Don Mackay’s informant named
The mafia thought it had a rat in its ranks who tipped off the campaigner. It was wrong
For more than four decades it has remained a mystery: who told Don Mackay about the Griffith mafia’s huge marijuana crops?
On November 10, 1975, the day before the dismissal of Gough Whitlam’s Labor government, police acting on a tip-off from Mackay entered a property at Coleambally, 60km from Griffith, and discovered what was then the biggest marijuana plantation found in NSW. They arrested three men. Worse, for the mafia godfathers who had planned and financed the crop, they seized $50 million worth of marijuana.
Many suspected a mafia rat had given Mackay, an anti-drugs campaigner and aspiring politician, the information.
According to Terry Jones, then editor of The Area News in Griffith, the godfathers — among them “Aussie Bob” Trimbole and local winemaker Antonio “Winery Tony” Sergi — believed it too, especially after police found another crop at nearby Euston. Two-thirds of the Euston crop had been harvested by the time police arrived but it was another financial hit bitterly resented by the ’Ndrangheta, or Calabrian mafia.
“After the Coleambally raid, Trimbole thought there was a snitch,” says Jones. “That was the trigger for him to call a meeting where they decided to have Don killed.” Mackay’s increasingly outspoken attacks against the drug growers made him an obvious target for retribution, he says, but the lesson also would have been meant for the unknown ’Ndrangheta rat suspected of having given him the information.
Since the morning of Saturday, July 16, 1977, when he picked up the phone to hear his friend-Mackay had been shot, and probably murdered, in the carpark of the Griffith Hotel, Jones has been chasing down clues to the killing.
As a prominent citizen in town, he was on speaking terms with the godfathers who ordered Mackay’s killing and with local detectives who turned a blind eye. He reported on the bodies of mafia snitches pulled out of the river. Like everyone with an interest in one of Australia’s most notorious murders, he was disappointed, if not surprised, by last week’s news that Mackay’s killer, hitman James Frederick Bazley, had taken his secrets to the grave. Bazley would not have known who told Mackay about the Coleambally crop, but Jones does, and he now has spoken about it for the first time. Mackay’s source was not an ’Ndrangheta snitch but a local agricultural pilot.
“A young woman, Linda Humphries, went missing two weeks before the Coleambally drug bust,” Jones tells Inquirer. “She had just got married and it was thought she might have stumbled on a drug crop while driving around looking for work. Police found her car and asked local crop dusters to keep an eye out for Linda. Jimmy Darbyshire was searching for Linda when he flew over the Coleambally plantation. Jim knew what he was looking at and told Don. It’s possible he may even have taken Don for a flight.”
Since then, the identity of Mackay’s informant has been known only among a “very close circle” of friends of the Mackay and Darbyshire families, all of whom kept it secret out of fear of reprisals against Jim and his wife, Pat. Now that both Darbyshires are dead, Jones has decided it is time to break his silence.
“The awful thing is that part of the reason the mafia wanted Don killed is because they feared having a rat in their ranks. You’ve got to remember that while the Coleambally trial was going on, the police found a big cannabis crop at Euston. They thought Don might have given that up, too, but he didn’t. If they had known about Jim, they might have taken him out rather than Don.”
Jones’s revelations come as civic leaders struggle to play down the town’s mafia links, with Griffith mayor John Dal Broi saying the people of Griffith would like “closure on this terrible blot on the community” and declaring “a new generation has emerged since Don was murdered”. But Jones points to evidence cannabis growing is still big business in Griffith. In November 2015 two local men, Pasquale Sergi, 50, and Saverio Ciampa, 52, were jailed for involvement in a cannabis crop at Crowther, north of Young, worth about $5.5m.
Another Griffith man, Marcello Casella, whose family’s winemaking business, Casella Family Brands, has been valued at $1.5 billion, pleaded guilty to knowingly concealing a serious indictable offence by failing to tell police about the Crowther crop, despite having visited the property three times. Casella, who is appealing his six-month jail sentence, had previously been sentenced to five years’ jail for a $57m cannabis crop in Queensland.
In another case with Griffith connections, former public servant David Eastman has pleaded not guilty in the ACT Supreme Court to the 1989 murder of Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner Colin Winchester.
In 1981, Winchester, then a superintendent, sanctioned a cannabis plantation at Bungendore in NSW, ostensibly for the purpose of getting information linked to Mackay’s murder. After being stopped with more than 90kg of Bungendore marijuana in his car, Gianfranco Tizzoni rolled over to police and told them Bazley had murdered Mackay on the orders of the Griffith mob.
Jones says he believes Mackay’s body was thrown in the Murray River and will never be found, but he has not given up hope that one day the truth about his friend will be known.