This is the prologue from my 2006 book, Australian Outlaw – the True Story of Postcard Bandit Brenden Abbott, published by Sly Ink, on sale in bookshops and online RRP $24.99, and on Kindle, for $7.99.
THE burglary suspect sitting in the corner had a winged serpent tattooed on one shoulder and a chip on the other. His name was Brenden Abbott, he was 24 and he looked like trouble.The young detective who had been told to watch Abbott was betting there’d be some action when they took him back into the interview room. But that particular treat was on hold for a while: his bosses were busy grilling Abbott’s girlfriend while they waited for a lawyer to arrive. It could be a while before they got around to the main event. Meanwhile, it made sense to keep the surly suspect on side.‘You want a cuppa?’ the detective asked Abbott, who was slouched in the corner on a chair, arms crossed.‘Sure, thanks.’It was early on the morning of December 16, 1986. They were in a small room at the rear of an old double-brick house that was headquarters for the detectives of Nollamara CIB, in Perth’s northern suburbs. On the way in, Abbott had noted its security didn’t extend much beyond flywire screen doors at the front and back. He was young but he was a thinker. When Detectives Mick Bourke and Jeff Beaman tried to extract information from him about an electrical store burglary, he wouldn’t play ball.BOURKE: ‘Brenden, all your clothes and papers are in the flat, so it’s obvious that you live there.’ABBOTT: ‘So? I live there now and again.’BOURKE: ‘Before we speak to Rhonda [‘Rhonda Green’, the alias used by Abbott’s girlfriend, Jackie Lord], do you want to help us? All the gear that we have at your flat appears to have come from a breaking and entering at Homecraft at Whitfords two nights ago.’ABBOTT: ‘Rhonda is big enough to look after herself. I’m not saying anything until my lawyer’s here.’BOURKE: ‘That will be arranged.’When the young detective guarding him wandered out and pulled the door closed, Abbott’s brain kicked into top gear. A few seconds later, charged with adrenalin, he stood up and strode to the door. Turning the knob gently, he peered out. There were voices to his left, probably Jackie giving the jacks the shits in the interview room. To his right, only a few metres away, was the unlocked back door. Footsteps to his left forced him to dart back into the room, but the door did not close properly. Seconds later, the young detective pushed it open and walked in with a cup. He glanced back, suspicious.‘Why’d you open the door?’Abbott’s head pounded after the near-discovery — I was like a cat on a hot tin roof — but he feigned boredom. ‘I didn’t touch the door; you didn’t close it properly.’ He sipped the tea. ‘Just the way I like it, thanks.’The detective looked unconvinced. On the way out, he made a point of shutting the door with a firm click. Abbott waited a few seconds and then crept back to the doorway. He didn’t need to think about this. He had learned the hard way it didn’t matter what he said in police interview rooms, the situation always ended up worse — he was going to be locked up today, regardless of what he did or didn’t say. And the criminal record he had compiled so diligently in recent years meant that any more charges would automatically lead to another long stretch in that shit-hole Fremantle Prison. Fuck that.Abbott turned the handle again. Bet the sneaky bastard’s waiting for me, he thought. But there was no-one in the corridor. He instantly strode to the unlocked back door, opened it and pushed the screen door, which creaked loudly.
The young detective, meanwhile, wandered up to Jeff Beaman. ‘How’s it going?’Beaman ignored the question. ‘Where’s Abbott?’ he countered. The slam of the back door provided an instant reply.
The four detectives in the building rushed to the back of the house and into the backyard, but Abbott had vanished.
BRENDEN Abbott had been heading for trouble most of his life. But if there was a turning point, one at which he stepped up from the petty crimes that many young men commit before they grow out of adolescent escapades, it had been earlier that year. In the months leading up to his escape from custody at Nollamara, Abbott’s burglary crew had grown increasingly confident and started causing serious headaches for Perth police. In fact, by November 1986, they were cleaning out electrical stores to order. Demand had skyrocketed to the point where it was a full-blown commercial operation.
