Barbara, Vicki and Barbara McCulkin
Date Of Birth: 1961
Age at Time of Disappearance: 13 years
Barbara McCulkin, 34, and her daughters Vicki, 13, and Barbara, 11, pictured, disappeared from their Highgate Hill home in January 1974 after being visited by two men. Police were convinced the McCulkins were murdered, and linked their disappearance with ....(?)
IN 1976 I was visited at my home by a young and keen police officer who told me he was concerned about an instruction he had been given to lay a false charge against a person he had arrested that day.
He said the accused, a "Sydney hood" with a long criminal history, had bailed up on him when the constable began questioning him about allegations he was living off the earnings of a prostitute.
The accused said if charged he would give evidence about the involvement of senior detective Tony Murphy in the death of prostitute Shirley Briffman.
The constable charged him nevertheless, and then telephoned his boss, Murphy, and recounted the threat made by the man.
Murphy asked the junior police officer if he had "a present" and when asked what that was, replied "a gun".
The arresting officer said he did not, and Murphy said, "I will send one around to you. Charge him with being in possession of a concealable firearm and we will piss him off back to Sydney".
So the youngster did what he was directed.
However, the charges did not stick as the barrister defending the man somehow became aware that the concealable firearm in question was on the record books of the Queensland police service as having been handed in to them some time before. he accused the police officer of planting the evidence, and his client walked.
I know that to be true because the police officer is a lifelong friend whose view of the police force was shattered from that day.
It also forever formed in my mind a view on Murphy’s honesty.
Over recent years, few attending the Sunday farmer’s markets at Redland Bay in Brisbane would have recognised the frail, grey-haired man with the hook nose who was selling packaged strawberries from his humble stall.
A decade earlier he had a slightly higher public profile as the licensed operator of the TAB betting facility at Dunwich on Stradbroke Island.
But 30 years ago Tony Murphy was a strongly built senior police officer who struck fear in the hearts of those who crossed him, and who, according to most who knew him, was the boss of corruption in a Queensland police force that was rotten to the core.
Then premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen liked to portray Queensland as the tourism mecca of Australia, a state where "family values" and a Christian outlook were valued and were the driving influences behind his government’s philosophy.
Queensland, he would proudly boast, was not like "those southern states" where legalised gambling and prostitution flourished.
What Bjelke-Petersen did not say, of course, was that vice was as rife in Brisbane as it was in any capital city in the world, but the difference was that in his "Sunshine State" it was all underground, run by criminals, protected by crooked cops and to which politicians, in the main, turned a blind eye.
But, inevitably, it all fell apart.
The landmark inquiry into police and political corruption headed by Tony Fitzgerald QC began in 1987 and wound up in July 1989, resulting in the jailing of four National Party ministers as well as police commissioner Terry Lewis, and the charging of more than 250 other people, of whom 139 were found guilty.
In all, 30 police were charged, 36 charges of official corruption laid and 10 indemnities granted to corrupt senior police who were involved in protecting illegal casinos, brothels and unlicensed bookmakers.
One against whom myriad allegations were made but who was never charged after the Fitzgerald inquiry was Murphy, who retired from his position of assistant commissioner in 1983 after a 38-year career.
Murphy, 82, died in Brisbane on Wednesday after a long illness.
The Fitzgerald inquiry was told that Murphy headed what was known as "The Rat Pack": a trio of crooked cops who organised the standover and the creaming off of organised crime in Queensland.
The Rat Pack comprised Murphy who was the tough, uncompromising boss, detective Glen Hallahan and Lewis.
In reality they were little more than upmarket brothel-keepers and pimps.
However, much graver allegations have always persisted around Murphy, particularly concerning the deaths of the prostitute Briffman and nightclub standover man "Norman the Doorman" Ford in Brisbane in the 1970s.
And the Rat Pack’s evil deeds, or reputed criminal involvement, did not stop at the Queensland border.
Eminent journalist and author Evan Whitton is of the published view that Briffman was one of four victims of former NSW cop Fred Krahe, with his victims also including anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay.
Briffman was one of Krahe’s brothel madams.
