By Thom L. Jones
Melbourne, is the second largest city in Australia, by population, with over 4 million citizens.
It is also one of the most violent in the country.
Between 1984 and 1995, 35 people were shot dead by members of the Victoria Police. This compared to 10 shootings in the period 1971 to 1984.
One of them was Graeme Jensen, who went down on October 11th 1988
He decided to cut the lawn that day. That’s what got him killed.
If he had stayed in bed, and not bothered with the backyard, he probably might still be alive. But he didn’t and he isn’t. Then again, with his record and background, it’s highly likely the killing day would have come to him sooner or later.
Jensen (photo right), was a career criminal and the police were after him as the lead suspect in the shooting death of an Armaguard security officer, Dominic Hefti, gunned down at a shopping center in Brunswick, a suburb in north Melbourne, earlier in the year, in July. Not only was he not the right suspect in this robbery, his own death at the hands of Victorian law enforcement, triggered one of the worst atrocities committed against the police force in the city.
Like a lot of his peers, Jensen, a night-owl, stayed in bed late, eventually getting up around lunchtime to watch a movie on the television in the house where he lived in Morray Court, Narre Warren.
Narre Warren is a suburb of Melbourne, Victoria, 40 kilometers from the central business district. Over the years, it has grown from a semi-rural residential town to become a part of a major growth corridor in the south-east of the metropolitan area. In recent years, a multitude of new housing developments have seen Narre Warren expand to such an extent that it now adjoins neighboring suburbs such as Berwick, Lyndhurst and Doveton. An estimated eight houses are built every day in the area with young, lower middle class families making up the majority of new residents. Home to Australia’s second largest shopping center, after Chadstone, also in the Melbourne area. A place to grow and expand a family, for young Australians, put down roots; start something important.
That day in October 1988 was the start of something important, but for Victorian law enforcement, in all the wrong ways.
Australia was born out of a criminal heritage.
Since the first six transport ships carrying 775 convicted British felons docked in Botany Bay, New South Wales, in August 1786, over 160000 more were to arrive over the next eighty years. In a country, where laws were so harsh, even cutting down a tree could result in death by hanging, there were, it seems, ironically, no shortage of law-breakers, men, women and even children, back in the mother country. An endless supply chain to fill the endless open spaces that comprise the sixth largest country on Earth.
By 1900, in a land founded in essence by criminals, there were 4755 people imprisoned from a population of 3.7 million, a rate of 128 per 100,000 of total population. (1)
In the USA in 1900, for comparison, there were 57000 people held in federal and state prisons out of a population of 76 million, a rate of 75 per 100,000 of total population. (2)
On the face of it, America, founded by law-abiding citizens, escaping persecution in Britain, was turning out to be a lot more equitable than its younger cousin on the other side of the world.
By 1988 however, things in Australia were improving. 12381 prisoners filled the jails of the country which by now had grown to a population of 16.5 million (3). This equated to a rate of 75 per 100000 of total population.
The detention figures however, indicated that crime and criminals appeared to be still firmly embedded into the social structure of the country, particularly in the two major cities-Melbourne and Sydney.
Melbourne, long regarded as the ‘organized crime capital’ of Australia was struggling in 1988 to cope with an epidemic of armed hold-ups being carried out by individuals and highly organized gangs.
The figures for the growth in this criminal enterprise speak for themselves:
1960: 28 reported incidents
1970: 144 reported.
1980: 607 reported.
1990: 1776 reported.
It sometimes seemed as though the police would stake out a bank and then around the corner, a betting shop would be attacked. It reached the level of saturation to where the media lost interest, other than to complain that the police were losing the war against the armed robbers.
The police themselves, were responding to this growing epidemic by earning a reputation for shooting offenders dead. The 35 fatal police shootings in Victoria, were twice as many as in all the other states in Australia combined. Some of the victims were gunned down by detectives who formed the Armed Robbery Squad.
