For 40 years now we have been presented with the image above of Barbara McCulkin, the woman who along with her two children went missing sometime in the 48 hours between the sunsets of the 16th of January and 18th of January 1974, the trio never to be seen again, or at least not anyone who is prepared to say so anyway.
For that long, lonely four decades the police, the courts and the media have consistently painted the public a picture of Mrs McCulkin as a struggling single mother from Highgate Hill whose husband had walked out on her, who worked part-time in a milk bar – the Milky Way in Brisbane’s CBD, now long gone (anyone remember where it was?) – in order to try to make ends meet and put food on her children’s table.
But growing up in Geebung and spending most of your wasted youth – and a fair slice of your adulthood too – kicking around racetracks you develop a pretty good bullsh*t radar, and mine has been flashing ever since I first heard the McCulkin tale all those years ago.
Certain things have never quite gelled with me about the neat Barbara back-story that has become widely accepted as fact, and as a result I have always been uneasy about the story that we’ve been sold, and wary of the people who’ve peddled it.
There first reason is reason for my skepticism is the man that Barbara married, and the people with whom she and he associated.
Billy McCulkin, the estranged husband of Barbara, was a well-known crook about town, a wastrel who hated work and loved drinking in pubs, and was usually located outside the door of his local at opening time of 10am, and most days could still be found somewhere in a licensed establishment around town at closing time 12 hours later, without having done a single honest minute’s work in between.
McCulkin was a bash merchant, a safe breaker, a robber, a conman and a thief, and had a police rap sheet as long as your arm that dated back for decades. All the way back in fact to the years that as a youth he spent in juvenile detention and in boys homes, the universities of crime in which he received his education in the fine arts of crookery and criminality, and the institutions in which Billy met many of the likely young lads and lags that would feature later in his life story.
What the hell was the supposedly average suburban Aussie sheila that Barbara has been painted as doing married to such a man?
Then there are the nice folk that Barbara was associated with, and who used to regularly visit her home.
People like John Andrew Stuart, the bloke convicted of the arson of the Whiskey Au Go and the murder of at least one of the nightclub’s innocent patrons, who lived for various periods at the McCulkin’s home.
Or Tom Hamilton, the man they called ‘Clockwork Orange’, who had a long criminal record dating back to his teens, spent a large part of his youth in criminal breeding ground of the Westbrook youth detention centre, and who was murdered in 1975. Hamilton used to call upon the McCulkin home regularly, as did his later murderer Billy Stokes, a long-time criminal who ended up doing a long lag in Boggo Road by way of penal servitude for the murder of his one-time mate.
Then of course there is Peter Hall, the Crown’s star witness in the upcoming trial of the two men accused of the murders of Barbara and her children, and the rape of the kids, who admits that he walked through the McCulkin’s Highgate Hill doorway on a number of occasions.
Hall, who describes himself as a retired gangster, is the man who by his own admission torched the Torinos nightclub in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley in 1974 and burnt it to the ground, less than a fortnight before the Whiskey Au Go Go burned down killing 15 of the poor punters having a pilsener and a boogie inside.
Hall has been granted indemnity from prosecution for that crime in return for his evidence against the McCulkin accused, but the arson is far from the only major crime he committed, because in among a sheaf of pages of form lies a 10 year spell in the tomato can in NSW after he was pinched and subsequently convicted of a charge Wounding with Intent to do Bodily Harm. In that particular case he fired a number of loaded bullets from an unlicensed gun at point blank range at an unarmed bloke sitting in a car, who Hall believed had raped one of the many prostitutes that he at that time was bludging off.
Clearly Hall in a blind rage intended to kill the bloke, and its just lucky for all concerned, except perhaps for the one-time mates that he’s now turned dog on, that the loser in life who these days lives in a run-down hovel in Cessnock – or used to until he turned police informant anyway, now he lives in Witness Protection at an address unknown – was a terrible shot.
These are the sort of people that Barbara McCulkin used to know, and have around to the home in which her children lived. They’re hardly the type Mum would invite over to have a cup of tea at the kitchen table in Geebung are they?
All these facts create rather large question marks regarding Barbara’s character, but perhaps they can simply be explained away as a wife just having to cop her husband’s violent mates as part of the price of choosing the wrong man. Or perhaps not.
