On 2 September 1984, seven people were shot dead in a shootout between rival bikie gangs the Bandidos and Comancheros in the Sydney suburb of Milperra.
The Milperra Massacre, Milperra bikie shoot-out or Father’s Day Massacre was a firearm battle between rival motorcycle gang members on 2 September (Father’s Day in Australia) 1984, in Milperra, a south-western suburb of Sydney, New South Wales.
The shootout had its roots in an intense rivalry that developed after a group of Comancheros broke away and formed the first Bandidos Motorcycle Club chapter in Australia. Seven people were killed and twenty-eight injured when the two groups clashed at Milperra. The event was a catalyst for significant changes to gun laws in New South Wales.
Police believe that the war began over turf or drugs or a combination of both. However, both clubs at that time had a strong no drugs policy and Colin “Caesar” Campbell, Sergeant-at-Arms of both Comanchero chapters and Sergeant-at-Arms of the Bandidos after they were patched over, points to the acrimony of the split as the sole reason.
According to Campbell, in late 1983, one of his brothers and another Comanchero had called on another member and caught the Comancheros’ president (and founder) William George “Jock” Ross, in a compromising position with the member’s wife. As Sergeant-at-Arms, he ordered Ross to face charges of breaking one of the 10 firm rules the club observed.
If found guilty, Ross would have been expelled from the club. Ross failed to appear at the first two scheduled meetings and, after arriving at the third, simply announced that the club would be split into two chapters and walked out.
Those who supported bringing charges against Ross, the six Campbell brothers, the three McElwaine brothers, Anthony “Snodgrass” Spencer (Snoddy) and Charles “Charlie” Sciberras remained at the Birchgrove clubhouse that overlooked Yurulbin Park while Ross and the remaining Comancheros set up a new clubhouse in Harris Park.
During the club’s 1983 Christmas run fighting broke out between the two chapters, prompting the Birchgrove chapter to break away and form a new club. Spencer had visited several outlaw clubs in America two years earlier and remembered how much respect U.S Bandidos showed to him, so he contacted their National President Ronnie Hodge.
After much correspondence, he received approval to form the first Australian Bandidos chapter and become its national president. The new Bandidos members then incinerated their Comanchero colours in a ceremonial act. Clubhouse attacks and other violence continued until August when Campbell alleged that Spencer and Ross “declared war” in a phone call.
An advertisement for a British motorcycle club swap meet was placed in a few local press releases, to be held at the Viking Tavern, with a scheduled start at 10 am on Sunday, 2 September 1984. On that day at around 1 pm, 19 armed Comancheros entered the car park of the Viking Tavern during the swap meet and took up positions in hiding.
Using walkie-talkies for communication, Comanchero leader “Jock” Ross, a military enthusiast, intended to stand in the open to give the appearance he was alone, hoping to draw the Bandidos into a pincer movement that was based on the “Bullhorn Ambush” that he read had been used in the Second Boer War.
However, he was distracted by the presence of members of a rival club the Mobshitters and went to the back of the tavern to ensure they were not going to get involved.
The Bandidos were late and, thinking that the opposing gang was not coming, some Comancheros went into the Viking Tavern bar. Approximately 20 minutes later, 34 equally armed Bandidos members arrived. Caught off guard, the Comancheros were scattered around the car park when the Bandidos arrived.
The Bandidos pulled up in a group at the western end of the car park and, after distributing guns and other weapons, moved to confront the Comancheros president. The initial confrontation between the clubs was verbal, involving the brandishing of “non-lethal” weapons and challenges to drop the guns and settle it like men, but ended with the accidental discharge of a shotgun into the air.
The involuntary discharge was the catalyst for pitched battle involving fists, guns and other weapons. Contrary to some newspaper reports, there was no charge toward one another, nor were formal battle lines drawn. Although never mentioned by the media or charged, several wives and girlfriends of the club members took part.
Once the first shot was fired, it evolved into a series of bashings and kickings with sporadic gunfire. Bandido member Gregory “Shadow” Campbell was shot in the throat by a shotgun and died instantly. Because of the number of charges this man’s own brother was charged with the murder. Bandidos vice president Mario “Chopper” Cianter was shot twice in the chest with a shotgun and died instantly.
After realising he’d been caught off guard and not having had the chance to set up a formal battle plan, Jock Ross ran from the back of the tavern holding a machete in one hand and a pick handle in the other. Almost immediately he was hit in the foot by shotgun pellets. Staggering on, he was hit again in the head and chest and collapsed.
