refuse to give self-incriminating evidence, which made it harder for coroners to find out what actually happened,” Acting Attorney-General Stirling Hinchliffe said.

“This led to the creation of a hard core of remaining cases that have not received the benefit of the modern coronial regime and remain unresolved to this day.”

But there’s a catch.

Self-incriminating evidence extracted from unwilling witnesses can’t be used in criminal proceedings unless perjury is involved.

The government ordered a fresh inquest into the Whiskey Au Go Go bombing in June 2017, saying witnesses who’d previously refused to speak might now be willing to do so.

James Finch and John Andrew Stuart were convicted over the attack, but both men insisted they were stitched up.

At one stage Stuart, who died in prison in 1979, climbed up on the roof of Brisbane’s Boggo Road jail, pulled out dozens of bricks and then used them to spell out the message: Innocent – victim of police verbal.

Mr Finch served 15 years behind bars before he was deported to the UK in 1988.

In 2018, he said he was willing to take a lie-detector test to show his confession to police never happened.

At the time, then Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said he was sure the coroner hearing the new inquest would be interested in anything Mr Finch had to say.

The new inquest was ordered one day after hardened criminals Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were handed life sentences for murdering Brisbane mother Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters in 1974.

O’Dempsey’s trial heard he may have been motivated to kill Mrs McCulkin over fears she would try to implicate him in the Whiskey Au Go Go bombing.

O’Dempsey has denied being involved.

New law could help solve Whiskey Au Go Go massacre – Brisbane Times (20 May 2020)

https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/politics/queensland/new-law-could-help-solve-whiskey-au-go-go-massacre-20200520-p54uxr.html

New laws passed in Queensland Parliament on Wednesday may help solve one of the country’s most infamous crimes.

Fifteen people were murdered in the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub fire bombing in Fortitude Valley around 2am on March 8, 1973.

Two career criminals were convicted of putting two 23-litre drums of diesel fuel in the downstairs nightclub foyer before lighting it.

In 2017, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath announced a second inquest into the massacre would be held following the convictions of Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois for the murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters 43 years ago.

O’Dempsey’s trial heard he may have been motivated to kill Mrs McCulkin over fears she would implicate him in the firebombing.

Ms D’Ath said in 2017 that the 78-year-old’s jailing may encourage some witnesses to come forward.

No date has been set yet for the new inquest yet but it will be heard under a tougher, retrospective Coroners Act, which was passed in Queensland Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

Under the new laws, coroners will get more powers to compel witnesses to give potentially self-incriminating evidence at an inquest.

The laws were sparked by recommendations from a coronial inquest in 2018.

Coroner David O’Connell believed the law change “may well assist to resolve some of the most lingering mysterious cases which still exist in Queensland”.

“The Whiskey Au Go Go investigation comes to mind,” he said.

“I wonder aloud whether anything meaningful will be achieved unless persons are compelled to give evidence.

“By now most next of kin are well past the position of prosecution as their goal, they merely wish to ascertain the truth, as does the public.”

Acting Attorney-General Stirling Hinchliffe said coroners were handed powers to require self-incriminating evidence from witnesses in 2003, but this only applied to deaths occurring after that date.

“For deaths prior to 2003, witnesses could refuse to give self-incriminating evidence, which made it harder for coroners to find out what actually happened,” he said.

“This led to the creation of a ‘hard core’ of remaining cases that have not received the benefit of the modern coronial regime and remain unresolved to this day.

“By allowing coroners to compel witnesses to give self-incriminating evidence for deaths occurring prior to 2003, we hope to see some of these cases resolved.”

Mr Hinchliffe said the coroner may not require a person to give self-incriminating evidence unless satisfied it was in the public interest.

“Further, evidence given is not admissible against a person in any criminal proceeding, with the exception of perjury,” he said.

“These are important and necessary changes to Queensland’s coronial system and we’re confident they will serve the interests of justice.”

Coroners bill to lift lid on old mysteries – The Australian (19 May 2020)

By David Murray

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/politics/queensland-coroners-bill-may-lift-lid-on-old-mysteries/news-story/2a4f3ad6cb7977e6fece417d261b1d90

Queensland’s toughest cold cases, including the 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing, have a fresh chance of being solved under new laws allowing coroners to compel witnesses to talk.

The state’s coroners currently only have the power to order witnesses to give evidence that could incriminate them in deaths reported after2003.

Legislation due to be debated in state parliament this week will extend this modem regime to all cases, no matter when a death occurred.

Historian Geoff Plunkett said it would increase the likelihood of finally getting to the truth behind the inferno that tore through the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, killing 15 people.

