“I thought Roger had retired and was doing a bit of fishing from a tinny on the Central Coast – boy was I wrong!” – Duncan McNab
It was a crime that had a nation on the edge of its seat, now there’s a book that will have you on the edge of yours. On 20 May 2014, former New South Wales police officers Roger Rogerson and Glen McNamara murdered student Jamie Gao in cold blood at a Sydney storage unit. Roger Rogerson is the eye-opening account of Rogerson’s life of crime – policing it and committing it – from ex-policeman, journalist and author Duncan McNab. MacNab’s intriguing insight reveals the full story behind one of the most notorious individuals in Australia. With a perfect sense of timing and masterful storytelling, McNab’s account is fascinating as it builds up the picture of events that led to a shocking murder.
We spoke to Duncan McNab about Roger Rogerson, police corruption, his research process and what’s up next for the underbelly crime writer…
Books like your latest, Roger Rogerson, certainly give weight to the cliché that ‘truth is stranger than fiction’. It’s astounding that Rogerson got away with all that he did for so long. Do you think your latest book helps to explain how that happened?
I hope so! Rogerson’s police career peaked and plummeted at a strange time in Australia – corruption was rife and pretty much institutionalised which offered protection to men like Roger – it was a time when the hard questions weren’t asked. Fortunately some journalists in the early 80s started asking those questions and corruption finally made it onto the public agenda. Roger prospered in his post police career because he was smart, opportunistic, and careful – he usually put distance between himself and the actual crimes – until the Jamie Gao killing.
This is the second time you’ve taken on the subject of Rogerson, with your first book The Dodger released ten years ago. What made you decide to take on the subject of Roger once again?
I thought Roger had retired and was doing a bit of fishing from a tinny on the Central Coast – boy was I wrong! Roger was back on the front pages around Australia! After hearing of the murder of Jamie Gao, I started digging, firstly because I thought I might update the old book. Within a few weeks, I knew that I had a more than enough for a new book – first up were people who’d been reticent to talk a decade back were now contacting me and wanting to chat. The fear that the name Roger Rogerson brought with it was gone, and the stories were riveting. Added to that was Glen McNamara – most of us thought that he and Roger were the most unlikely pair – the crook and the crusader. Glen had created and sold a story about himself, but the truth was very different. Mix in Jamie Gao, the smart, good-looking, and naive middle class kid who wanted to be a gangster, the intrigues of getting the case to trial, and the epic courtroom drama that followed and I knew there would be a big, fresh yarn.
To say it’s shocking just how much police corruption there was in NSW in the latter decades of the 20th Century is an understatement. How much do you think has changed in Australia and NSW policing since this time. Is it any better now?
We’ve changed quite a lot since the bad old days, and one particular change is the culture of the policing. But the constant temptation is large amounts of money from drugs and that little whisper in your ear that you can get away with it….
As you wrote about the two men, Roger Rogerson and his co-accused, Glen McNamara, did you develop any pity for either them?
Very little for either man. Both went into the Gao plot to make money from the sale of ‘ice’ and it was a drug rip-off that ended in cold-blooded murder. The sadness is the awful impact on their families, and on Jamie Gao’s. McNamara’s family were there for him throughout the trial – a brutal slog for very decent, honourable people.
Did your opinion of either of the two men alter in the process of researching and writing Roger Rogerson?
Oh yes! I quickly found that Roger was far more evil, and still active, than I ‘d known before – his connections and involvement in the Australian underworld were remarkable! As for McNamara, his well-crafted persona as a white knight fighting corruption, drug dealers and child molesters collapsed very quickly and the real McNamara emerged.
Having written so much about Australia’s criminal underworld, and in the course of your research, do you ever fear for your own safety?
Crooks are a bit unusual – many rather like being written about though they’re loathe to admit it! The only direct threat I’ve ever received was in a telephone call from Rogerson just after I’d published the first book, and while you shrug it off, I did look over my shoulder for a few days after.
Who or what are you taking on next?
I’m doing some work on a new true crime series for the 7 Network – and on the hunt for a new book project. A break of a few weeks between books is a fine thing, but I quickly start to miss knocking out 2000 words a day, and the great adventures that a day’s writing brings.
Duncan McNab is a former police detective, private investigator, investigative journalist and media adviser to government and the private sector. He is the author of over seven books, including the phenomenally bestselling Outlaw Bikers In Australia. In 2015 he wrote Waterfront, lifting the lid on the crime, politics, violence and corruption that has always been present on Australia’s waterfront. For Roger Rogerson, he sat in the Gao murder trial courtroom for eighteen weeks and has been following Rogerson’s career – on both sides of the law – for over 30 years.