Blameless solicitor Keith Allan was murdered in a professional hit, but
the killers chose the wrong road to drive down early one morning. John
Three hours into a night shift, police can go into cruise mode. So when
a car went past on a near-deserted Altona road just after 2am on a
deadly dull Monday morning, senior constables Travis McCarthy and
Michael Strongman could easily have kept going.
Instead, for no good reason, they turned around and drove in the
direction the tail-lights had been before they disappeared. And then,
for no good reason, they continued to search for the tail-lights until
they found two cars parked in a dead-end street.
They were not to know that the car they had trailed was an old Jaguar
that the driver had bought with $12,000 in $100 notes. Nor were they to
know that he had received the cash as part of an advance for taking a
contract to kill a blameless suburban lawyer.
Murder cases are usually prised open rather than cracked. They are
solved by degrees rather than by single, blinding breakthroughs. But in
the case of the cold-blooded abduction and murder of Melbourne solicitor
Keith Allan, two seemingly unconnected acts a world apart combined to
expose the carefully planned killing.
The first was the decision of German engineers to incorporate a foot
pedal in the handbrake design on a late-model Mercedes-Benz. The second
was the decision of the two young police in Altona to follow a set of
tail-lights during a boring night shift in May 2000. The combination of
events foiled what could have been a perfect professional hit.
It would take 21 months to lay charges and four years to gain
convictions, but the moment the crime came undone was when the two
police pulled up in Ayr Street for a routine check. There they found the
early-model white Jaguar with NSW plates and a late-model blue Mercedes
with the Victorian registration KWA 111. It was registered to Keith
William Allan. When police looked in the back seat, they saw a shovel
and a hoe with soil still on the blades.
The death of Allan, like that of Niddrie woman Jane Thurgood-Dove in
1997, is a sharp reminder that not only gangsters, but law-abiding
citizens, can be the target of paid hitmen. It also casts further light
on the complex inter-relationships at play in Melbourne's internecine
In pursuing Allan's killers, police were to follow a thread of evidence
that would lead back to a house in Muriel Street, Niddrie, and to
underworld identity Peter Kypri. The Kypri family is steeped in murder
mysteries, both as potential victims and suspects.
Police this week confirmed that Kypri's wife, Carmel, was to have been
murdered in a contract killing but that the gunman made a terrible
mistake, instead shooting dead another woman who lived further down the
street, Jane Thurgood-Dove.
Keith Allan was a man who loved a bet but hated risks. At 53, he
remained devoted to his elderly mother, choosing to live next door to
her with his brother in the quiet Northcote street where he was raised.
The younger of the two brothers, he went to Northcote High then to
Melbourne University, where he completed a law degree. Hard-working
rather than naturally gifted, he struggled in one subject, trust
After graduation, he bought a solicitor's practice in Military Road,
Avondale Heights, and built a solid business under the banner of Keith
W. Allan and Associates. He opened a second practice in Springvale in
Allan had a close, platonic relationship with a childhood friend, Cheryl
Sutherland. Nearly every Saturday, they would go to the harness racing
together. "Keith and I were very similar in that neither of us drank
alcohol or smoked. We are not party people and were more than happy to
sit in front of the television... Keith is a very likeable character and
is easygoing... He is generous to a fault," she would later tell police.
Allan was a man who wanted order in his life. Wednesdays and Fridays he
would go to see Sutherland after work before going home at a respectable
hour. Saturday was trots night and Sunday would be dinner with
Sutherland and friends at a Preston hotel, at which he would invariably
order the roast. While he loved the trots, he was not a big punter,
betting no more than $50 on the weekend. In 1984, he was the secretary
of the Standard Bred Harness Owners Association. For many years, he
enjoyed the social and official sides of the industry.
Former Footscray player Jack Collins met him at the trots, and they
became friends. "I would describe Keith Allan as being an honest,
hard-working, mild-mannered man who never looked for any trouble and
wouldn't hurt a fly. He was not an aggressive person but a shy
individual with not a lot of self-confidence."
