Sex, drugs and murder

BROTHERS IN ARMS? Terry Clark and Bob Trimbole (played by Matt Newton and Kiwi Roy Billing). Mr X introduced the pair - but says Underbelly totally overstates their business relationship.
BROTHERS IN ARMS? Terry Clark and Bob Trimbole (played by Matt Newton and Kiwi Roy Billing). Mr X introduced the pair - but says Underbelly totally overstates their business relationship.

They were lives lived in the fast lane, fuelled by huge amounts of cash, gorgeous women, ritzy parties, luxury homes - and the risk of a bullet if you upset the boss. For close to a decade, the biggest, most ruthless crime syndicate New Zealand has ever seen ran the drug trade across Australia and Southeast Asia.

The operation, headed by Kiwi Terry Clark, featured at least six murders, many more suspect deaths, kindergarten teachers as drug mules and corrupt Aussie cops.

The Dominion Post spoke exclusively to a key member of the Mr Asia syndicate, the last man alive who knows the inside details of the drug-running operation.

MR BIG: Terry Clark (as portrayed by Matt Newton in the TV series) goes undercover with Allison Dine (Kiwi actor Anna Hutchison).
MR BIG: Terry Clark (as portrayed by Matt Newton in the TV series) goes undercover with Allison Dine (Kiwi actor Anna Hutchison).

Nearly 30 years later he has agreed to talk on condition of anonymity. He served more than a decade in a Sydney prison and is one of the few at the top of the syndicate who lived to tell the tale, after taking the fall for many of his colleagues.

We'll call him Mr X.

"Mate, it was Dom Perignon champagne, beautiful women, the best restaurants. You name it, we did it," he said, speaking from Australia. "But like I say, everything comes at a price, and the price was sleeping with two guns beside our beds.

CREATIVE LICENCE: Terry Clark's girlfriend Karen Soich was photographed romping on a bed of cash. In the screen version Allison Dine (Hutchison) gets the honour.
CREATIVE LICENCE: Terry Clark's girlfriend Karen Soich was photographed romping on a bed of cash. In the screen version Allison Dine (Hutchison) gets the honour.

"It's not a good way to live."

Mr X is racked by regrets and realises the destruction the hugely successful heroin ring caused.

"Clark never saw it, you don't see all the misery that it causes, but when you are in prison you see it. I remember one day I was in this room and everyone else in there were addicts, trying to score.

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD: Underbelly shows Terry Clark killing former close friend Greg Ollard (payed in the series by Chris Sadrinna.) They met in a Wellington prison.
OCCUPATIONAL HAZARD: Underbelly shows Terry Clark killing former close friend Greg Ollard (payed in the series by Chris Sadrinna.) They met in a Wellington prison.

"I thought to myself `Am I f...ing responsible for this?"'

SEX AND GRAFT

Drunk on power, cash, and drugs, the syndicate's sex shenanigans would later be commented on by the Australian judge who headed a royal commission of inquiry into Clark's gang. Justice Donald Stewart said the group was constantly riddled with gonorrhoea: "They were all rooting each other behind each other's back.

TOP DOG TO DRUG MULE: Andy Maher (played by Damon Gameau) straps heroin to Terry Clark. Maher would later murder Marty Johnstone.
TOP DOG TO DRUG MULE: Andy Maher (played by Damon Gameau) straps heroin to Terry Clark. Maher would later murder Marty Johnstone.

"It was all going round in a circle - one would get the clap, then the other then they would give it back to each other. There was a crook doctor down the road here (Kings Cross) who almost made his living out of them."

Justice Stewart also bitterly noted how corrupt Australian cops turned a blind eye to drug dealing and murder: "The whole lot could be bought for the price of a hamburger."

At their peak, the Mr Asia kingpins were making millions. They flaunted their wealth, thumbing their white-powdered noses at the law. They killed without mercy, leaving behind a pile of bodies.

For years police couldn't get near them, and many of those who threatened the syndicate ended up on the take or in shallow graves. Some simply disappeared, taken out before they could open their mouths.

