The other day I urged someone to watch the film, Animal Kingdom. He was concerned that the film might be too violent. Actually, given the subject matter, the film doesn’t show a great deal of violence, but there’s a sense of menace pulsing throughout the film. Anyway, the point I want to make is that whatever you see happen in the film, isn’t a tenth of what really went on in Dennis Allen’s Richmond, Melbourne empire.
To recap: In my last post (part I), I noted that the Pettingill family seemed more like a tribe. They had their own rules of conduct, their own belief system, and definite dos and don’ts, and none of these things had anything to do with societal expectations, societal norms, or legality. Another point I made was that the book, The Matriarch: The Kathy Pettingill Story, presents an incredible picture of crime running amok in Melbourne, and as I read the book, I was astounded (no exaggeration here) at the tales of drug-use, rampant crime, and police corruption. This is a story in which the excesses of De Palma’s Scarface mesh with the deeply embedded police corruption of Scorsese’s The Departed. But the shocking thing here is that truth is not only stranger than fiction: it’s also much worse.
The book charts Dennis Allen’s criminal career, and I obviously can’t detail his life in its entirety, but here’s a few significant markers: In 1973, 22-year-old Dennis Allen along with his younger brother, Peter and two accomplices were involved in a murder-for-hire scheme. They’d been paid $500 to kill the operator of a massage parlour. When the target didn’t show up as expected at a flat, violence exploded instead on the flat occupants. Dennis was later convicted of rape with a 10 year sentence. Peter received 14 years for his role in the crime and a two-day rampage which included shooting several people and attempting to shoot police officers.
Dennis Allan was released in 1977 and he moved to Richmond. According to the author, the years 1977-1982 “were marked by a further decline into violence and lawlessness.” He was involved in a number of fights and confrontations which resulted in short jail sentences. In 1981, he was sent to Pentridge Gaol.
Dennis Allan’s peak crime period appears to have extended from 1982-1987– years which, according to the author, were “the period [that] marked the flowering of pure evil within Dennis Bruce Allen.” In 1982, Dennis was released from prison, and he joined his mother who owned and operated the Gaslight Massage Parlour at 108 Stephenson Street. Dennis and Kathy began buying properties in the neighbouring streets–several others on Stephenson Street while Dennis also owned 41, 43, 45, 47, and 49 Cubitt Street and another house on Chestnut Street. In all, Dennis owned 8 houses while Kathy owned two. Dennis lived in 37 Stephenson Street. His enforcers lived in some of the other houses, and one house was given over for the use of Dennis’s builder (who later was a witness against Dennis in a murder).
Dennis was addicted to speed. With limitless money and connections, Dennis was able to indulge his habit to excess. He “used seven grams of pure speed a day.” Tame states:
His usual method was to inject the drug into his arm, tying a dressing-gown sash around it, as often as every half hour. Sometimes he didn’t bother to remove the sash between hits.
The speed increased Dennis’s paranoia and also resulted in days without sleep. Kathy remembers the longest period without sleep was 14 days, but states that 10 days wasn’t “uncommon.” The book indicates that these periods were extremely difficult for those who lived around Dennis. It seems as though they just waited for the tension to erupt into violence:
In this condition Dennis was every bit as volatile and dangerous as unstable gelignite–primed and ready to explode. You didn’t cross Dennis at times like this. You didn’t go near him if you could possibly avoid it.
Several murders are recalled, including the various versions of the murder of former Hell’s Angel (he’d been “kicked out”), Anton Kenny. On another occasion Kathy recalls deciding to “drop in” on Dennis one night after working at the Gaslight Massage parlour only to find a wounded youth with a meat cleaver in his head. On another occasion, she was dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to clean up after the murder of Wayne Stanhope. All of this is quite gruesome reading, so be prepared:
He was going to kill Stanhope right from the start. But I didn’t think he’d shoot him in the house in front of all those people. But that’s Dennis. He shot everybody in front of people. He always wanted an audience. Anyway there was a load of shit written about the clean-up, about dragging the body onto the tile floor. He died in one small square of carpet which the police took up later for forensic reasons. But he’d had my vacuum cleaner which had a tin base. And that’s what he used to vacuum up his brains and that. And then he burnt my bloody vacuum cleaner, which he didn’t have to do because it was tin.
Kathy asserts that she could not control or influence Dennis & that he was simply too far gone into drugs. Tame describes Kathy’s relationship with her eldest son like this:
Their relationship had had many aspects–mother and son, brother and sister, partners in crime–but it was always intense and almost claustrophobically close.
As I read the book and the incredible story unfolded, one question repeatedly came to mind. Here’s this volatile career criminal under almost constant police surveillance, and yet nothing happened to him. He seemed untouchable. Why? Herein lies the crux of the matter.
The police used an abandoned factory for some of their surveillance, and Dennis would, according to Tame, “occasionally pepper the building with gunshots.” Kathy relates an incident that took place the day after Dennis used a machine gun on the factory. She states that the police visited her and told her: “you’ll have to stop him taking pot shots.” An enforcer relates a similar incident in which Dennis “blew out all the [factory] windows” with a .22 automatic and a Colt .45. This resulted in another visit to Kathy by the police with yet another request that she make Dennis stop shooting at the factory they used for surveillance. On another occasion, a police helicopter was circling above, and Dennis ran out and started firing at the helicopter trying to bring it down until the enforcer nervously pointed out that if Dennis succeeded, the helicopter would crash on their heads!
If something about this sounds terribly wrong to you, well it’s all part of the murky relationship which existed between Dennis Allan and the police. Kathy states he was an informer, and that at one point he bragged that he paid $25,000 for the documents pertaining to the so-called Operation Cyclops (the surveillance mounted beginning in 1984). The seven-month long operation did net arrests and drugs, but how did Dennis continue to operate?
To call Dennis an informer is, I think, putting it mildly. Kathy describes an occasion when Dennis arranged to meet a drug courier who flew in from Asia with a stomach full of smack-stuffed condoms. When Dennis met the courier, the police swooped in and arrested both men. Dennis was let go with the smack and the police got the money. On another occasion, the police “supplied their prize informant with an official-issue bullet-proof vest.”
Kathy argues that police are nothing but “gangsters with badges,” and the book certainly paints a murky picture of crime and crime-fighting in Melbourne. Yes, those two things go hand in hand, but the book paints a portrait of a deadly partnership. With the drugs combined with his special status, it’s probably no wonder that Dennis appears to have felt invulnerable and untouchable–so much so that he even arranged to bomb the inquest concerning a death of a prostitute. As Dennis spiralled out of control, it became inevitable he’d burn out, but a lot of people suffered and died along the way. The details here are nothing short of mind-blowing, and when Kathy gives her side of police intimidation and interrogations, by this point the actions of some of the Melbourne police appear to have little credibility. To sum it up, as Tame states, this case & this book offer ”rare insight into the murky business of what can happen when police are obliged to weigh the merits of an informer against the gravity of the offences he may be committing.” That’s a great line that does indeed raise a lot of questions, but I think the use of the term informer is wildly understating what took place in Melbourne.