Australian Institute of Criminology

Skip to content

Chapter 4: The strange confession of Barry Mannix

Published in:
Wayward governance : illegality and its control in the public sector / P N Grabosky
Canberra : Australian Institute of Criminology, 1989
ISBN 0 642 14605 5
(Australian studies in law, crime and justice series); pp. 67-77


In the early hours of 22 June 1984, Kevin Mannix met a horrible death. He had been bound, gagged, blindfolded and was carried from his Gold Coast unit for reasons which were not immediately clear when his body was discovered. In the course of his abduction, Mannix managed to free one hand, and to remove part of the adhesive tape covering his mouth. When he uttered a cry for help, he was thrown bodily down the flight of stairs leading from the unit, his head striking a concrete pillar. Mannix was stabbed numerous times in the chest, and his throat cut. It was a particularly brutal murder.

The nature of the crime and the background of its victim were to attract considerable attention. Mannix was the proprietor of a sex shop across the New South Wales border in Tweed Heads. He was a well-known purveyor of erotic literature, videos and assorted paraphernalia, and a producer of occasional strip-shows, who had previously been the subject of minor prosecutions on charges relating to obscene publications.

Detectives from the Broadbeach Criminal Investigation Branch, Queensland Police, began their inquiries the morning of 22 June. But the detectives had a difficult time, as the motive for the killing was not immediately apparent, and there were no obvious suspects. The days wore on without anyone having been charged. After more than ten days had passed, the inspector in charge of the Queensland Police Homicide Squad arrived from Brisbane with a senior detective to check on the progress of the investigation.

The suspicions of investigating detectives soon focused on the victim's son, Barry, who had initially notified police that he discovered his father's corpse outside the block of units. Barry had appeared remarkably composed when police had arrived at the scene of the crime. He reported having returned to his father's unit shortly after midnight on 22 June finding it unlocked with the lights on. The television set and room heater were both on as well. The father's coin collection was scattered on the floor.

Barry Mannix told police that he did not regard this situation as suspicious and he assumed that his father had gone out. Barry, who had been working at his father's sex shop, said that on returning to his father's unit, he watched television briefly, then fell asleep and discovered his father's body the next morning when he awoke and went out on the balcony of the unit to check the condition of the surf.

Barry's unusual behaviour before and after notifying the police aroused suspicion enough. Investigators also learned that Barry had arranged for the removal of a pistol belonging to his father from the crime scene shortly before police arrived. On 6 July 1984, Barry Mannix was asked to accompany detectives to the Broadbeach CIB office. He went willingly.

The techniques of interrogating a person suspected of having committed a crime have evolved considerably from ancient practices of ordeal by fire. No longer is it regarded as acceptable to use or threaten physical force to coerce a suspect to confess. The practice of 'verballing' - fabricating a confession and attributing it to a suspect - is similarly frowned upon, at least officially.

In order to maintain a psychological advantage over a suspect, interrogators do not encourage consultation with family, friends or legal counsel. They seek to convey the impression that they know more about the suspect's involvement in the alleged offence than they actually do. Interrogation over a prolonged period is designed to weaken a suspect's defences. Upon occasion, interrogators may resort to methods of deceit or guile which might not be considered appropriate in conventional social discourse. The language which they employ tends to depart from standards of polite formality.

After intermittent interrogation over the following twelve hours, during which, he later alleged, he was neither free to leave the police station nor permitted to contact his mother, Barry Mannix signed two written confessions to having murdered his father. At 1.48 a.m. he was charged with his father's murder. When his mother arrived at the station his first words to her were 'I want you to know I didn't do it'.

Barry Mannix was taken to the Southport Watchhouse for the weekend, and on Monday 9 July 1984 was moved to Her Majesty's Prison Brisbane. On 20 July 1984 he appeared before Mr O'Connell SM, in Southport Magistrate's Court and was remanded to 10 September for committal proceedings. On 15 October 1984, Mannix was committed for trial. But before the trial commenced the case took a strange turn. On 7 November 1984, another person was being questioned by police about a stolen car. Burdened with guilt, he confessed to being a party to the murder of Kevin Mannix. In doing so, he implicated three accomplices - none of whom was Barry Mannix.

Three of the suspects were arrested on 8 November, and the fourth surrendered a few days later. One had been a former employee of Kevin Mannix, and had felt that he had not received a fair share of the strip-show profits. The four had intended to abduct Mannix and to rob his home and sex shop. On 15 November, Barry Mannix lodged a complaint with the Police Complaints Tribunal of Queensland. The following day he applied for bail and was released from custody. On 6 December 1984, the Attorney-General of Queensland filed a 'No True Bill' in the Mannix case, and Barry, fearing that he might become a target for police harassment, fled to New Zealand.