Police responded after receiving reports that a man had gone berserk with a rifle at the Viking Tavern in Milperra and that shots had been fired. The fighting continued for at least 10 minutes, while police helicopters circled overhead, with members of the public fleeing to the tavern and nearby properties as soon as the shooting started.
The first of more than 200 police arrived 15 minutes after the fighting ended and cordoned off the area. Two Comancheros had died from shotgun wounds, another two Comancheros died after being shot with a Rossi .357 Magnum rifle, two Bandidos died from shotgun wounds and a 14-year-old bystander, Leanne Walters, also died after being hit in the face by a stray .357 bullet.
A further 28 people were wounded with 20 requiring hospitalisation. Bandidos sergeant-at-arms, Colin “Caesar” Campbell, was shot six times and spent six weeks in intensive care before checking himself out. Four shotgun pellets remained in his body which were dug out by his wife before he fled to Western Australia. Campbell later claimed that the wife of one of the Comancheros had shot him several times with a handgun.
Mark Pennington, one of the first police officers on the scene, was later awarded $380,000 (2011: $1,026,500) compensation for psychological damage. Bandido Member John “Whack” Campbell never fully recovered from the injuries he received and in 1987 died in jail from complications. Jock Ross suffered a brain injury after being shot in the head. He lost much of his vision as well as the ability to read and write. The Viking Tavern has since been renamed the Mill Hotel.
The court case following the “Milperra Massacre” was at the time one of the largest in Australian history. In total 43 people were originally charged with seven counts of murder under the doctrine of “common purpose” however, charges against 10 were dropped before trial and Bernard “Bernie” Podgorski, secretary of the Bandidos, was granted immunity after turning Queen’s Evidence.
Solicitor Christopher Murphy acted for the Bandidos’ members charged as a result of the incident. Greg James QC, as he then was, represented all but one of the Bandidos’ members during their trial, that being Colin Campbell. Greg James QC was Juniored by a number of Juniors including John Korn, Kenneth Rosin, Andrew Martin, and Philip Young.
Mr. Campbell was represented by Mr Greg Woods QC, as he then was. Anthony “Snoddy” Spencer, the Bandidos National President, hanged himself in prison before he could stand trial. Michael Alan Viney QC was the lead Crown Prosecutor for the committal hearing and the trial.
During the longest joint criminal trial in New South Wales history, 58 policemen provided security including armed members of the Tactical Operations Unit who were stationed in the courtroom and witnesses required armed guards from the Witness Security Unit to escort them home.
With 31 accused, each by law able to reject 20 jurors without giving a reason, 1,500 jurors were called up and housed at the Penrith Leagues Club to await selection. The first day of selection saw only five jurors accepted from 208 presented, the following day it was found that two were ineligible with justice Roden dismissing all five and ordering that jury selection begin again.
Eventually some 1,000 jurors were presented before 12 were found acceptable to sit on the case. More than two years later, on 12 June 1987, the jury delivered 63 murder convictions, 147 manslaughter convictions and 31 of affray. The judge in the case named the instigator of the violence as William “Jock” Ross, the “supreme commander” of the Comancheros, saying “Ross was primarily responsible for the decision that members of his club go to Milperra in force and armed”.
Ross received a life sentence for his role in the violence. Four other members of the Comancheros gang received life sentences for murder and 16 Bandidos received sentences of seven years for manslaughter. As the Bandidos arrested were charged in regards to all the deaths, this resulted in Colin Campbell being found guilty of the manslaughter of his own brother.
Another Campbell brother, John “Wack” Campbell, died three years later from the injuries he received that day. Commonwealth Games gold medallist boxer Philip “Knuckles” McElwaine was found guilty only of affray, he was the only motorcycle club member to be acquitted of the manslaughter and murder charges that were brought against him.
In 1989, three Comancheros successfully appealed their murder convictions with the charge quashed and reduced to manslaughter. In 1992, Ross was the last to be released after serving five years and three months.
The Comancheros were notorious for carrying registered shotguns openly while riding. As a result of the massacre, the New South Wales Firearms and Dangerous Weapons Act 1973, which allowed registered owners the right to carry firearms in public, was subsequently amended to require “a good reason for the issue of a [firearm] licence”.
In a repetition of the circumstances that led to the Milperra massacre, in early 2007 more than 60 members of the Parramatta and Granville chapters of the Nomads, previously affiliated with the Comancheros, defected to the Bandidos.
The defection resulted in a new eruption of violence between the Comancheros and Bandidos involving fire-bombings and drive-by shootings. New South Wales Police set up Operation Ranmore to stop the violence escalating, which resulted in 340 people arrested on 883 charges as of January 2008.