At the head of the syndicate was a bunch of Kiwis, corrupted by money and power and eventually poisoned by the very drugs they were selling.

Mr X says of Clark: "The drugs had got him and he was gone in the end. You get to the stage where you're just trying to drown it all out. You start the drugs and he lost it in the end."

Syndicate members drank only the best champagne, wore tailored suits and slept with beautiful young women who did their bidding in exchange for a simple taste of their shadowy lives.

They called themselves simply "The Organisation".

The public would come to know them as the Mr Asia syndicate, a tag given them by a group of reporters working in fear of a hitman's $30,000 contract on their lives.

MR BIG STARTS SMALL

Terry Clark was small-time when he first started making the newspapers.

The short, skinny kid from Gisborne had been picked up for stealing a few times and became a regular on the district court docket from the age of 18.

In 1971 he was jailed for a series of burglaries in Hawke's Bay. At the trial he was portrayed as a bumbling criminal who was rumbled trying to use a faulty bomb to blow up a safe at the Waipawa branch of the Hawke's Bay Co-op. Evidence was given that Clark used a short piece of industrial cordite as a fuse. If it had worked he would have blown himself sky high. But fortunately for Clark, the fuse needed a detonator which he had forgotten to attach.

His defence lawyer said he was an "amateur in the profession of crime" who clearly had an unstable personality and matrimonial problems.

But just a decade later, Clark would be at the top of the drug pile, running a multimillion-dollar drug syndicate with tentacles across Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and Britain.

By the end, there was evidence he was moving into the United States.

Ironically, it all began with his first jail term in 1971. Inside Wi Tako (now Rimutaka) Prison for burglary and theft, he met other small-time crooks with big-time ambitions, including Greg Ollard, also jailed for theft. Ollard had friends on the Auckland waterfront and when he got out he began bringing ashore Thai "Buddha sticks" of marijuana.

Clark would later dispose of Ollard, but for now he was an important link to the drug world. Cannabis was taking off in a big way, New Zealand catching the tail of a black-market industry that had swept through Britain, Asia and the US. New Zealand presented a gap in the market.

Ollard knew a guy called Marty Johnstone, who a decade later would become known as Mr Asia himself, and whose murder would prove to be Clark's downfall. Johnstone, Ollard and Clark began working together. A crime syndicate was born.

At the time, sticks of marijuana worth just 10 cents in Bangkok were worth at least $10 on New Zealand streets. There was big money to be made, and the once small-time crims began making it. Soon Ollard left for Australia, and Johnstone was the main man.

Marty Johnstone had also done well for himself. He had left Auckland's Takapuna Grammar after the fifth form and had been working as a farmhand. A dedicated follower of fashion, he got a job at Collar 'n' Cuff menswear store in Auckland's Queen St and then worked as a salesman at his father's Esquire Menswear store in Takapuna.

Later, he would assume Esquire as his codename in The Organisation. He did well in menswear but the money wasn't good enough for the budding playboy and he took to committing burglary on the side.

He would steal whatever he could carry, selling his stash in pubs.

SHIP OF FOOLS

When he met up with Ollard, he was ready for something bigger. Then along came Terry Clark.

The fledgling gang's first step into the big time should have ended in disaster. The fact that it didn't is proof that drug-dealing in New Zealand in the 1970s was a new phenomenon and policing techniques were in their infancy.

The Brigadoon, an 18-metre yacht built for Johnstone's father, slipped out of Waitemata Harbour in late August 1975, destined for Thailand. The trip north was fraught with difficulties - the crew's food rotted, a crew member was done for shoplifting in Noumea and the boat ran aground several times.

Four hundred kilograms of Buddha sticks were loaded on to the Brigadoon and she set sail for New Zealand. Again, the trip seemed cursed.

Two crew members caught malaria and the drug cache had to be stashed on an island while they sought treatment in Indonesia. There, the entire crew was arrested for not having visas.

In charge of the Brigadoon trip, Johnstone was in a bind. He hired an Australian skipper to tow the yacht back to New Zealand, then camped out on a Northland beach with some of his associates, waiting for the yacht to make landfall.

