November 17, 2003: Williams is arrested in Port Melbourne. Photo: Angela WylieCARL Williams had it coming. When he survived being shot in the belly in a confrontation with the Moran brothers in 1999 he began a chain of violence that ended with his own death yesterday.
Few will genuinely mourn Williams, but the manner and timing of his death poses questions about the administration of justice and the prison system.
That Williams was killed in one of Australia’s most secure prisons – the Acacia unit of Barwon Prison – suggests no one inside is safe if the stakes are high enough.
The best gloss that can be put on Williams’s death is that it was merely an opportunist act of violence by dangerous fellow prisoners.
A more sinister possibility is that Williams died because others believed he had promised to reveal information about an underworld murder: a suggestion underlined by a front-page newspaper story yesterday revealing that police had effectively rewarded Williams for reasons that could not be specified for ”legal reasons”.
Regardless of whether Williams’s death was the result of a conspiracy or was just a random prison brawl, a man accused of a notorious underworld murder will be relieved today because a potential witness against him has been silenced forever. That ugly fact will ensure that investigators will be raking over Williams’s death for some time.
In the sense that Williams started the vendetta that became the gangland war, his death provides a fitting end to it.
AUSTRALIA’S bloodiest underworld war began in a dusty park in the western suburb of Gladstone Park on October 13, 1999 – Carl Williams’s 29th birthday.
Williams was unknown outside his own circles then. But the former supermarket shelf stacker had ambitions, which was why he was meeting half brothers Jason and Mark Moran.
The Morans, by contrast, were third-generation Melbourne crooks, well known on the waterfront, at the abattoirs and on the racetrack, and had reputations as gunmen, drug dealers and knucklemen.
They had arranged to meet Williams to discuss mutual business interests: the selling of amphetamines. Like Williams, they liked to talk in parks and public places to avoid ambushes or police listening devices.
The Williams and Moran families were sometimes associates but never close. They co-operated when it suited but mostly competed for a piece of the lucrative illegal pill market.
Business was booming but trouble was brewing. At first over a domestic matter: Williams’s wife, Roberta, had previously been married to Dean Stephens, a friend of the Morans, and there was lingering ill-will over the broken relationship.
The next was competition: Williams was selling his pills for $8, compared with the Morans’ $15.
Also, Williams had supplied the Morans with a load of pills that crumbled because he had not used enough binding material.
Then there was greed: the Morans claimed ownership of a pill press and said Williams owed them $400,000. Williams disagreed.
The Morans often used violence to get their way, but Williams was unlikely to have sensed danger. The mid-week meeting was to be held in daylight in the open – hardly ideal for pulling a double-cross. But soon after they arrived, Jason Moran pulled a .22 pistol. A woman living nearby heard a male voice yell, ”No, Jason!” and then a shot.
Police later learnt that Mark Moran urged his brother to kill Williams, but Jason had said they needed Williams alive if they were ever to get their money. That hasty decision to shoot – but not to kill him – would destroy the Moran clan and most of its supporters.
If they had killed Williams, he would have been just another dead drug dealer and the case would probably have been unsolved. Instead, the wounded Williams became determined to exterminate every real or imagined rival.
Back then, Williams refused to co-operate with police. He had started life in Richmond and prided himself on ”old-school” rules against informing. When detectives interviewed him in hospital, he claimed he had felt a pain in his stomach as he was walking, and only then realised he had been shot. Roberta Williams gave more away in a later conversation, but denied the shooting was drug-related. ”Mark was yelling, ‘Shoot him in the head,’ and Jason then shot him in the stomach,” she said.
If the Morans thought shooting Williams would frighten him, they were wrong. He began planning his revenge, setting off an underworld war that would catch police, the legal system and politicians unprepared.
Williams, with his plump, pleasant face, did not look like a crime boss who would order a death with a phone call. He flew under the police radar for months. By the time they realised who and what he was, he had become the most dangerous gangster in Australia.
He was ruthless, cashed-up and had recruited reckless young men fuelled by big money and illegal chemicals. They went from underworld try-hards to big players in a matter of months. At one point Williams’s drug business turned over $100,000 a month.
As his reputation and power grew he began to refer to himself as ”The Premier” because, he joked, ”I run this f—ing state.” To detectives, he was just ”The Fatboy”. Police say Williams was linked to 10 murders and would have kept killing if he had not been jailed.
CARL Williams’s rise from middling drug dealer to heavyweight killer should never have happened. His plans for revenge and control of a big drug syndicate should have collapsed when he was arrested in slapstick circumstances six weeks after the Morans shot him in 1999.
For Broadmeadows police, it began as a low-level fraud investigation and ended as a $20 million drug bust. On the morning of November 25, 1999, police arrived at a Housing Commission house in Fir Close, Broadmeadows, to serve warrants over a credit card scam, but no one was home. Later that day, Detective Sergeant Andrew Balsillie was passing, and noticed two cars at the house.
Balsillie recalled his team to issue the warrants and, after bursting in, they found a pill press, 30,000 tablets and nearly seven kilograms of ”speed” worth $20 million.
Williams was hiding in a bed fully dressed. His father, George, was hiding in another room, where a loaded pistol was also found.
