The next meeting of the 17 Group will take place on Wednesday the 7th of August at 7 pm in unit 6 at 20 Drury St West End. The topic is “The Whiskey Au Go Go Night club Firebombing Case”. Tony Reeves, well-known true crime author, has been researching it for over two years and has found out what has been obscured for decades about it. He will reveal all at the meeting.
Here is Tony’s short summary:
In the small hours of Thursday, March 8, 1973 a fireball exploded in the foyer of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley and fifteen people died in the clouds of toxic black smoke. It was at the time Australia’s biggest mass murder.
Within three days police had arrested two men, John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch and charged them with murder and arson. Both vigorously protested their innocence but were convicted by a jury and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The conviction relied almost entirely on a “confession” Finch allegedly made — but refused to sign — at the CIB after his arrest. There was NO substantive evidence offered to prove the guilt of this pair. But off to jail they went, and most people who recall the crime are still convinced of their guilt.
Tony Reeves has been working closely with Stuart’s nephew, Danny Stuart, and has conducted his own intensive research into the story over the past two-plus years.
The result is a manuscript which proves beyond doubt that the pair were set up and “verballed” by crooked cops and most certainly had nothing to do with the Whiskey fire. One of the sources of their proof is none less than one of the six police present at the time of Finch’s alleged “confession”.
Reeves says that not only do they prove that the conviction was a huge injustice, but they have now identified (and named, in discreet places) the person who actually lit the blaze.
It’s an extraordinary tale of corruption that spreads well beyond Brisbane. There had been an attempt to murder John Andrew Stuart in Sydney’s Long Bay jail, and by the time he returned to Brisbane he was a marked man, a sworn enemy of Sydney’s leading criminal and his crooked copper mates in that city and their loyal “partners-in-crime” in the Queensland police force.
At the Group’s next meeting, Tony will outline the “dangerous truths” about the Whiskey murders, truths which some in the community still want to suppress.
Tony’s family migrated to Australia from the UK in 1954 and a year later he took a job as copy boy on Sydney Daily Mirror. He worked there for nine years.
He worked in public relations before settling into journalism in 1969, working at the ABC, Sunday Australian and as Sydney correspondent for interstate media outlets. He began investigating crime and corruption, and in 1972 spent months probing the activities of the US Mafia in Australia. His subsequent story contributed to the establishment of Moffitt Royal Commission (1973-74). He became a feature writer for the Sunday Telegraph.
In 1975 he and colleague Barry Ward started a three-year probe into the murder of Sydney heiress Juanita Nielsen; spent two terms as lecturer in journalism at NSW Institute of Technology and became editor of the inner-suburban weekly paper The Guardian. He edited other publications in Sydney and Melbourne before moving to Brisbane in 1992.
He joined the Australian Labor Party in 1971, and associated with members in the Socialist Left faction. In 1977 he was elected to the Sydney City Council as alderman for Macquarie Ward and became a vocal opponent of inappropriate development. He chaired council’s Planning and Development and Works committees. He did not seek re-election in 1986. Shortly after, he was expelled from the ALP on what he described as “trumped up charges” put up by Right-wing official Leo McLeay. He rejoined the ALP in 1987 and transferred his membership to Queensland. In 2011 he resigned from the party in protest against the state Labor government’s privatisation of public assets.
True crime author
In 2005 his first non-fiction book was published: Mr Big: Lennie McPherson and his life of crime (Allen & Unwin). It became that year’s joint winner of the Ned Kelly Award for true crime writing. That was followed in 2007 with Mr Sin: The Abe Saffron Dossier (Allen & Unwin) and in 2011 with The Real George Freeman (Pengiun and now re-issued by Hybrid Publishing).
He is putting finishing touches (with Danny Stuart) to the story of the 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing in Brisbane which killed 15 people. He has started on a biographical work focussing on the fight against corruption by former NSW Attorney-General, the late Frank Walker.
Leon is not even being cagey this time. Perhaps caught by the title, he went briefly, in his internationalist way, into passable French: “Fichtre! Nom de Dieu! Qu’est que vous voulez, vos gens de merde Australiens? Nightclubs, murders, explosions! Get some terroristic anarchist, pas moi!”. As we left he was arranging papers and singing, softly but very sarcastically, I thought, “ You can bring Mao and Lin Piao, but don’t bring Trotsky! He’s the sort of smarty…” etc.
So, there you have it. If you only ever come in the constantly disappointed hope of seeing Leon Davidovich in rhetorical flight, this is not the one for you. But if you have been puzzled by this famous case for years, this is your big chance.