But funnily enough it’s not her criminal associations that cause me the most concern about the what I suspect is a crook tale we’ve been told.
No, the thing that set the alarm bells ringing on my radar is a seemingly much smaller matter that is the main reason that I have never, ever accepted the McCulkin story as it has been traditionally told.
You see, in 1973 Barbara McCulkin had a tit job.
Breast enlargement surgery.
A boob job.
In 1973 not many women had breast enlargement surgery, not many at all, particularly in the sleepy old Brisbane of those days, for unlike in the modern age the procedure was back then rather complicated and extremely expensive, and tended to be the preserve of aging actresses and fading beauties from Ascot who had married for the money and were keen to keep their stockbroker husbands interested in their curves so that he wouldn’t leave them for a younger model and thus bereft of his loot.
Single mothers working part-time in snack bars just didn’t get tit jobs in 1973.
But working girls on the game who were eager to keep the punters queuing up to pay to have a piece of them did.
And that’s where the story gets interesting, because I have always suspected that Barbara McCulkin was on the game.
A hooker, a harlot, a strumpet, a scrubber, a trumpet, a tart, a sex worker a slag – call her what you like, but deep down I have for a long time suspected that the missing woman was what you’d call in simple terms a prostitute.
And guess what? Now, for the first time, there is cold hard evidence to confirm my suspicions, and it comes directly from the police statement of one of the Crown prosecutors witnesses in the upcoming trial of Vincent O’Dempsey and Garry Dubois, the men charged with the murder, rape and deprivation of liberty of Barbara and her girls.
Now admittedly it’s hearsay evidence, but the witness statement was allowed to be read into the evidence at the committal hearing, and the maker of the statement – Paul Dubois, brother of the accused man Garry of the same surname, but certainly doing him no favors – was allowed to give evidence at the hearing, so if this part of his evidence is knocked out then the rest of his statement must be too, and it hasn’t.
Paul Dubois says that Barbara McCulkin worked in a massage parlor.
Vince O’Demspey’s massage parlor.
If this is true it explains a lot of things.
It explains Barbara’s breast surgery, why she had it and how she could afford it.
It explains why her estranged husband saw her in a bus travelling toward the Valley at about lunchtime on the 16th of January 1974, because the bus line north ran through the Valley and along Lutwyche Road to Chermside.
There was a bus stop less than 50m walk from the Polonia Massage Parlor’s front door.
It explains why when Billy McCulkin didn’t find his wife at home on the evening of the 18th of January 1974, one of the first places he rang looking for her was the Polonia brothel on Gympie Road, Lutwyche.
It was a strange place to ring looking for a snack bar attendant wasn’t it?
Unless of course she had a second job.
It also explains Barbara McCulkin’s friendship with the madam of the brothel, a woman named Diane Pritchard, who also went by the name of Cheryl Evans.
Most of all though, it explains Barbara’s association with Vincent O’Dempsey, the man charged with her murder, and the nominal proprietor of the Polonia Massage Parlour.
(I say nominal because I believe that the actual owner of the house of ill-repute was a man named Paul Meade, a multi-millionaire associate of O’Dempsey’s who over the years lived in various lavish mansions in New Farm)
It explains why O’Dempsey had been seen many times at the McCulkin’s home.
It explains why from time to time he had collected Barbara from the snack bar in his car.
It provides a very plausible explanation of the reason why he was seen at her home on the evening of the 16th of January 1974, and why his co-accused Garry Dubois was seen waiting outside the house holding a carton of beer.
Barbara McCulkin didn’t drive.
It is reasonable to suspect that if she was working for him in the world’s oldest profession then Vincent O’Dempsey may have sometimes picked her up from her day job and taken her to work in her second job selling her skin in his brothel.
On the evening of the 16th of January O’Dempsey might well have simply dropped Barbara home after her 6 hour shift at the Polonia.
Perhaps Garry Dubois was just along for the ride, and waited outside while O’Dempsey saw his hooker safely into her home and had a quiet word about a few things he was hearing on the criminal grapevine, things that he didn’t wish the small time crook Dubois to hear.
In fact crafty old Vince might have told Dubois to duck down to one of the many local pubs for some take-away beers while he had that quiet word with Barbara, and told him to wait outside for him when he got back.
