The policeman's suitcase

By Patricia Poppenbeek

I have always been one or two people away from access to marijuana and hard drugs. I’ve always known Stewart* was one of those connections. He was a member of the Victorian Police Force during the gang war years. Since he left the police force in 1997, he has been convicted of extortion in Queensland (falsely, he says), and worked for a time as a debt collector. He’s been asked to murder someone. ‘For $80,000!’ he said. The price of human life is interesting. I asked, ‘What’s the going price?’ ‘You’d want to be getting over $180,000. But idiot druggies have done it for $20,000. I’ve also been asked to burn down places.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I’m known to be pretty solid and will have a go. But I haven’t done things like that.’ He was drunk and a bit stoned the first time we discussed me interviewing him. ‘I don’t know why you think my story would be interesting,’ he said. ‘I mean, the tales I tell in the pub are… Do you know what a serious indictable offence is?’ ‘No.’ ‘You strike me as being a bit naïve.’ But he came over and talked and talked, me making notes in my almost unreadable writing because he wouldn’t let me record anything. He brought a brown, musty little suitcase bound with what I thought was a pair of braces but which turned out to be a shoulder holster. It contained photographs, documents and other items piled in layers like wreckage after a flood. I sorted through them feeling like an archaeologist, piling them where possible into years. Some things had no date. These included: 1. A handwritten letter on a piece of blue lined paper saying: Noel Anthony McDONALD* Status I am a Detective Sergeant of Police attached to the Hawthorn CIB. I have known Stewart Blake for quite a number of years when he was first a Constable at Northcote and through his and my career seeing each other socially. I got to know Stewart quite well when I was a Detective Sergeant at the Fraud Squad at St. Kilda Road then when I was seconded to the Major Crime Squad. I was the Sergeant in Charge of the crew in which Stewart was one of the members. I got to know his wife Sally* and their two children Tara & Zoe*. During the time I have known this family, domestic problems have arisen and as a person who has been through the same difficulties myself grew to understand the problems with the family. I have supported both Stewart & Sally. I was fully aware of the night in question and I am aware of events leading up to it. Stewart was of work on stress. When he was a member of my crew we chased and apprehended many escapees from various jails. We were front runners in chasing a number of the top ten criminals wanted in Victoria. Our crew was one of the first crews to be called in over the Walsh Street shootings… ​ 2. Eighteen black and white photos of his father, generally on horseback, looking rather like Prince Phillip. One of the first things Stewart told me when I started interviewing him was that his father was a policeman. Stewart grew up poor in working class Braybrook. Because Stewart and his brothers were a policeman’s children, they got bullied. So Stewart’s father taught them to box. ​ 1980 ​ A Daily Circular The first item concerns a Frederick John SIMONS* – WANTED ON WARRANT. It is accompanied by front and profile shots of a handsome, hook-nosed young man. He is wanted for ‘offences of Aggravated Burglary and numerous Assaults, Thefts, etc committed in Nicholson Street, Carlton … on persons associated with the Strip Massage Parlours. He is also wanted for other Assaults within the Sunshine area… HE IS IN POSSESSION OF EITHER A .38 CALIBRE OR .32 CALIBRE PISTOL/REVOLVER, AND HAS MADE THREATS TO SHOOT AT POLICE (ON 24.9.80 VIA PHONE). HE SHOULD BE CONSIDERED EXTREMELY DANGEROUS. ​ After three months at Oakleigh Police Station, Stewart went to Victoria Dock. Malcolm Rosenes, the Drug Squad detective sergeant jailed in 2003 for drug dealing, was there earlier. In Snouts in the Trough Rosenes described it to Andrew Fraser (the criminal lawyer whose life was the basis for the TV series Killing Time) as a place where he ‘learnt who all the good crooks of Melbourne were by observing the Painters and Dockers around the place. He learned how the wharfies worked and how they didn’t work; he saw the thieving that went on, not only by the wharfies but also by the coppers who worked on the Dock.’ ‘They put green police in with old scallywags,’ said Stewart, who ‘did all the things a brand new copper does to impress. You could wear a suit and go swaggering like as if you were a detective. You could do some Special Duties and cultivate informers.’ I visualised a veggie patch. ‘How do you cultivate informers?’ ‘You arrest them and they dob others in, and you let them have half of their product.’ He grinned. At one stage, ‘Half of Port Melbourne was in jail because the other half gave them up.’ 1982 Two Crime Collator Circulars One says, ‘Good work was done by Mick and Stewart the other night when they picked up a pusher by the name of Henry ZEIT*, at his home in Caulfield with a quantity of Heroine stashed away …’ 1983

