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The Mystery of Donald Mackay

Updated on October 4, 2015

Plati, Calabria

Griffith - Once Known As The "Pot" Capital Of Australia

The town of Griffith, located in southern New South Wales lays in the centre of the very prosperous Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, making it very productive in agriculture.

Griffith has a very large Italian community. Most of them can trace their family roots to the mountain town of Plati, Calabria, Italy. The heartland of the Mafia.

While the majority of Italians living in Griffith were honest, hard working, law-abiding citizens, working on creating new and prosperous lives for their families, there were those who maintained their Mafia connections.

Throughout the 1970s some of these "Mafia connected" families were enjoying tremendous wealth from the growth of huge marijuana plantations, concealed throughout Griffith, earning it the title of "Pot Capital of Australia". That is until one man, Dolald Mackay, decided to campaign to rid the town of drugs, therefore going up against members of the "The Honored Society " and putting a target on his back.

Donald Mackay

Who was Donald Mackay?

Donald Mackay was born in Griffith in 1933. In 1943, he moved to Sydney with his family and continued his education. Once he left school, he worked for various furniture companies, studied accounting and completed national-service training. He returned to Griffith in 1955 and set about helping his brother run their family's business. He married in 1957 and the couple had four children.

Mr Mackay was involved in various church and local organisations, such as the Apex Club of Griffith. He stood as a Liberal Party state candidate for the seat of Murrumbidgee in 1973 and 1976, as well as the 1974 Federal Election for the seat of Riverina, these attempts to enter politics were unsuccessful.

Donald Mackay's Campagine Photo

Donald Mackay - Anti-Drugs Campaigner

It was during his campaigning he became aware of the drug problem in Griffith and was quite concerned about the effects of marijuana on the younger members of the community, as well the criminal aspects and evidence of corruption within the Griffith police.

He and his wife wrote letters to the Area News in June 1974, February 1975 and finally in March 1977, questioning the lenient sentences being handed down to marijuana growers from the area. He also began to pass on information to the Drug Squad in Sydney, as he no longer trusted the police in Griffith. This information led to a raid on the single largest marijuana crop to be discovered in Australia at that time, it is estimated that several millions of dollars worth of marijuana was seized.

When the case was finally heard in court in March 1977, Donald Mackay was named as the key informant.

Griffith to Jerilderie

Jerilderie, New South Wales

Jerilderie's Main Street

Similar Car to Donald Mackay's

Similar car to "Mr Adams's"

A Pervious Assassination Attempt

In the days leading up to July 15th 1977, Mr Mackay received a phone call from a man identifying himself as "Ray Adams". He told Mr Mackay his wished to purchase a large amount of furniture and floor coverings for the Mackay's family run business. He asked if Mr Mackay would be able to meet him in the nearby town of Jerilderie.

Mr Mackay agreed to the meeting, but as he was busy with other business, he asked another salesperson, Bruce Pursehouse, to go instead. Mr Pursehouse agreed and decided to take his father-in-law along for the drive.

Driving Mr Mackay's gold coloured Ford sedan, the two men arrived in Jerilderie. They were to meet "Mr Adams" in front of the Flag Inn Motel, which was located beside the towns post office.

While they waited in the car, Mr Pursehouse noticed a car parked on the opposite side of the road.

"I actually turned the rear vision mirror so I could sit there and look at him" Mr Pursehouse recalled during the royal commission (Crime investigation Australia, Volume 1, page 212)

After some time, the car Mr Pursehouse had been watching, a white Flacon, parked a couple of spaces away from Mr Pursehouse.

Mr Pursehouse recalled "After a period of time, this chap actually got out of the car and went into the post office with a big manila envelope. He was really dressed up in a blue suit with brown pinstripes, really oiled down, greasy hair. He then stood on the front steps and he was looking around, looking at us, and we were looking at him. Then he went back to his car and sat in it for a couple of minutes, and then backed out and headed off towards Griffith." (Crime Investigation Australia, Volume 1, page 212)

Upon returning to Griffith, Me Pursehouse informed Mr Mackay of the incident, but Mr Mackay dismissed it as a hoax.