According to numerous sources, including former supreme court judge, Don Stewart, the same police force was also corrupted to the point that they were working deals with the very crooks that they were also killing on the streets of the city.
The Australian newspaper claimed, “Corruption has flourished in Victoria so happily and for so long that it will have spread its way into every corner of Victorian society.”
It had been endemic in the force for years-30 allegations of corruption among police officers having been laid as far back as 1933. One investigation alone, in the 1980s, involving Senior Sergeant Paul Higgins, was the most expensive ever in Victorian legal history, costing the taxpayer in excess of $30 million.
It was purported in the mainstream media that the Victorian police routinely planted fake evidence, nicknamed '' The Load,'' and many suspects were illegally convicted by this method.
87% of seized narcotics worth hundreds of millions of dollars went missing from property offices according to task force CEJA, a police ethical standards team investigating allegations of drug squad corruption.
In 1995, the Victoria police drug squad began what it called “the chemical diversion desk.”
In essence, they contracted to buy from leading companies precursors used to cook amphetamines, then arranged to sell these to illegal drug operations. Through this method they uncovered numerous illegal drug labs, made many arrests and seized over $120 million of illegal drugs. They effectively became the biggest drug dealers in town. At one stage, the Victoria Drug Squad became the most important customer of Sudafed in Australia, qualifying for a significant discount on their orders.
Needless to say, there was a significant amount of “creaming” carried out by some members of the squad. It became so chaotic, as Senior Constable Steve Payton one of the corrupt officers said in an interview with The Age newspaper, “It was a joke. We kept losing the shit.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Wayne Strawhorne who introduced the diversion desk was sentenced to seven years without parole in 2006 for drug trafficking.
The Police Association was recognized as being “combative” in weeding out corruption charges made against its members. Crooked former drug squad detectives were routinely promoted to higher ranks in the force.
Among the criminal underworld of the city, it was generally believed that cops were bent and the fearsome Armed Robbery Squad was a law unto itself, often acting as judge and executioner over the criminals they were policing. The squad had long been considered the hardest and most feared group of Victorian detectives. They operated with apparent immunity from traditional standards of control in an area that was never black or white and seldom even grey.
The 1979 Barry Beach Inquiry found that the Armed Robbery Squad had committed “abuses so grave as to warrant the most prompt institution of safeguarding reforms."
The squad had been formed in 1965 to try and contain the violence that was threatening and indeed would eventually, grow out of control, across Melbourne and the state.
By 1988, it was investigating and tracking one suspect in particular among many: Graeme Jensen.
In April, 1998, a special investigation, code-named Operation No Name, was formed under the leadership of Detective Sergeant Paul “Fish” Mullett. The police had received information that two known criminals and armed robbers, Lindsay Roundtree and Victor Peirce, along with two other associates, had robbed a Melbourne bank earlier in the year, and were in the process of setting up another hit.
Part of a notorious family of criminals known as The Flemington Crew, The Clan or simply referred to as The Pettingills, after the family matriarch, Kath, who had ten children (by three different partners) who all had criminal records.
Members of the gang had convictions for drug trafficking, illegal arms dealing and armed robberies. At any one time, there were at least eight immediate family members in or out of prison and each of them had numerous accomplices working the streets with them. Some writers have likened them more to a tribe than a family with their own codes of conduct and their own belief system. Peirce and his wife for example, ran up an unpaid bill of $45000 for outstanding traffic offences and parking fines with the Melbourne council.
Peirce and one of his associates were followed for weeks by detectives and seemed to spend a lot of time checking out banks at the Boronia Shopping Centre, 30 kilometers east of the central business district. On some of the surveillance, the detectives noticed the appearance of Graeme Jensen and Jedd Houghton another career criminal. The police knew that Peirce and Jensen were best mates.
What Victor didn’t know was that Jensen had been having an affair with his wife.
Another member of the squad, Detective Sergeant Peter Butts, was in charge of the investigation into the killing of the security guard, Dominic Hefti, earlier in the year.
