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An­drew Rule on the women who fell for Aus­tralia’s tough­est crooks.

Ahit­man makes more en­e­mies than he can kill, and Chris Flan­nery was no diplo­mat. But the man they called “Rent-a-kill” loved his wife and she loved him. He phoned her ev­ery three hours, de­pend­able as a well-oiled Beretta.

The day he didn’t call on time, Kath Flan­nery knew the worst. She im­me­di­ately called Ge­orge Free­man, the Syd­ney mob­ster Chris had gone to visit, and ac­cused him of mak­ing her a widow.

They never did find the body but she was right. Free­man’s cor­rupt cops – re­put­edly led by Roger Roger­son – had proven again that those who live by the sword usu­ally die by it.

Whether Flan­nery was fed to the sharks or into a sawmill in­cin­er­a­tor on that day in 1985 is known to few – and they aren’t talking. But it was the pre­dictably ghastly end of a gen­uine un­der­world love story.

Ray Mooney, a writer, who did time with Flan­nery in the 1970s, says the best thing about his jail mate was his love for Kath and de­sire to pro­tect her from his dog-shoot-dog world. Mooney dis­putes that Mrs Rent-a-kill rel­ished her hus­band’s mur­der­ous ways. The same can’t be said for other gang­sters’ women.

Sports­men have WAGS; crooks have scal­ly­wags. Enough of them to fill prison vis­it­ing rooms ev­ery week: proof that, in mat­ters of the heart, hope of­ten trumps ex­pe­ri­ence.

The Mok­bel women have seen the highs and lows of mar­ry­ing mob­sters. For a decade they lived in a fool’s par­adise where cash gushed like an end­less jack­pot. But putting a nose in that trough meant get­ting dirty.

Back in the late 1990s, when “Fat Tony” (Tony Mok­bel) was han­dling more black money than a Swiss bank, he had as many strip­pers on the pay­roll as he did jock­eys, train­ers, book­ies and prison of­fi­cers.

One night, Mok­bel in­vited them all, in­clud­ing Carl Wil­liams, back to one of his prop­er­ties and locked the gates so guests and strip­pers could party undis­turbed. The host didn’t want any wives cramp­ing their style but his sis­ter-in-law had other ideas.

The party was go­ing strong when Mi­lad Mok­bel’s wife, Re­nate, scram­bled over a fence and at­tacked the near­est strip­pers. “It’s on, it’s on!” a de­lighted Wil­liams chor­tled as the fu­ri­ous woman hurled punches and abuse.

Re­nate was no “door­mat” – un­like Tony Mok­bel’s wife, Carmel, who lived a re­tir­ing life while hubby built a drug

car­tel. She did as she was told, such as be­ing a nom­i­nal owner of a string of race­horses as a front for Mok­bel. Her re­ward was to be hu­mil­i­ated as Mok­bel took other women. Among them was ru­moured to be crim­i­nal lawyer Zarah Garde-wil­son (when asked openly in court about an “on-off sex­ual re­la­tion­ship” with Mok­bel, GardeWil­son asked her coun­sel to ob­ject on the grounds of rel­e­vance). Another was se­rial gang­ster con­sort Danielle Mcguire, who would meet Mok­bel in Greece (and have his baby there) af­ter he fled Aus­tralia hid­den on a boat in 2006.

Af­ter Mok­bel was cap­tured and sub­se­quently re­turned to Aus­tralia to face prison, Mcguire took up with another gang­ster, outlaw mo­tor­cy­cle boss Toby Mitchell.

The enig­matic Garde-wil­son was al­ready no­to­ri­ous in le­gal cir­cles be­cause of her re­la­tion­ship with con­victed killer Lewis Caine. Af­ter Caine’s mur­der in 2004, she took ac­tion to re­move sperm from his body in the hope of im­preg­nat­ing her­self. Caine was no cashed-up crime czar and had noth­ing to leave ex­cept his DNA, so want­ing his child wasn’t about money.

Garde-wil­son, dubbed the “hy­phen with the python” for the snake she kept in her cham­bers, came from a dis­tin­guished es­tab­lish­ment fam­ily. She had grown up on the fam­ily graz­ing prop­erty in New Eng­land, went to board­ing school and was an out­stand­ing law grad­u­ate.

Mcguire, by con­trast, was raised to be a gang­ster’s moll; her mother lived with cal­lous killer Rod­ney Collins, in sub­urbs of Mel­bourne that most lawyers would drive through with the doors locked.

No­tion­ally a hair­dresser, Mcguire al­ways had men to sup­ply her with clothes, jewellery and any­thing else she fan­cied. In her 20s, she mostly fan­cied drugs, which led to jail time – and to an af­fair with drug dealer Mark Moran, the first man down af­ter Wil­liams de­clared war in 1999.

Mcguire, the crime groupie, had a leg in each camp, given she moved from Moran to Mok­bel.