There never seemed to be a shortage of buyers for hot stuff. Most of the gear I’d knock off was brand new. When I started out, the items in most demand were the stereo TVs and convection microwaves, which were the latest gadgets. As demand grew, so did orders. Power tools, car fridges, gas cook tops, lounge suites, alcohol, cigarettes, tyres and clothing were just some of the things. People I least expected were buying gear from me, knowing it was hot.
It got to the point where I couldn’t keep pace with the demand and was getting harassed by buyers. All the stuff I sold was at a third of its value new, if not less. One person I was off-loading gear to had his own customer base and was making a profit.
Initially, those involved with me were my brother Glenn and ‘Stabbie’, who I met in Canning Vale Prison during my last sentence. Later, the numbers grew, and then they were also off doing jobs that I saw no real value in. For Glenn, it wasn’t just for the money, he enjoyed the rush, the thrill of it all, and that I can relate to. He and Stabbie were also doing their own jobs and some of the items they’d keep for themselves. Items that easily arouse suspicion, for example, two fucking jet skis.
I was making good money and would do a job about once every month. I was still on the dole and was also getting cash in hand working part-time as a mechanic at a service station. I was also still doing the occasional backyard car repairs. I wasn’t making tens of thousands a month, but at the time I was comfortable with what I had coming in. I was on the dole, but it was just a front — I was still on parole and I thought a form of income was a necessity.
The gang’s next big target was a Homecraft store in Whitfords, a northern coastal suburb of Perth, on December 14. They got in through the roof, then backed a stolen truck up to the rear roller door. Radio scanners tuned to police frequencies remained silent, meaning no alarms had gone off; it was a simple matter of filling the truck with electrical goods and driving away.
But a single phone call brought their profitable suburban business unstuck. One of the gang had upset someone in his life, and that someone tipped off the Nollamara detectives, who raided his home within 24 hours of the burglary.
The gang member wasn’t involved in the Homecraft job, but his place was brimming with goods from many others over the past six months — exactly the kind of situation Abbott had been careful to avoid. A quick check with the break squad established that the scuba diving equipment, chainsaws, sheepskin seat covers, car stereos, microwaves, coffee table, washing machine and TV were all stolen. The gang member told police most of it came from two brothers he feared: Brenden and Glenn Abbott.
On December 15, at 141 Surrey Road, Rivervale — the home of Abbott’s mother, Thelma Salmon — Abbott dropped off a new Hoover washing machine, unaware that detectives were watching the home. Thelma later vowed to never again accept a ‘present’ from Brenden without an accompanying receipt. The other detectives then followed Abbott’s Torana — towing a trailer filled with whitegoods and electrical items — to gang member David Knapp’s Sorrento home, where it made the second of several deliveries across the metropolitan area. Now Brenden Abbott was in police sights. That evening, he returned to the unit in Ozone Parade, Scarborough, where his girlfriend Jackie lived, to unload the rest.
That evening at Jackie’s, I still recall clearly how I sensed something wasn’t right that night and even mentioned it to her.
At 6am the next day, December 16, 1986, Detectives Jeff Beaman and Mick Bourke were banging on their door, armed with a search warrant.
I got out of bed and stuck my head into the laundry area. Through the window I could see someone I figured was a jack. He didn’t see me as I spotted him moving off to the glass sliding door further along the walkway. There was knocking at that door as well and it was obvious this was no social call. I raced back into the bedroom and told Jackie we had visitors and she was quickly out of bed getting dressed.
Jackie: The day that they came to bust us, [Brenden] had a wallet full of money. It was the only thing he was concerned about. He said: ‘Stick it down your pants, because if they get it, they’ll bloody keep it. They’ve thieved off me before.’ [Police in general, not these specific officers]. This Mick Bourke’s standing at the bedroom door. Brenden says: ‘Do you mind? We’re getting dressed. Can we have a little privacy?’ I said: ‘What if they want to search me?’
