Russell Mad Dog Cox
Cox, Russell – Mad Dog – Australia’s Most Wanted Man
It is a story of daring excitement and defiance to some, while to others it is a terrifying tale of carelessness and threat. The concept of prison break-outs means different things to different people. There are those of us that side with the prisoner; who identify with his flaws and who see him as an underdog whom we want to see cast off his oppressive shackles and slip through authoritative fingers. Understandably there are also those amongst us who side with the captors, who recognise that prisons are in place to hold dangerous criminals, and that the prospect of escape should be so inconceivable it should be the subject of jest. Whether you are a good-guys person or a bad-guys person however, it is hard to go past the story of Russell Cox without at least being intrigued. For Cox’s life has been one of many crimes but he will be remembered for his ability to break free.
Evolution of a Tough Nut
Cox was born in 1949 as Melville Peter Schnitzerling. He displayed an aptitude for theft at an early age, being known in his local area for stealing bicycles left unattended. He had a largely uneventful schooling, but perhaps it was these early seemingly innocuous crimes of childhood want that paved the way for Cox to develop into Australia’s most respected and successful bank-robber. Did the rush of adrenaline Cox first felt as a young man as he stole set him on an addictive path of vice and larceny that would lead to him forever trying to recapture that first high?
Cox became known as an armed robber during the late 60’s before being sentenced to his first long term jail stint for theft in the early 70’s. He was an extremely skilful burglar, and was also extremely cunning. Although his nickname amongst police and the press was “Mad Dog” due to his habit of opening fire at police and bystanders when interrupted during robberies, Cox’s a.k.a. amongst his fellow crooks was slightly kinder. They called him “the Fox” – a reference to the fact that he was meticulous in his planning, was extremely clever, knew when to strike and had marvellous powers of observation.
Escape from Long Bay
Cox was imprisoned at Long Bay jail in 1975 when he and two other inmates led a daring escape attempt. The trio had managed to smuggle a Berretta pistol into the jail, and were able to follow a delivery truck into a caged section of the prison entry gating. The two guards inside the van were removed – one was taken hostage and one was forced to open a weapons cabinet, giving these dangerous men access to .38 rifles. One of the prison guards was then cast off, but the other was then placed across the bonnet and windscreen of the van to prevent prison sharpshooters from attempting to take out the escapees. Cox then steered the truck out of the Long Bay jail gates onto Anzac Parade under heavy fire from the rear from alerted wardens. As luck would have it, the prison truck was rammed by a bread van, and prison guard gunfire managed to blow out the tires rendering the van useless. Cox and his fellow criminals then proceeded from the vehicle on foot, still using their prison guard hostage as a human shield. Another heavy exchange of gunfire resulted in two of the escapees (including Cox) and the prison guard being shot and wounded. Whilst the guard was taken to hospital right away, Cox and his partner were left wounded, bleeding and in shock on the floor of Long Bay Jail’s OBS cells for 26 hours. It was only when the remainder of the prison population threatened a full-scale riot that medical staff were reluctantly allowed in to treat the would-be escapees.
For his role in the failed breakout, Russell Cox was sentenced to life in prison, and was transferred after his trial not to Grafton, which historically was Australia’s safest jail, but to Katingal.
The Electronic Zoo
Katingal was revolutionary in its day; located within Long Bay Jail walls, it was said to be one of the most high-tech, sophisticated prison systems in the world. It was a cold, sterile, bunker-like facility which was built to house the worst of the worst in the Australian prison system. It had electronically locking doors, no natural light, only air-conditioned re-circulated air, cells had no loose fixtures, and inmates would only be allowed one hour of exercise time for every twenty-four spent in Katingal. Conditions were poor as inmates complained that ventilation systems didn’t work and that the unit became very humid, earning Katingal the names “The Blockhouse” and “The Electronic Zoo”. Katingal was a very isolating experience.
