News National The art of catching a crim: great Aussie stings

The art of catching a crim: great Aussie stings

Allison and Gerard Baden-Clay.
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Mr Big technique

Brett Cowan
Brett Cown, found guitly or murdering QLD schoolboy Daniel Morcombe.

With no body and no crime scene, police decided to use a controversial yet cunning police technique to nail the man suspected of the kidnap of schoolboy Daniel Morcombe.

Originally developed in Canada, the Mr Big technique involved Queensland police establishing a fake crime syndicate and then luring murder suspect Brett Cowan into joining. Police went undercover for more than a year to convince Cowan the gang was genuine.

They set up various false criminal scenarios including prostitution, false passports, the blood diamond trade, illegal firearms and loan sharking. Cowan fell for it and was eventually introduced to the syndicate’s Mr Big – known as Arnold – who “dangled the carrot of big jobs and big money” in front of Cowan.

Then in 2011, “Arnold”, having gained his trust, secretly recorded Cowan confessing at a Perth hotel to the 13-year-old’s murder, and revealing how he kidnapped him and disposed of his body. On tape, Cowan confided Daniel’s murder is his “deepest, darkest secret” that he had told no one.

He is heard telling Mr Big: “I never got to molest him or anything like that. I panicked and he panicked and I grabbed him around the throat and before I knew it he was dead.”

The confession was crucial evidence and led to a jury finding him guilty on March 13, 2014. Cowan was sentenced to life.

Crotch cam

It became known as “crotch cam” – the secret video camera that brought down the career of notorious Kings Cross police boss Graeme “Chook” Fowler and exposed the deep, dark secrets of NSW police corruption.

In a defining moment of the Wood Royal Commission, Fowler, dressed in a pair of Stubbies, was captured on video pocketing his $1000 share of a bribe from corrupt officer turned informant Trevor Haken.

Unbeknown to Fowler, Haken had rolled over to the Wood Royal Commission on the NSW Police Service and for months Haken had been secretly recording his mates taking bribes. Fowler was sacked following the crotch cam bombshell in 1996 and received a three-year sentence in 2000.

He died last year of cancer, aged 69. Haken remains in a witness protection program. The infamous scene was replicated in an episode of Underbelly: The Golden Mile.

Bruce Burrell
Bruce Burrell

Covert bushwalkers

Conman Bruce Burrell had no idea he was under suspicion – nor surveillance – for the kidnap and ransom of Sydney woman Kerry Whelan.

Burrell lived on a rural property outside the NSW town of Goulburn and investigators needed to secretly gain access to establish whether the mother-of-three was being held there.

When Burrell left his property on the morning of May 16th, 1997, he was arrested by police for traffic violations and taken in for questioning – giving a convert team, comprising two couples dressed as bushwalkers (with guns hidden on their ankle holsters), enough time to wander casually onto Burrell’s property and begin searching for Whelan.

After breaking into Burrell’s house, they went from room to room, finding vital information including a cache of firearms, a near empty bottle of chloroform and a typewriter, possibly used to compile the ransom letter.

Despite finding no sign of Whelan, it was enough material to secure a search warrant for his massive property, which uncovered crucial evidence that led to the killer’s conviction in 2006. He was jailed for life.

Phone bugging

Keli Lane
Keli Lane

Sydney water polo champion Keli Lane knew she was under suspicion for killing her baby daughter, Tegan, in 1996, yet she had no idea the lengths police had gone to in order to convict her.

Bugging devices were installed in her home, and listening devices placed on phones as police listened to every conversation she had with her then husband, parents, Sandra and Robert, and her friends.

Among the most damning was secretly taped dialogue on January 23, 2004, in which Lane’s own mother, Sandra, revealed she had trouble believing her daughter’s version of events – that she had given away baby Tegan in the hospital carpark to the father, a man she had met only a few times.

Says Sandra: “You’ve got to be telling the absolute truth, I’m telling you, ‘cause it’s just so unlike a young bloke to want to raise a child. That’s the thing I just can’t sort of grip. But obviously that’s what you agreed. Isn’t it?”

Keli replies: “Yeah. Well, I didn’t really have too many options.” In another conversation, as the police close in, she is heard telling her husband: “It all seems to be out of my hands, like I really don’t have any choices.” Lane was jailed for murder in 2011 for at least 13 years.