The cool lawyer and hard hair­dresser were from dif­fer­ent worlds, but they had something in com­mon be­sides shapely fig­ures: both were in­volved with the Le­banese pizza-maker-turned­drug-dealer, whose main as­set was un­lim­ited il­licit cash.

Mok­bel the mil­lion­aire punter must have sus­pected that if he’d been a pen­ni­less post­man, the odds of Garde-wil­son and Mcguire go­ing for him would be 1000-1 and drift­ing.

So what is it with women and gang­sters? Apart from money, that is.

MOST MOB­STERS LIVE fast and die young – and the sur­vivors of­ten die broke or in jail. Not a great recipe for a happy mar­riage, but that has never stopped women look­ing for Mr Wrong. Pru­dence, logic and the law run well be­hind lust, cheap thrills – and some­times love. And the best of these love sto­ries isn’t about trashy crime groupies chas­ing money and 15 min­utes of fame.

It’s about the fugi­tive armed rob­ber Rus­sell “Mad Dog” Cox and his long­time lover He­len Deane, who shared 11 years on the run to­gether. Deane spir­ited a wounded Cox into NSW af­ter a gun­fight with a Mel­bourne rob­ber in 1983, per­suad­ing a coun­try doc­tor that her hus­band had sur­vived a shoot­ing ac­ci­dent in Pa­pua New Guinea, and had re­turned by light plane rather than risk treat­ment there.

Af­ter Cox – real name Ti­mothy Melville Sch­nitzer­ling – was ar­rested fol­low­ing a shootout at a Mel­bourne shop­ping cen­tre in 1988, Deane tried to smug­gle a pen pis­tol to him in court. She vis­ited him re­li­giously in prison and they were mar­ried be­fore his re­lease in 2004. Mr and Mrs Sch­nitzer­ling re­fused all of­fers of in­ter­views and have lived qui­etly ever af­ter in Queens­land.

Still, why would any sane woman marry a mob­ster? Even if a few crooks are suave, hand­some and rich, most are also vi­o­lent, ruth­less and un­faith­ful.

Some just want to star in their own soap opera. “Fa­mous, in­fa­mous, it’s all the same,” Roberta Wil­liams once said. She’d know, hav­ing at­tached her­self to Carl Wil­liams in 1997, when he started spend­ing buck­ets of drug money.

The gang­ster life killed Wil­liams, but made his wife a mem­ber of the most ex­clu­sive set in town – the first-name club. Her char­ac­ter be­came part of the cul­tural lex­i­con af­ter be­ing played for laughs – and raunchy sex – by Kat Ste­wart in the first Un­der­belly TV se­ries.

The fic­ti­tious Roberta meant the real one be­came a fix­ture in gossip col­umns and news bul­letins. When her for­mer fa­ther-in-law Ge­orge Wil­liams died this


year, cam­eras were fol­low­ing her. For a Frankston street kid, that’s celebrity.

Roberta Mer­cieca was the youngest of eight chil­dren born to a Mal­tese mi­grant truck driver and his wife. When she was young, her fa­ther died in a burn­ing truck – a start to life a de­fence lawyer might use to paint a sad pic­ture of a fa­ther­less girl, ne­glected and roam­ing the streets. But her older sis­ter, Su­san, doesn’t buy it. She calls Roberta a mer­ce­nary liar who “doesn’t care who she hurts or where she gets it from”.

Roberta hooked up with a friend of the Mo­rans, Dean Stephens, at 16. He fa­thered her first baby, Tye, then two more. Af­ter big spender Wil­liams lured Roberta away, Stephens belted him in pub­lic, which means he is one of the few known sur­vivors of the war Wil­liams started soon af­ter.

Hos­til­ity over Roberta’s af­fec­tions was at least part of the rea­son be­hind the show­down be­tween Wil­liams and the Moran broth­ers, Ja­son and Mark. Of course, money and drug mat­ters also led to the con­fronta­tion in 1999. But with­out the added drama over Roberta, the vendetta might have faded with­out fa­tal­i­ties.

If Roberta had pushed Wil­liams in his cam­paign to ex­ter­mi­nate the Moran crew, it would fit what psy­chol­o­gists have called the “Lady Mac­beth” syn­drome. Like her one-time en­emy Ju­dith Moran, Roberta wouldn’t know Lady Mac­beth from a Big Mac. But those two women from op­pos­ing camps have much in com­mon with each other and Shake­speare’s arch ma­nip­u­la­tor. They want the power and in­flu­ence that comes with money – un­like docile door­mat wives as­so­ci­ated with eth­nic crime groups that treat women as in­fe­ri­ors, but shield them from crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity.

Then there are the straight-out risk-takers, who get a thrill out of shar­ing beds and crimes with dan­ger­ous men – the Bon­nie and Clyde fan­tasy that Hol­ly­wood turned into a leg­end.