Cox arrived at Katingal in 1976 and the following year the jail received a flush of new inmates as a result of the failed escape attempt from Maitland jail. These inmates included Raymond Denning, Dick Lynott, Steve Shipley, Roy “The Red Rat” Pollitt, Terry Humphries, Freddy Owens and William “Billy the Kid” Sutton. Together with Cox, the Maitland inmates forged a plan to escape from Katingal that would involve a hacksaw blade being smuggled into the supermax facility so that bars could be cut on a transport van which ferried inmates to and from court. The blade was smuggled in wrapped in carbon paper so as not to trip the metal detectors and was given to Cox, who used the blade to cut through a bar atop Katingal’s exercise yard, which was open to the elements and was the only place prisoners could experience natural light.
On November 4th, 1977 Cox asked the warden on duty if he could return to the exercise yard to retrieve his shoes. Once there, Cox removed a table tennis paddle from his clothes and wedged it into a crack in the exercise yard wall forming a step. From here he was able to remove the bar he had previously cut and climb onto the exercise yard roof. After climbing down, Cox still had to scale two fences, both over four meters high and topped with razor wire. Although he was spotted by guards shimmying over the second of these fences, he was free. Cox had escaped from the jail which was said to be escape-proof.
Due to his connections in the underworld, Cox was able to make it to Melbourne from Sydney’s Katingal, and thence to England where he stayed until 1980. Cox then travelled to Germany and in 1982 returned to Australia, settling in Victoria where he began work as a labourer. This would have been the last heard about Russell Cox, but in 1988 his old Katingal inmate Ray Denning was able to escape from Goulbourn Jail, and in eight days was able to track Cox down – something that Australian Federal and State Police had not been able to do in over ten years. It is unknown whether the two committed any armed robberies during their short reunion as has sometimes been reported. Both Cox and Denning were arrested following a fiery shootout at a Shoppingtown Village in Doncaster in Victoria.
Ray Denning went on to turn police informant against Cox and the entire Katingal/Maitland gang, meaning that when Cox stood trial for his Katingal escape the charge really stuck. Sentenced again to life in prison, Cox was later able to have his sentence down-graded to 29 years, with a shorter non-parole period. Cox was also acquitted of all charges for the 1983 murder of notorious Painter & Docker Ian Revell Carroll. Cox experienced a change of heart during this stint in jail however, and instead of attempting escapes, sought to improve the lives of others by entering into a mentoring role in the first offenders program, earning him a reprieve from supermax in Goulbourn to maximum security in Grafton for the final years of his sentence. Perhaps the reason Cox’s reform lies with his long suffering wife Helen Deane, who has stood by Cox through years of escapes, bloodshed and danger.
Mad Dog’ Cox set to walk free
By Alex Mitchell
October 17, 2004
Russell Cox walked free from Grafton Jail in 2004, and he is now living and working as a labourer on Queensland’s Gold Coast
. Russell “Mad Dog” Cox, sentenced to life in 1977 and also to a minimum 29-year sentence in 1996, is to be released from jail by the NSW Parole Board.
Once described as Australia’s public enemy No. 1, Cox, 55, is now scheduled to walk to freedom from Grafton jail on December 7.
A political storm was breaking last night over why Cox is being given parole after his violent career as an armed robber and master jailbreaker.
Opposition corrective services spokesman Andrew Humpherson said: “It is extraordinary that the parole board has given the green light to free this unscrupulous and violent criminal.
“He has a long history of repetitive crime – how do we know he isn’t still a risk to the community?”
The Opposition demanded public disclosure of the reasons for the decision and vowed to seek an explanation from ministers when State Parliament resumes on Tuesday.
A NSW Government spokesman said Cox was being released because he had served all of his non-parole sentence and had satisfied the parole board he was a reformed character.
Cox grabbed national headlines in 1977 when he became the only prisoner to escape from Katingal, Long Bay Jail’s maximum security “electronic zoo”, which had been designated “escape-proof”.
In 1977, he had been sentenced to life for taking two warders hostage at Long Bay and attempting to shoot his way out of jail. And in 1996 he was sentenced to 29 years and four months’ jail for a string of violent offences committed during 11 years on the run.
Born Melville Peter Schnitzerling, Cox began his life of crime at the age of eight stealing bicycles.
Most of his teenage years were spent in and out of court and children’s homes gathering a record of offences for theft, malicious damage, stealing a motor vehicle and assault.
In 1974 he graduated to professional criminal status when he was sentenced to 14 years’ jail for armed robbery. The following year he joined two other Long Bay prisoners in a violent escape bid. They grabbed weapons from the prison armoury, held a warder hostage, shot another, Paul Cafe, and tried to blast their way out.
