Enforcer was 'almost devoid of conscience'
MICHAEL FIELD AND GEOFF COLLETT
There was nothing endearing about Peter Fulcher. As principal enforcer for the Mr Asia drug gang, he was brutally violent and part of a conspiracy that exploited and ruined thousands of lives.
He betrayed his fellow criminals - or, as prime minister David Lange deftly put it, "coughed his lungs out". It was prophetic; emphysema claimed Fulcher's life in Whanganui on July 18. He was 72 and had spent 28 of those years locked up.
He began his life of crime at age 14, ending up in the Owairaka Boys Home. There he simply honed the criminal skills needed for the rest of his life. He also took revenge on some of the borstal staff, trapping them outside the institution and beating them up.
Fulcher got into safe-cracking and was caught trying to steal the payroll from the Ministry of Works, for which he was jailed for four years. In prison he met men involved in cannabis and heroin, and decided it was for him.
He later became infamous for his role in the Mr Asia gang, a multinational New Zealand-grown heroin drug ring. He began with Marty Johnstone - the original "Mr Asia" - and Andy Maher when they were introduced to a Singaporean sailor known as "Chinese Jack" in 1973.
With a group of investors they bought a yacht, Brigadoon, and 450,000 cannabis "buddha sticks" in Thailand. Despite a disastrous trip back to New Zealand that included some of the crew being arrested for shoplifting in Noumea, they eventually made it home, months late.
Others saw the potential, including "Diamond" Jim Shepherd and Terry Clark, who would rise to the top of the Mr Asia syndicate.
Shepherd, the syndicate's banker, has told The Dominion Post he believed Clark killed at least 12 people.
With a switch from cannabis to heroin, the Mr Asia group moved on to Australia.
Fulcher claimed he never killed anyone. It would be fairer to say he was never convicted of killing anyone. Armed with a baseball bat he dished out Mr Asia-style justice. He was the New Zealand agent for the gang, selling the heroin and chasing up the debts owed.
"I have dished out a bit of extreme violence. But by Jesus, it was well deserved," he told The Listener in his last interview, a year ago.
In 1979 he gave an interview to Sunday News, denying he had anything to do with the murder in Australia of heroin addicts Doug and Isabel Wilson.
"I am innocent of all charges in either the Wilson murders or the suspected murder of Greg Ollard or any other murders or drug dealing whatsoever. I regard violence as a substitute for brains and I have complete and utter sympathy with all the victims."
Fulcher told The Listener he did not think much of the Mr Asia gang. "They were a bunch of clowns, getting together and taking advantage of the riff-raff of society."
After the syndicate collapsed at the end of the 1970s, Fulcher was reported to be trying to set himself up as the new Mr Asia in Australia, when he was arrested in possession of heroin after months of police surveillance.
He was sentenced to 18 years' hard labour for heroin trafficking, but was freed after only four years, amid speculation he had done a deal with a royal commission into the drug trade. This triggered controversy and a row with New Zealand authorities, who had issued fresh warrants for his arrest relating to an Auckland bank robbery - warrants of which the Australian prison officials denied knowledge.
Fulcher was rearrested in Sydney less than a month later, eventually extradited to New Zealand, and sentenced to 14 years on fresh heroin importation charges.
Once freed he was later arrested again for cultivating cannabis.
In 2006, while facing new drugs charges, he admitted stealing a dead child's identity to obtain a passport, but avoided further jail time.
The judge said sentencing Fulcher to supervision by the Probation Service was pointless because he had been in the system longer than most probation officers. And Fulcher told the judge his health was "pretty bad. I've hit my use-by date".
Fulcher squandered most of the millions he made. It was his violence that kept him in the headlines. "He is a very violent man who I would not trust," Detective Chief Inspector Brian Middleton said in 1982. "As a general rule, he is one of our most dangerous criminals, a man almost totally devoid of conscience."
His own acquaintances from the Mr Asia years described him as ruthless, uncontrollable and unpredictable. Although Fulcher disclosed a good deal in The Listener interview, he kept much back as well. He denied involvement in any of the murders that his name was linked to in Australia.
After his final release from prison, and diagnosed with emphysema, Fulcher called for better conditions in jails.
He told The Listener that if he could have lived life again, it would be entirely different, but then he had rules - he never gave evidence to policemen.
He told Sunday News he was a law-abiding citizen. "I do not deal in drugs . . . I just wanted to be left to live a peaceful, lawful life with my wife and children as God decreed I could have by right and privilege . . . My conscience is 100 per cent clear, as my friends and family and those who know me well would know."
Then again, even his mother struggled to find a good word to say about him, when interviewed by the Sydney Morning Herald in late 1984. She said he had made his family's life a misery. "He was quite a nice person once upon a time, but he has changed for the worse."
He was previously married to Shirley Fulcher. When he died he was listed as being survived by partner Helen Lupton and two children.
- Fairfax Media