It eventually ran aground at Taemaro Bay and locals refloated it. A speedboat was used to ferry the bales of drugs to shore, but when an engine cut out the gang had to resort to a rowboat, with Johnstone manning the oars.

It promptly capsized, tipping some of the sticks into the water.

Clark was key to its distribution.

After an inauspicious start, the syndicate netted $3 million. They were on their way.

Heroin was still a small market when Clark, Johnstone and their cronies decided the big money lay in junk, not grass.

Already under the close watch of local cops, Clark escaped the heat and moved his operations to Australia, first to Brisbane, then Sydney. He set up a distribution network that stretched far and wide, tapping into contacts within the Australian criminal underworld.

Johnstone based himself in Singapore and the syndicate went into overdrive.

Mr X became involved with Clark early on in his Australian adventures. He would buy Clark's dope and distribute it through his own network of sources, mostly hardened crims with lengthy records.

Mr X was one of the few men Clark trusted and eventually he had access to a $10 million line of credit. The drugs seeped into every corner of society, and the money kept rolling in.

"I was running my own show. I realised there were markets there. I used to buy off him," Mr X said.

"A $10 million credit, in the drug world at the top those types of figures happen all the time. I sold it and took my percentage.

"In a good week I'd make $100,000."

Like Clark, Mr X had fled New Zealand, a scene too small for his burgeoning ambitions. Australia was the promised land. He was typical of the men Clark took up with except for one thing Mr X didn't touch drugs.

"I had a posse after me in New Zealand. I got out while the going was good.

"I'd always been a thief and a safe-breaker and that sort of stuff. I was very fortunate that I had money before Clark.

"I really didn't have to get involved with the guy. It was not one of my best career moves. I just started moving money for him, but he learnt pretty fast.

"Any smart criminal, you only have to show him once and they learn."

THE MUSE AND THE MULES

Allison Dine was a naive kindergarten teacher from Rotorua, but when the beautiful blonde met Terry Clark her life changed forever. Dine was one of several women who Clark sucked into his vortex. They were young, beautiful and easily seduced by the high life. They were also cunning, conspiratorial and well-versed in the art of seduction themselves.

Dine became one of Clark's expert drug couriers, smuggling his heroin in tartan suitcases with false bottoms, fronts and sides.

She also became his lover and in the end, a star witness against Clark in the court case that took him down.

Clark's femme fatales Dine, Kay Reynolds, Caroline Calder and others brought heroin into New Zealand, as well as the bigger markets of Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Perth.

The well-dressed mules would meet at arranged times at arranged places, often ritzy hotels like the Singapore Hilton.

They would often have slinky underwear or dirty clothes in their suitcases in an attempt to put off embarrassed Customs officials.

They would be paid in the thousands, and given spending money for their overseas trips. Much of the drugs were run from Thailand via Fiji. The girls would confidently pose as returning holidaymakers.

CRIME DOES PAY

The syndicate was helped by cops and Customs officials happy to turn a blind eye in return for some of The Organisation's cash.

Clark infamously said of the Aussie police: "New South Wales police are the best money can buy."

Mr X confirms this. He said bent cops were a dime a dozen in the late 1970s, turned by big money that put their police salaries and benefits to shame.

"You couldn't get arrested if you tried back in those days," he said.

"The boys over there, it was just open slather. You couldn't get away with it today. You haven't got the corrupt police we had in those days to let you operate.

"Clark had a hotline to them."

For nearly five years they lived the high life. Clark once joked that he couldn't even spend the interest on the money he was making.

He started building a 600 square-metre mansion at Okiato Pt, above Opua in the Bay of Islands. It became known to locals as "Mr Big's house". He had an expensive speedboat and drove around in a Jaguar XJS.

In Singapore, Johnstone shared a two-storey luxury apartment with his girlfriend and was a member of Pan Am's Lifetime Clipper Club, always travelling first class. He wore hand-tailored three piece suits and French silk shirts.

The one-time menswear salesman flew on Concorde's inaugural flight from Singapore to London, just for the hell of it.