The detectives seized a freezer, hairdryer, food mixer, frying pan and iron. Rattled and angry, Abbott demanded his lawyer and urged Jackie to get a tape recorder so they wouldn’t ‘verbal’ him (make a false statement or confession).
I even tried to have a drink of bourbon while they were there — can’t figure out why. I was, however, trying to figure a way out of the place, to do a runner.
Bourke assured him the tape recorders were in good working order at Nollamara CIB, where their conversation about the Homecraft break would continue. Jackie also had a boarder at her flat who was asleep in the other room on the morning of the raid. He’d recently split up with his wife and hadn’t long been staying at Jackie’s. He, too, found himself at Nollamara CIB.
The poor bastard had no idea of what I was up to. He just thought I worked as a mechanic at a service station in Como for a living. He worked for a TV rental company and there were TVs and VCRs in his delivery van, which was parked at the flat. The jacks thought they were on to something, but the poor bastard had nothing to do with anything I was involved in.
Since Abbott’s back-door exit brought the investigation to an abrupt halt, Beaman and Bourke went back in to question Jackie Lord.
Jackie was only charged because I did the runner that day. She couldn’t help but grin when she heard I’d split out the back door. She later told me that Bourke gave her a shove into the chair. I guess he wasn’t too impressed with my exit.
After bolting through the back door of the detectives’ office, Abbott hoisted himself over the side fence into the backyard of the home next door. He sprinted to the back fence and leapt over, and around the same time his feet hit the ground, the potential threat of guard dogs crossed his mind.
There wasn’t one dog, but two. They shit at first when seeing me come over, but before they got their wits about them, I was already over the next fence.
Minutes later, Abbott was running down a laneway when he spotted a thick shrub next to a bedroom window of a home adjacent to the end of the laneway. He crawled under it, just as a police car pulled up at the front of the house. Abbott heard a voice say he’d been seen running in a particular direction; the tyres squealed and footsteps pounded down the laneway.
The search moved on momentarily, but police lingered in the area and it was another hour before an impatient Abbott felt safe enough to begin walking cautiously through the streets to a phone box at some nearby shops. He needed to warn his brother and the others about the police operation. While in the police car en route to Nollamara CIB, he’d picked up on the fact that most of his mates were under surveillance. But Jackie had his wallet and he had no change, so when he called his mother, the phone call was cut off. He rang the operator and complained that he’d lost his 30 cents. He was connected to Thelma Salmon, who wearily agreed to pick up her son from the Belair Tavern in half an hour and to have some cash to cover a cab. She knew something bad was afoot. The police had earlier taken custody of Glenn, in addition to the washing machine that Brenden delivered the day before. On arriving at the pub, Abbott began making calls on the public phone and discovered everyone was in custody.
I rang Perth CIB’s break and enter squad and posed as Glenn’s solicitor, Bill Harris, a name I’d use as an alias in the future. I demanded that I be allowed to speak to my client and you wouldn’t believe it, they put Glenn on the phone. Glenn was obviously shocked; I told him not to sign anything and tried to find out what had happened. My advice to him came too late — Glenn had already owned up and made a signed confession. Like most, he also had to learn the hard way. I tried to ring him again later using the lawyer tactic, but I think they were on to me and I hung up. I did the same thing years later (when I was on the run) while Glenn was at Albany Prison and I managed to have a chat with him.
David Knapp, Mark Reynolds, Glenn Abbott and ‘Coops’, a close mate of Abbott’s, got bail later in the day after being charged with multiple break and enters. And as well as Jackie, another ten people were charged for receiving stolen property. It was soon noticed that Abbott was the only one not yet facing charges.
I made a trip over to Coops’s house to get the latest after his release and sensed something not right among those in the house. They suspected the story that I did the runner from the Nollamara CIB was just a blowie, and thought I’d given everyone up. It wasn’t until some time later that they let me off the hook and found out about who the so-called friends were that sold them out. Jackie was the last to get bail that day and I soon caught up with her and retrieved my much-needed cash.