Local police called in the drug squad for help. They were not to know that the two drug squad detectives – Malcolm Rosenes and Stephen Paton – were corrupt and would later be jailed. There was no suggestion Rosenes and Paton interfered with the investigation, but the Supreme Court later decided that several drug cases, including Williams’s, should be delayed until the detectives’ prosecutions were completed.
It was while Williams was on bail for those (and other) drug charges that he organised the underworld murders. If the drug cases had not been delayed, Williams would have been jailed for at least four years – and that would have prevented what became a deadly vendetta. All of which means that police corruption led, indirectly, to the underworld war that shocked Australia.
Williams planned his first attacks while he was on remand for two months. First, he recruited his team. One of the first to join was Andrew ”Benji” Veniamin, a former kick boxer and gunman.
Williams thought that if he killed the Moran brothers immediately, their underworld mates would seek revenge. Initially, he was outnumbered and in no position to take on the Morans.
Then, by a stroke of luck, he was bailed on his drug charges on January 22, 2000. Three days later, Jason Moran was jailed for affray and sentenced to 20 months’ jail. That meant Mark Moran had lost his tough brother’s protection and was dangerously exposed.
Five months later, on June 15, 2000, Mark Moran was killed outside his luxury Aberfeldie home. At first, he was referred to as a local football star but police knew his connections and that it was a gangland hit.
Mark lived in a house valued at $1.3 million when most western suburban houses were worth much less than half that. His alleged occupations as personal trainer and unemployed pastry chef did not explain his wealth.
Four months before his murder, police pulled over Moran’s car and found a handgun fitted with a silencer and a laser sight. They also found amphetamine pills stamped to look like ecstasy tablets.
He was killed with a shotgun as he stepped into his Commodore parked in the street outside his house. He was too careless and cocky to park behind his high-security gate.
It reeked of an ambush based on inside information.
Moran’s stepfather, Lewis Moran, immediately called a council of war. The Morans, never short of enemies, narrowed the field to three. Williams and his crew were by no means favourites. ”We still didn’t know we were in a war,” a Moran insider later said.
For the Morans, it was the beginning of the end.
Much later, Lewis Moran tried to take out a contract on Williams but there were no takers. Williams, however, promised his hired killers more – and, for a while, it worked.
There were seven men at the meeting at Moran’s home. Six were later killed.
From the start police suspected Carl Williams for Mark Moran’s murder and raided his house next day. But internal police politics terminally damaged the investigation. Members of the drug squad, who had worked on the Morans for years, deliberately concealed information from the homicide squad because they believed their long-term investigation was more important than a murder probe they thought was doomed to fail. Their prediction was self-fulfilling.
Police and the underworld expected that when Jason Moran was released he would take revenge. But by the time Moran was freed on September 5, 2001, Williams was back inside, charged with trafficking 8000 ecstasy tablets.
The parole board let Moran go overseas because of fears for his life, while Williams continued his recruiting drive from a small area filled with potential killers – Port Phillip Prison. Williams hired one hardened gunman inside and continued to recruit inside and outside jail. He looked to relatives, friends and hardened gunmen whose loyalty he thought he could buy.
On July 17, 2002, Williams was bailed, despite having twice been arrested on serious drug charges. But the courts had no choice, Williams’s case (and those involving six others) was delayed indefinitely while prosecutions of corrupt drug squad detectives were finalised.
Five months later, his recruit ”The Runner” was released and within weeks he was going out with Roberta Williams’s sister, Michelle.
His mission was to track down Jason Moran, who had returned from London despite the threats. But he had gone to ground.
”Carl told me that he still wanted Jason dead and that he wanted me to locate Jason so he could kill him,” the hitman said later. ”We did not discuss money at this point, but I was to start surveillance on Jason Moran.
”Carl developed a deep-seated hatred of the Moran family … there is no doubt it was an obsession with him. Carl told me on numerous occasions that he wanted everyone connected with the Moran family dead.”
Finding Moran was one thing, killing him quite another. The schemes ranged from the innovative to the idiotic.
One was to hide in the boot of Moran’s BMW and jump out, another involved lying beneath shrubs outside a house where Moran was believed to be. Williams even considered hiding in a rubbish bin. Another plan was to lure Moran to a park so the hitman, dressed as a woman and pushing a pram, could walk past and shoot him. They even bought a shoulder-length brown wig before ditching the idea.
Finding Moran was hard because he was an expert in counter-surveillance and had a bodyguard. He quit his flamboyant lifestyle, rented a modest house at Moonee Ponds and kept on the move.
Williams finally figured that Moran must have some family routine. He and Moran were linked by more than greed, drugs and hatred: their children all went to the same private school in the Essendon area – the same one that reportedly had its $8000 fees paid by police on Williams’s behalf.
Williams put a $200,000 bounty on Moran’s head in April 2003. After another abortive attempt to ambush Moran, ”The Runner” finally killed him and his friend Paddy Barbaro as they sat in a van watching Jason’s small children play football next to the Cross Keys Hotel in Essendon.
There would be many other hits but that double murder would eventually lead to Williams’s undoing.
Detectives were able to trace phone calls and vehicles and build a case against the hitman. When they arrested him, he was embittered that Williams had not paid him the agreed amount, so he gave key evidence that put Williams behind bars.
The speculation now is, of course, that Williams has been doing the same – and died for it.