But even those closest to him knew he was not great with numbers.
"Keith was a poor financial manager," his brother, Lyle, said
without reproach. In the early 1990s, he had to bail him out of one
financial disaster involving a failed stud farm. By 1995, the
solicitor who often could not add up realised he needed help and
employed a conveyancing clerk.
But Allan had another flaw. He was a fatally poor judge of
Julian Michael Clarke was born in 1956 in Marrickville, NSW, and
grew up in Belmont, a suburb of Geelong. Like Keith Allan he lived a
seemingly conservative life, at 18 joining the public service, where
he worked for 10 years before becoming a law clerk.
In February 1995, he joined Allan's firm and soon showed an interest in
the financial side of the business - Allan's obvious weakness. The
conservative solicitor was happy to leave the books to his clerk, and in
1996 he made Clarke a cosignatory to the firm's trust account, a move
that breached trust account guidelines. In effect, Clarke became the
business manager, leaving Allan free to work with clients.
What Allan did not know was that his trusted clerk was stealing hundreds
of thousands of dollars to feed his gambling addiction. While Clarke was
paid $150 a day for his work in Allan's firm, he was living the life of
a millionaire. He was a regular at Crown Casino's Mahogany Room.
Records show that between November 9, 1998, and September 14 the
following year, $4.3 million was deposited and withdrawn from the
trust account. Much later it was found that Clarke was responsible
for 58 thefts totalling $929,478. He was found to have improperly
used that account for $2,795,000. But by then this would be the
least of his legal problems.
In August 1999, the Law Institute heard of a complaint involving a
possible theft of a $75,000 cheque from the trust account. Two
months later, Marie Ryan, an accountant working for the institute,
went out to the practice for a chat. She was told that the account's
key paperwork was missing.
Clarke remained unfazed and, at least initially, helpful. But there
were always delays. Clarke was ill or too busy and eventually became
downright rude, saying the institute should spend more time
investigating crooked lawyers and "stop hassling me". By May 2000,
even the patient Ryan was tired of excuses.
Friday, May 26, should have been a great day for Keith Allan. He had
won a raffle and the prize was to have a harness race named after
him. He took his friend Sutherland, her brother Norman and his wife
Mariam to Bendigo to the races and they stayed overnight.
But before he left his office he told his staff that he was going to
telephone Ryan on Monday to come out to the practice. He knew his
business was on the verge of collapse. On May 27, on the way home
from Bendigo he confided to Sutherland that he had a big week coming
up. He told her he was determined to sort out his financial problems
and intended to try to recover money owed to him. The following
night, he told his brother he was in financial trouble and asked to
borrow money. "He also said he thought that Julian would soon be
leaving the firm," Lyle said.
A drowning man will clutch a snake to try to save his life, and
Allan was certainly sinking fast. So when Clarke rang him on that
Sunday and said he might have found an investor who could provide
cash to float the sinking trust account, Allan wanted to believe
On their way to their regular Sunday dinner at Cramers Hotel, Allan
told Sutherland that Clarke had asked to meet him at the Avondale
Heights office that night. They arranged to meet at 9.30. According
to Sutherland, Allan said, "Julian wants to meet me with a man." She
joked that he should be careful, and he responded with a
light-hearted comment. "Keith joked that he was worth more alive
than dead." He was wrong.
Realising that his massive fraud was about to be exposed, Clarke had
decided that Allan should be the patsy. He reasoned that if Allan
disappeared, the authorities would blame the solicitor for the
thefts. Clarke had already stolen a further $70,000 from the trust
account in four instalments to pay for Allan's murder.
How do you find a killer? For Julian Clarke it was as simple as
attending a social function at a home in Niddrie. Somehow Clarke had
become a friend of mysterious Melbourne crime figure Peter Kypri.
