By Derek Pedley
One Down, One Missing
Joe D Álo with David Astle
Hardie Grant Books, $24.95
Serving detectives don’t write books. They especially don’t write books about the double murder of police officers by an armed robber who also happens to be a serial killer. Because when they do write such a book, even with the best intentions, they very soon find themselves hounded out of the police force. Detective Senior Constable DÁlo was also convicted and fined $1500 for publishing the book without prior command approval, and disclosing details of operational methods and the identities of informers. When he set out to write the book, DÁlo’s says his aim was to “to help deal with the psychological trauma he suffered and provide an account of the investigation for the public”.
D’Alo had worked with Sergeant Gary Silk and Senior Constable Rodney Miller on the original investigation into the string of armed robberies on Melbourne restaurants and shops that led to their murders. He was later seconded to the Lorimer Taskforce, which eventually brought their killers to justice, including Bandali Debs, an ice-cold criminal later unmasked as a serial killer.
Disclosing the identities of informants was a bad error of judgment, but otherwise it is impossible to fault One Down, One Missing, whose title comes from the first horrifying police radio notification on the night of the murders.
DÁlo and his colleagues had already endured much pain and frustration before this book was written. But D’Alo’s decision to reveal the whole truth about the investigation led to contempt, bullying and intimidation from his own colleagues, who unfairly judged him and his motives. DÁlo lost his career over it, but his sacrifice rewards the reader with the kind of fly-on-the-wall insight that a civilian writer simply can’t deliver. The ever-present guiding hand of Melbourne writer David Astle also ensures that this rare insight is delivered via a gripping narrative that never strays from the pursuit of justice. Their combined efforts gel to make One Down, One Missing an Australian police procedural that is without peer.
Brothers in Arms
The inside story of two bikie gangs
Sandra Harvey/Lindsay Simpson
Allen & Unwin, $24.99
There is a reason that reporters and photographers write “no byline” on stories and picture captions involving bikies. Even though it’s relatively rare these days for bikies to directly threaten journalists, there have been times in the past when their displeasure has been expressed via baseball bats rather than a terse letter to the editor. And that makes the “no chances” policy on bylines pretty much universal among reporters and photographers, because when a six-and-a-half foot sergeant at arms smiles coldly at you outside court, you don’t want your name published anywhere near that image on a news website or in the paper.
All of which makes it even more extraordinary that for two years, young reporters Sandra Harvey and Lindsay Simpson successfully walked a tightrope of anger, grief and frustration between two bikie gangs, whose feud had exploded in a murderous rampage in a hotel carpark.
The authors were both court reporters, for the Sydney Morning Herald and wire service Australian Associated Press, assigned to cover the criminal trial resulting from an event variously known as the Milperra Massacre, the Father’s Day Massacre and the Milperra bikie shootout.
Rather than being threatened or warned by the many bikies involved in the case, the reporters’ diplomacy, professionalism and integrity earned them access to the coveted intimate details of the power struggle between the Comancheros and Bandidos. It was this rivalry that was the trigger for the bloody showdown at the Viking Hotel, which led to 43 men being charged with seven counts of murder, including the death of an innocent teenage girl.
Harvey and Simpson went on to become a formidable true crime writing team, and Harvey was recognised with a lifetime achievement award at the 2007 Ned Kelly Awards. The following year, weeks before her death from cancer, Harvey was finally able to read the script for Brothers in Arms, declaring it “wonderful” after waiting 18 years for the story to be adapted for television.
True crime writer Derek Pedley has reviewed Australian true crime books for The Advertiser and The West Australian since 1997. He will host a True Crime workshop at the SA Writers Centre on July 12.