The chief judge Justice Taylor sentenced Cox and one of his accomplices – the third was certified insane – to the maximum of life imprisonment, telling them: “You were desperate men, threatening to kill.”
In 1977, Cox secretly obtained a hacksaw blade to escape from Katingal.
He spent the next 11 years at large providing the media with random “sightings” in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and even New Zealand.
He changed his identity regularly to become a self-styled “master of disguises”. He linked up with the late Raymond Denning, who was to testify that Cox was his accomplice in a series of armed robberies in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.
His luck ran out in July 1988 when he and Denning were captured after a police car chase and shoot-out at Doncaster Shoppingtown.
Extradited to Sydney, Cox was acquitted of escaping from Katingal when a District Court judge was told that the Crown case suffered from a “fatal flaw” – missing paperwork.
In 1996, Justice Jeremy Badgery-Parker gave Cox a minimum jail term of 29 years and four months after the prisoner applied under truth-in-sentencing legislation for a re-determination of his life sentence.
He has spent most of his time at Goulburn’s maximum security jail and then transferred to minimum security at Grafton jail where he has acted as a mentor to young prisoners, warning them against entering a life of crime.
Justice Minister John Hatzistergos said yesterday Cox had served his non-parole period.
“The parole board has indicated that any state submission [about his parole] should be filed by November 2,” he said. “The Government is giving careful consideration to the matter.”
Dead men do tell tales…
July 30, 2011
Prison escapee and gang leader Russell ‘Mad Dog’ Cox.
IT WAS a simple stolen key ring that showed how desperate the gang had become.
On that ring was an RACV tag, which was used to identify a woman who was literally dragged into an armed robbery that ended with a murder. An injured gunman forced her out of her car so he could escape after fatally wounding a security guard in the Brunswick robbery.
It should not have been enough to identify her – but the gang had contacts at the Motor Registration Branch and found out where she lived. When police raided the gang’s Doncaster safe house they found a page ripped from the White Pages. On it was the woman’s name and address.
The gang’s plan was as simple as it was brutal. If they killed the only person who could identify them they would be in the clear.
Now 23 years ago this month, a change in the Evidence Act means that testimony from a notorious insider who has since died could be admitted in court – and it is that twist that created fresh interest in the case.
Finally, it seems, dead men do tell tales.
For the armed robbery team responsible for some of Australia’s biggest hold-ups, the Coles store in Brunswick was a lightweight job. The gang had a source inside Armaguard who, for 10 per cent of the takings, had provided information on six robberies totalling $500,000.
But this time the details were exaggerated. It was supposed to be an easy $200,000 but the July 11, 1988, job netted only $33,000 and went horribly wrong when security guard Dominik Hefti refused to surrender.
During a struggle, Hefti, 31, was shot in the chest and leg but returned fire, shooting one of the robbers through the hand. The injured gunman ran to the car park where he dragged a woman from her Nissan Pulsar in Barkly Square and drove off, leaving a trail of blood, while the other two escaped in their own getaway car.
Hefti died in the Royal Melbourne Hospital two days later.
From the moment members of the armed robbery squad arrived at the scene they nominated a prolific stick-up crew headed by career criminal Victor Peirce.
What they didn’t know was there was a second gang – led by the notorious Russell Cox – that was pulling the armoured van jobs.
The armed robbery squad’s flawed theory proved to be fatal when detectives shot and killed Peirce’s close friend Graeme Jensen in a shopping strip in Narre Warren on October 11, 1988, while trying to arrest him over the Hefti murder. The following day two uniformed police, Constables Steven Tynan and Damian Eyre were ambushed and killed in Walsh Street, South Yarra, as a payback for the Jensen killing.
While the armed robbery squad was right to conclude the gang that killed Hefti were full-time bandits, they were wrong in deducing it was Peirce and Jensen.
It was only when blood taken from Jensen’s body failed to match a sample of blood found at the Hefti crime scene that they found they had killed an innocent man.
It would be years before police would find the names of the real robbers. Then, using groundbreaking DNA technology, they established Dominik Hefti’s killer was Santo Mercuri, a sausage maker turned gunman.
