NEWS

Inquest Reopened Into 1973 Whiskey Au Go Go Firebombing

It is one of Australia's deadliest mass murders.

02/06/2017 5:15 PM AEST | Updated 02/06/2017 5:16 PM AEST
Fairfax

A new inquest will be opened into the 1973 firebombing of a Brisbane nightclub which killed 15 people. The firebombing of the Fortitude Valley nightclub, Whiskey Au Go Go, was Australia's deadliest mass murder before the Port Arthur massacre of 1996.

The announcement comes the day after convicted murderers Vincent O'Dempsey and Garry Dubois, now aged 78 and 70 respectively, were handed life sentences for the brutal murders of Barbara McCulkin and the rape and murder of her daughters, Vicki, 13, and Leanne, 11.

In sentencing the men on Thursday, Justice Peter Applegarth told the court he believed the two men wanted to silence Barabara McCulkin because she knew about their role in two firebombings -- including the one at Whiskey Au Go Go.

Barbara's estranged husband Billy, who was a member of a Brisbane gang, was a known associate of O'Dempsey and Dubois.

During the prosecution of both O'Dempsey and Dubois, multiple witnesses told the courts that the McCulkins -- including 13-year-old Vicki -- expressed knowledge of the firebombings, including implying they knew who was involved.

In ordering the reopening of the inquest, Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said she hoped more witnesses would come forward now that the convicted killers were behind bars.

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Vincent O'Dempsey and Garry Dubois have been jailed for life for the murders of Barbara McCulkin (right) and her daughters Vicky, 13 (left) and Leanne, 11 (centre).

"There is no doubt there is significant public interest in getting answers in relation to the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing in 1973," she said.

"Given recent events, witnesses who have previously not been willing to come forward, might now be willing to provide new information that will give us those answers.

"I had been awaiting the outcome of recent court proceedings, and will now write to the State Coroner instructing him to hold an inquest into the Whiskey Au Go Go case."

Around 60 revellers were enjoying late night drinks at the Whiskey Au Go Go on Thursday March 8, 1973, after listening to pop group The Delltones perform earlier in the night.

At 2:08am, a lit pockey-book of matches ignited two 18-litre tins of petrol, which exploded under the stairs of the first-floor nightclub and released a fireball which plunged the room into darkness and filled the room with smoke.

"The flames raced through the room all within about two minutes," a witness told 7 News following the incident.

7 News Queensland
A Brisbane court heard that Vincent O'Dempsey was motivated to kill Barbara McCulkin because she was threatening to implicate him in the Whiskey Au Go Go firebombing.

"There was no light in the room because all the power had gone. It was just the lucky ones who found the fire escape that got out."

In the darkness, panicked patrons smashed windows and jumped through broken glass to escape, but 10 men and five women couldn't find a way out.

In the days that followed, underworld figures James Richard Finch, 29, and John Andrew Stuart, 33, were arrested and were later convicted, but rumours have continued to circulate that there were other criminals behind the Whiskey bombings.

The initial coronial inquest into the firebombing lasted just two days, before Finch and Stuart were arrested.

Barbara McCulkin's estranged husband, Billy, was arrested over the firebombing but was later released due to a lack of evidence.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said reopening the inquest was the "right decision".

"The Whiskey Au Go Go tragedy is etched in the memory of many Queenslanders -- we should take this opportunity to find any answers that we can," she said.

"I think a lot of people want closure."

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