THE man charged with killing Carl Williams at Barwon Prison on Monday is an enforcer for a gang whose members have terrorised fellow prisoners since the mid-1970s.
The present incarnation of the gang is known as Prisoners of War. Many of its members have the letters ”P.O.W.” tattooed on their knuckles or arms.
The gang started as the feared Overcoat Gang that dominated Pentridge Prison’s H Division from 1975 until the early 1990s, and has some similarity to the notorious Aryan Brotherhood in American prisons.
Most members of the original Overcoat Gang have died violent deaths but its survivors include its founder Mark Brandon ”Chopper” Read, gunman Amos Atkinson, murderer Greg Brazel, robber Gordon ”Sammy” Hutchinson and bareknuckle bash artist Frankie Waghorn.
The man caught on ”security” film bashing Williams to death on Monday afternoon is a living link with Read’s original Pentridge gang, prison sources claim.
They say the killer entered Pentridge as a teenager shortly before ”Chopper” Read was released in late 1991, and was inducted into the gang because of his size, strength and violent tendencies.
”He was a violent young hood. Very young but big, tall, athletic and muscled up,” one former member of the gang recalled yesterday. Read ”handed him the reins” before leaving Pentridge, he said.
Read’s parting advice to the rising standover man had been to ”stay in one division and to bash all your enemies” as they came through it.
The original Overcoat Gang was so called because its members wore heavy prison-issue overcoats made in the prison. The grey coats had blue patches stitched over the heart of the wearer front and back, so that armed guards on prison towers could ”shoot to kill” more easily in a riot or escape attempt.
The bulky coats offered some protection from makeshift ”shivs” and were ideal for hiding weapons. Read often wore similar coats on the rare occasions he was out of jail in the 1970s and 1980s because he could hide firearms in the pockets.
Read believes young right-wing prisoners were attracted to the gang after he was photographed, as a joke, with two large prison officers wearing Ku Klux Klan hoods.
A Barwon Prison source confirmed yesterday that Prisoners of War is dominated by ”white Australians”. The gang is one of four main groups in prison, the others being ”Kooris, Asians and Middle Eastern” gangs, he said.
”Prisoners of War were more dominant 10 years ago but the other prisoners still talk about them,” the source said.
The prisoner charged over Williams’ death ”is a bit of a nutcase” and could reputedly organise bashings in any part of the jail, the source said. He was one of two men with Williams when the former drug dealer was attacked with an iron bar taken from an exercise bike.
The Overcoat Gang was born in 1975 after a painter and docker gunman, John Palmer, accused Chopper Read of eating extra sausages issued for Christmas lunch. Read denied the accusation and bashed Palmer, allegedly with the knowledge of prison guards, starting a long-running vendetta that became known as the ”Sausage War”.
Another gang victim was ”Mad Richard” Mladenich, attacked with a spade in a labour yard. Mladenich, who refused to give evidence against Read over the attack, survived but was shot dead on Carl Williams’ orders during the gangland war.
Former gang members that are now dead include Peter Simon Evans, John Joseph Price and American citizen Daniel Albert James, who died in a US mental asylum after serving a long sentence in Pentridge.
John Palmer is still alive and last known to be driving a fork-lift on the Melbourne docks. He has given up crime. It is unknown if he still eats sausages.