The Griffith Hotel

The Griffith Hotel Car Park

Police Rope Off Donald Mackay's Minivan

Police Divers Search For Donald Mackay

July 15th, 1977

Friday July 15th, 1977, started out like any other day for Donald Mackay and he went out to lunch with his wife and two sons.

He had arranged to be home by 7pm, as his wife was going out of the evening. Later that afternoon, at around 5:30pm, he phoned his wife to tell her he was finishing work for the day and was on his way home. He mentioned he was planning on stopping by the Hotel Griffith on the way to have a couple of drinks with some friends, but again reassured her he would be home by 7pm.

At about 6:30pm Mr Mackay walked through to the hotel bottle shop and purchased a bottle of wine, the was then seen heading across the dark car park to his minivan.

As there were no witnesses, what happened as he arrived to his minivan can only be surmised. It is believed that Mr Mackay was shot from behind with a .22 calibre gun, as 3 spent .22 cartridges were found at the scene. There was also blood stains found on his van and on the ground, this blood was confirmed as matching Mr Mackay's blood type, along with his car keys, which he dropped, as they were found underneath the van.

He was then dragged a short distance and put into a waiting car, as there was drag marks and hair found nearby. He was then left in an unknown location.

Conveniently, all of the men who would be named as suspects had alibis. Two of the suspects were even out drinking with several members of the Griffith police.

Worst Fears Realised

When 7pm came and went, Mrs Mackay became concerned as Mr Mackay was always reliable. She phoned friend and solicitor Ian Salmon. Mrs Mackay was under no illusion as to what could have happen. Mr Salmon decided to take a drive around Griffith to look for Mr Mackay.

Around midnight, the Mackay's oldest son, Paul, arrived home from a night out. Upon discovering his father had not arrived home or phoned, Paul and a couple of his friends also began to look for him. They returned a short time later, unable to find him. It was at this time, Mrs Mackay phoned the police.

At around 1am, Mr Salmon arrived at the Griffith Hotel car park and found Mr Mackay's abandoned minivan. "I saw shocking evidence of blood and I also saw the imprint of his right hand on the glass; it was a freezing night and the cold had etched his handprint." (Ian Salmon, Crime Investigation Australia, volume 1, page 214)

Police Look At The Search Map

One Theroy - Part 1

The Investigation

News of Donald Mackay's murder began to circulate the next morning and people associated with the growth and distribution of marijuana quickly and publicly announced their alibis.

Detective Sergeant Joe Parrington and Detective Rick Campbell arrived from Sydney to take charge of the case. From early on it was obvious that there would be several lines of inquiry that would have to be followed. To help investigate the drug aspect, drug squad detectives were brought in and to help investigate the financial aspect, detectives from the fraud squad were brought in.

Right from the beginning the investigation was hampered, as the dectectives tried to interview the community, they found none of the Italian community would speak to them, they would say they couldn't speak English, this was the "Code of Silence" at work.

There was however, one possible witness. An accountant named Roy Binks, who was working late in the building across the road from the hotel car park.

"I heard groans, a person vomiting, probably a couple of times, and I also heard what I thought were a couple of short, sharp cracks and that was it; it was finished" (Roy Binks, Crime Investigation Australia, Volume 1, page 213)

Despite the obvious evidence that Mr Mackay had been murdered, posters that were being distributed were headed MISSING.

"Whilst ever an individual is missing, and it is declared they have only 'disappeared' we don't have a body so we can't prove death, beyond all reasonable doubt, at that point in time."(Detective Rick Campbell, Crime Investigation Australia, Volume 1, page 215)

Robert Trimbolli

One Theroy - Part 2

The Woodward Royal Commission

After three weeks, the national media made allegations about the Griffith police. These allegations shocked the public and embarrassed the New South Wales Government. The then New South Wales Premier Neville Wran ordered a full-scale Royal Commission into drug trafficking in New South Wales. The Honourable Phillip Woodward was appointed sole commissioner. He was appointed to enquire into and report on;

