As a New South Wales inquiry into unsolved gay-hate murders begins hearing evidence, QNews looks back to the unsolved murder of Gary Venamore, thrown unconscious into the Brisbane River to drown in 1968.
Update: Queensland police have not given up on the murder of Gary Venamore. An investigation into his death remains active. If you possess information that could help, please contact Crime Stoppers QLD.
Gary Venamore grew up in a well-known Kangaroo Point sporting family. At the time of his death, he still lived in the family home with his mum. The family commemorated life events at the nearby Wesleyan Methodist (Uniting) Church where Gary sang as the featured boy soprano as a child. Two of those events occurred in 1968. First the natural death of Gary’s father and then, Gary’s death at the hands of persons unknown, at the age of just 35.
Gary Venamore worked as a travel agent for Dalgetys, the multinational agricultural conglomerate.
Socially prominent as a committee member of the annual Bushwhacker’s Ball, a highlight of the Brisbane ball season (and distinct from the Bushwhacker’s Balls run by Dame Sybil Von Thorndyke in later years), Gary, at least publicly, was a popular lady’s man.
But Peter Cotterell, a prominent member of the Brisbane gay community, like many people, knew better.
“An amiable drunk, but all too fond of doing the beats pissed.”
On Tuesday, November 5th, 1968, Gary Venamore went out drinking after work. He met friends and work colleagues in some of the better city bars from 5 pm until 8.30 pm. At 8.30 pm, he declared he should head home, but at least one friend suspected he would not.
Richard Billington noticed Gary Venamore paid for his drinks from a large roll of notes. He also knew that once Venamore started drinking, he usually continued. It seems Gary’s sexuality was an open secret.
In his book Three Crooked Kings, Matthew Condon quotes Detective Ross Beer.
“[Venamore] was sort of a Jekyll and Hyde… He was a lady’s man when he was sober, a playboy, and very dapper. He’d mix with the social set. But when he got on the drink he was a raving homosexual.”
Departing the genteel inner city, Venamore headed for racier Petrie Bight.
Petrie Bight red light district
Petrie Bight, between the city and Fortitude Valley, operated as a modest red light district. There was the National Hotel, the place to go to meet ‘ladies of easy virtue’
Or for the young, alternative crowd, Willie’s Bazaar, run by an eccentric older woman named Willie, possessed of mountains of teased blonde hair and often mistaken for a drag queen. Willie allowed customers to BYO alcohol to her unlicensed cafe, and Mary Jane (marijuana). Regular customers said decades later that they could not smell potpourri or incense without remembering the place. The old girl scattered mountains of the stuff to disguise the odour of cannabis.
Also at Petrie Bight, Tony Robinson’s Playboy Club, a cabaret club that featured drag and strip acts. Bernard King, later a national television personality and celebrity chef, sometimes performed there. Up-and-coming performer Judi Connelli sang in his show.
Gary Venamore showed up at the door of the Playboy Club at 10.30 pm. He may have stopped at the National on the way there. Or perhaps at the Fig Tree. For decades, men met at the public toilets under the Fig Tree on a traffic island in Eagle Street.
Between leaving the city and arriving at the Playboy Club, Gary had somehow lost the wad of cash he carried earlier. The doorman agreed to cash a $5 cheque for him and he spent the next four hours in the Playboy.
He sat talking for a while to his friend Dorothy Knight, a sex worker. Dorothy knew Gary was gay. She believed everyone knew he was gay.
Dorothy left to meet a client at 2.25 am and Gary Venamore then left with two other men. They caught a taxi to a block of flats in Maxwell St, New Farm. Sometime between 2 am and 3 am a neighbour heard a man scream.
At 6.10 am the next morning, a ferry master noticed a body bobbing on the incoming tide under the Story Bridge.
His body bore multiple injuries. The killer or killers bashed Gary with a blunt instrument, perhaps a fence paling, and kicked him in the head. Bruises on his wrists and ankles led the doctor who conducted the post-mortem to believe two men had thrown the unconscious man into the river.
Detectives Ross Beer and Glen Hallahan investigated the murder. They interviewed the crews of 21 ships berthed in the river that night.
They also questioned members of the gay community. The men interviewed told them of a number of gay bashings. They also said fear of the police stopped victims making complaints.
Hallahan flew to Sydney to follow up on some of the sailors and to interview two people who were in the Playboy Club. While there he caught up with Shirley Brifman. Brifman, now a successful Sydney madam, knew Hallahan from her time as a Brisbane sex worker.
She paid him bribes and they were lovers. In Sydney, Hallahan told Shirley about Venamore’s murder. He showed her photos of Gary’s battered body.
The detective told Shirley about his big new idea. The murder inspired him to embark on a new money-making scheme. Hallahan intended blackmailing homosexuals. After all, he now knew they were reluctant to lay complaints, even against criminals. What could they do against the police themselves?
The investigation into Venamore’s death went nowhere. Shirley Brifman died of a suspected drug overdose in 1972 in a police safe house in Bonney Avenue, Clayfield. She was due to give evidence against Detective Tony Murphy in a perjury trial eighteen days later.
Murphy along with Terry Lewis and Hallahan made up the so-called Ratpack. They were the ringleaders and chief beneficiaries of Queensland police corruption. Murphy went on to become an assistant commissioner. Lewis became Commissioner and a knight of the realm, before disgrace and imprisonment.
Years later, author Matthew Condon interviewed Dorothy Knight about the murder. She suggested that Gary overheard a conversation on the night of his death at the National. The person he overheard was Detective Glen Hallahan.
In 2014, the Queensland Police offered a reward of $250,000 for information on Gary’s death.
Who killed Gary Venamore?
Who killed Gary Venamore? We will probably never know. The $250,000 will remain in government coffers.
What killed Gary Venamore? Plain and simple – prejudice killed Gary Venamore. Anyone who knew any facts of his death, could not come forward in 1968 for fear of their lives.
Gay men suffered violence and blackmail, had their lives ruined, went to jail, faced social and familial ostracism – all over who they chose to love, f_ck, or both.
Parasites like Terry Lewis, Tony Murphy, and Glen Hallahan never hesitated to use that unjust bastardry as leverage to make a buck.
Even if he was indeed unaware of who killed Gary Venamore, Glen Hallahan pursued the investigation into the crime with no interest in solving the brutal crime, solely interested in the potential for enriching himself at the expense of other people’s misery.
Now in his 90s and in care, Terry Lewis bemoans his lost misbegotten fortune, grand mansion, forfeited knighthood, and the decade spent behind bars for proven crimes. But Gary Venamore never lived beyond the age of 35, thrown battered and unconscious into the Brisbane River to drown.
Read more about the death of Gary Venamore, and this probable killer, the man known as the Most Dangerous Detective, Glen Patrick Hallahan.
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