1. A statement about attending a South Melbourne nightclub with Senior Constable Stone*. Stone spoke to one Richard Bundy*, who was with a Leanne Hugh*. She kept shouting, ‘What’s he fuckin done?’ and ‘Leave him alone you dogs’. A large, abusive crowd gathered. Stone said, ‘Look I’m going to have to talk to you about it. Let’s go outside from all this noise and people.’ ‘No way fucking known,’ Bundy said. Stone asked Bundy what his name was ‘You fucking know that.’ Someone threw a stubby. Stone grabbed Bundy’s arm. ‘Come outside, I’m not staying in here talking to you with all this going on.’ ‘Fuck off,’ screamed Bundy, pulling his arm away and clenching his fists. Both officers grabbed his arms. Bundy struggled, kicking them. Stone got him in a headlock and they dragged him out towards the foyer, hampered by the crowd and the redoubtable Ms Hugh, who punched Stone’s head and jumped on him, knocking him to the floor. She then went for Stewart. An unknown man pushed her away and helped them get the screaming, struggling Bundy into the foyer. The two police then got him outside, followed by a crowd of people from the disco. As they got Bundy to the rear of the Divisional van, fights broke out. ‘Get on the radio and get some help,’ Stone said. While Stewart was radioing, Stone was hit and fell to his knees. His attacker kept on punching his head and jumped on top of him, as did Hugh. Bundy broke away and when Stewart grabbed his left arm, socked Stewart. Stewart hit Bundy’s face, breaking his right hand. Bundy kept hitting him, and with his hand broken all Stewart could do was pull Bundy close to him to nullify his blows. Bundy tore Stewart’s tunic and grabbed his testicles, and Stewart felt other blows raining on his head and back. ‘Get this cunt off me quick,’ Bundy yelled. Stewart heard the sound of police sirens, and the crowd attacking them began running off. Another constable grabbed Bundy, put him into a headlock, and Stewart was finally able to unlock the back of the Divisional Van. They stuffed a thrashing Bundy into the van. They left, taking Bundy, Hugh and another brawler in the back of the van to South Melbourne Police Station. All three enlivened the journey with pounding and shouting. The station was inundated with a rowdy crowd of people arrested at the scene. Stewart swallowed some analgesics and attempted to complete his paperwork. Bundy was taken out of the cells for questioning. Stewart succeeded in getting his full name, address and age—he was twenty. Stewart said, ‘I want to talk to you about the incident at the Paladium Disco tonight, but I must warn you that anything you say will be recorded and may be given in evidence. Do you understand that?’ ‘Yeah, well don’t waste your breath copper, that’s all you are getting from me.’ ‘What do you do for a living?’ ‘You find out.’ ‘How much have you had to drink tonight?’ ‘Wait till Burky’s here.’ ‘Who is Burky?’ ‘Brian Burke, my solicitor. I want him here.’ Bundy was then provided with a telephone, but refused to use it. Stewart asked, ‘What’s your reason for assaulting Police at the Paladium earlier on this evening?’ ‘I told you I’m not telling you nothing.’ ‘What is your reason for damaging my Police tunic?’ ‘Nothing to say.’ ‘Are you prepared to answer any of my questions?’ ‘No way, copper.’ Bundy was charged and lodged with the Watch House Keeper—and left the station. Stewart, Stone and another constable went to Prince Henry’s for treatment, and Stewart was off work for five weeks with the injury. 2. Several colour shots of a pudgy, bespectacled man taken at a wedding reception and in Perth with his family. He’s Kevin Hicks, a fellow policeman who went to the Drug Squad and, says Stewart, ‘crossed over’. In Snouts in the Trough Fraser says Hicks was imprisoned for being involved in the 1992 substitution of drugs that then went to methamphetamine manufacturers. 4. A large black and white photo with ‘Drug Squad—successful bust Ballarat—Speed drug lab’ written on the back. In 1983 Stewart was with the ‘secret squirrels’, a secret surveillance team within the Drug Squad. Stewart is unsure why he was accepted into this elite team. But he thinks probably it was because of Mick Smith*, a Detective Sergeant in the Tactical Investigation Group (TIG). They were both working at the Essendon Social Club the night Essendon won the Grand Final. The place was packed and dangerous with drunken, hyped up people. Mick was on a landing between two floors tussling with someone when two of the man’s mates attacked. Stewart ran upstairs and ‘went bang-bang-bang to the three guys’ and when another man came up the stairs snarled, ‘You want some too?’ ‘No, mate,’ the guy said wisely. He feels Mick was impressed with his ability to keep a cool head. 1984 1. Two black and white photos. One photo shows a casually dressed, bearded man running, aiming a gun at another man running away, a cigarette hanging from his lip. On the back is written, ‘Drug Squad—arrest of drug dealer (large amount of heroin) High Point Shopping Centre Maribyrnong’. The second shows the dealer reaching into his pocket as he dashes behind a car with people in it. The undercover policeman is braced, two hands on his pistol. A bespectacled man has turned, newspaper in hand. The back says, ‘Drug Squad—arrest of heroine drug dealer High Point shopping Centre Maribyrnong. Me taking photo. Offender reaching into right pocket for gun—Drug Squad member firing revolver over his head—“Warning Shot”. Member of public in foreground’. Stewart worked as a secret squirrel for about fourteen months, but found the inactivity of long hours of observation difficult. They were watching a cocaine importer from the apartment of a Qantas air hostess who allowed them to use her flat because she was away several days a week. Bored, Stewart rummaged through her drawers and burst upon the other team members wearing a pair of her panties on his head. Next minute they were all running up and down the hallway with knickers on their heads, giggling. And then the door opened. The hostess had come home early. Finally Stewart ‘got the flick because I was in a car crash because I was drunk from the night before.’ He had been called in unexpectedly to take over from another guy shadowing a crook. His punishment was to be sent to work in uniform at Northcote. But this turned out to be a blessing because it helped him obtain the good arrest record that got him into the CIB and to detective school. Again through Mick Smith, Stewart got a job with the TIG, which investigated organised crime. ​ 1987 Three newspaper clippings about ‘one of the country’s biggest drug trafficking rings’ being smashed, two showing pictures of Stewart. Heroin worth over $9 million and a number of guns were seized. 1988 Four newspaper clippings concerning various cases Stewart was involved in. Starting in about 1988, Stewart worked in the Major Crimes Squad. ‘They were considered the hard hitters,’ he said. ‘They dealt with anyone shooting at police and with escapees. There were days when we worked round the clock. You might do twelve raids in one day.’ On raids one officer would break down the door with a sledgehammer, stand aside, and Stewart would charge in, followed by the others. Why did he always go first? ‘I always thought it was safer because you can see what’s happening.’ I felt myself smiling. ‘What’s it like on a raid?’ ‘There’s the sound of the doors slamming as you all get out—crooks have told me they recognise the sound, so we don’t park close. You put on your vests and get out the shotguns and you walk up trying to look normal as you go down a suburban street with people walking their dogs.’ He held up an imaginary shotgun. ‘The grip loads the first shotgun shell into the chamber. It signifies you’re in attack mode. It’s like taking a breath. These guns are real killers—they’re not like a pistol. A shotgun has eight little ball bearings and before you enter you go’—he mimed pulling the grip—‘Shee … shee, shee! It’s a real killing sound and you get an erection. It’s usually dark. You enter yelling, “Police! Freeze!” Lots of crooks sleep with a gun under the pillow and you’re really hyped up. Those first few seconds are really vital. If they don’t go down, man, woman or child you club them with the shotgun.’ He pauses. ‘I did about a thousand raids. Towards the end I nearly shot a few people. There was this twenty-year-old harbouring an escapee. I was caught in a curtain with a pump action shot gun, trying to put it on safety, and he was behind one of those bamboo curtains and he had his hands out. The blinds were affecting my vision and I was getting nervous at this stage and I thought he had a gun. I was half a second away from blowing his head off.’ ‘Why didn’t you?’ ‘I hesitated.’ ‘Why?’ ‘I was probably being too hesitant at this stage… You have to justify your shooting. And you’re not the same person after you’ve shot someone. The old hands tell you that.’ The raids were often to make ‘a prick of yourself to known crims until someone dobbed in the one we were after in order to get the police off their backs. You had to keep the squad pretty tight because sometimes what they did was illegal.’ ‘What did they do?’ ‘Let’s just say tried and true traditional Consorting Squad methods.’ Perhaps the most far-reaching case of ‘traditional Consorting Squad methods’ was involved in Graeme Jensen’s death in 1988. The next day two young policemen were ambushed and murdered in Walsh Street, South Yarra: Victor Pierce’s revenge for his mate’s death. 