The initial break in the case came when police accidentally stumbled on Australia’s most wanted man and arrested him after a shootout at Doncaster Shoppingtown.
Russell ”Mad Dog” Cox was serving life for the attempted murder of a prison officer in an earlier escape when he broke out of the top-security Katingal division of Sydney’s Long Bay Prison in 1977.
In his 11 years on the run Cox committed a series of armed robberies in Queensland (six between 1978 and 1983) and Victoria and was linked to three murders.
It ended on July 22, 1988, when the crew from an armoured van heading to Doncaster Shoppingtown radioed police to say they feared they were being followed. By luck an armed robbery squad team, headed by Paul ”Fish” Mullett, was a few suburbs away and with the aid of every green light on the road, made the car park in minutes.
Soon three armed robbery crews, armed with handguns and pistol-grip shotguns, were prowling the shopping centre. And there wasn’t even a sale on.
Detectives opened a Holden station wagon rear gate and found the prison library card of notorious gunman Raymond John Denning, who had escaped from Goulburn Prison in New South Wales just days before.
It was a stupid mistake from a smart crook. Denning was a cult hero among the anti-establishment intelligentsia in inner-suburban Sydney. Articulate and outspoken, Denning took on the prison system but he was not silly enough to take on the armed robbery squad.
When confronted on his return to the car, he retired from crime immediately. In fairness, armed robbery squad detective Ken Ashworth was standing on the bonnet of the vehicle brandishing a loaded shotgun at the time. Denning’s options were simple: retirement or a 12-gauge redundancy package. (We have seen Ashworth brandishing a $20 note at the bar of the Police Club as last drinks were called and that was frightening enough. The vision still haunts us more than 20 years on.)
Cox took off in his yellow Ford Fairlane and headed for what he thought was the exit, chased by a large number of armed police. He waved a gun at his pursuers – who opened fire in a scene reminiscent of The Blues Brothers – until he crashed and was arrested.
As expected, he said nothing. But later Denning concluded the underworld code of silence was an outdated concept and decided to open up.
”He said they were following the van ‘for fun’ and had no intention of robbing it – at least not then,” said one of the arresting detectives, Dave ”Gull” Brodie.
Denning didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in jail and made statements implicating others, including his mate Cox.
Months after the Shoppingtown arrest, Denning and Cox were in adjoining cells in Pentridge when Jensen was killed. According to Denning, Cox was delighted the wrong man was blamed for the Hefti murder and gloated that he was now in the clear. ”Russell Cox told me that this murder and armed robbery committed on Dominik Hefti had been done so by himself with Sam Mercuri and a person named Mark Moran.”
Mark Moran was a little-known gunman at the time. He would gain posthumous notoriety after he was murdered outside his Aberfeldie home in June 2000 as part of the underworld war.
Later Ashworth would re-investigate the Hefti murder and link Mercuri to the crime in the first Victorian case based on DNA.
Mercuri, 47, pleaded not guilty to murder and armed robbery but the forensic material was overwhelming. He was sentenced to 25 years with a minimum of 20. He died in jail in 2000.
Police were delighted when Denning changed sides. Others less so.
He received a shortened jail term in exchange for his co-operation but died in 1999 of a drug overdose that many still believe was a hotshot. He died only days before he was to give evidence against Cox in an armed robbery case and only weeks after Mercuri was arrested for the Hefti murder.
Most of the cases against Cox collapsed when Denning’s did. He was released from a prison in 2004 and moved to a quiet Brisbane suburb with Helen Deane, who he married in jail.
Victorian detectives have looked at Cox over the Hefti murder, and the unsolved killing of standover man Brian Kane, who was shot dead in a Brunswick Hotel in November 1982.
The reason for the fresh interest is simple. If they can get Cox they can get his close mate – the man they call ”the Duke” – who was part of the team who killed Kane.
And they want ”the Duke” because he is the man said to have killed police informer Terence Hodson and his wife Christine in Kew in May 2004.
Police have been able to independently corroborate many of Denning’s allegations but without a fresh witness they may still be on a road to nowhere.
Cox got away from police for 11 years while he was on the run. And now it looks as if he will get away with murder.
The real question is, will ”the Duke”?