According to Star reporter Pat Booth's book The Mr Asia File, by 1978 the heroin import bill for Auckland alone was more than $34 million. The mark-up from importer to dealer was 400 per cent.

The Organisation was rolling in it.

THE MURDERS

But the bodies were starting to pile up.

The handless corpse of "Pommy" Harry Lewis was found in a shallow grave at Port Macquarie, NSW in March 1979. He was still wearing an expensive suit and flashy watch.

Lewis, who had the gift of the gab and by all accounts was great company, had left New Zealand to set up a syndicate branch for Johnstone in Australia. He was soon entrenched in The Organisation, running drugs for Clark.

He was busted for possessing cannabis sticks but skipped bail shortly after. Last seen alive in the Sydney Hilton Hotel, he was killed because his bosses thought he had sung to police.

Mr X said Clark was definitely responsible for Lewis' death.

"I knew Lewis very well. Clark told me about killing some other people but I just didn't believe him.

"I'd done time with some pretty heavy guys, I'd been around some pretty heavy boys, and Clark didn't faze me too much.

"But as it turned out, everything he told me was correct."

Pommy's murder was one of many. A Sydney dress designer disappeared on Christmas Eve 1975, her body tied to a ship's anchor and thrown into Sydney Harbour. She had been one of the syndicate's glamorous drug mules.

Greg Ollard, one-time close associate of both Johnstone and Clark, disappeared with his girlfriend Julie Thielman. The couple were working as couriers but had acquired a healthy taste for the drugs they were running. They were seen as liabilities and snuffed out.

For a time it was rumoured they were buried beneath a runway at Sydney Airport. But their bodies eventually showed up, riddled with bullets. Their deaths were examples for others caught in the syndicate's web. A mistake would cost a life.

Clark was later pegged for their murders, shooting both Ollard and Thielman in the head.

Mr X said Clark had no qualms about killing. In fact, he had a taste for it.

"Clark was a nasty individual. He was the type of guy you wouldn't walk three feet in front of. He'd put one in your back as quick as look at you.

"He'd killed people over there (New Zealand) before he came over here. Maybe two or three. I can put him down to about a dozen.

"They get a taste of it, guys like that. I'd met a few multiple killers over the years - they've got a pattern to them and he was the same as them."

But in terms of keeping his nose clean, Clark went three killings too far.

THE WILSONS BLOW THE WHISTLE

Doug and Isabel Wilson (played by Kiwi actor Simone Kessell in Underbelly) loved the high life their drug work provided.

The Kiwi couple took over running Sydney for The Organisation after the deaths of Ollard and Thielman. Doug Wilson was particularly close to Clark they were both old boys of Auckland Grammar and Wilson had distributed cannabis for Clark in New Zealand.

But that didn't save him or his good-looking wife.

The couple lived in a luxury apartment, collected fine art and doted on their dogs. They drove flash cars and wore expensive clothes. But they, too, fell for the drug that was making them rich. They told police that their habits were costing them $1500 each a week.

It is thought the couple were trying to escape the drug life but they didn't get out soon enough. While on holiday in Brisbane they were picked up for trafficking along with other syndicate members.

Cornered, they sang like canaries. They named names, fingered killers and unravelled the drug syndicate to disbelieving narcotics agents. Word the Wilsons had talked got through to Clark, who was probably tipped off by corrupt officials.

It was later revealed that the drug kingpin paid $250,000 for the tapes of what the Wilsons told Queensland police. After the leaking of what became known as The Wilson Tapes, it was clear the couple's days were well and truly numbered.

The couple were lured to Melbourne from Sydney and killed on either April 12 or 13, 1979. The hitman spared the couple's dog. Their bodies were found in a shallow grave at Rye, Victoria, five days later.

Police were shocked. Doug Wilson had told them just a month before his death that Clark had threatened to kill him. He wasn't given protective custody, and police had now lost two key witnesses against The Organisation.

THE UNRAVELLING

So they began to close the net.

By now, Clark was very clearly on the police's radar.