A new inquest into the Fire was ordered three years ago next month by the state’s Attorney-General, Yvette D’Ath. It is awaiting the completion of police investigations and passage of the new laws.

“After almost half a century, I believe it will be difficult to find justice, as many of the major conspirators are dead,” Mr Plunkett told The Australian.

“As full justice is an impossibility, the aim of the inquest should be to attain, if not the absolute truth, at least a closer understanding of the whos and whys of the Whiskey Au Go Go murders.

“This goal is made more achievable with the new proposed legislation allowing the coroner to compel witnesses to give evidence.”

Two men—James Finch and John Stuart — were convicted over the blaze but there have long been suspicions that others were involved.

Mr Plunkett author of a book on the firebombing, said that at a 1980 inquest into the fire, suspect Vincent O’Dempsey answered “no comment” to 47 questions.

“This will not be permissible at the upcoming inquiry and that is a large positive,” he said.

Ms D’Ath ordered the new inquest in July 2017 after O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois were convicted and jailed for the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and daughters Vicki and Leanne.

State Coroner Terry Ryan will set a date for the Whiskey Au Go Go inquest when police complete investigations, a spokesman said.

“There is legislation currently before the Queensland parliament that will permit the inquest to be conducted under the Coroners Act 2003 instead of the Coroners Act 1958,” he said “It would be preferable to await passage of that legislation before the inquest is commenced.”

Coroner David O’Connell recommended the legal overhaul in his December 2018 findings on the unsolved 1987 murder of Bryan Hodgkinson.

Mr O’Connell had been unable to compel a key witness to give evidence due to the age of the case. “Such a change may well assist to resolve some of the most lingering mysterious cases which still exist in Queensland,” he said in his findings.

He cited the Whiskey Au Go Go investigation as another case that could benefit. “I wonder aloud whether anything meaningful will be achieved unless persons are compelled to give evidence,” Mr O’Connell said of the Whiskey Au Go Go inquest

“By now, most next-of-kin are well past the position of prosecution as their goal, they merely wish to ascertain the truth, as does the public.”

The bill will allow cases heard under old laws to be reopened.

Tougher laws could see new Whiskey Au Go Go inquest this year – Brisbane Times (12 March 2020)

An update on the new Whiskey Au Go Go inquest from Tony;

https://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/national/queensland/tougher-laws-could-see-new-whiskey-au-go-go-inquest-this-year-20200311-p5494h.html

The families of Brisbane’s murdered Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub victims believe the long-awaited second inquest into the 1973 horrific firebombing where 15 people died may start in May or June.

Attorney General Yvette D’Ath announced a new inquest in June 2017.

The Queensland coroners’ office on Wednesday would not confirm a specific date for the new inquest.

However, it confirmed the inquest will be heard under a tougher, retrospective Coroners Act, which is ready to go to Queensland Parliament.

The new legislation, part of the Justice and Other Amendments Bill, allows the coroner to compel a person to give evidence that incriminates them.

“The modern coronial regime established under the current act includes a power for the coroner to require a witness to give potentially self-incriminating evidence at an inquest if the coroner is satisfied that it is in the public interest to do so,” Ms D’Ath told State Parliament in November 2019.

“However, those powers are not currently available to a coroner with respect to deaths that were reported prior to the commencement of the Coroners Act 2003.”

Under the proposed amendments to the 2003 Coroners Act, it now applies to deaths before 2003, Ms D’Ath said.

“This means that the current act, including the power to require a witness to give evidence at an inquest that would tend to incriminate the witness, will apply to inquests into deaths that were reported before the commencement of the act,” Ms D’Ath said.

“To be clear, this will apply even if the person has claimed the privilege against self-incrimination at a previous inquest under the repealed Coroners Act 1958.”

Queensland’s Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee tabled their report into these proposed changes on February 21 and the bill is ready to go back to State Parliament.

The Queensland Coroner said it was waiting for police to complete the investigation.

“The inquest cannot proceed until that investigation is finalised,” a spokeswoman said.

“Accordingly, no date has been determined at this stage.”

“There is legislation currently before the Queensland Parliament that will permit the inquest to be conducted under the Coroners Act 2003 instead of the Coroners Act 1958. It would be preferable to await passage of that legislation before the inquest is commenced.”

Friends and families of the victims gathered outside the Fortitude Valley site of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub, which was named after the famous venue in West Hollywood, last weekend to mark 47 years since the firebombing on March 8, 1973.

They have heard suggested inquests dates before but believe it is getting closer.

Danny Stuart, the nephew of John Andrew Stuart, who was one of two men convicted of the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing in 1973, was a young boy at the time at his family home in Jindalee where his uncle was arrested by police.

