Robert Trimbole was an Italian-Australian businessman, alleged drug baron and organized crime boss whose alleged involvement in the disappearance of anti-marijuana campaigner Donald Mackay and involvement in drug trafficking in the Griffith, New South Wales area, led to a Royal Commission, a Coroner's inquest and an international chase by the Australian Federal Government seeking his arrest and capture after his escape to Ireland.
He rented a nearby garage and operated his own panel beating and spray painting business before declaring himself bankrupt in 1968 with debts of AUD$11,000. Shortly after, his business was mysteriously destroyed by fire, and all records were lost.
Now living in a luxurious house with a swimming pool in nicer parts of town, Trimbole had grown an empire valued at over AUD$2 million and a reputation as a major drug baron. Many locals referred to his house as the Grass Castle as a reference to Trimbole's rise to power in the illegal marijuana trade.
Trimbole invested in many luxury items and businesses, including farms, cars, speedboats, several clothing stores, a liquor store and a wholesale wine business. He later added a trucking company and a supermarket. He also purchased land to further his marijuana growing capacity. Trimbole seemed to go about his illegal activities virtually unchallenged.
He soon became the principal of the Australian drug trade based in New South Wales, and earned the nickname The Godfather as a reference to his leadership qualities and Italian heritage.
Donald Bruce Mackay was a local politician, and anti-drugs campaigner. He was born and raised in Griffith, New South Wales and operated his family's furniture business. Described as being very community minded, MacKay was an Australian Liberal Party candidate from 1973 to 1976 however was unsuccessful in winning a seat in parliament.
Concerned about the growing drug trade in his local area, and learning of a large crop of marijuana in nearby Coleambally, New South Wales, Mackay informed Sydney based police of the information he had obtained regarding the crop, which resulted in several arrests, and four men of Italian descent being convicted on Mackay's information.
Unfortunately for Mackay, at the trial of the men arrested, his name was read out during evidence, identifying him as the whistleblower. An attempt was made to lure Mackay to Jerilderie, New South Wales by an unidentified man who wished to make a large order of furniture from MacKay's family business. Mackay, busy at the time of the planning meeting with other matters, sent an employee, who travelled to Jerilderie to find nobody about.
On July 15, 1977, Mackay disappeared from the Griff Hotel car park after having drinks with friends, and has never been found. At the scene of Mackay's disappearance, his locked van contained blood stains, Mackay's car keys and three used .22 casings.
Many believed Robert Trimbole was responsible for the contract style killing of Mackay.
After several months, the commission reduced the suspect list to six people including:
Justice Woodward says in the official transcript, "I have named Trimbole as being associated with the production of marijuana in Griffith as well as being the director of an operation in Euston he is, if not the 'top man' in relation to the production of marijuana in the Griffith area, then one of them and closely associated with Antonio Sergi in the same enterprise."
Woodward found regarding the disappearance of MacKay that "the disposal of Mackay was the result of an organised plan. He was disposed of by the organization which I find existed in Griffith I am satisfied that the appointment to meet Mackay at Jerilderie was part of a plan to ambush and dispose of him." A year later the New South Wales Supreme Court officially declared Donald Mackay as "presumed deceased.".
No further action was taken. Trimbole and his associates were free to return to business as usual.
The inquest also heard evidence showing that lights in the car park had been broken prior to the meeting time set with MacKay, indicating a premeditated act to ambush him, and how MacKay feared for his life after learning the street value of the crop leading to the convictions of the four men had an estimated value of more than AUD$25 million.
Evidence was also submitted regarding a man by the name of Patrick Joseph Keenan, who was reported as having given information to police after walking into a shed located in the Griffth area, and finding Antonio Sergi inside with several women packing large quantities of marijuana into plastic bags.
Forensic evidence supported the crown's case including ballistic evidence showing that the three .22 cases found at the scene had been fired from the same weapon, a French "Unique" brand hand gun. Blood and hair samples were also recovered from the scene and matched to Mackay.
Coroner Brown summed up with "The evidence has now reached the point where I am of the opinion that a prima facie case of murder, in that each was an accessory before or after the fact, has been established against two known persons whose identity I must not publicly reveal in accordance with the prohibition under section 19 of the Coroners Act."
A month later Trimbole was arrested in Ireland and held in custody awaiting extradition but, aided by a battery of high priced lawyers, Trimbole managed to avoid extradition after the Irish Government refused to extradite him to Australia and he was released.
The Australian government appealed to overturn the decision of the Irish court however Trimbole regained his freedom.
Australian Federal Police intercepted phone conversation where Paltos discussed the failed extradition attempt of Trimbole and made mention of the large amounts of money that Trimbole had spent on his defence, explaining that efforts to extradite Trimbole failed largely due to the efforts of Irish constitutional lawyer, Patrick MacEntee who had become famous for defending IRA terrorists.
Trimbole escaped Ireland to Spain, where he later died in a country villa in May 12 1987 at the age of 56. His body was returned to Australia and his funeral was later held in Sydney, where mourners and journalists brawled and made news headlines on the evening news around the country.
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