In June 1978 he was arrested in Brisbane and two weeks later extradited to New Zealand to face charges of heroin importing. It could well have been the end, but Clark's lawyer, Peter Williams, got him acquitted.

Mr Williams and colleague Eb Leary did well out of The Organisation. They were regularly called upon to defend members of the syndicate.

Mr Williams told The Dominion Post that Clark had been "just another client".

"I acted for him, as you do. I think he could be reasonably affable but obviously he was drawn to what you might call the dark side, and that was his undoing of course.

"At the time, anything to do with drugs, particularly heroin, was very emotional in New Zealand. And there was always the fact that certain people make a lot of money out of drugs.

"That aggravated the situation - people don't like criminals making a lot of money. These were unusual, heady times. It was so overt."

With the killing of the Wilsons, the heat was turned up on the syndicate. Cops on both sides of the Tasman were watching Clark and his cronies closely in Opua, undercover drug cops pretended to fish while watching Mr Big's house.

Clark figured it was time to split and turned his attention to the burgeoning British market.

LOVING TERRY CLARK

With a young Auckland lawyer at his side - and a new name, Alexander Sinclair - he headed to London.

Karen Soich was working with Mr Williams when she first met Clark. The attractive law clerk fell for the gaunt Kiwi crim in a big way.

Before long she was a regular visitor at his Opua house. Police watched as the couple made love at the kingpin's new home.

She was once photographed rolling around on a bed of cash, and it was later alleged that Clark gave her a duvet made of $50 notes.

Clark and Soich holidayed in Sydney and Adelaide, Soich later telling Clark's trial in England that "we spent most of the time in bed".

Later that year she met Clark in Los Angeles: "We stayed in a big hotel in Beverly Hills. There was a swimming pool and lots and lots of Cadillacs," she told the court.

"We sunbathed, stayed in bed, went swimming and squabbled."

Soich, who is now an entertainment lawyer based in Auckland, has always maintained she knew nothing about Clark's underworld life. She said she thought he was a property speculator. But police claimed she was a willing player in the whole sordid mess, and that she knew "a great deal". Soich was eventually acquitted of any involvement.

The pair were living together in London when his heady days as a heroin trafficker imploded. He and Soich were in bed together when the cops burst through the door of their Kensington flat.

THE BODY IN THE QUARRY

The discovery of Marty Johnstone's beaten, handless body in a flooded quarry in Lancashire spelled the end of The Organisation.

Recreational scuba divers initially thought the body was a fashion dummy when they discovered it on October 14, 1979. The killers had made a hash of the disposal, throwing his weighted-down body in the deep quarry in the hope it would never be discovered.

But the body got caught on a rock ledge just six metres from the surface.

After a tipoff, the body was identified as Johnstone, the Singapore-based linchpin of the deadly crime syndicate. Mr Asia was dead, and the cops were pretty sure who had killed him.

With help from their Kiwi and Aussie counterparts, English police swooped on syndicate members.

They burst into Clark's Kensington pad, ignoring Soich's protestations, and led him away.

Alexander Sinclair, aka Terry Clark, aka Mr Big, was finally behind bars. His trial was one of the most heavily guarded in British history, and also one of its longest and most expensive. Even while being brought to justice Clark was responsible for lavish spending.

After 121 days in court, Mr Big was found guilty by a jury of the murder of Johnstone, his old friend and business partner.

Clark would die in Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight in 1983, supposedly of a massive heart attack. But even today, rumours abound about how his life ended.

Some suggest he died during a botched escape attempt, after being given a dose of a drug that would invoke symptoms of a heart attack. They say Clark planned to make a run for it while being taken to hospital, however the dose was too strong and it killed him.

Others including Mr X say he was the victim of an IRA hit, after saying he was involved with the Irish group in a drug deal.

Even today, the mystery endures.

It is clear Clark knew he'd be caught or killed in the end. He was probably surprised he'd survived for so long.

After his final arrest, he told police "I wake up in the morning and say 'Good morning day,' and if I wake up the next morning I count myself lucky."

In the end his luck simply ran out.