In his complaint to the Tribunal, Barry Mannix alleged that he confessed only after police threatened to charge other members of the family with the murder.

Referring to one detective's questions, Barry Mannix testified:

Then he started saying that my parents were both 'evil' and told me that if I don't give them a statement of what happened, that he would lock my mother up with me and if my grandparents knew anything about it they would be locked up as well and then my brother and sister would spend the rest of their lives in foster homes. They also said that my mother would be charged with accessory to murder and I would be charged as well if I didn't make a statement. After that they said they were going to bring in the photos of my father's autopsy and I just kept on saying 'no, don't, I don't want to see them.' (quoted in Queensland 1986, p. 14).

He further alleged physical abuse at the hands of police. Referring to the conduct of one detective, he alleged.

He told me the CIB were fed up with my lying and he started asking me how I did it and why and when I told him that I knew nothing about it, he slammed his fist on the table, got up and grabbed me by the hair at the back of the head and pulled his other hand in a clenched fist up to his side and said: 'I ought to smash you right in the face you shithead' (quoted in Queensland 1986, p. 13).

The Mannix case was hardly the first occasion in Queensland in which police investigative practices had been called into question. Indeed, disclosures by a police constable in 1975 that a substantial portion of the evidence in one case had been concocted by police gave rise to a wide ranging judicial inquiry into police practices.

Anyone whose goals are thwarted by legal technicalities is likely to become impatient. There are those police who embrace an ideology which holds that the ends of policing justify the means. There are others, for whom policing is simply a way to make a living. As is the case with ordinary citizens, the inconveniences of life often tempt one to cut corners.

Few laypersons can appreciate the frustration which police experience when they have identified a person whom they are virtually certain of having committed an offence but lack sufficient evidence to lay charges. Such frustration may be particularly acute amongst those police who view their work not in terms of adventure, professional advancement, gamesmanship or intellectual challenge, but rather in terms of a crusade against evil.

The Lucas Inquiry, as it came to be called, found evidence of assaults on suspects, planting of evidence, forgery of warrants and fabrication of confessions by police on a significant scale. Its most significant recommendation called for the routine mechanical recording of interrogations conducted by police in all cases involving indictable offences. (Queensland 1977, p. iv). The proposal met with resistance from the Queensland Police and was not implemented.

There seems little doubt that Broadbeach detectives were under some pressure to solve the Mannix murder. Given the rather lurid background of the victim, and the gruesome nature of his death, there was more than casual public interest in the case. But nearly a fortnight after the death, there was still no arrest. The presence of senior homicide detectives from Brisbane would appear to have created greater pressure on Broadbeach detectives to produce an arrest.

Various features of police performance in the case were later criticised as unsatisfactory. The Police Complaints Tribunal called attention to the extent of detail disclosed to the media shortly after police arrived at the crime scene. This included a summary of Barry Mannix' initial account of the events of the previous evening, and a description of the victim's injuries. The tribunal report criticised the degree of detail as likely to inhibit police in catching offenders or perhaps to invite false confessions by attention seekers (Queensland 1986, p. 122).

The investigation of a major crime is a very significant police operation, which can involve dozens of officers. It is, of course, important that these resources be deployed efficiently and effectively and that the efforts of all those involved be coordinated. Information gathered in the course of a large-scale investigation must be systematically organised and regularly assessed. Each individual investigator should conduct his or her own particular inquiries with an appreciation of the overall direction of the case. To this end, periodic conferences are held to permit a free exchange of views and suggestions.

A few years earlier the Queensland police had developed a system, termed 'The Major Incident Room Recording Structure', for organising large-scale investigations. In the Mannix case, this system appears not to have been fully implemented. Until the arrival of senior detectives from Brisbane, the local officer leading the investigation was still required to perform normal duties, and was thus unable to devote his undivided attention to the Mannix case.

The investigation was criticised as having lacked guidance and supervision, particularly in its early stages. The first forty-eight hours of a murder investigation are almost always the crucial period. In fact, one of the actual perpetrators of the murder did come to the attention of detectives early on. His name was mentioned in a statement taken from a former employee of the deceased. But through a shortcoming of the investigation, a file was not prepared in his name and this individual was not interviewed.

Police were also criticised for not placing a senior detective in charge of the investigation at the outset.