1989-92 1. Eight colour group shots of the Major Crime Squad. In their black pants, white shirts and collegiate ties they are like a class of smiling schoolboys. Those kneeling in the front row are holding shotguns, mallets and bolt cutters. 2. Handwritten statement by Stewart. He and two other detectives, Wright* and Grant*, were looking for men suspected of burglarizing golf courses. Grant and Wright got out of the car to inspect the Rosebud Country Club premises for anything suspicious while Stewart remained in the car. Seconds later a blue Commodore sedan with two men on board drove out of the golf club and onto the road. The other two detectives ran up and got in, saying the Commodore was a suspect vehicle driven by a man known to police. They followed the Commodore. It did a u-turn and drove towards them. Stewart stopped the car in the middle of the road, and they all got out. Stewart was armed with a pump action shotgun, Wright had a revolver, and Grant had the police radio in one hand and a torch in the other, which he waved to signal them to stop. When the Commodore was about thirty metres away, Stewart saw the bearded driver leaning out the window ‘with his hand pointing at us. Wright screamed, “Look out, he’s got a gun.”’ The car continued coming at them. Stewart yelled, ‘He’s going to hit us, get out of the way.’ He ‘leaped to the left as did Wright. I could still see the firearm in the driver’s hand. It was pointed directly at where Wright and I were standing. I then instinctively fired my shotgun at the motor car twice.’ Stewart thought he had hit the car, but it accelerated away and escaped. The whole incident bears an unnerving resemblance to what happened in 1985 when two policemen were waiting in a car for a factory burglar to strike again. When a yellow Cortina came slowly and suspiciously by they stopped it. The driver, ‘Mad Max’ Clark, shot them and three other police who went in pursuit. 3. Four newspaper clippings concerning police corruption dated June 1992. The Age editorial called for a full enquiry: ‘The allegations of police corruption, bribery and the rigging of court cases published in The Age on Saturday and today raise serious questions about the administration of justice in this state. They have been made by a man known as ‘Mr Fixit’, who is facing criminal charges himself. Perhaps the most serious allegation he makes is that an innocent person was framed and spent 16 months in jail. The Age has gathered evidence that supports this allegation.’ 4. A newspaper clipping dated 30/6/92. A new police squad ‘will concentrate on the problem of violent attacks on people in their homes… The squad will replace the disbanded major crime squad … The revamp of the crime department follows concerns by senior police about the conduct of some members of the major crime squad.’ ‘They were always a bit concerned about us because we didn’t fight fair,’ Stewart said. ‘We were proactive. Carl Williams and the Morans wouldn’t have got as high with us—they were allowed to get bigger and bigger. We would have nipped it in the bud. By tried and true Consorting Squad methods or—’ He halts. ‘How else did you nip it in the bud?’ I prompt. ‘We always gave them a clip—a slapping around, a bit of a kick and a spit. Humiliate them. Make them stand in a corner and bark like a dog. If they were young offenders you’d really give them a hard time—to put them off re-offending.’ 1993 1. Letter from a Barristers and Solicitors beginning, ‘I confirm that you pleaded guilty on the 17th June 1993 to three counts of resisting a member of the police force in the execution of his duty.’ This was the year Stewart separated from Sally. For some reason, one night after work (and somewhat boozed) he decided to see her late one night and say hello. Not wanting to wake the kids, he walked down the side way and knocked on his wife’s bedroom. She got up, her naked body lit by the moonlight, and saw him. He thought, Gee, she’s got a lovely little figure. Then a male voice said something. ‘Alan*, get out!’ she screamed. Alan was a neighbour. Stewart ran down the sideway to head Alan off, saw his naked form dart out the front door and gave chase, losing him in the dark. So he tore over to Alan’s place, knocked on the door and informed Alan’s wife, ‘Your husband’s fucking my wife at the moment.’ Stewart’s eye fell on Alan’s Buick. He picked up a Besser brick and began pounding it. A police car drove up and a young male constable got out. Stewart showed him his badge. ‘Fuck off,’ Stewart said. The constable duly fucked off and Stewart returned to Sally’s house to find the same police car there. He could see through the front door windows that the two young officers were inside. They wouldn’t let him in, so Stewart broke a window, put his hand in and unlatched the door. He walked in, saying, ‘Everybody keep calm. I’m not going to hurt anyone.’ Hearing the sound of sirens, he went outside to explain the situation and found five police cars and a Senior Sergeant. ‘Get in the back of the van,’ said the Sergeant. ‘I’ll get in the sedan, but not the van,’ said Stewart. The van was where criminals were put. Then, says Stewart, ‘there was a lot of argy-barging and they all jumped on top of me.’ He was handcuffed and dumped in the back of the van. So he went to the Police Hospital, was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and put off work for about eighteen months. He was charged with resisting arrest and placed on a good behaviour bond. 1994 1. Receipt for a disciplinary fine of $600. Stewart went part-time to South Melbourne CIB. After getting the flick from there for fighting off duty he was sent to Footscray Police in uniform. He later called it ‘the worst place to send a broken down detective: being put back in a busy Watch House whilst Internal Investigation complaints were being investigated.’ He threw ‘people out of the police station for making silly complaints. Then they’d complain about me!’ And he was ‘too heavy handed at domestics.’ He was moved to D24, where he lasted a month. He couldn’t handle ‘listening to calls on the radio and you know what it’s like and you’d like to get out and help. Plus there were a lot of wankers and Senior Sergeant Lesbians.’ 1997 Victoria Police End of Service form showing Stewart’s resignation as of 17/10/1997. He was officially boarded out due to ill health, suffering post-traumatic stress. Miscellaneous 1. Group of photos. One is a headshot of a man with a narrow chin and long nose. It’s labeled ‘Footscray complaint against BLAKE sex-offender – rapist – pedafile’. The rest are of his skinny body, showing long red oval contusions. One is labeled ‘Footscray Police Baton Damage complaint against BLAKE by Sex offender’. ‘He was a rapist,’ Stewart explained. ‘He’d befriend women at oldtime dances and take them home and rape them. I bashed him when he arrived at the station. One victim’s mother rang me and thanked me.’ 2. Wedding photos, one labeled. ‘DICT + me at his wedding in Pearth W.A. I am his “Best Man”’. To Stewart’s right is Peter Lalor, handsome and smiling in his tuxedo. As described by Christine Nixon’s Fair Cop, Lalor was ‘Kit Walker’, ‘a phantom correspondent in a vicious internal email campaign’ attacking the factional rivals of Paul Mullett, the Police Association’s secretary. He was also named by Jack Price, the hitman who murdered the ‘vampire’ gigolo Shane Chartres-Abbott, as one of two police involved in the killing. 3. A small colour photo of a balding, middle-aged man looking like someone’s grandfather. He has contusions on his face and neck. It is labeled ‘Burglar “Lucky not to have been shot dead” MCS office later going to hospital’. ‘He was a very prolific burglar and an old paedophile,’ Stewart commented. ‘I would have killed him because he was reaching for a pistol—which turned out to be a starter pistol—but there was another cop behind him so I gave him a clubbing with the shot gun.’ ‘Who else did you nearly kill?’ ‘I went to a domestic and a bloke came at me with a tomahawk screaming, “I’ll kill you!” He was right off his head. But I—and this new young policeman who was with me—we grappled with him and got him down.’ He keeps cutting our interviews short—‘I get all stirred up.’ As I watch him go, I recollect a famous and tragic event. In 1999 four New York policemen perceived a young black man acting suspiciously, saw a gun in his hand, saw one of their own shot, and killed the perpetrator. Except that the man was innocent. He had a wallet in his hand and the ‘shot’ policeman had simply fallen. All the bullets flying were their own. It’s a classic case of disaster resulting from misperceptions and incorrect assumptions, lack of time to think, and tunnel vision caused by extreme stress. In Blink Malcolm Turnbull reports research indicating that beyond a certain stage of arousal ‘our bodies begin shutting down so many sources of information that we start to become useless … Vision becomes even more restricted. Behavior becomes inappropriately aggressive.’ The three times Stewart almost killed someone he pulled back. Like the New York police, he was in a high state of arousal and, in the case of the kid behind the bamboo curtain holding his hands out, saw a gun that didn’t exist. But he hesitated, giving his mind time to correct the misperception. With the paedophile burglar, he correctly saw a gun but he also saw the policeman behind the criminal, realised he could be hurt if Stewart shot, closed on the burglar, and used his shotgun as a club. It’s an amazing combination of quick thinking and fast reflexes, a perfect example of optimal arousal: no tunnel vision but thinking and acting faster. So what does society do with someone like Stewart, someone with the talent and training for violence? And what does Stewart do with himself? * Name changed