It was an ingenious, simple deception, which, initially, kept the police from capturing fugitive father and son Mark and Gino Stocco in October 2015.
The first episode of Channel 7’s new series Manhunt on Monday went behind the police lines for the story of the 13-day search for the pair.
It revealed that the fugitives eluded capture by padlocking farm gates behind them when the police were chasing them.
Police assumed they couldn’t have gone through those gates and moved away to search elsewhere.
It also revealed these were wily opponents in a story not told in this detail before.
The Stoccos first came to the attention of police in 2005. They had been living on a yacht named ‘Indulgence’ for several years but started to believe the system was unfair on them. They stole identities and credit cards, were arrested for fraud and went to jail.
They then lived as itinerant workers who did work hard initially but, often, were asked to leave properties because of their behaviour. They would later return and, in acts of spite or vengeance, set fires which caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
The hunt for the pair grew serious after they shot at Senior Constable Ben Kerslake of the Holbrook Police. He had given chase after he spotted stolen number plates on a ute they were driving.
Senior Constable Kerslake tearfully recalled he started backing away from the ute.
“The car hit a patch of dirt and damaged the fuel tank,” he said.
“The car just stopped.”
His distress was clear in footage taken from his car at the time – particularly when he had to wait for more than an hour for back-up to arrive, not knowing if the gunmen would return.
An intensive manhunt began and the police used the media in an attempt to put pressure on the two men. Superintendent Bob Noble led the hunt.
“We wanted people talking about it on Facebook, in the pub and the coffee shops. We needed them to know that they probably couldn’t go anywhere without being sighted.”
It worked, in that the Stoccos were often sighted but quickly escaped.
The closest police came was when a park ranger called the Dubbo authorities, reporting a sighting in the Goonoo National Park. Police gave chase but when they saw a padlocked gate at the end of the road, they thought they had lost the pair.
Police reveal they then received a call from an informant who had seen the Stoccos at Pinevale Farm – less than two kilometres away – and the farm’s manager Rosario Cimone had also been reported missing.
They mounted an intricate, nighttime operation and surrounded the Stoccos at the farm.
After their capture, the Stoccos admitted to Mr Cimone’s murder and, in police footage shown in the program, led police to his grave.
Channel 7 loves its crime shows and gets deep access to the police for series like this one, Million Dollar Cold Case and Inside the Line, among others.
They have to cede agreements to the police to get the access. They agree not use anything that jeopardises operations or convictions or identifies certain officers, for example.
It’s a fine line between co-operation and control, but this series is shaping up to be an interesting examination of manhunts – albeit from the side of the police.