Keith William ALLAN

Northcote solicitor Keith Allan was murdered in 2000.


Anatomy of a suburban hit

Blameless solicitor Keith Allan was murdered in a professional hit, but the killers chose the wrong road to drive down early one morning. John Silvester reports.

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 underworld.

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 management.

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 1992.


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 character.

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 him.

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 life.

Having nearly died on the orders of a bent lawyer, Kypri would six years later become involved in the contract killing of an innocent one.

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 two.

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 whistleblower.

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, Keith."

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 tip.

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 shoulder holster.

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."



'No body, no parole' laws could see killers released early

Some of the Victoria's most notorious murderers will be coaxed to tell police where they buried their victims with the promise of less jail time, after the state government caved in to mounting pressure and announced it would introduce so-called "no body, no parole" laws.


Victims of Crime Commissioner Greg Davies welcomed the news, saying even if it meant a convicted murderer got out of jail a few years early, it was worth it.

"They were going to be let out anyway, and if it means they're going to be let out a little bit early, if victims' ... families [get] to have a grave to mourn at, then why not get on with the inevitable?" he said.

"They're going to be released, bar one or two, and if some good can come from these people, the better."

Mr Davies, a former senior sergeant with Victoria Police and secretary of the Police Association, said he believed there might be a few "twisted and wicked people who would prefer to sit in jail for another five years, and deny their victims the ability to bury their loved ones".

However, he believed the new law would be a powerful incentive for killers, and give victims' families some hope of peace.

Labor's legislation will be introduced in 2017 and will affect at least seven convicted murderers who have not revealed the location of their victims.

They include three men Sudo Cavkic, Costas Athanasi and Julian Clarke convicted in 2002 of the murder of Northcote solicitor Keith Allan in a professional hit in 2000.

Mr Allan's body has never been found.

In August, Labor and the Greens blocked a state opposition private member's bill on no body, no parole laws.

Premier Daniel Andrews told Parliament on Tuesday that Labor would introduce its own laws after considering ways to legislate what the opposition had earlier proposed.

He said Labor had voted against the opposition bill because it was not thorough enough, and said the government had been working on a bill for some time.

"The most important thing to do is to make sure we legislate and that we legislate properly, so that we don't have a flawed set of arrangements that might give an appearance of providing that closure but in fact do not achieve that," Mr Andrews told Parliament.

"Nothing we do will bring back their loved one, but this is the right thing to do. But it needs to be done properly."

He also said the proposed laws would apply to just seven people in prison in Victoria, none of whom would be eligible for parole in the next 12 months.

Keith Allan's brother Lyle was in Parliament on Tuesday for the announcement of the new law.

Mr Allan said he was hopeful the change could result in the remains of his brother being discovered. But his main motivation for supporting the law was that it could make a difference in future cases.

"I don't know if it's going to provide answers to us or not," he said. "But I think in future it could be an incentive for people to give up this information and maybe provide some healing for the family and the possibility of a funeral and burial."