On July 11th, he had been delivering takings from a Coles supermarket warehouse in Barkly Square, Brunswick, to his Armaguard van, when he was attacked by an armed robber. In the struggle for the money case, Hefti was shot twice, and subsequently died in hospital from his injuries. He was able to fire his service revolver and wounded his attacker, who left a blood-trail behind.
From day one the squad investigating the attack on the guard believed the gunman to be part of the crew headed by Victor Peirce and known to include Jensen. They were wrong. Tragically so as events would unfold to show.
The hold-up gang was in fact headed by yet another gangster, Russell “Mad Dog” Cox, one of the most feared gunmen of his time and a master criminal who carried out some of the biggest payroll robberies across the country, and at one period was listed as Australia’s most wanted criminal. Assisting him, were probably Mark Moran, part of the Ascot Vale Crew, another Melbourne mob that produced many prolific armed robbers and killers, and Santo Mecuri, a former sausage-maker turned bank robber. It was he who most likely fired the shotgun blast that killed Hefti.
Mecuri died from cancer while in prison in July 2000.
However, Sergeant Butts and his team believed Jensen was the killer based on evidence they assembled. A stolen car used in the robbery was linked into a woman known to Jensen. His physical description matched eye-witness reports and on October 10th, a police informant dropped his name to Butts as the likely suspect. Jensen had also of course, appeared frequently on police surveillance stake-outs in the company of Victor Peirce whose gang was the original suspects for the attack on the security guard.
On October 11th, at about 3:20 pm, Jensen left his house and drove to a nearby shopping complex. He parked his girlfriend’s car, a blue Commodore station wagon, near 3 Webb Street, and went into a lawnmower shop to purchase a new spark plug for the mower that had packed up earlier in the afternoon when he had begun to cut the grass in the backyard of his home.
Graeme Russell Jensen was 33 years old and living with Sandra Faure, in a de-facto relationship, along with her two children, when he was killed. They had been together since May and Jensen had been living full-time at the house since the end of June. Sandra was part of the infamous Faure criminal dynasty that traced its roots back to the 1920s. Her husband Keith George Faure, was serving a long prison sentence for attempted murder and manslaughter.
Jensen was from an extended family of siblings, cousins, nephews and nieces. He was born in 1955, in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton, the youngest of five children and when his parents, Ellen and Walter split up seven years later, he was shunted from family members to state assistance facilities. He had multiple prior convictions for armed robbery and various other offences that dated back to when he was 12 years old. By the age of 14, he was a ward of the state and would come to spend many years in prison. At the age of fifteen he became the youngest bank robber in Victoria's history when he robbed the National Bank in Fitzroy of $1400, Seventeen months before his death, he had been released from a nine-year prison term for a bank robbery he had carried out in 1981.
The arresting officer for this latest caper observed:
“Offender is a very dangerous type of person who, according to his girlfriends and other persons, always slept with his shotgun loaded under his bed. When arrested also had the weapon fully loaded in his possession. Warning, will finish shooting a policeman or some other person he has a dislike to if given an opportunity. Treat with caution."
Graeme Jensen was one of seven men who made up the nucleus of The Flemington Crew. The rest were:
Victor Peirce, Jedd Houghton, David McEvoy, Paul Prideaux, Lindsay Rountree and Gary Abdallah.
The Armed Robbery Squad had also included on their intelligence charts Jason Pettingell, Anthony Farrell and Jason Ryan as possible gang members. Ryan, a nephew of Victor Peirce would turn out to be a major problem for The Flemington Crew and the police.
How many armed robberies they did as a collective and as individuals is anyone's guess. Wendy, Peirce's wife, claimed he alone, had committed at least twenty during 1988. These were violent criminals, armed and dangerous.
The Armed Robbery Squad was tooled up and ready when they started their stakeout on Graeme Jensen early on the morning of Tuesday, October 11th. This was the day they had decided to apprehend and arrest him in connection with the Brunswick killing.