Dubois may just have returned and have been waiting outside talking to Ginger Meggs the cat with the beer under his arm when the young Gayton girls from across the road who saw him there arrived to collect their friends Leanne and Vicki McCulkin.
Whilst this scenario is mere speculation on my behalf, it is certainly beyond neither the possibility of being true, nor the realm of disbelief.
And remember, for a jury to lock a man away for the rest of his natural life they have to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the scenario that the prosecution are putting forth is true beyond any reasonable doubt.
If the witness Paul Dubois is to be believed, and Barbara McCulkin was indeed what we euphemistically call a Lady of the Night, it also explains also why Peter Hall, the star witness for the prosecution, said that a couple of days after the McCulkin’s disappeared he overheard O’Dempsey telling his (Hall’s) then mate Dubois that Barbara McCulkin was leaving him.
That particular statement – the first Hall gave incriminating his former mate Dubois – was made in Cessnock NSW, and when it was reviewed back in Queensland the police quickly had Hall make a further statement in which he clarified that by ‘leaving him’ he meant Billy McCulkin, not O’Dempsey.
That particular addition by Hall makes no sense, because it is accepted and unchallenged fact that Billy McCulkin himself had walked out on his wife months before to live with another woman named Estelle Long, and this particular fact forms part of the core case against the accused.
How then could Barbara McCulkin be leaving her husband Billy, if he was already gone?
The simple answer of course is that she couldn’t.
Peter Hall is lying.
But who put him up to it?
Here’s a possible clue.
It’s long been rumored that in the weeks leading up to her disappearance Barbara McCulkin had turned Police Informant, and was about to spill a whole pile of poison beans on her husband and his corrupt police associates in relation to their involvement in the torching of the Whiskey Au Go Go, and the framing of John Stuart and James Finch as the culprits in order to cover-up their own direct role in the commission and execution of the horrendous crime.
The rumor was that Barbara McCulkin was due to enter an early version of the Witness Protection program in the immediate day or days after she mysteriously disappeared.
If she was indeed leaving Vince O’Dempsey, and her role as a sex-worker in his brothel, then it fits perfectly both with that scenario and with the possible sequence of events that I have detailed above.
Maybe Barbara was leaving the Polonia because she was going into hiding so that she may give evidence that would see a whole lot of people end up in jail. And the kids had heard her talking about, and might tell what they had heard if their Mum suddenly vanished off the face of the earth.
Perhaps on the evening of 16 January 1974, while Dubois was out of earshot, her boss and friend O’Demspey – who knew what the people she was accusing were capable of, and what might happen if she told all – was urging her not to do it.
And Barbara told him no Vince, what they did to Johnny Stuart is not right, and I’m going ahead with it, and tomorrow my life starts and they are all going down.
But maybe tomorrow was too late.
And sometime in the 48 hours after O’Demspey and Dubois had left the house, the men with everything to lose got her and the kids first, and they and their mates covered up what they had done, distorted the facts, and discombobulated the truth.
Oh yeah sportsfans, Barbara McCulkin being a hooker working in the Polonia Massage Parlour cum brothel fits a whole lot of different scenarios and known and rumored facts.
Except of course one.
The only one that matters.
The prosecution case.
For if Barbara McCulkin was indeed a prostitute working in O’Dempsey’s brothel, why would he need to come to her home to abduct her while her children were there?
He could have abducted and killed her any single day of the week, right there where she lay on her back at his whorehouse of ill repute.
And if he wanted to rape her kids, as the prosecution claim, wouldn’t he have just gone around to the Highgate Hill house while she was at work at the Polonia, and he knew that the girls were home alone? He could even have taken Dubois for the ride, if that was there real fancy, which of course it wasn’t, except in the cold case police’s imagination.
Think about it readers.
Think about it hard.
Sometimes in this crazy world of corruption and crime, and murder and missing people, and fires and false statements, and cops and crims with a whole lot to hide, things are just never as they seem. And when that’s the case, then you just can’t believe a word of weird and wacky tale of wickedness that you are being told and like a sucker sold.
Here’s a few words of wisdom that my old Grandma told me when I was on her knee in nappies in the Bung, words that I’ve never forgotten and nor should you.
You can’t finish a jigsaw if the pieces don’t fit.
She was a smart old bird my Grandma, and would have made a great defense lawyer.
Have a nice weekend.