In 1971 she decided to blow the whistle on him and also air her knowledge of, and involvement in, illegal prostitution in Queensland and the payment of protection money to cops, including Hallahan and Murphy.
It is Whitton’s view that Krahe was the person who actually killed Briffman by holding her and pouring a bottle of whisky and a bottle of sedatives down her throat.
She was found dead in her unit in Bonney Avenue, Clayfield, just days before she was due to give evidence against Murphy, who was facing perjury charges.
And Briffman had a close association with Hallahan who, she said, spent hours on the telephone to her telling how he was wracked with guilt about a man he had charged over a December 1957 murder of three people who were found shot in their car at Sandown Station, 30km south of the Northern Territory border.
Hallahan, who was then stationed in Mt Isa, arrested Raymond John Bailey and held him on two other charges while South Australian police arranged his extradition.
Bailey was charged in Adelaide with the murders but said the statement he was alleged to have given to Hallahan was fabricated. he was found guilty and hanged in July 1958.
In a police interview in 1971, Briffman tells how she moved to Brisbane and struck up a relationship with Murphy "who, on duty, when he should have been somewhere, he was with me. he would carry on his duty at the office and make me sit on the desk and the Hallahan came into the picture, and Terry Lewis too."
Briffman’s death meant the charges of perjury against Murphy did not proceed.
On that point, Fitzgerald wrote in his 1989 report: "There was insufficient other evidence to proceed against Murphy and on April 7, 1972 the Crown decided not to proceed with the prosecution.
"There is no evidence to suggest Murphy was involved in any way with Briffman’s death, which was caused by a drug overdose, a fatal occurrence which has since been associated with a number of other informers who have been drug users. although he is entitled to the presumption of innocence in respect of any charge on which he was not convicted, Briffman’s untimely death meant not that Murphy was tried and acquitted, but that the allegations against him remained unresolved."
Fitzgerald said the lack of a trial, especially taken with rumours about Briffman’s death, served to contribute to a reputation that made many of Murphy’s subsequent promotions and appointments controversial.
But Murphy and Hallahan were key players in Queensland’s justice system at the time of a string of unsolved murders and disappearances of people linked with prostitution and police corruption allegations.
One of the most baffling is the disappearance of Barbara McCulkin and her daughters Vicki Maree, 13 and Barbara Leanne, 11, who were last seen at their Highgate Hill home in Brisbane on January 16, 1974.
Associates said McCulkin had information about the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub firebombing in Brisbane 10 months earlier, in which 15 people perished.
Another prostitute, Margaret Grace Ward, disappeared on November 13, 1973 after leaving the offices of a prominent solicitor.
In 1979 police said her death was linked to the McCulkins and added that they believed she had known and talked too much.
Another link was the disappearance of wealthy brothel operator Simone Vogel, who was not seen after September 16, 1977. she operated six illegal massage parlours in Brisbane, taking around $2500 a day.
When she disappeared she was reputed to be carrying diamonds and a large amount of cash.
And there was Ford, who police wanted to interview about extortion and stolen car rackets and who disappeared in 1979.
The same young police officer who Murphy instructed to plant a gun on an accused was on the Ford investigation, and Murphy gave him a list of people he could and could not speak to.
The list included two police officers who were "off limits", and Norman’s disappearance remains a mystery today.
Fitzgerald Inquiry whistleblower and self-confessed "bagman" for Lewis, Jack Herbert told how it was Murphy who first invited him to join "The Joke", the group extorting protection money from illegal gambling, prostitution and betting.
Even today, police will say how they were scared to speak out against Murphy because they were afraid of what he could arrange to happen to them.
It was also the assertion that it was fear that had a hold over Lewis, who was never the tough standover type of Hallahan or Murphy.
One can only surmise why Murphy attended every day of Lewis’s evidence to Fitzgerald and sat where he could be seen by the witness, and did the same at Lewis’s corruption trial.
He was also a most regular visitor to him in prison, and the two have kept up that relationship in recent years.
Lewis now lives a reclusive existence in Brisbane, and the passing of Murphy brings to an end an unsavoury, albeit unexplained, chapter in Queensland’s history.
Obviously the only one who could fill in the gaps and put history right is Lewis, but that is an unlikely event.