– There is nothing more easier than writing thundering columns bagging dead gangsters and live judges. That is because one can’t defend themselves and the other rarely bothers.
And while their core values (and core temperatures) are markedly different, both are subject to more media scrutiny than a WAG’s VPL on Brownlow night.
We have to confess that we are not from the Judge Dredd school of justice. Those who advocate jail for jaywalkers seem to forget that in a number of depressing cases prisoners return in a worse state than when they went in.
Jails are terrible places, largely filled with lost souls who have been damaged by environment, accidents or substance abuse. The average inmate has the IQ of Forrest Gump, the scruple of a reality TV producer and the drug habits of Lance Armstrong.
Anyone who refers to a prison as a holiday camp has never been inside one. Pentridge was sinister, Barwon is sterile and Port Phillip soulless.
For every Tony Mokbel there are 100 Tony nobodies – dumb crooks who rely on dumb luck to commit dumb crimes for beer money.
There are also success stories. Crooks who see the light, go straight and fly right.
And then there is another class. There is a small group of men who are just wired wrong. They have dark obsessions that defy logic, imagination or explanation.
The concepts of deterrence, punishment and rehabilitation are not for them, as they are driven by compulsions they either can’t or won’t confront.
When they are released police, prison officers and parole staff know it is only a matter of time before they will return.
We think of Colin George McKane, a sad and twisted individual with no redeeming features.
Way back in 1998 your columnist wrote that McKane was the sort who should never be released. From the age of 15 he has been on opportunistic sex offender who has only worsened with age. Like a rancid chop he has only become more toxic.
He planned to kill and bury one of his victims, abducted girls off the street and made hundreds of obscene phone calls to children.
He refused prison sex-therapy programs, flouted parole conditions and re-offended every time he was released.
Back then prosecutors asked the judge to declare McKane a dangerous offender so he could be sentenced to prison indefinitely after he pleaded guilty to abduction and indecent assault. His victim was a 10-year-old.
Instead he was sentenced to a minimum jail term of nine years, finally being released on a five-year supervision order, which he (naturally) breached within six months by making obscene phone calls to kids.
He is back in prison now but as it stands he could be released as early as this time next year.
His mother says he was a troubled middle child with an inferiority complex. What she can’t answer is why the boy with the chip on his shoulder became such a danger.
So what makes man so bad he is beyond redemption? Is it environment or genetics?
Paul Charles Denyer spent four years stalking hundreds of women before he finally struck in 1993, killing three women in Frankston.
When he finally confessed he said he hated women and admitted, “I’m a serial killer, I’ve got a problem.”
Now serving a minimum 30-year-sentence, he dresses as a female and wants to be known as Paula.
His journey was in a way the normal path to abnormality. A loner, poor at school, he tortured and killed pets before turning on women. But why? He claims to have been repeatedly molested as a child. And police believe him.
One career hitman came home from primary school to see his mother being stabbed by his father. A perfectly normal boy became one of Victoria’s most dangerous killers after he fell from his bike and suffered a personality-altering brain injury, while a key player in the underworld war was the family’s third generation of career crooks.
Yet the children of many notorious gangsters have turned themselves into truly solid citizens, although some remain haunted by their infamous surnames.
For every one who is bent by a bad childhood there is another who turns bad for no discernible reason, and often it is the mother who is the first to know.
Derek Ernest Percy was a high-achieving child who grew up in the picture-postcard Victorian town of Mount Beauty. Quiet and studious, he was a stamp collector who was appointed a school prefect. In today’s terms he was a bit of a nerd. But a nerd with a dark secret.
It was the mid-1960s and the kids in the small town spent their free time on bikes exploring favourite swimming holes or just hanging out together.
Percy’s mates were frustrated that his mother was overprotective. “Derek has to get permission to go anywhere with us outside of school hours and she would question his intentions,” one said. In contrast, his younger brother was given the run of the town.
This was because she knew what others would discover – her son was not quite right.
Around the time he reached puberty, women in the small town reported their underwear was being stolen from their clothes-lines. Percy was rumoured to be the culprit.
He was 17 when his parents found his diary filled with disturbing sexual fantasies involving children. They took him to the local doctor, who assured them the writings were “just a stage of growing up”. They burned his diary but not his obsessions.
He joined the navy and in July 1969 abducted and murdered Yvonne Tuohy, 12, from a Western Port beach. He was found unfit to plead on the grounds of insanity and remains in prison unlikely to be released.
Later investigations linked him to eight further child abductions and murders, including Linda Stilwell, 7, from St Kilda, and Simon Brook, 3, from Sydney.
When questioned, he tells police he simply can’t remember. It is as if his mind shuts down to protect himself from the enormity of his acts.
Just like Peter Norris Dupas, another serial offender who seems to forget what he has done. He has killed three women, Margaret Maher, 40, whose body was found dumped near the Hume Freeway at Somerton in October 1997, Mersina Halvagis, 25, stabbed at the Fawkner Cemetery in November 1997 and Nicole Patterson, stabbed in her Northcote home in April 1999.
He is also the only suspect in three other killings.
When he started committing sex offences he was interviewed by an experienced detective who expected the teenager to confess. “We tried everything and he would get to the point where he was about to talk. Then something would snap and he would go blank, then deny everything,” he remembers.
Dupas usually cries innocent but in 1994 agreed to plead guilty to attacking a woman at Lake Eppalock. This was based not on remorse but self-interest.
It was a plea deal that resulted in most serious charges being dropped, which put him under the threshold where he could be declared a serial sex offender and given an indefinite sentence. Instead he was given a two-year minimum.
No one doubted he would re-offend on release. No one knew he would kill at least three times.
Ian Melrose Pattison (who tied up his victims and attacked them with knives) was diagnosed with terminal cancer shortly after his prison release. Police watched him leave hospital and struggle down the street pulling an oxygen bottle on a trolley. He immediately went into shops to but eight sex bondage books and a boning knife.
A few months later as he lay dying in a hospital bed female nurses refused to treat him, as he was still going the grope. The very last flicker of his life remained evil.
There are about 4000 convicted inmates in the system and about 20 are serving indefinite sentences.
Most are murderers given life with no minimum and there are the criminally insane held at the governor’s pleasure. Since the year 2000 four people have been given indefinite sentences (with minimums) as serious sexual offenders.
They are given a minimum and can return to court at that date to apply for release. If they remain a danger they remain in prison.
There is a man in jail for failing to render assistance at the scene of a collision. Police have no doubt he deliberately knocked over a female cyclist he intended to abduct. One day he will be freed. One day he will strike again.
The facts are some people should never be released. Not to punish them but to protect us.
There is a man in the system who has committed a horrible crime. His history of violence shows he was always likely to reach these depths.
And yet he was released. Now he says, “They should never let me out.”
This time he may be right. But it is already too late – John Silvester