Over the years, Kypri had developed a wide group of friends and just
as many enemies. In 1994, crooked lawyer Philip Peters had tried to
hire professional killers to abduct and murder Kypri over an alleged
$200,000 debt. But police uncovered the plot and launched an
elaborate operation, code named Soli, to save the proposed victim's
Having nearly died on the orders of a bent lawyer, Kypri would six
years later become involved in the contract killing of an innocent
It would be Kypri's cousin Costas "Con" Athanasi who would finally
organise Allan's murder. In early 1999, Clarke met Athanasi at
Kypri's home. Later that year, Athanasi's de facto wife, Vicki
Lester, needed a lawyer to represent her in a routine drink-driving
case. Clarke recommended his boss, Keith Allan. The lawyer also
represented Kypri in a 1999 assault case.
Born in Cyprus, Athanasi migrated to Australia with his family when
he was six. As a young man, he enjoyed indoor soccer and developed a
strong friendship with team-mate Sudo Cavkic, with whom he later
lost touch. Athanasi graduated to gambling, night-clubbing and drug
trafficking. Then one night at the High Society nightclub in
Doncaster, he ran into his old mate.
Sudo Cavkic, 36, was born in Bosnia and immigrated to Australia aged
Brought up in Melbourne, he moved to Western Australia with his de
facto wife and child but returned alone in 1998 and tried to find
work as a plasterer. After their chance meeting at High Society, the
old soccer buddies agreed to stay in touch. They would meet from
time to time at the Crown Casino.
Kypri's brother Kypros also met Clarke at the Muriel Street home. He
knew the overweight clerk as "Slim". Kypros was running a coffee
shop in Queensland when he received a phone call from Slim in March
or April of 2000. "Julian wanted me to do something for a fair bit
of money. I asked what was it, and he said it required a gun. He
said it would pay about $100,000. I was not interested and he wanted
to know if I knew anybody that could do it. I was left with the
impression he wanted me to knock (kill) somebody."
Another figure in the Kypri social set was coffee shop owner Salih
Hudaverdi. About three weeks before Allan disappeared, Hudaverdi and
Peter Kypri met for coffee in Lygon Street. Hudaverdi said that
during the meeting Kypri had a telephone conversation with Clarke.
"When Peter got off the phone, he asked me if I wanted to do a job.
I asked him what sort of job and he said, 'Do you want to make some
money, around 50 grand?' I said yes. Peter then explained that the
job was to 'take out a solicitor'. Straight away, I said no and he
didn't talk about it any more."
On the Sunday night, after dropping Sutherland home and stopping at
a supermarket to buy some lollies, Allan drove to his practice for
his 9.30 meeting with Clarke. But as usual his conveyancing clerk
was one step ahead. He had arrived early and used the office
computer to lay an electronic paper trail as a concerned
At 9.27pm, he finished a note on the computer that read in part:
"Keith, It is with great reluctance that I write this letter. I
cannot, however, go on with the charade that you have demanded of
me. Unless you have adequate funds in trust to trade and by that I
mean to cover all trust balances by 9.30am Monday 29 May 2000, I
will have no alternative to report the matter (to) the Law Institute
unless you have already done so. Please do not do anything rash.
"Lastly Keith, you have indicated to all and sundry your
preparedness to take your own life. Put this thought out of reach,
When Allan arrived at the office, Clarke was able to persuade him to
travel to meet a man who might be able to help them. The drove
separately to a service station in Milleara Road, East Keilor. The
security tape from the service station showed the two men there at
9.53 pm. Almost certainly, Cavkic was waiting in the car park and
Allan was abducted at gunpoint. Clarke then drove to his home in
Port Melbourne, arriving about 10.30pm knowing his boss was about to
die. The men who know what happened after they left the service
station are not talking, but it is possible to trace the movements
of the suspects through their mobile phone chatter.
In the morning, Clarke received a call from Athanasi's mobile phone.
