Murderous family of Melbourne's 'Godmother'

Judy Moran was the matriarch behind a notorious gang – until her conviction this week. Kathy Marks tells a brutal tale
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The Independent Online

On the surface the most civilised of cities, with a thriving arts and cultural scene, Melbourne has become notorious over the past 15 years as Australia's gangland capital. A long-running turf war between rival crime clans left nearly 30 people dead between 1998 and 2006. The main protagonists are now dead or in jail, but the violence continues" a fortnight ago, a racehorse trainer, Les Samba, was shot dead in a contract-style hit, and this week an infamous underworld matriarch, Judy Moran, was convicted of murdering her brother-in-law.

Judy – wailing "Dessie, Dessie" – was one of the first people on the scene when Desmond "Tuppence" Moran was shot dead in his favourite café in suburban Melbourne in 2009 in front of horrified passers-by. Some witnesses said she should have been jailed there and then for bad acting.

On Wednesday, the hollowness of Moran's show of grief was laid bare, when she was found guilty of orchestrating Des's murder by a gunman whom she patted on the back afterwards, telling him, "Well done".

The killing was initially thought to signal the resumption of hostilities between the "Carlton Crew", led by the Moran family, and another clan headed by the baby-faced Carl Williams. In reality, it was a purely family affair. Judy detested her brother-in-law, whom she suspected of swindling her out of millions of dollars and who once smashed a bottle over her head.

Moran's life was punctuated with violence. She lost two sons and two husbands during the tit-for-tat killings, which inspired a top-rated Australian television series, Underbelly. In court, where the 66-year-old grandmother produced a new hairdo every few days as her lawyers portrayed her as an innocent victim of events that had ripped her family apart.

The self-styled godmother, who would turn up at her loved ones' funerals impeccably coiffed and clad in Versace or Issy Miyake, told the court she could not have killed 61-year-old Des because she was visiting the grave of her son, Mark.

"I wouldn't be involved in anything like that at my age now, let alone all the other 60 years," Moran, a former showgirl, declared. Shown a pink woollen hat and red sweater that she allegedly wore while driving the gunman, Geoffrey "Nuts" Amour, to and from the murder, she retorted indignantly, "I would never wear that pink with red".

But the murder weapon had been found in her home. A police surveillance team had watched her dump the getaway car. And for all her affectionate references to "Tuppy" in court, and her reminiscing about rustling up home-cooked steak and kidney pies for her bachelor brother-in-law, she had a motive.

Moran, who traded on her "Black Widow" image, writing a book about her life and appearing regularly in women's magazines, kept up the act even after the verdict. Dressed in black, with her silvery hair tied back in a ponytail, she smiled and waved as she left the Victorian Supreme Court in a motorised wheelchair.

Soon afterwards, it was revealed that Amour had pleaded guilty last year to shooting Des in the head seven times, and his partner, Suzanne Kane, had admitted helping him escape detection. A second man involved, Michael Farrugia, told the court, "Judy told me to keep me mouth shut, otherwise I'll cop the same thing".

Farrugia, who turned Crown witness as part of a plea deal and is serving four years for manslaughter, said Moran had been "in control" of the murder. She lbought a A$75,000 (£47,000) car for Amour in gratitude. Moran was convinced Des knew the whereabouts of millions of dollars that were missing from business dealings involving his brother and her late husband, Lewis. She hired a private investigator, Brian "Skull" Murphy, to help her trace the money, but he was unsuccessful. Moran told him: "Well, then I'll get the money my own way."

She loved melodrama. At the funeral of her son, Jason, she flung herself on his coffin and proclaimed: "All will be dealt with, my darling." In court, after Carl Williams was convicted of killing Jason, she shouted to him: "The evil person that you are... you have all but destroyed me, ripped out my heart." Williams, who was convicted of four gangland shootings and suspected of involvement in six others, was clubbed to death in a high-security prison last year.

Moran turned her house into a shrine to her murdered menfolk. She carved their names into four white pots in the backyard, and planted roses in Jason's memory. She kept Lewis's ashes in a large ceramic urn by the front door, and said she sometimes chatted to her sons – her "lovely boys", she called them – and her husbands over a cup of coffee.

During her month-long trial, Moran turned up each day looking "like a lady on her way to lunch with friends", wrote one observer. She has yet to be sentenced; but she is not likely to spend the rest of her life in prison.

Moran is believed to have been the inspiration behind the character of Smurf in last year's Australian film Animal Kingdom, about a dysfunctional Melbourne underworld family. Jacki Weaver, who played Smurf, was nominated for an Oscar for best-supporting actress. After Desmond was killed and Judy was charged, Victoria's Chief Police Commissioner, Simon Overland, said: "If you were a scriptwriter and wrote this stuff, you'd probably say, 'Look, it's a bit far-fetched, no one will believe it'. Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction."