By Tom Noble
John Kerr Pty Ltd, 1991
Reviewed by Michael Heaney
On October 12, 1988, two young Melbourne policemen, Damian Eyre and Steven Tynan, were murdered in the early hours of the morning after answering a call to investigate a car abandoned in the middle of Walsh Street, South Yarra.
The police investigation that followed was the biggest ever conducted by the Victorian police force. It was also the longest running — 895 days of one of the most extraordinary cases in Australian criminal history.
Tom Noble, former chief crime reporter for the Melbourne Age, followed the case.
At the height of the investigations, hundreds of police were working for the Ty-Eyre task force. The Victorian Police Bureau of Criminal Intelligence even dropped a long-term investigation into cocaine importing to assist. The Drug Squad and the National Crime Authority in Victoria also assisted. By November 1988, at least a dozen people were involved in 24-hour surveillance of suspects.
Within two weeks of the killings, the Victorian government quietly passed legislation allowing phone-tapping by state police. Previously, they had to work with federal police who had this power if they wanted to use their recordings as evidence. Five months passed before the legislation was made public.
In 1989, the Victorian government appointed state coroner Hal Hallenstein to conduct an inquiry into police killings following the police killing of Gary Abdallah, a Walsh Street suspect. Abdallah became a suspect on the evidence of the prosecution's key witness, Jason Ryan, whose statement was changed four times and finally thrown out by the court.
Ryan claimed that Abdallah's part in the killings was to provide the getaway car. Abdallah feared for his life after he heard rumours that the police were out to kill him. He had good reason to be fearful: Jed Houghton, a friend of Abdallah and another Walsh Street suspect, was shot dead by police in a Bendigo caravan park.
Leo Musgrave, a Melbourne justice of the peace who knew Abdallah and Houghton as young criminals in the inner western suburb of Flemington, was also anxious about the atmosphere after he saw Abdallah's name on police bulletin boards.
According to Roma Carew, the mother of Stephen Carew, a close friend of Abdallah, Musgrave warned her in December 1988 that if the police got to Abdallah first "the bastards will kill him". Stephen Carew said Musgrave approached him twice and urged that Abdallah give himself up to police, promising to ensure that Abdallah got to the
But for two months Abdallah eluded the police, writes Noble. He finally arranged a meeting with task force detective Noonan and his lawyer. Noonan told Abdallah he was not wanted for the shooting, and Abdallah said he hadn't come in earlier "because people were telling me I was going to be knocked [killed]".
The police then planted a listening device in Abdallah's flat in Drummond Street, Carlton, and set up a permanent surveillance position in the building opposite.
One Sunday afternoon, police noticed Abdallah leaving his flat. He was followed by detectives Lockwood and Avon, who pulled him over and searched him. They then drove him back to his flat.
Once there, writes Noble, police claim that Abdallah produced an imitation pistol and pointed it at the detectives. Detective Lockwood then fired seven shots at Abdallah, including one from his partner's gun after he had used up all the bullets in his own revolver. Abdallah was critically wounded and died after 40 days in a coma.
Abdallah's family asked the deputy ombudsman, Dr Barry Perry, to investigate the shooting. His 329-page report was completed shortly before Christmas 1989. It said that "the evidence seems to provide some basis for believing that there was criminal conduct" in the police shooting of Abdallah.
During the inquest, the Abdallah family's lawyer expressed a more direct view: the pistol was a plant and Abdallah was on his knees, his hands behind his head, when he was shot like a dog on a short lead.
Noble points to several occasions when police went too far in investigating the Walsh Street killings. All the key suspects — Victor Pierce, Jed Houghton, Anthony Farrell, Peter McEvoy, Trevor Penttingill and Gary Abdallah — were warned that their lives were in danger.
Hundreds of houses across Melbourne were raided by police. Victor Pierce's house in Richmond was demolished and the backyard dug up in a fruitless search for evidence.
All the suspects had long histories of criminal activity, but by the time of the trial in March 1991, the prosecution's case was too weak to obtain a conviction. Noble suggests that the Walsh Street murders were a "payback" by the Melbourne underworld for the killing of Graeme Jensen 13 hours before the constables were killed. He also suggests that Houghton was one of their killers. It is easy to accuse a dead man, but Walsh Street is a fascinating read.