– Is there a statute of limitations on police corruption? Now that Detective Senior Sergeant Jeff Smith has finally quit “the job”, he’s decided to come clean about something that happened in 1985.
Smith was in the Major Crime Squad, a robust outfit that spent half that year chasing a terrifying gunman known as “Mad Max”, aka Pavel Marinof, who shot seven police before one of them returned fire with a shotgun and killed him.
Not long before the Marinof showdown, Smith realised that years of kicking in doors and looking over his shoulder was about as much fun as rats in the roof. He applied for a transfer to the country. One Friday afternoon at the Major Crime office, orders arrived for him to start work at Bright that Sunday.
His first task was to proceed to the sleepy hollow of Wandiligong to have a quick gander at a traffic hazard: an old lady’s geese had wandered onto the road.
He rounded up the strays without drawing his gun or raising his voice and marvelled at the difference a day makes in police work.
The grateful lady handed him a package. In it was half a fruit cake. The temptation was too strong. He took it.
Apart from the fruit cake incident, the wily Smith has mostly steered clear of trouble, although some false allegations could be made by “mates” at his farewell next week. That’s how to goes when you’ve worked St Kilda, Prahran and crime squads.
But when all the jokes are done, the friendly detective admits its been the past 17 of his 37 years in the force that have been the nots satisfying. That is, since he became the first “crime fighter” to join the Major Collision Group, which investigates big crashes.
Not that he planned it. In 1996 he wanted promotion and had to transfer to get it. He told the interview panel: “I’m the guy you’re not expecting – but if you want to treat these crashes as crimes, pick me.”
They did.
At Easter 1998, on the Hume Highway at Violet Town, a truck hit the back of a caravan. The car skidded and swung into the truck’s path and rolled. The driver’s 12-year-old son was killed. The truck kept going.
It was the start of one of the most exhaustive and brilliant investigations in Victoria Police history. Smith’s investigators treated it like a murder scene – with one difference. Because the highway had to be cleared, they had only a few hours to gather evidence.
Photographs were taken, distances and angles measured, tyre tracks and skids recorded. From that they reconstructed what happened.
They identified a Western Star truck, which cut the field to 20,000 possibilities. It left certain unique dents and paint scuffs on the caravan – including one made by the weld on its bullbar. They found the bullbar’s maker. They found fragments of lens glass and a Philips-head screw from the caravan that had tiny fibres in the slot.
With each new piece of evidence and analysis, the suspects were whittled down to a few hundred, and finally 206. Then fate took a hand.
While on holiday in Queensland, a forensic officer saw a truck that fitted the profile. He called the office and they tracked the driver’s mobile phone on the night of the crash, much as homicide detectives did to link Adrian Bayley to Jill Meagher.
The records showed the driver had passed Violet Town that night and just after the crash abruptly turned off the highway and went to Shepparton, effectively putting himself on a “back route” to Queensland.
They arrested him. His surname was Killmore and his address was Cemetery Road. He got five years in jail.
Smith says of Carsten Schultz, the lead investigator who spent six months on the case: “Don’t ever have him looking for you.”
By comparison, the Farquharson case looked relatively simple at the beginning, but became a legal quagmire lasting years.
Robert Farquharson claimed to have driven off the road near Winchelsea after “blacking out” in a coughing fit on Father’s Day in 2005. He said he woke to find his car in a farm dam and his three young sons drowning.
Smith interviewed Farquharson in hospital while investigators went to the crash scene. Smith recalls: “I had to break the news to Farquharson that his three kids were dead. I’ll never forget his reaction. He said: ‘What’s the scenario for me?’
“That set off a lot of bells. I taped everything he said.”
When Smith called his investigator at the dam, before he could say anything about his suspicions, the other officer said: “This is bullshit. He’s driven into the water.”
Smith replied: “I was just going to tell you to have a good look at it.”
They worked all night and next morning went to the Homicide Squad. It took two trials and an appeal over five years, but Farquharson was eventually jailed for a minimum of 33 years – 11 for each of his little boys. He had told a friend two months before the staged “crash” he wanted to get revenge on his estranged wife by destroying what she loved most. Her children.
It wasn’t the first time the crash investigators helped homicide. In the first days of the Silk-Miller murders in 1998, they advised looking for a Hyundai with a broken rear window. Much later, that clue led to the killers.
Two cases Smith finds hard to forget are the Burnley Tunnel disaster and Kerang truck-train smash, both in 2007. On the evidence in court, he’s puzzled that the Kerang truck driver, whose inattention cost 11 lives, was acquitted when the other wasn’t.
After 37 years courts still puzzle him.
And he hasn’t quite escaped them. When he was a cop in St Kilda in 1982, he investigated a rape case. This year, he got word the forensic experts had identified a suspect with DNA tests. So he will step into a witness box one more time.
Looking back, his proudest achievement is to have the collision investigators recognised as full-blown detectives.
And the future? There’s fishing. And the occasional slice of fruit cake – Andrew Rule

Picture: Jason Sammon


About Jumpin' Jack Cash

Deep connections are the most important aspect of my existence. I don’t care if people don’t know what they want. I love books. I’m cynical of love stories, although I’m romantic. I adore gardens. I like women who challenge me. I love the rain as an excuse to stay inside and dream. I'm furiously impatient. If I ask you a question best to tell me the truth as I'm likely to already know the answer. I'm a carnivore. I continuously underestimate the magic of fresh flowers in my home. I love warm rain in the summer. My mood elevates to epic proportions when the sun shines. Tell me not to do something and I'll do it twice and take photos. Running is my antidepressant. I loathe lies. I rarely forgive a lie. Loyalty and honesty are my most noble virtues, and I value them more than anything in other people. I love to love, and am able to fall in love very quickly, although it's only ever happened once. I understood myself and fixed myself only after destroying myself. My greatest excitement comes from deliberately getting lost in foreign cities. I can be extremely loud and frighteningly silent. I hate insinuations. I love storms. Justice for all. I'm a proud man, but welcome the influence of the feminine soul. I have two sisters. I’m a dreamer. I’m a deep thinker. Don’t deal with guilt trips or drama that well. I'm extremely stubborn and persistent. I'm brilliant at keeping secrets. I love driving. I become absolutely and completely lost while watching a burning fire. When the toast pops from the toaster I’m never ready and shit myself. I play the guitar, but require much improvement. Solitude and warmth of the sun are perfect together. I’ve been married once and now divorced. I’m a music junkie. Chocolate mousse is the shit. I curse too much. I find it difficult to make friends. I spent four years as a firefighter. I’ve run my own company since 1991. Bright lights, big cities. I’ve been an executive producer of a feature film. Some people don’t care, and that’s the biggest let-down of the human race. There are cures and solutions for many evils, but no remedy for the worst of them all - the apathy of human beings. The sound of the Italian language being spoken is as good as my favourite music. I hate corrupt cops. I relentlessly and passionately pursue anybody and anything that sets my soul on fire. I'm a dog lover, and all my dogs are considered family members. I have an obsession with photography. I have some close friends who are household names, but shall always remain anonymous. I’m crazy but not lazy. Losing a soulmate has hurt me badly. My two young sons are the nucleus of my universe. I love airports. I love freedom. If you are dishonest or disloyal, I can erase you from my life and memory immediately and permanently. I yearn to explore, dream about and discover as many friendships, deep connections and places, one possibly can in a lifetime.
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