Robert Trimbole

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Robert Trimbole
Rtrembole.jpg
Born (1931-03-19)19 March 1931
Died 12 May 1987(1987-05-12) (aged 56)
Spain
Other names Michael Hanbury [1]

Robert Trimbole (19 March 1931 – 12 May 1987) was an Australian businessman, drug baron and organised crime boss whose alleged involvement in the disappearance of anti-marijuana campaigner Donald Mackay and involvement in drug trafficking in the Griffith, New South Wales area, led to a royal commission, a Coroner's inquest and an international chase by the Australian Government seeking his arrest and capture after his escape to Ireland.

Early life[edit]

Trimbole was born on 19 March 1931 to Italian parents who migrated from the southern Italian region of Calabria. In 1952, Trimbole married Joan Quested in Sydney then moved to his parents' house in Griffith, New South Wales. After several months Robert and Joan moved into their own rented property and raised their four children.[2]

He rented a nearby garage and operated his own panel beating and spray painting business before declaring himself bankrupt in 1968 with debts of A$11,000. Shortly after, his business was mysteriously destroyed by fire, and all records were lost.

The Godfather[edit]

After his bankruptcy, Trimbole travelled Australia repairing pinball machines and doing well financially. In 1972 he opened a restaurant called The Texas Tavern and a butcher shop. Many believed[who?] these businesses operated as a front for illegal marijuana distribution and other varieties of organised crime. He sold both businesses to an associate, Giuseppe Sergi in 1973. By this stage Trimbole's wealth had grown substantially and he was able to discharge his earlier bankruptcy.

Now living in a luxurious house with a swimming pool in a nicer part of town, Trimbole had built an empire valued at over A$2 million and a reputation as a major drug baron. Many locals referred to his house as the "Grass Castle", a reference to Trimbole's rise to power in the illegal marijuana trade.

Trimbole invested in many luxury items and businesses, including farms, cars, speedboats, several clothing stores, a liquor store and a wholesale wine business. He later added a trucking company and a supermarket. He also purchased land to further his marijuana growing capacity. Trimbole seemed to go about his illegal activities virtually unchallenged.

He soon became the principal of the Australian drug trade based in New South Wales, and earned the nickname "The Godfather", a reference to his leadership qualities and Italian background. He also went by the nickname "Aussie Bob", a term given to him by his New Zealand associates in the Mr. Asia syndicate.

Disappearance of Donald Mackay[edit]

Donald Bruce Mackay was a local politician, and anti-drugs campaigner. He was born and raised in Griffith, New South Wales, and operated his family's furniture business. Described as being very community minded, Mackay was an Australian Liberal Party candidate from 1973 to 1976, but failed to win a seat in parliament.

Concerned about the growing drug trade in his local area, and learning of a large crop of marijuana in nearby Coleambally, New South Wales, Mackay told Sydney police of the information he had obtained regarding the crop, which resulted in several arrests, and four men of Italian descent being convicted on Mackay's information.

Unfortunately for Mackay, at the trial of the men arrested, his name was read out during evidence, identifying him as the whistleblower. An attempt was made to lure Mackay to Jerilderie by an unidentified man who wished to make a large order of furniture from Mackay's family business. Mackay, busy at the time of the planned meeting with other matters, sent an employee, who travelled to Jerilderie to find nobody about.

On 15 July 1977, Mackay disappeared from the Griffith Hotel car park after having drinks with friends, and his body has never been found. At the scene of Mackay's disappearance, his locked van had bloodstains on the door, wheel rim, mudguard and tyre and Mackay's car keys and three spent .22 casings were found at the scene. Trimbole is believed to have arranged the contract style killing of Mackay.[3]

Woodward Royal Commission[edit]

The disappearance of Mackay prompted a royal commission into the Griffith drug trade, known as the Woodward Royal Commission after its sole Commissioner, the Honorable Philip Morgan Woodward.[4]

After several months, the Commission reduced the suspect list to six people including:

  • Robert Trimbole
  • James Frederick Bazley
  • George Joseph
  • Gianfranco Tizzone
  • and two known associates of Trimbole.