Police suspect the paid killer was scouting for, and possibly
digging, a grave in the Mount Macedon area. Less than 20 minutes
after the abduction, Cavkic rang Athanasi from the Broadmeadows
area. About 40 minutes later, he rang again from Mount Macedon.
There were a series of phone calls between Cavkic and Athanasi in
the Mount Macedon, Mount Blackwood and Taylors Lakes areas in the
next few hours. One theory was that the men were discussing the
whereabouts of the burial site.
Allan's phone was used to ring Athanasi at 12.45am. Police believe
Cavkic made the call and that the lawyer was already dead.
Certainly the plan was to abduct Allan, kill him and dump the body
in the hills, but police have been told that the men could not find
the grave site and that Allan was initially buried near the Melton
About a week later, Clarke asked a friend if he could borrow his
van. Police say the van may have been used to move the body from the
temporary grave and dump it elsewhere. Detectives did find a freshly
dug hole near the tip but no strong forensic evidence.
But what is beyond dispute is that the killers needed to dispose of
Allan's Mercedes. The plan was simple. They would torch his car.
Indeed they had already bought a container of petrol that sat wedged
tightly in the front seat.
But there was a problem. After returning from Mount Macedon in the
dead lawyer's car, Cavkic had for the first time engaged the
handbrake. And he couldn't release it. Athanasi had already driven
off, having arranged to meet Cavkic at a prearranged spot to burn
the car, but Cavkic had not moved. Twice Cavkic rang his partner, at
1.54 and again at 2.18 am. Athanasi then agreed to return to help
get the Mercedes moving.
Just two minutes later, the two senior constables on night patrol
saw the tail-lights of his white Jaguar and decided to follow.
Much later, when the Mercedes was seized, tow truck driver William
Brincat would tell police the handbrake was applied by a foot pedal
but released by a small lever in the dash.
"Generally speaking, if you applied the handbrake without being
familiar with how to release it, you would have difficulty locating
the lever... this would have been even more difficult if you were
trying to locate this release lever in the dark," he said.
When senior constables Strongman and McCarthy spoke to the two
drivers, it became immediately obvious that their routine car check
was anything but routine. Cavkic gave a false name and came up with
an unlikely story as to why he was driving the Mercedes. He claimed
that he had met Keith Allan in a pub and had borrowed the car for
the chance to drive a luxury vehicle.
Police could see a spade and a hoe in the back seat of the Mercedes.
They also found a silver petrol tin wedged in the front seat. If
this was not enough to make them suspicious, Cavkic was wearing a
Back at the Williamstown station, he was found to be carrying a 1950
7.62 x 25-millimetre Russian Tokarev self-loading service pistol.
The serial number had been erased. It was an eight-shot weapon but
was loaded with only five live rounds.
While Cavkic would never tell the truth, he did unwittingly provide
the answers. Police were able to find tiny traces of blood on
Cavkic's trousers, sock and shoe. The DNA matched that of hair taken
from a hairbrush in Allan's room.
But proving a murder without witnesses is difficult. Proving it
without a body is more so. The case was handed to the missing
person/cold case unit of the homicide squad in January 2002.
Senior Detective David Rae said there were rumours that Allan led a
secret life and was a heavy gambler and a womaniser. "We examined
his background deeply. He was just a decent man who was the victim
of cold-blooded murder."
On February 18, 2002, Cavkic was charged with the murder. On October
31, Clarke was charged and a day later Athanasi was charged. The
defence was as simple as the prosecution was complex. Lawyers for
all three men maintained the prosecution had not established that
Allan was dead. The jury disagreed and found all three guilty.
On May 10 this year, Supreme Court judge Philip Cummins sentenced
Clarke to a minimum of 25 years in jail, Athanasi to 24 years and
Cavkic to 23 years.
Senior Detective Rae said: "It is a tragedy how one event can take a
life and change so many others. Keith's brother, Lyle, believes his
mother (Mavis) died of a broken heart."