THE TV SERIES

UNDERBELLY: A Tale of Two Cities is being promoted as the "true" story of how two men - Kiwi Terry Clark and Aussie Bob Trimbole - changed the face of Australian organised crime.

However critics say reality has gone belly-up and key plot points are dead wrong. Aussie viewers apparently couldn't care less - the show is slaying all-comers in the ratings. The first episode was the most watched programme in Australian history, with an audience of 2.8 million. Family groups have complained about the raunchy sex scenes and violence.

Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities begins on Wednesday March 4, TV3 8.30pm.

THE CRIMS

Terry Clark

Also known as Alexander Sinclair. Known as Mr Big, he was the mastermind behind the syndicate. Intelligent, at-times charming and utterly ruthless, he is believed to have been behind more than a dozen murders. He controlled the distribution of the syndicate's drugs; first cannabis, then heroin. Eventually found guilty of killing former drug partner Marty Johnstone, but the royal commission into the affair also pegged him with the deaths of Greg Ollard, Julie Thielman, Harry Lewis, and Doug and Isabel Wilson.

When eventually caught, Clark's fortune was estimated at well over $50 million, but he was abusing cocaine and was drinking heavily. He was sentenced to life for murder and ordered to serve not less than 20 years, plus 14 years for importing drugs and another three years on a second drug charge. Died in prison in 1983. Official cause of death was a heart attack but claims linger he may have been killed by the IRA.

CHRISTOPHER MARTIN JOHNSTONE

Known as Mr Asia, the nickname given to him by Auckland Star reporters who broke the story. The former clothing salesman turned playboy ran the syndicate's first major foray into importing cannabis, then based himself in Singapore where he bought heroin to be imported and distributed in New Zealand, Australia and eventually Britain.

On the side he set up some legitimate businesses, and at one stage imported crates of L & P into Singapore. Lived a lavish lifestyle well beyond his means and was broke when he was shot dead on Clark's orders in England in 1979.

ALLISON DINE

A former kindergarten teacher from Rotorua, she became Clark's lover and drug courier. She recruited other young women into the organisation and played a key role in Clark's operations. Dine eventually turned on her former lover and became a star prosecution witness. A distant family member told The Dominion Post she now lives in England under an assumed name and is married with children.

PETER FULCHER

Another kingpin in the Mr Asia syndicate, Fulcher was involved in importing and distributing heroin.

Fulcher met many of his underworld associates during a stint at Waikeria borstal and worked his way up the organisation. He was jailed for heroin trafficking in 1980, later extradited to New Zealand, and sentenced to 14 years for fresh heroin importation charges. Once freed he was done for cultivating cannabis. In 2006,  while facing more drugs charges, he admitted stealing a dead child's identity to obtain a passport. Now 69, Fulcher is believed to be living in Auckland and not in good health.

ERROL HINCKSMAN

The best man at one of Clark's weddings, Hincksman became one of Mr Big's trusted lieutenants. The pair met in prison and worked their way to the top together. He was passed out in Clark's Kensington flat when police raided it after Johnstone's murder. Served 10 years in a British prison for drugs offences, and several stints behind bars in New Zealand. Was still involved in supplying heroin and cocaine in the mid-1990s and had become a user himself. Thought to have cleaned up and to be living in Auckland.

DOUG AND ISABEL WILSON

Ran drugs for Clark in Sydney but became heavy heroin addicts themselves. Caught by police in Brisbane and agreed to talk. Word got out to Clark, and the pair were shot dead in April 1979 on his orders. 

THE GIRLFRIEND

Karen Soich

Was a 25-year-old lawyer when she met Terry Clark while working on his case with Peter Williams. She fell in love with Clark and became his lover. She later said she was unaware he was a drug kingpin, and thought he was a property developer. Soich was once quoted as saying: "He has never had anything to do with drugs and never will." She was also famously photographed cavorting on a bed of banknotes.

Soich was in bed with Clark when police arrested him. She was charged with conspiring to import and supply drugs along with Clark but was found not guilty. Soich is now a successful entertainment lawyer in Auckland and declined repeated interview requests.