There was nothing Mark "Chopper" Read loved more than a good yarn - and, in a parting shot from beyond the grave, the infamous Australian criminal turned best-selling author has delivered a "deathbed" confession that he killed four men, sending police scurrying to verify the claims.
Although Read - played by Eric Bana in the award-winning 2000 film Chopper - spent 23 years in jail for violent crimes, he was never convicted of murder. But in a final TV interview, recorded a fortnight before his death from liver cancer earlier this month, the legendary underworld figure took credit for four murders, including that of a fellow gangster, Siam Ozerkam, known as Sammy the Turk.
He stood trial for that killing, outside a Melbourne nightclub in 1987, but claimed to have acted in self-defence. The jury believed him - which astonished him, Read told Channel Nine's Sixty Minutes programme. "Everyone swallowed it. I couldn't understand. When I killed Sammy, that wasn't self-defence. That was outright fucking murder."
A notorious union leader, Des Costello, was another of his alleged victims. Then there was Sid Collins, former head of the Outlaws motorcycle gang. Reg Isaacs, a convicted paedophile and murderer, completed the quartet. Read hanged him from a door knob in Melbourne's Pentridge Prison in 1974, he told Sixty Minutes.
Whether his claims stand up remains to be seen. In his autobiography, the colourful ex-criminal - who persuaded a fellow Pentridge inmate to slice off both of his (Read's) ears, in the hope it would gain him a transfer to the mental health wing - boasted of having been involved in 19 killings and 11 attempted murders.
And earlier this year, in an interview with the New York Times, he declared: "Honestly, I haven't killed that many people. Probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it."
After completing his final jail term in 1998, Read - who once tried to kidnap a judge from his own court, to secure a friend's release from prison - built a successful career as a celebrity crimewriter and stand-up comedian. The punters lapped it up, and he sold more than 300,000 books. "Posh people love gangsters," he once observed.
While there was plenty of gruesome material to draw on - such as Read's habit, in his youth, of torturing his victims by removing their toes with a blowtorch or bolt-cutter - the stories were often embellished. At the same time, he was always at pains to assure readers that he never harmed women or children.
Victoria Police described the TV interview as "pretty amazing", and said they were particularly interested in his claim to have killed Collins, who disappeared in 2002. According to Read. he shot Collins with his own gun in the town of Casino, in northern New South Wales, and buried his body close to a football ground.
So, a deathbed confession or yet another yarn? (His last, presumably.) We may never know, although police said that they planned to search for Collins's body. Andrew Rule, a Melbourne journalist who co-wrote a book about Read, believes he murdered Ozerkam and Isaacs - and, possibly, the other two.
One thing is certain: a week after Read's funeral, people are still talking about him. And that's the way Mark "Chopper" Read would have liked it.
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