Carrying small arms and pump-action shotguns, eight detectives in three vehicles waited as a special surveillance team, known, jokingly in the force, as “The Squirrels,” under the command of Sergeant Malcom Rosenes, staked out the area near the house, beginning their surveillance at 7:30AM, first following Sandra when she drove her children to school, and then, when he finally surfaced, following Jensen on his short ride to the shopping area, a journey that would have taken less than five minutes.
As the surveillance squad had been parked some distance from the property in Moray Court, (this was a cul-de-sac or no exit street, making it difficult to carry out observation without disclosing their presence,) when Jensen arrived at the store, Sergeant Butts had two of the squad follow their target into the shop to confirm it actually was Jensen. As the detectives came out and indicated that their man was spotted, Butts gave the order to effect the arrest.
What happened in the few minutes after Jensen left the lawnmower shop next door to The Narre Warren Produce store on Webb Street has been the basis for conjecture, hypotheses, speculation, media hype and police obfuscation for the last twenty-seven years.
As Jensen started to drive away from the car park in front of the store, the three police cars moved in to block his passage. Detectives in the lead car claimed that Jensen clipped one of the squads Ford Falcons, reversed at speed, before shifting into drive and gunning the car forward. They also testified that Jensen produced a weapon, at which point they shouted out a warning to their partners, and then opened fire at the vehicle. The windscreen of the car was punctured, and by then, other officers were out of their vehicle and shooting. The rear window of the station wagon exploded and Sergeant Robert Hill emptied his .38 Smith and Wesson revolver into the car. The Commodore lurched forward, mounting a grass berm before crashing into a telegraph pole. Jensen lay slumped in the driver's seat, dead, his head resting on the open window sill (photo below).
Malcom Rosenes who witnessed the shooting, from his Nissan Pulsar (photo below), later claimed he saw three detectives open the trunk of their car and then carry a brightly striped towel across to Jensen's vehicle. He assumed they were going to use it to cover the body, which they did. However, before they did this, Rosenes claims he saw one of the men, Detective Rodney Grimshaw, retrieve from the towel and then drop, a sawn-off .22 rifle into the front of the vehicle so it landed near Jensen's feet.
Rosenes later told an inquest he saw nothing. After he was found to be corrupt and jailed for drug trafficking, in 2003, he claimed he had lied and the gun was planted.
Following the Webb Street incident, the Victoria Police Media Liaison Bureau issued a press-release which was followed by news reports that indicated Jensen was shot while fronting up to police; that he had been involved in a “shoot-out” with the police and that he was wanted for armed robbery and murder.
In fact, he was shot in the back while attempting to flee armed police. Also, forensic tests carried out within days of his killing proved he was not involved in the armed robbery and murder that had taken place earlier in the year at Brunswick. The blood left by the wounded robber was no match to Jensen.
Detective Inspector John Noonan, a senior officer in the Victorian police stated that the Jensen operation was “was poorly planned, and a poorly executed attempt at an arrest.”
The coroner’s inquest on the shooting held in 1995 stated:
''….the police operation was incompetently handled. The facts presented to the court were inconsistent with accounts given by the police.''
After years of investigation, the eight detectives were indicted on July 20th 1993 with the murder of Jensen. However, charges against seven of the men were withdrawn before making it to trial. Sergeant Robert Hill who had emptied his handgun into Jensen's car was committed to trial in August 1995. It took the jury all of eighteen minutes to find him not guilty. The bill for the investigation, inquest and then prosecution of the Armed Robbery Squad officers, cost the taxpayer $4 million.
In June 2012, Robert Hill, now a police superintendent, was appointed Assistant Commissioner in the force, the third highest ranking in Victorian policing.
At an inquest into Jensen's death, Sergeant Butts stated that at the time Jensen was killed by the police, they had no evidence that could be used in court to support the allegation he was involved in the armed robbery of the Coles Supermarket on July 13th 1988.