Days later, police botched a surveillance operation to catch Abbott at the Scarborough unit. Glenn — the spitting image of Brenden — had dropped in, looking for his brother. As he drove off and approached a roundabout, police cars screeched to a halt from all directions, blocking him in.
They were just in the process of handcuffing him and [Detective] Bourke’s walked up to the car and realised they’ve got the wrong Abbott and blew his top. [He said] ‘You fucking idiots, that’s his brother.’ One of the cops said: ‘We’ll pinch him for driving without a licence.’ Bourke turned around and said: ‘Nah, fuck him, let him go.’ Glenn couldn’t believe it. He’d just been surrounded and was being handcuffed, and the next thing, he’s back driving down the road without a licence.
Jackie: We had a lot of laughs over that one. But I had to pay ten grand up front on that [Homecraft] stealing and receiving matter. They pinned it on me because he took off … they said: ‘We won’t go as hard on her’.’ But [the court] gave me a ten grand on-the-spot fine or six months prison. My Mum paid and I had to pay her back.
(The other members of the burglary gang faced a string of charges. In August 1987, three of them would plead guilty to 25 charges over stolen goods valued at $242,000. They each received four years jail, except for Coops, who received three years. The judge described their technique of driving vehicles through walls and breaking doors and windows as ‘no less than looting, pillage and plunder’.)
Jackie and Brenden met up again about four days later at the Flag Inn on Great Eastern Highway, Belmont. Jackie faced serious charges and Abbott was now a criminal fugitive who couldn’t hold down a legitimate job. Yet in recent times, he’d given every indication to her of wanting to go straight, even holding down good jobs for extended periods. They’d had many ups and downs, but Jackie always believed their relationship, their love, could survive Brenden’s thieving. But now, settling down was out of the question. Abbott needed to keep moving; after a last night with Jackie in the Belmont motel, he left.
I figured some days later it may be best if I left the state for a while until the heat died down. I was still in touch with Lou [Miraudo, his former employer at a Port Hedland hotel, who was also a close friend] at this stage. Lou had also moved on from Port Hedland and was now living in Brisbane. After a chat with him, he was more than happy to let me stay at his place. He had bought a house in the northern suburb of Kallangur and was living there with his girlfriend Paulette and two mates, one of whom I knew from the hotel in Hedland.
Abbott sold his car to his brother Glenn and says he ‘scraped together’ enough cash to move to Queensland. He hitched a ride on a truck to the South Australian border and says he then caught a bus to Brisbane. Brenden Abbott was now an interstate fugitive.
A month or two after my arrival, Lou decided to sell the house and move to Wollongong, where he had a job lined up at the North Beach International Hotel as a bar manager. The job included accommodation in a house directly behind the hotel. I moved down with him, Paulette and one of his mates. Lou soon scored me a job at the hotel, working on the door in the nightclub a few nights a week. I was using the name Brenden Simmons. The only thing I enjoyed about that job was the women I met. One I was seeing had recently separated from her husband and he approached me at another nightclub that the staff from the North Beach would move on to after knocking off. He came up to me and said: ‘How are you going, Brenden?’ I didn’t have a clue who he was and asked how he knew my name. ‘From your name tag at work,’ he replied.
He said he knew about me fucking his ex-wife and left it at that. Being in jail and meeting blokes who had killed those who rooted their wives, I soon gave her a miss. This type of drama I could do without.
About four months after I left Nollamara CIB, I decided to head back to Perth. The plan was to make some big money and return to Wollongong and invest in a restaurant or the like with Lou, who would get a bank loan. I was to be the silent partner and put up the majority of the deposit.
With a plan for the future in mind, Brenden Abbott’s new life as a fugitive now had purpose. He set out for Perth, intent on arranging his own bank finance with a large withdrawal.