Mark "Chopper" Read

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Mark "Chopper" Read
Born Mark Brandon Read
(1954-11-17)17 November 1954
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died 9 October 2013(2013-10-09) (aged 58)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Cause of death
Liver cancer
Other names Chopper Read
Occupation Criminal, rapper, author
Spouse(s)
  • Mary-Ann Hodge (m. 1995; div. 2001)
  • Margaret Cassar (m. 2003)
Children Charlie
Roy Brandon
Conviction(s) Armed robbery
Assault
Kidnapping

Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read (17 November 1954 – 9 October 2013) was an Australian criminal and author. Read wrote a series of semi-autobiographical and fictional crime novels. The 2000 film Chopper is based on his life.

Early life[edit]

Read was born on 17 November 1954 to a former army father and a mother who was a devout Seventh-day Adventist. He was placed in a children's home for the first 5 years of his life. He grew up in the Melbourne suburbs of Collingwood, Thomastown, Fitzroy and Preston. He was bullied at school, claiming that by the age of 15, he had been on the "losing end of several hundred fights"[citation needed] and that his father, usually on his mother's recommendation, beat him often as a child. Read was made a ward of the state by the age of 14 and was placed in several mental institutions as a teenager, where, he later claimed, he was subjected to electroshock therapy.

Criminal activity[edit]

When he was still young, Read was already an accomplished street fighter and the leader of the Surrey Road gang. He began his criminal career by robbing drug dealers, based in massage parlours in the Prahran area. He later graduated to kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld, often using a blowtorch or bolt cutters to remove the toes of his victims as an incentive for them to produce enough money so that Read would leave them alive.[1]

Read spent only 13 months outside prison between the ages of 20 and 38, having been convicted of crimes including armed robbery, firearm offences, assault, arson, impersonating a police officer and kidnapping.[2] While in Pentridge Prison's H division in the late 1970s, Read launched a prison war. His gang, dubbed "The Overcoat Gang" because they wore long coats all year round to conceal their weapons, were involved in several hundred acts of violence against a larger opposing gang during this period. Around this time, Read had a fellow inmate cut both of his (Read's) ears off in order to be able to leave H division temporarily. While in his early biographies Read claimed this was to avoid an ambush by other inmates, by being transferred to the mental health wing, his later works state that he did so to "win a bet".[citation needed] The nickname "Chopper" was given to him long before this, from a childhood cartoon character.[citation needed]

Read was ambushed and stabbed by members of his own gang in a sneak attack when they felt that his plan to cripple every other inmate in the entire division and win the gang war in one fell swoop was going too far. Another theory is that James "Jimmy" Loughnan, a longtime friend of Read, with Patrick "Blue" Barnes, wished to benefit from a contract put on Read's head by the Painters' and Dockers' Union. Read lost several feet of intestine in the attack.[3] At the time Read was serving a 16 and a half-year sentence after attacking a judge in an effort to get Loughnan released from prison.[4] Loughnan would later die in the Jika Jika fire at Pentridge in 1987.[5]

In 1992, Read was convicted of shooting Sydney Michael Edward Collins in the chest. The incident took place in Read's car, which was in the driveway of Collins's residence at Evandale, Tasmania. The bullet was recovered from the backseat of the vehicle, and Collins named Read as the shooter. Pleading not guilty, Read was found guilty of grievous bodily harm, a downgraded charge from attempted murder, and sentenced as a "dangerous criminal" to indefinite detention. He walked free early in 1998. In 2002, Read was again questioned over the disappearance of Sydney Collins, who is still on the Australian Missing Person list after going missing under suspicious circumstances. Read admitted to murdering Collins in his last broadcast interview before death on the Australian 60 Minutes program aired on 20 October 2013. Read rejected any sense of remorse for killing Collins alleging he was "stupid" for being shot by Read on two separate occasions with Collins's own gun.

Read claimed to be involved in the killing of 19 people and the attempted murder of 11 others. In an April 2013 interview with the New York Times, Read said "Look, honestly, I haven't killed that many people, probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it."[6]

Read also spoke of his mid-1980s to early 1990s rivalry with Alphonse Gangitano in the TV series Tough Nuts. Read explained that he had a disagreement with Gangitano regarding an elderly neighbourhood hero whom Gangitano admired. It is alleged[by whom?] that Gangitano burst open the toilet cubicle door[where?] with a number of associates and began a serious assault on Read who made his escape but not before spreading his faeces into Gangitano's face.[7]

Other activities[edit]

In 2001, Read was featured in an advertisement on behalf of the Pedestrian Council of Australia warning of the dangers of drunk driving. Read is seated at a kitchen table undoing his shirt and, while pointing to the numerous scars and injuries on his body, says:

In 2005, Read embarked on a tour of Australia performing a series of shows titled I'm Innocent with Mark "Jacko" Jackson[8] and later toured Sydney in a stage show with a new co-star, former detective Roger "The Dodger" Rogerson.

In 2006, Read appeared in another commercial speaking out against domestic violence. On 13 March 2006, he released a rap album titled Interview with a Madman. He also appeared in the 2002 Australian comedy Trojan Warrior.

Read allowed use of his name to a beer called "Chopper Heavy". The beer is produced in Rutherglen, Victoria, a town associated with Australia's most notorious outlaw, Ned Kelly.

He made the headlines again, on 15 December 2008, after being questioned by police about an alleged incident in Johnson Street, Collingwood. Read was attacked by a tomahawk-wielding man he said he had never met before. He said: "I ran to the panelbeaters and grabbed a pipe. I said, 'Come here now' and he jumped into a car and pissed off."[9] Read suffered a minor injury to his arm after being hit with the blunt end of the tomahawk. Read was questioned by detectives at Richmond police station before being released without charge. His alleged attacker has not been found.

Author[edit]

Read was an author of crime novels, selling more than 500,000 copies of his works.[citation needed] In recent years, he made recordings of voice narratives, which have also sold well.

Read's first book, Chopper: From the Inside, was collected from letters he sent while incarcerated in Melbourne's Pentridge Prison and published in 1991. It contains tales and anecdotes of his criminal and prison exploits. Further biographical releases followed in a similar vein. With the advent of Chopper 5: Pulp Faction, Read began writing fictional tales based on his experiences of criminal life. Attempts were made to ban a children's book written by Read titled Hooky the Cripple.

Public commentary and political views[edit]

Read frequently appeared on radio and television talk shows to promote his books. He had a column in Ralph magazine[citation needed], was regular columnist for the British magazine FHM, and Zoo Weekly.[citation needed]

Read's success in selling tales of his criminal past has prompted widespread calls to amend the Federal Proceeds of Crime Bill (2001)—which confiscates the proceeds of drug deals and robberies—to also apply to indirect proceeds of crime, including book sales, TV appearances, and the like.[citation needed]

Read described his political beliefs as "to the right of Genghis Khan".[citation needed] In his book Chopper 2, he lists Bruce Ruxton and American conservative G. Gordon Liddy as his political heroes.

Cultural references[edit]

A fictionalised version of Read was featured in several sketches on The Ronnie Johns Half Hour. In some of these sketches, such as "Harden The Fuck Up!", Read was portrayed by Heath Franklin. Read said that although the parody was not totally accurate, he found it funny.[10]

Science fiction author William Gibson based a character (Keith Blackwell) in the final two books of his Bridge trilogy on Read. In the second book of the trilogy, Idoru, Gibson wrote in his acknowledgments:

Jim G. Thirlwell, in his 1995 Foetus release, Gash, wrote and performed a song titled "Steal Your Life Away" which included a somewhat Read-like persona and several quotes from Read's first book, including "I'm a garbage disposal expert", "You've got to stand at the edge of the grave for the rest of your life", "Me and my mental health don't agree most times" and "Why ask why?".

Film[edit]

The 2000 film Chopper, starring Eric Bana as Read, was based on stories from Read's books and independent research, leading to events portrayed on screen that somewhat contradicted Read's version. For instance, Read claimed in early books to be vehemently against drugs, but the film portrays him as a casual drug user. In response, Read stated, "You have to have tried something to be able to say you hate it."[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Read married Australian Taxation Office employee Mary-Ann Hodge in 1995 while imprisoned in Risdon Prison in Tasmania for the shooting of Sidney Collins. The couple had one son, Charlie. They divorced in 2001.[12] On 19 January 2003, he married long-time friend Margaret Cassar. They had one son, Roy Brandon.[12]

Health issues and death[edit]

Read contracted hepatitis C during his time in prison, possibly contracted by using a blood-stained shaver.[13] In March 2008 he revealed he only had two to five years to live and required a liver transplant. However, he refused to agree to the procedure, stating that while a transplant would save him, he did not want one when an organ could be provided to someone else.[14]

In April 2012, Read was diagnosed with liver cancer.[15] He underwent surgery in July 2012 to remove tumours from his liver[16] and in late September 2013 he was admitted to Melbourne Private Hospital in failing health.[17]

Read died of the illness on 9 October 2013, aged 58, in Parkville, Victoria.[18][19][20]

Bibliography[edit]

Discography[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chopper[dead link]
  2. ^ Mark 'Chopper' Read not sorry – or afraid to die of cancer
  3. ^ Mark 'Chopper' Read obituary Australian criminal and author whose autobiography was turned into a hit film Garth Cartwright theguardian.com 9 October 2013 03.42 EDT http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/09/mark-chopper-read-obituary
  4. ^ Silvester, John (3 October 2013). "'Posh people love gangsters'". The Age (Melbourne). Retrieved 2 October 2013. 
  5. ^ http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/law-order/five-die-in-jika-jika-pentridge-prison-fire-of-1987/story-fnat7jnn-1226345772404
  6. ^ Siegel, Matt (12 April 2013). "Australia's Brand Name for Ferocity, Softened by Time". The New York Times. 
  7. ^ http://www.chopperread.com/interview.htm
  8. ^ News and Gossip
  9. ^ Chopper Read in 'tomahawk' street fight attack
  10. ^ Video on YouTube
  11. ^ Gibson, W. (1997). Idoru. United Kingdom: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-14-024107-5. 
  12. ^ a b "The life, times and crimes of notorious celebrity crook Mark 'Chopper' Read". Herald Sun. 10 October 2013. Retrieved 12 October 2013. 
  13. ^ "Chopper Read reveals he has cancer". The Sydney Morning Herald. 26 April 2012. 
  14. ^ "Dying 'Chopper' refuses transplant". Sunday Mail (SA). 14 June 2008. 
  15. ^ Lowe, Adrian (27 April 2012). "Cancer-stricken Chopper 'has weeks to live'". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  16. ^ "Hepatitis like a prison accessory, says Mark Read". The Australian. 28 August 2012. 
  17. ^ Carey, Adam (September 30, 2013). "Mark 'Chopper' Read admitted to hospital". The Age (Melbourne). 
  18. ^ "Chopper Read crime figure and author dead from liver cancer aged 58", The Age website, 9 October 2013.
  19. ^ "Chopper Read dies", ABC website, 9 October 2013.
  20. ^ "Mark 'Chopper' Read dead", ninemsn website, 9 October 2013.
  21. ^ Books
  22. ^ Books

External links[edit]