POLICE have begun work on a property in the Riverina region of New South Wales in an effort to discover the body of anti-drugs campaigner Donald Mackay, who went missing thirty-six years ago after a series of confrontations with Griffith marijuana growers.
The potential breakthrough in the Mackay case came last year, shortly before the state government and New South Wales police announced a $200 000 reward for information leading to the whereabouts of Mr Mackay’s body. Police have confirmed that a search is underway at a property outside Hay, in what is believed to be a disused mine shaft.
The search for Mr Mackay’s body is a collaborative effort involving officers from the Australian Federal Police, local police and the Unsolved Homicide Squad. Police were seen buying several hundred dollars’ worth of shovels and digging equipment in Hay shortly before the operation commenced yesterday.
Detective Chief Inspector John Lehmann, head of the Unsolved Homicide Squad, told the Herald that police remained “very cautious” about the information regarding the Mackay case. He said that they were hopeful that the tip-off would lead to the discovery of Mr Mackay’s body and resolve a mystery that has baffled police since 1977.
Mr Mackay went missing after leaving the Griffith Hotel on 15 July 1977. Police discovered his keys in the hotel’s parking lot next to his abandoned van, with three spent .22 calibre bullets found nearby and blood stains discovered on the car door.
An active community member and businessman, Mr Mackay had stood as a Liberal Party candidate on several occasions and helped to unseat government minister Al Grassby through a preference deal with Country Party colleague John Sullivan. He was also an avid anti-drugs campaigner, providing information to Sydney drug squad detectives that led to the arrest of several marijuana growers in nearby Coleambally.
The Woodward Royal Commission found in 1979 that Mr Mackay had been murdered by an associate of the Honoured Society, a Griffith-based branch of the Calabrian mafia that were heavily involved in the production of drugs at the time. A police informer from within the organisation admitted complicity in the murder in 1983, identifying Melbourne hitman James Frederick Bazley as Mr Mackay’s killer.
Mr Bazley was charged with Mr Mackay’s death in 1986 and convicted of conspiring with criminal figures – including Robert “Aussie Bob” Trimbole — to murder the father of four. Despite his conviction, Mr Bazley has consistently denied involvement in the murder and refused to reveal the location of Mr Mackay’s body.
Mr Mackay’s son Paul welcomed the progress in his father’s case, saying that the discovery of Mr Mackay’s remains was an important step in the healing process for his family and the Riverina community.
Paul Mackay said: “It is still important for the people of Griffith, as well as our family, to see those people still living in our community who conspired to murder our father brought to justice. Our family has always wanted the opportunity to pay our final respects to our father. This was the heartfelt wish of our mother, who sadly is no longer alive. We welcome any positive development and we’ve always been hopeful, although not confident, Dad’s remains would be found.”