Australia’s reputation as the happy, go lucky country was turned on it’s head in the late 1990s as the usually safe streets of the Victorian capital were transformed into a gangland war zone.
Melbourne’s “underbelly” of organized crime suddenly became very public. Men hungry for easy money, power and control of the state’s lucrative illegal amphetamines trade were prepared to do whatever it took to be the boss of the underworld. It erupted between two families — the Morans and the Williams. Police say both had trafficked drugs in Melbourne for years and for a while had been associates. But as public demand for amphetamines grew, the rivalry increased with both camps desperate to secure the market. On one side was the Moran family — brothers Jason and Mark, father Lewis and matriarch Judy Moran. The brothers were notorious for their short tempers and relied on violence to achieve what they wanted. On the other was Carl Williams and his crew. He began as a small time drug dealer but would become Australia’s most notorious serial killer. His lieutenant was Andrew “Benji” Veniamin — a tattooed former kick boxer who would become Williams’ main hit man — but eventually became a victim of the gang wars himself. The feud began on October 13, 1999, on Carl Williams’ 29th birthday. The Moran brothers accused Williams of undercutting them, by selling cheap pills on the street. They allegedly shot Williams in the stomach.
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But this didn’t frighten him. Instead, Williams planned his revenge, sparking a public underworld war that would leave police, the legal system and politicians struggling to cope. Eight months later, Mark Moran was gunned down outside his home while he put out the rubbish. Then in 2003, in the most horrific of all the gangland murders, Jason Moran and his associate Pasquale Barboro were gunned down in the front seats of a van in the car park at a children’s football game. Five children were sitting in the back seats. Witnesses described the shooting as disgusting and callous. At Jason’s funeral, his mother made a graveside threat. Leaning over the coffin, Judy Moran said “all will be dealt with my darling.” But it didn’t end there. A year later, Judy’s husband was murdered. Crime patriarch Lewis Moran, who was facing drug charges, was shot dead while drinking at his local pub. Victoria Police Commissioner Simon Overland said “regardless of anyone’s circumstance in life no one deserves to die in this fashion. It’s outrageous this is happening in Melbourne.” But it wasn’t just the Moran family that was wiped out. Over the course of nine years, 30 people were killed in this high profile turf war. Matriarch Judy Moran expressed her sorrow and loss: “I’ve lost 3 members of my family, lots of close friends and I feel for their families as well.” Williams was now in control of Melbourne’s illegal drug trade. He had amassed millions of dollars, power and a reputation — and believed he was untouchable. He referred to himself as “The Premier” because, as he told the Australian newspaper The Age, “I run this f—ing state.” But the law would finally catch up with Carl Williams. Victoria’s Purana police task force had spent years investigating the drug kingpin and they finally had enough evidence to arrest Williams, charging him with multiple murders. In 2007, he pleaded guilty to four of them, including the murders of Mark and Lewis Moran. Police say Williams was connected to at least 10 underworld murders and would have kept killing if he had not finally been jailed. He is serving a more than 30-year prison sentence. The war inspired a smash hit television series in Australia called “Underbelly.” However, when it was released at the beginning of last year, the 13 episode mini-series was banned from being shown in Melbourne because of the possible impact it would have on related criminal trials. It aired in Victoria once the trials were completed. Just when police thought the underworld killings were over, another member of the Moran family was shot dead in June. But in a surprising twist, this was not a gangland hit — apparently the enemy was from within. Family matriarch Judy Moran was arrested as an accessory to the murder of her brother-in-law, Des Tuppence Moran. Police say she has had no comment about the charges.
Police claim there was bad blood over money, but it marks the end of one of Australia’s most well known criminal dynasties. “Fact is almost stranger than fiction with what we’ve seen” said Victoria Police Commissioner Overland. “If you were a scriptwriter and sat down and wrote this stuff you’d probably say: ‘Look, no, it’s a bit far fetched. No one will believe it.'”