Art for Whisky a go go
Art for Whisky a go go

Notorious murderer’s grilling over Whiskey Au Go Go fire

Convicted murderer Vince O'Dempsey will be a key witness at the new inquest into the 1973 firebombing of the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub, which killed 15 people.

State Coroner Terry Ryan will be able to compel O'Dempsey to answer questions at the inquest, which is to start in late June and run for two weeks.

The inquest into the fatal Fortitude Valley firebombing was ordered by former attorney-general Yvette D'Ath in 2017, soon after O'Dempsey's sentence for murder.

O'Dempsey was jailed for life for the 1974 murders of Highgate Hill mother Barbara McCulkin and her daughters, Vicki, 13, and Leanne, 11.

 

Vince O'Dempsey was convicted in 2017 of the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters. Picture: AAP Image/Richard Gosling
Vince O'Dempsey was convicted in 2017 of the 1974 murders of Barbara McCulkin and her two daughters. Picture: AAP Image/Richard Gosling

 

It was suggested at the trial that O'Dempsey might have been motivated to kill Mrs McCulkin over fears she would try to implicate him in the Whiskey firebombing.

As he was being sentenced for the McCulkin murders, O'Dempsey told the court he had no knowledge or involvement in the Whiskey Au Go Go murders.

But trial Justice Peter Applegarth told O'Dempsey there was highly prejudicial evidence, excluded from the McCulkin trial, that allegedly linked him to the Whiskey nightclub firebombing.

O'Dempsey will have to attend the June inquest and can be compelled to give evidence, even if it may incriminate him.

Fifteen people were killed when the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub was firebombed in 1973. Picture: File Photo
Fifteen people were killed when the Whiskey Au Go Go nightclub was firebombed in 1973. Picture: File Photo

Fifteen people died after the nightclub was firebombed, in the early hours of March 8, 1973, with two drums of petrol thrown into the foyer and set alight.

At the time it was the worst mass killing in Australian history.

In 1973, John Andrew Stuart and James Richard Finch were convicted of murder over the Whiskey Au Go Go crime, but there were rumours that other criminals may have been involved.

Ms D'Ath made her announcement about a new inquest the day after O'Dempsey's sentence to life for the McCulkin murders, saying she hoped witnesses would "now'' be willing to come forward.

"There is no doubt there is significant public interest in getting answers,'' Ms D'Ath said at the time.

"Given recent events, witnesses who have previously not been willing to come forward might now be willing to provide new information that will give us those answers.

"I had been awaiting the outcome of recent court proceedings and will now write to the State Coroner instructing him to hold an inquest into the Whiskey Au Go Go case.''

John Andrew Stuart. Picture: File Photo
John Andrew Stuart. Picture: File Photo

An initial coronial inquest into the firebombing fatalities lasted less than two days, before Stuart and Finch were arrested.

They pleaded not guilty but were convicted of the murder of one of the 15 people killed, and sentenced to life imprisonment.

James Finch. Picture: File Photo
James Finch. Picture: File Photo

Stuart died in 1979 and Finch was deported to England in 1988.

A pre-inquest hearing will be held on April 29 and 30, when the full list of witnesses, issues to be investigated and findings required will be announced.

The inquest is likely to consider whether Finch and Stuart were the only parties who contributed to the Whiskey Au Go Go deaths and whether there were any others involved.

Originally published as Notorious murderer's grilling over Whiskey Au Go Go fire bombing


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