1. The cultivation, production, manufacture, distribution, supply, possession and use of:

(a) drugs that are, for the time being drugs of addiction or prohibited drugs within the meaning of the Poisons Act, 1966; and

(b) other drugs (other than tobacco or alcohol) that are drugs of dependence or of dependence potential

2. the identity of persons involved in:

(a) the cultivation, production, manufacture, distribution or supply, where contrary to the laws of the State, of drugs of the kind referred to in paragraph 1, or in the possession or use by others, when contrary to those laws, of those drugs; or illegal or improper activities in connection with the matters referred to in subparagraph (a); and

3. whether, in the light of the findings of the Commission on the above matters, changes are desirable in:

(a) the manner in which the laws of the State relating to the cultivation, production, manufacture, distribution, supply, possession and use of drugs of the kinds referred to in paragraph 1 are administered by the authorities of the State, whether acting alone or in co-operation with the authorities of other States or the Commonwealth; or

(b) those laws referred to in subparagraph (a)

(Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking,

The commission was originally to run over a period of six months, but was extended twice, commencing in August 1977 and concluding with the final report submitted to the Governor in October 1979.

There were 565 witnesses called and 1000 summonses issued for either the production of documents or for the attendance of witnesses.

The Royal Commissioner studied, examined and reported on the following drugs;

  • Cannabis
  • Narcotics
  • Heroin
  • Amphetamines
  • Cocaine
  • Hallucinogens

For each drug the commissioner reported on

  • The nature
  • History
  • Use
  • Reported seizures
  • The nature of the trade

In addition, the commissioner also studied seizures that had occurred in various areas of the state, the locations included;

  • The Riverina
  • Colleambally
  • Euston
  • Wollongong
  • Sutherland
  • St George
  • Byron Bay

He also reported on the treatment of drug offenders and the current ? for dealing with drug offenses.

The report concluded with 89 recommendations in the general areas of;

  • statutory, legal administration and law enforcement reforms
  • identification of drug users
  • promotion of programs to discourage drug use
  • information sharing amongst various agencies concerned with drug trade
  • co-operation with other Australian jurisdictions, as well as, other countries and international agencies in obtaining information about and dealing with the drug problem
  • Improved treatment of drug addicts.

The report also concluded the following in relation to the murder of Donald Mackay;

  • The secret Calabrian criminal society known as the "Honoured Society" operated a lucrative marijuana-growing operation and was responsible for the murder of Donald Mackay.

The following people were named as being "influential members of the Society" as well as being involved in the murder of Donald Mackay;

  • Antonio Sergi Sr
  • Antonio Sergi Jr
  • Domenic Sergi
  • Francesco Sergi
  • Francesco Barbaro
  • Robert Trimbole
  • James Bazley
  • George Joseph
  • Gianfranco Tizzone
  • and two known associates of Robert Trimbole

The only action taken as a result of the Woodward Commission was the eventual re-trial of Francesco Sergi for his part in the Coleambally plantation.

Antonio Sergi Sr has always denied any knowledge or personal conection with the Honoured Society.

The Coronial Inquest

In 1984, a coronial inquest into the disappearance and suspected murder of Donald Mackay began in Griffith.

The inquest determined that on July 15th, 1977, Donald Mackay was most likely murdered by gunshot wounds inflicted by person or persons unknown and his body taken to an unknown location.

Underbelly - A Tale of Two Cities

Underbelly - A Tale of Two Cities began in February 2009, and is based on events between 1976 and 1987, involving the Mr Asia drug syndicate, which Robert Trimbole was a part of and includes the investigation into Donald Mackay throughout the series.

New Hope - June 2013

New Hope or False Hope

In June, 2013 police received information as to the possible location of Donald Mackay's remains. Investigators headed to a farm located 150km away from where Donald Mackay was last seen.

After two weeks of searching and excavating the 50 by 30 metre area of farmland, police determined that there were no remains to be found at that location.

Exactly what happened to Donald Mackay, who was involved and where his remains are located, remains a mystery.

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