Justice Woodward says in the official transcript, "I have named Trimbole as being associated with the production of marijuana in Griffith as well as being the director of an operation in Euston. He is, if not the 'top man' in relation to the production of marijuana in the Griffith area, then one of them and closely associated with Antonio Sergi in the same enterprise."

Woodward found regarding the disappearance of Mackay that "the disposal of Mackay was the result of an organised plan. He was disposed of by the organisation which I find existed in Griffith. I am satisfied that the appointment to meet Mackay at Jerilderie was part of a plan to ambush and dispose of him." A year later the New South Wales Supreme Court officially declared Donald Mackay as "presumed deceased".

No further action was taken. Trimbole and his associates were free to return to business as usual.[citation needed]

Coroner's inquest[edit]

Seven years after the Woodward Royal Commission, political and media pressure called for an inquest into Mackay's death, which was eventually held before Coroner Bruce Brown.

The inquest also heard evidence showing that lights in the car park had been broken before the meeting time set with Mackay, indicating a premeditated act to ambush him, and that Mackay feared for his life after learning that the crop leading to the convictions of the four men had an estimated street value of more than A$25 million.

Evidence was also submitted regarding a man by the name of Patrick Joseph Keenan who made a statement to police that he had walked into a shed in the Griffth area and found Antonio Sergi inside with several women packing large quantities of marijuana into plastic bags.

Forensic evidence supported the crown's case, including ballistic evidence showing that the three .22 cases found at the scene had been fired from the same weapon, a French "Unique" brand hand gun. Blood and hair samples were also recovered from the scene and matched to Mackay.

Coroner Brown said, "The evidence has now reached the point where I am of the opinion that a prima facie case of murder, in that each was an accessory before or after the fact, has been established against two known persons whose identity I must not publicly reveal in accordance with the prohibition under section 19 of the Coroners Act."

Escape and capture[edit]

On 5 May 1981, police recorded a conversation between Trimbole and an associate, Dr Nick Paltos, about his pending arrest for conspiracy to murder Mackay.

Trimbole fled to the United States, then to France and finally to Ireland, avoiding Customs checks by changing his date of birth on a Departure Card.

A month later Trimbole was arrested in Ireland and held in custody awaiting extradition but, aided by a battery of high priced lawyers, managed to avoid extradition after the Irish Government refused to extradite him to Australia and he was released.

The Australian government appealed against the decision of the Irish court, but Trimbole regained his freedom.

Australian Federal Police intercepted phone conversations of Paltos discussing the failed extradition attempt of Trimbole and made mention of the large amounts of money that Trimbole had spent on his defence, explaining that efforts to extradite Trimbole failed largely due to the efforts of Irish constitutional lawyer Patrick MacEntee, who had become famous for defending IRA members.

Trimbole escaped Ireland to Spain, where he died in a Spanish hospital on 12 May 1987, at the age of 56. His body was returned to Australia and his funeral was held in Sydney, where mourners and journalists brawled and made news headlines around the country on the evening news. He was buried at the Pine Grove Lawn Cemetery at Minchinbury, New South Wales, Sydney on 25 May 1987.

Underbelly: A Tale Of Two Cities[edit]

Trimbole is a central character in the drama series Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities, a mini-series on the Nine Network. He is portrayed by actor Roy Billing.[5]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Cleary, Catherine (2002-03-10). "'Unconvincing' garda heading Omagh perjury investigation". Sunday Tribune. Retrieved 2009-02-11. 
  2. ^ Moor, Keith (2009). Crims in Grass Castles: The True Story of Trimbole, Mr Asia and the Disappearance of Donald Mackay. Australia: Viking Press. ISBN 978-0-670-07381-8. 
  3. ^ Bottom, Shadow of Shame, p. 46
  4. ^ Woodward, Philip Morgan (1980). "Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking (Woodward Royal Commission)". Agency detail - search. New South Wales Government. Retrieved 2010-12-29. 
  5. ^ "New Underbelly focuses on drug lords Robert Trimbole and Terry Clark". Courier-Mail (News Limited). 2008-10-16. Retrieved 2009-02-19.