Women in crime, on both sides of the law

Women in crime, on both sides of the law

Judy Moran: the made-up matriarch

Judy was unlucky in love and ultimately unlucky in crime, losing two husbands and two sons to gangland murders.

Her father, Leo Brooks, was a stalwart of the Carlton Football Club and a prodigious mover of stolen property who had a small army of shoplifters (including Judy, when she worked at Myer as a teenager) working for him.

Decades later, when Judy was being interviewed on television from home, I was rung by a mutual associate. “Have a look behind her,” he said. It was a cabinet filled with collectable plates and ornaments. “Everything there was stolen to order.”

Women in crime, on both sides of the law

Des and Judy Moran outside the Supreme Court in Melbourne in April 2004. Five years later Des would be gunned down on Judy’s orders.Credit:Craig Abraham

Her first husband, Les Cole, was shot dead in Sydney in 1981 while her second, Lewis Moran, met a similar fate in the Brunswick Club in 2004. Her two sons, Mark and Jason, were killed in Melbourne’s “Underbelly” gang wars in 2000 and 2003 respectively.

Although she and Lewis had split 10 years before his murder, he maintained financial support for her until his death – a practice continued by her brother-in-law Des despite the fact he despised her.

He gave her $4000 a month but when she demanded he buy her a car, he stopped her allowance.

Judy Moran’s farewell tour. About to be found guilty in the Supreme Court of murder.

Judy Moran’s farewell tour. About to be found guilty in the Supreme Court of murder.Credit:Jason South

When Judy found Des planned to change his will to leave out her side of the family, it was time to act. On June 15, 2009, a gunman hired by Judy shot Des seven times outside a cafe in Ascot Vale.

True to her form as a terrible actress, she arrived on the scene stamping her feet and crying: “It should have been me, not Des.”

When a female associate went to kiss her she noticed there were no tears. Judy’s eyes were as cold and calculating as a crocodile’s.

For police used to dealing with complex gangland murders, this was a snap – after all, the getaway car was found parked in her garage.

Judy Moran was sentenced to a minimum of 21 years, which means she would be 85 at the earliest date of release.

Wendy Peirce: proof that crime doesn’t pay

In underworld terms, Wendy Peirce is both victim and villain.

Her husband Victor was ambushed and shot dead in May 2001, while sitting in his Commodore sedan in Bay Street, Port Melbourne.

Wendy and Victor Peirce at a wedding reception in 1987.

Wendy and Victor Peirce at a wedding reception in 1987.

Thirteen years earlier Peirce led a gang that used a stolen Commodore to lure two police, Steven Tynan and Damian Eyre, to Walsh Street, South Yarra, to be ambushed and killed.

Wendy Peirce became the prosecution’s star witness but at the trial she switched sides and refused to testify against him. She was jailed for perjury while Victor walked free.

Four years after her husband’s murder, Wendy Peirce admitted to me that Victor’s armed robbery gang had made a pact that if one of them was killed by police, they would kill two in revenge.

The day before Walsh Street, Peirce’s sidekick, Graeme Jensen, had been shot dead by detectives in Narre Warren. “Victor was the [Walsh Street] organiser,” she said.

For 30 years she lived in a world where violence was the norm. When her husband and his half-brother, Dennis Allen, killed and dismembered Anton Kenny, Victor chased Wendy around the house with the victim’s big toe. It was his idea of a joke.

There was no glamour in crime for Wendy Peirce. There was no illicit fortune, no lush lifestyle, just a life of premature deaths, senseless violence and personal heartbreak.

Perhaps if she had given truthful evidence at the Walsh Street trial she would have had a second chance. But she chose not to take it.

Betty King: queen of the court

When Betty King graduated with her law degree from Melbourne University in 1973, a relative suggested she should get a job as a secretary in a law office. Instead she became a criminal barrister, prosecutor, Queen’s Counsel, member of the National Crime Authority, County Court and later Supreme Court judge.

Artist Lana McLean delivers her entry into the Archibald Prize of Justice Betty King.

Artist Lana McLean delivers her entry into the Archibald Prize of Justice Betty King.Credit:Dean Sewell

Because of her background in the criminal law, she was assigned many of the so-called Underbelly gangland murder trials.

One of her first big trials didn’t make the headlines, at least at the time. Gangster Carl Williams was found guilty of the 2003 murder of Michael Marshall but as he was facing another five murder charges, the verdict was suppressed.

Then in February 2007 Williams agreed to plead guilty to the murders of Lewis Moran, Jason Moran and Mark Mallia and conspiracy to murder Mario Condello.

Sentencing Williams to a minimum of 35 years, she told him: “You are a killer, and a cowardly one, who employed others to do the actual killing.”

Williams expected the chance to make a headline-grabbing statement before he was sent down. Instead, King banished him from her court.

It would have come as no surprise to her when Williams was bashed to death in Barwon Prison in 2010. She has been around long enough to know how these things usually end.

King banned the Underbelly TV series in Victoria, concluding it could influence a jury. The fact some real Purana detectives, who would have been witnesses in a number of cases, appeared as extras in the show may have influenced her decision.

While she has a passion for glamorous glasses and shoes, she despises the cult of personality, is bewildered at how crooks become cult heroes and believes a judge should be seen as part of the system and not the star of the show.

A hardworking and serious judge, she refused to be defined by the role, deciding to retire early from the bench to travel and enjoy life, always maintaining a wicked sense of humour.

Constable Christine Nixon, 19, graduates in the NSW Police.

Constable Christine Nixon, 19, graduates in the NSW Police.Credit:Mervyn George Bishop

At one social function she said to me: “I have both good news and bad news for you.” I asked for the bad news first.

“I am a judge in the Ned Kelly [true crime book] Awards.”

I asked for the good news.

“You won’t have to bother preparing a speech.”

Christine Nixon: the outsider

When Christine Nixon was appointed Victoria Police’s 19th chief commissioner in 2001, she didn’t come from left field – she came from another planet.

In the insular and blokey world of policing, she was an outsider, a female from another state and did not have a strong operational background.

But the state government rated her administrative skills, management style, outsider’s perspective and reformist agenda and backed her to lead an organisation that is traditionally change-averse.

Her natural charm sometimes concealed a steely character. Soon she began to move on senior police she believed, rightly or wrongly, were old school. She banned alcohol in police stations, tried to address gender inequality and took on corruption.

She was popular with the public and young cops. Some of the older ones claimed her changes damaged cop culture.

Christine Nixon tours the devastated town of Kinglake after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

Christine Nixon tours the devastated town of Kinglake after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. Credit:Trevor Pinder

Nixon arrived saying she would be a single-term chief and would leave after five years. Instead, she stayed in a job that takes a toll.

In her second term she started to make mistakes and was criticised for leaving the disaster room on Black Saturday to go to a pub for dinner.

It was a bad look but made no difference. She left her deputy commissioner Kieran Walshe, a police officer with much greater operational experience, in charge.

Those who bag her fail to tell the full story. In the early hours of Sunday she left Melbourne and, with the fires still burning, visited emergency services workers and shattered survivors. She worked 20-hour days and travelled thousands of kilometres.

When she left policing she ran the Bushfire Reconstruction Recovery Authority, where she used her great skills, compassion and understanding to help rebuild the state.