Bernie Matthews - 26 May 2006
"Reigning in Hell", screened on ABC Four Corners on May 22, revealed how the Aryan Brotherhood formed inside America’s San Quentin prison during the racially turbulent 1960s to protect white prisoners inside US prisons.
Over the next 40 years the prison gang emerged as a sophisticated criminal network, both inside and outside prison, dealing in drugs, extortion, robbery, murder, gambling and prostitution. Australia’s eagerness to follow American trends has also created similar prison gangs here that have been allowed to evolve under the cloak of secrecy that pervades most Australian prisons.
In Queensland s100 of The Corrective Services Act 2000 is explicit when it forbids media access to the state’s tax-payer-funded prison system.
Journalists who have been ensnared in the legislative censorship trap include former Courier-Mail journalist Ella Riggert, former Sunday Mail journalist Lou Robson, Channel Nine 9 reporter Margueritte Rossi and Sydney documentary-maker and former ABC Media Watch researcher, Anne Delaney. All were charged under the restrictive censorship legislation enshrined in the Queensland Corrective Services Act and unceremoniously hauled before Queensland courts for doing their job - enforcing the public’s right to know.
The exclusion of media access and lack of transparency has resulted in sanitised media releases from the Queensland Department of Corrective Services and its minister. Any information that could be regarded as politically sensitive is culled from those releases and the public never hears about it.
This situation has allowed Queensland’s prison system to secretly foster the emergence of a phenomenon I term "the prison serial killer". It is an emerging phenomenon I have watched and studied over the past nine years. And it is a phenomenon that portends dire consequences for society as a whole, on par with the evolution of the Aryan Brotherhood in America.
The evolution of the Queensland prison serial killer had its beginnings on March 24, 1993 when 29-year-old armed robber and prison enforcer, Bart Hans Vosmaer, was murdered inside the gym at the Sir David Longland Correctional Centre.
Rumours of Vasmaer’s impending demise had been circulating within the prison days before his murder. Those rumours compelled the SDL CC prison guard in charge of the gym to take sick leave on the day of the murder and inadvertently allow the murder to occur in an area where there should have been custodial supervision and presence. There was none on March 24, 1993 and the murder occurred free of any intervention by prison guards.
Vosmaer’s death spawned the "Angry Gang", a prison gang of young men who had graduated through Queensland’s juvenile institutions and banded together for self preservation within Queensland’s maximum security prisons.
Two members of the gang, Lee Garrett and Jason "Waxy" Nixon, pleaded guilty to Vosmaer’s murder and received life sentences. Garrett and Nixon were previously catapulted into public prominence in 1991 when they escaped with Harry McSweeney after crashing a garbage truck through the main gates at Boggo Road Jail. Nixon did a repeat performance in 1997 when he and three others escaped with Brenden Abbott from SDL CC. He was recaptured a short time later and was confined with the Maximum Security Unit at Woodford prison.
The Angry Gang multiplied and gradually took control of the drug, gambling and extortion rackets inside Queensland prisons. Young prisoners eager to enhance their prison reputations and cloak themselves with the prison gang’s protective mantle queued for membership. Among those were Mark Day and Andrew "Mugwah" Kranz. Both men had graduated through the Queensland juvenile justice system and were imprisoned for crimes of violence. They were the first of the Queensland prison serial killers.
Day earned admission to the gang with his 1994 conviction for the prison murder of Dung Van Nguyen at Mareeba CC. Nguyen was stabbed with a screwdriver and a pitchfork blade after he failed to pay nine packets of White Ox tobacco for a gambling debt.
In 1997, Day was convicted for unlawfully wounding another prisoner and the following year he was convicted of strangling 22-year-old Scott Topping at Woodford prison. Topping, imprisoned for $1,200 worth of unpaid traffic fines, had three weeks left to serve when Day raped and murdered him.