On Wednesday he told Brisbane Times he was to be interviewed on Friday by a detective on what he witnessed and heard in those days. He plans to give evidence to the inquest.

He welcomed the planned changes to the Coroners Act.

“I think it is important that people can be compelled to come forward because there are people out here who are hiding the truth,” he said.

Donna Phillips worked as a waitress at the Whiskey Au Go Go club in 1973 where the liquor licence was held by businessman Brian Little and run by club owner John Hannay, who died at 74 on March 1, 2019.

Mr Hannay operated The Beat in Fortitude Valley for more than 35 years.

Ms Phillips now runs a Facebook group for the family and friends of the 15 people murdered at the Whiskey Au Go Go.

“[The new inquest] hasn’t been confirmed yet by the coroner’s office, so at this point it is still just people talking,” she said.

She said families want the new inquest to begin.

“It would bring some sanity back into a turgid past. It would bring some order back into our lives,” she said.

Ms D’Ath announced the new inquest in June 2017, the day after Supreme Court Justice Peter Applegarth sentenced hardened criminals Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois to life in prison for murdering 34-year-old Highgate Hill mum Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters, 13-year-old Vicki and 11-year-old Leanne.

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.

Brisbane’s Torino’s Nightclub was firebombed on February 25, 1973.

O’Dempsey denies being involved in either firebombing.

Career criminals Stuart and James Richard Finch were convicted of the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing and one murder in October 1973.

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

Convicted murderer ‘tells all’ on Whiskey Au Go Go bomb saga – The Australian (14 October 2019)

Investigative journalist David Murray tells the Stokes story;

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/nation/convicted-murderer-tells-all-on-whiskey-au-go-go-bomb-saga/news-story/cb64a6896ffbaeec06a36443ab4c11f1

The former magazine editor who made sensational claims about who was behind the Whiskey Au Go Go massacre before himself being convicted of murder has written a book detailing his involvement in a dark chapter in Queensland criminal history.

William Stokes, 77, writes in the book how a friendly association with the so-called Clockwork Orange Gang turned sour after the 1973 firebombing of the Whiskey, a popular nightclub in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley.

The attack killed 15 people, and Mr Stokes says he came to fear his life was in danger because of what he knew about the gang.

He was later convicted of the murder of boxer Thomas Hamilton and spent 16 years in jail, but denies the charge.

He writes in the book about his connection to the Whiskey saga, which started when Hamilton boasted of being behind the arson of Brisbane nightclub ­Torino’s.

The Whiskey was torched less than a fortnight later and Mr Stokes says the offer of a record $50,000 reward for information “startled the life out of me”.

“If the gang was responsible, and thought I may be interested in collecting the reward, they would have to think about putting me in the ground,” he writes.

As editor of the magazine Port News in the 1970s, he accused in a series of articles gangland figure Vincent O’Dempsey of organising the firebombing.

He also accused O’Dempsey and associate Garry “Shorty” Dubois of the then-unsolved 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters Vicki, 13, and Leanne, 11, saying it was because Barbara knew too much. Decades after his claims, O’Dempsey and Dubois were jailed for life in 2017 over the McCulkin murders.

The Queensland government then ordered a new inquest into the Whiskey firebombing, but more than two years later a date has yet to be set.

Two men, James Finch and John Stuart, were convicted over the Whiskey attack.

Mr Stokes has spent $1300 printing 20 copies of his book to give to publishers. He doesn’t discuss in the book his own murder conviction, but says his stance on it is the “same as it’s always been”.

“It’s never changed — I was not guilty,” he said. “I was led to believe if I mentioned anything to do with that or Hamilton, the book could be viewed as getting money from proceeds of crime.”

The Whiskey – Whodunnit? (16 March 2019)

There were three levels;

  1. At the bottom of the food chain was John Stuart and James Finch. Stuart’s role was to provide the extortion smokescreen.  Finch, a professional firebug, torched the Whiskey.
  2. Billy McCulkin recruited Stuart, his best criminal mate. After Stuart was released from jail in mid 1972, the two were inseparable. Serial killer Vincent O’Dempsey, recruited McCulkin. McCulkin and O’Dempsey had previously organised the Torino firebombing, an insurance job. Well before the Torino and Whiskey fires Stuart had told multiple people that the clubs would be bombed by the same people. He also intimated members of the so called Clockwork Orange would be involved. Members confirmed their involvement with the Torino and Finch said Tom Hamilton assisted in the Whiskey arson.
  3. The Whiskey was torched for financial reasons, this is the only scenario that makes sense. Ex manager John Hannay had the motive and track record to instigate the fire.