When crazed rob­ber and se­rial es­ca­per Chris “Bad­ness” Binse met his bi­sex­ual girl­friend Roxy* in 1991, she was a pro­fes­sional shoplifter.

She taught him shop steal­ing; he taught her to drive get­away cars in armed rob­beries.

In 1992, she helped him pull off maybe his most au­da­cious es­cape – from Par­ra­matta jail. It didn’t last: Binse is fac­ing a long term in prison and Roxy a long time liv­ing un­der as­sumed names, which hasn’t stopped her from sub­mit­ting pic­tures of her­self to a soft porn mag­a­zine.

ROXY IS A long way from the “Florence Nightin­gales” who grad­u­ate from res­cu­ing birds and other an­i­mals, to “wounded” jail­birds. Among these are dam­aged women, perhaps abused as chil­dren, who cul­ti­vate men in prison, seek­ing pro­tec­tors who, they fantasise, will shield them from dan­ger or avenge past wrongs.

Be­sides look­ing for love in all the wrong places, there’s the pull of “easy money”. Some are to­tally mo­ti­vated by it; others dis­creetly turn a blind eye to un­ex­plained in­come. Some stay in dan­ger­ous re­la­tion­ships be­cause the cash and ex­cite­ment are hard to give up in cir­cles where “hot” clothes, jewellery and lux­u­ries are one-third re­tail. Even when Ju­dith Moran – then Brooks – was a teenage dancer for the Nine Net­work in the 1960s, she ran with known thieves, re­ceived stolen goods and lusted af­ter gun­men. The fa­ther of her old­est son, Mark, was Les Cole, shot dead in Syd­ney in 1982. She switched to Lewis Moran, not as dash­ing as Cole but just as nasty.

A lawyer once saw Moran punch Ju­dith so hard he knocked her out. But she was no bet­ter – bash­ing other women and threat­en­ing peo­ple with her ul­tra-vi­o­lent sons Mark and Ja­son.

Lewis Moran re­ferred to Ju­dith as “an im­be­cile” and never mar­ried her, but she took his name and played the gang­land widow un­til she was jailed for plot­ting the mur­der of her brother-in-law, hav­ing out­lived two mur­dered sons and their fa­thers. Some would say she brought it on her­self.

Un­like Ju­dith, nei­ther of late Mark “Chop­per” Read’s wives wanted to be crooks when they mar­ried the self-de­scribed “no-eared psy­chopath”. The teenage Mar­garet Cas­sar had known the young Mark Read in Mel­bourne’s north­ern sub­urbs. She worked a day job for years while wait­ing for him to get out of jail, then moved to Tas­ma­nia with him. But she lost faith when he mixed gun­play and liquor and shot a bikie friend – pos­si­bly ac­ci­den­tally – and sub­se­quently went back to jail.

Read would later claim that his bar­ris­ter sug­gested he marry a “nice Tas­ma­nian girl” to help with his pa­role. If that’s true, it worked. Mary Ann Hodge, a farmer’s daugh­ter brought up as a Sev­enth-day Ad­ven­tist, read Read’s mem­oir and vis­ited him in jail be­cause he, too, had been raised as an Ad­ven­tist. Soon af­ter mar­ry­ing her, Read was re­leased and worked on the Hodge fam­ily prop­erty. They had a son just be­fore the film Chop­per made him an un­likely celebrity.

On a trip to Mel­bourne, Read rekin­dled his first love, left Mary Ann, and mar­ried the pa­tient Mar­garet… who just hap­pened to own a house near a pub – far from farm work in a cold cli­mate. For a crook, that’s wed­ded bliss.

One gang­ster girl­friend who has stared down dis­grace is Karen Soich, now a lead­ing Auck­land lawyer. As a young law clerk Soich caught the evil eye of global drug traf­ficker Ter­rence Clark in the 1970s. Be­fore Clark’s ar­rest for mur­der, he pho­tographed her rolling naked on a bed of bank notes, a pro­fes­sional faux pas that stopped her get­ting her prac­tis­ing cer­tifi­cate un­til 1991.

These days, Soich keeps quiet about the good old, bad old days with her killer lover. But her firm’s web­site spruiks her with the line, “Who’s right, who’s wrong, when love is gone?” She’s the ex­pert.


TOUGH LOVE (clock­wise from top left) No­to­ri­ous Moran; Roberta Wil­liams;

TIES THAT BIND Gang­ster con­sort Danielle Mcguire.

PART­NERS IN CRIME Rus­sell “Mad Dog” Cox and his wife He­len Deane.

DAN­GER­OUS GAME (clock­wise from right) Crim­i­nal lawyer Zarah GardeWil­son; Kath Flan­nery; Kath’s hus­band Chris Flan­nery, pre­sumed mur­dered.

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