His family buried Graeme Jensen in the state's largest cemetery, The Fawkner Memorial Park, in Hadfield, a twenty minute drive from where he had been born, in working-class Carlton. He lies in Grave 71 in the Fountain Lawn Section. It's a simple memorial set into a grass plot, and he shares it with his brother Allan and nephew Brett.
In his short, confused and basically useless life, Jensen was much less a meteor, more a pebble thrown into a widening lake. The ripples he created by simply being who he was and what he became through his violent death would ensure his place, inconsequential as it was, in criminal history.
Just why the Armed Robbery Squad went after Jensen with such determination and why they killed him has never been satisfactorily explained. Was it a vendetta? Was it sloppy policy work? Was the squad under too much pressure from within the police bureaucracy and the media? If the rifle was planted by a member of the squad, it must have meant they routinely carried with them “drop weapons'' or as they are sometimes called “throw-downs,” to incriminate a potential target.
Or did the squad know from their underworld informants that Jensen and his best mate, Victor Peirce, believed that the Victorian police had embarked on a policy of killing-off career bandits like themselves, and that the two robbers had decided to fight back vowing to kill two police officers every time one of their own went down. Was Jensen going first to be followed by Peirce before they could carry out their threat?
The criminals it was believed, were sure that the Armed Robbery Squad had crossed the line and become a vigilante squad, ready and willing to kill those they could not legally convict. Earlier in the year police had shot dead Mark Militano and Frankie Valastro, part of the Ascot Vale Crew. The Peirce gang had promised that the next time one of their mates was “knocked by the jacks” they would murder two police officers.
The Armed Robbery Squad was kosher police. Their official tie featured a crossed pistol motif and the men who proudly wore them were married to their fraternity. The usual was brutality, and it was considered acceptable when chasing crooks. The line from hunting to killing criminals who proved too elusive for the system, was one that perhaps could easily be crossed. The underworld referred to the squad as “The Robbers,” men who came across as arrogant and audacious, willing to do anything to get their target.
Ten years earlier, in New York, a squad of elite narcotic detectives had roamed the streets of the city, taking down major drug dealers and effecting highly publicized arrests while at the same time stealing drugs and scoring huge amounts of illegally generated money. A squad member became known as “A Prince of the City.”
Were the Armed Robbery Squad emulating these cops? Had Melbourne become the new fiefdom for these princess?
Was the tracking and shooting of Graeme Jensen evidence that the Armed Robbery Squad was out of control?
The violent death of Jensen and the police involvement, was investigated by a team led by Senior Sergeant John Hill, a well-respected and highly regarded homicide investigator based at the City West station. He committed suicide on September 28th 1993, two months after he was charged with being an accessory after the fact to murder for allegedly concealing evidence suggesting police were criminally liable. Hill always maintained his innocence and felt his integrity had been destroyed when he was charged.
The killing of Jensen was to claim the lives of other men in blue.
Thirteen hours after Graeme Jensen went down in a hail of shotgun pellets and revolver shots, a fatal confrontation was to take place, this time, in a quiet, leafy street in inner-city Melbourne.
The weapons of choice would be identical. The target, the very antonym of the bad guy.
The city and the country would wake up on October 12th to news of something unheard of in Australia's long history of lawlessness. Those early convict settlers had planted a DNA code that had now mutated the code creating the very basic fundamental standards of social awareness and decency, into a level of darkness that was unthinkable, leading to something that would come to haunt the conscience, as well as test the very moral fiber of a nation.
Read Part Two here: Murder Blue: "Two dogs (cops) have to die!"
(1) Source: Australian Demographic Statistics, December 1998; Source Book of Australian Criminal and Social Statistics 1804-1988; Corrective Services, Australia (4512.0).
(2) Source Prison Policy Initiative: http://www.prisonpolicy.org/news/pr07142005.html
(3) Source: Year Book of Australia. Australian Bureau of Statistics: www.abs.gov.au
You can read more of Thom L. Jones’ stories at his Mob Corner at Gangsters Inc.
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Copyright © at Thom L. Jones & Gangsters Inc. 2015