The Killer Kop
An anecdote that shows the close relationship between the Australian media and organized crime: The man who is said to have murdered Donald Mackay, Fred Krahe, was employed at the time of the murder with the Sun newspaper in Sydney. Crime writer Tony Reeves, author of Mr Big and the soon to be released biography of Abe Saffron, Mr Sin, remembers approaching a senior Fairfax police reporter at the Sydney Journos Club and asking whether “Freddie” was now working for them. He was told that Krahe was employed as an editorial consultant on organized crime for Fairfax and that Krahe “knew where all the skeletons were”. Tony Reeves had no doubt that he did. Fred Krahe’s nickname was the “Killer Kop”. He was Australia’s Murder Incorporated, and many of the skeletons were his victims.
Photos of Fred Krahe are never a pretty sight. The Killer Kop had a big, ugly head and he was described by another NSW detective as ‘an evil bloke — a big, brooding bastard with an aura of power and evil about him’. Fred Krahe joined the New South Wales police force in 1940 and rose to the rank of Detective-Sergeant, establishing a reputation as a gangland enforcer feared in the Sydney underworld. David Hickie called Krahe the ‘king of crooked police during the Askin era’. Along with Ray Kelly, Krahe organised the abortion rackets, the armed hold-ups, the framing of criminals and the bribery payments among prostitutes and the police.
But in 1971 Krahe’s brothel madam, Shirley Briffman, blew the whistle on his rackets, subsequently paying with her life. Krahe retired ‘medically unfit’ from the police in 1972 and became a licensed private investigator, working as a security chief for the developers during the Victoria Street redevelopment/Green Ban battle in Kings Cross. In July 1975, Juanita Nielsen, whose local newspaper NOW had led the fight against the multi-million dollar redevelopment, disappeared. Many attribute the murder of Juanita Nielsen to Krahe, a murder with many similarities to the murder of Donald Mackay.
Former National Times editor and leading Australian crime writer, Evan Whitton, assigns four murders to Krahe: Don Fergusson, Shirley Briffman, Juanita Nielsen and Donald Mackay. All were witnesses whose evidence would have disclosed the corrupt practices of a network of criminal police who organized crime in Queensland and New South Wales: Fergusson was a NSW detective who was about to roll over and inform on the Brotherhood; Shirley Brifmann ran the call-girl rackets for Fred Krahe in Sydney and Glen Hallahan in Brisbane; while Juanita Nielsen and Donald Mackay were anti-corruption activists at the two biggest centres of corruption in New South Wales; Donald Mackay in Griffith and Juanita Nielsen in Kings Cross.
Speaking in NSW parliament in August 1977, the leader of the Liberal Party, Eric Willis, commented on the similarities between the murder of Nielsen and Mackay: both discovered a network of corruption that led to the heart of the Australian establishment; both were murdered because they ‘knew too much’ about the central corrupt network; both were extremely professional hits; Juanita Nielsen disappeared without a trace and Mackay’s body was never found; the NSW police were unable to solve either murder. He could have added another: in both cases, Fred Krahe was employed by their opponents.
Krahe visited Griffith in the weeks after the murder and added insult to injury, using his position as consultant on organized crime for the Fairfax papers to muddy the waters and to spread the false rumour that Donald Mackay was having an affair and that he had not been murdered but had run off with another woman. Krahe was also employed in Griffith at this time as a private investigator by the Australian partner of the Nugan Hand Bank, Frank Nugan.
Frank Nugan was born in Griffith in 1942, the son of a Spanish migrant who started a fruit packing business there. The playboy heir to a modest food processing fortune, Nugan got a law degree in 1963 from Sydney University and a Master of Law from Berkeley University in 1965. After working in Canada, he returned to Australia in 1968 and met Bernie Houghton and Michael Hand with whom he established a number of companies, including the Nugan Hand Bank. By the late 1970s, Frank Nugan was calling himself ‘one of the wealthiest men in Sydney’. He drove a gold Mercedes and lived in a million dollar mansion in Vaucluse with a harbour view and its own beach. Half owner of the Nugan Hand Bank, at its prestigious 55 Macquarie Street address, he shared offices overlooking Circular Quay with Sir Robert Askin, recently-retired Premier of New South Wales.