On October 8, 2003, Day was murdered by Jason "Waxy" Nixon inside the MSU at SDL CC. At the time of that prison murder a guard assigned to monitor the 24-hour CCTV surveillance cameras failed to alert other guards that a murder was occurring because he was reading a book and making personal phone calls. Another disturbing aspect of the Day murder emerged when it was reported that two staff from the Queensland State Ombudsman’s Office were leaving the MSU when they saw Day pinned to the ground by Nixon but they left without telling MSU guards. That uncaring attitude reinforces the restrictive legislation that prevents media access to Queensland prisons.
It was September 28, 1994 when 21-year-old David Smith begged prison guards to place him in protective custody because he feared for his life. Prison guards refused Smith’s request and then revealed his intentions to other prisoners. Smith’s body was found a short time later in his B5 cell with multiple stab wounds. For the next 10 years Smith’s murder remained unsolved.
On September 12, 1997 Michael James "Micky" Adams, 23, was found hanging in his B7 cell at SDL CC. There was no indication Adams had been contemplating suicide but prison authorities listed his death as suicide anyway.
Prison deaths fall into two categories - natural and unnatural death. An unnatural death can be defined as murder, suicide or drug overdose. All deaths by drug overdose and suicide by hanging remain questionable because prison murders can be staged to look like suicides or drug overdoses. The term "unnatural death" is more appropriate than the official version of suicide or drug overdose.
The "sleeper hold" which cuts off blood to the brain by exerting pressure on the carotid artery is a legacy that resulted from practices employed by guards to control unruly children in Queensland juvenile institutions.
The products of state-run juvenile institutions carried the practice into the adult prison system where it is now used as a weapon for murder - a technique employed to render victims helpless before they are strung up to give the appearance of suicide by hanging.
Andrew "Mugwah" Kranz was a product of the Queensland juvenile justice system where he, and others like him, became conversant with the qualities of the sleeper hold. Kranz was also one of the first prison serial killers released back into the community after completing his sentence without being detected for committing at least two prison murders. Another suspected prison serial killer, Wayne "Spider" Fyfe, was also released from prison but died from a heroin overdose shortly after his release.
Kranz was returned to prison for rape and kidnapping. In 2004 he stabbed two prison guards at Townsville prison in an effort to remain there and not be transferred to a Brisbane metropolitan prison, where he feared members of the Angry Gang would kill him after hearing he had raped one of their women.
Shortly after the Townsville stabbing Kranz confessed to the murder of Smith and Adams. In June 2005, Andrew "Mugwah" Kranz was sentenced to double life. Without Kranz’s confession, Adams’ death would have remained listed as suicide and Smith’s death would have remained unsolved.
It is a combination of the current legislation that restricts media access and transparency of the Queensland prison system, in conjunction with the capacity for prison murders to remain undetected, that has fostered the evolving phenomenon of the prison serial killer in Queensland.
The Queensland Department of Corrective Services and its minister have an ethical responsibility that is subverted by continuing cover-ups of unexplained deaths and unsolved prison murders.
If the Queensland prison system remains shrouded in secrecy and continues to produce serial killers like Day, Nixon, Kranz and Fyfe, then it also has the capacity to create many more who could remain undetected until they are back on the street. It is that capacity that makes society a far greater killing field than those killing fields already contained within the Queensland prison system.
About the Author Bernie Matthews
Bernie Matthews is a convicted bank robber and prison escapee who has served time for armed robbery and prison escapes in NSW (1969-1980) and Queensland (1996-2000).
During his periods of incarceration Bernie Matthews studied journalism and received scholarships to study as an external student at the University of Southern Queensland. His insider's account of Brenden Abbott's escape from Sir David Longlands Correctional Centre, "The Day Cassidy won the Cup" is published in Justice in the Deep North: A Historical Perspective of Crime and Punishment in Queensland." DNA and the Justice Game" was published in the 2004 winter edition of The Griffith Review-Making Perfect Bodies.
In the 2004 Queensland Media Awards Bernie Matthews won the 'Most Outstanding Journalism Student-All Media Award' with The Crime and Prison Movie Genre Showcase Only Rare True Success and backed up to win 'The Best Online/News Wire Report (Electronic Media)' for Abuse Within Prisons makes Prisoners More Violent Upon Release.