Askin and his powerful circle were Frank Nugan’s sponsors. Admiral Yates, the President of Nugan Hand Bank, said he accepted the position as Nugan Hand president on the advice of Sir Robert Askin. Admiral Yates said he trusted Askin’s opinion about the bank principals, Frank Nugan and Michael Hand, because Askin knew them well and shared an office with them. Yates said: ‘I inquired of Sir Robert Askin, who had a private office at 55 Macquarie Street with them, and he gave them very strong credentials’. Yates said Askin had told him Nugan and Hand were ‘good solid business people — a little flamboyant, but that was because they were so successful’.
Nugan touted his skills as a tax consultant and a financial adviser, but his genius lay in deception. Secret accounts were his trademark, and he was gifted at losing money in elaborate deceipts, scattering cheques to create bewildering paper trails. Stewart, in his report into the Nugan Hand Bank, had a diagram of one $30,000 diversion of funds from the Nugan Hand Bank to the Nugan Group in Griffith which Frank Nugan sent through eleven transactions between the source (the Nugan Hand Bank) and its destination in the Nugan Group.
The Nugan Group, Frank Nugan’s family company, began in 1941 in a primitive shed in Banna Avenue in Griffith, packing fresh fruit and vegetables. By 1977 the Nugan Group was valued at $11 million; it operated a major 5 acre factory complex in Griffith and ran factories in Casino, Lismore and Brisbane. It was one of Australia’s major fruit juice producers, and the largest proprietary fresh fruit and vegetable packers and distributors in the country.
In early 1977, as the newspapers began calling Griffith the ‘pot capital of Australia’, persistent rumours began circulating that the Nugan Group’s packing plant in Griffith was somehow involved. That year, an independent audit turned up secret accounts in the Nugan Group’s books in the names of local pot growers with cheques for thousands of dollars made out to members of the Trimboli and Sergi families.
The accounts ran from May 1973 until their discovery in 1977, and they co-incided with Griffith’s marijuana growing years when members of the Trimboli and Sergi families were heavily involved in Griffith’s marijuana trade; members of these families were involved with a thirty-one acre pot plantation at Coleambally in 1975, and with a five acre plot at Euston in March 1977. The secret accounts in their names raised the possibility that some of the pot was being grown for Frank Nugan. Although the Nugans argued that the secret accounts were a way of paying cash to growers of legal crops, such secret accounts would obviously be useful to pay growers for illegal crops.
The gangster tactics that Frank Nugan used to hush up the affair provide further corroboration. When the auditors and independent directors of the Nugan Group tried to find out more, Frank Nugan responded by seeking to remove the auditors, and by intimidating the opposition directors.
The intimidation was impressive.
The man Frank Nugan hired as his private investigator to look into these matters was Fred Krahe. Four days after the Mackay murder, on the following Tuesday, 19 July 1977, four Nugan Group directors resigned.
According to his close friend Ian Salmon, Donald Mackay had heard the Nugan Group were running bodgie accounts and some of the names, but he had no proper details of the transactions. He did nothing about it overtly because he was constrained by inadequate information – it was at best rumour – and he did not want to breach a longstanding friendship with the main proprietor, Ken Nugan, Frank Nugan’s elder brother. The two men were of the same age and were members of the same clubs; their families were friendly and lived close by; they were both members of the Liberal Party and were pillars of Griffith’s business community.
As Donald Mackay vacillated, Fred Krahe investigated.
For Donald Mackay, an assassin was waiting.
Dr John Jiggens.
StickyPoint Magazine Issue 03 (2007)