In the MANNIX murder investigation, the Incident Room Personnel did not have sufficient rank to ensure that they were able to perform their task with total co-operation. We believe that, in future major investigations, the coordinator should be at the Commissioned Officer level, where his requirements are more likely to be met without any dispute of his authority (Queensland 1986, p. 124).

According to the tribunal this inadequate co-ordination made for a certain lack of enthusiasm and efficiency on the part of detectives.

We found that many of the detectives involved in the case had little knowledge of the workings of the recording structure. Consequently, some detectives interviewed actually expressed a preference for making inquiries rather than preparing or filling out Job Logs. This attitude demonstrates the general lack of appreciation of the system and perhaps highlights the need for more support staff. We believe that every detective should have some working knowledge of the system and its importance. If any detective shows a reluctance to accept this system and fails to familiarise himself with it, he should perhaps be moved to another branch of the service (Queensland 1986, p. 124).

The officer in charge of Broadbeach CIB was also criticised for having been absent from CIB offices on the night that Barry Mannix was being interrogated 'to supervise the considerable operation that was taking place a short distance from his office involving so many detectives ostensibly under his control' (Queensland 1986, p. 123). The tribunal found fault with his managerial practices from the outset of the investigation:

He did not check to see whether the Recording Structure was being kept up. When interviewed by us, he still did not know whether it had been kept up. Apart from several directions which he gave at the scene on 22 June, 1984 he seems to have played no part in the investigation. He claimed to us that his was a supervisory role. Since the very thing the investigations seemed to lack at the early stage was guidance and supervision, this caused us some concern (Queensland 1986, p. 123).

Further supervisory shortcomings were noted when it was observed that diaries had not been subject to regular inspection by supervising officers, if at all.

The Queensland Police Tribunal was established in 1982 in response to public dissatisfaction surrounding the objectivity of internal investigations of complaints against the Queensland Police. Its Chairman, Judge Eric Pratt of the Queensland District Court, and a former policeman himself, was a close personal friend of both Police Commissioner Lewis, and the Minister for Police, Bill Gunn.

The complaint lodged by Barry Mannix at the time of his release from prison, alleged six breaches of the Queensland Criminal Code on the part of investigating officers: conspiracy to pervert the course of justice; unlawful deprivation of liberty; assault; the use of threat to compel a confession to murder; fabrication of evidence; and perjury. The investigation by the Police Complaints Tribunal lasted fifteen months. The Tribunal examined sixty-five witnesses including the complainant Barry Mannix, who was interviewed in New Zealand over a five-day period.

The report by the Police Complaints Tribunal released in March 1986 is, to say the least, a most unusual document. Immediately following the table of contents is a full page colour photograph of the complainant taken at the time of his arrest - a 'mug shot'. Among the fifty-one other photographs in the report are those of the complainant's father's corpse, including close-ups of the wounds suffered. Others include a number of striptease performers - employees of the deceased as well as a photograph of the deceased's mistress.

The Tribunal took an extremely narrow approach to the Mannix complaint. In the words of the Report: '[O]ur primary duty was to ascertain the existence or absence of evidence sufficient to launch and sustain prosecutions of police officers for the offences alleged, or any offence (Queensland 1986, p. 6). The basic issue addressed by the Tribunal in its report, was whether a prosecution could succeed based on the admissible evidence available. The Tribunal concluded that it could not, because of numerous inconsistencies in the testimony of the complainant.

The report offered no explanation, or even speculation, of why Barry Mannix confessed to having murdered his father. It deals only briefly with the testimony of those police who were the subject of Barry Mannix's complaints: 'All Police Officers to whom any of BARRY MANNIX'S complaints could possibly relate have been carefully examined. Each stoutly denies any knowledge of or participation in any of the behaviour alleged.' (Queensland 1986, p. 96).

The report goes to great lengths to show how the police might have been justified in suspecting Barry Mannix of culpability in his father's death. In so doing, it paints a rather unflattering picture of the complainant and his character. One entire chapter was devoted to the question of whether the complainant knew one of the men eventually implicated in the murder who, as it happened, preceded him by two years in high school.

Another entire chapter was devoted to a band named the 'Ultra Deviates', of which the complainant was a member. The chapter contained a gratuitous discussion of the band's lack of artistic achievements, noting that at one engagement at a Sydney hotel, the band was booed off the stage. The relevance of these disclosures, not to mention that of the lurid photographs scattered throughout the report, to the alleged misconduct of Queensland detectives, is unclear. One assumes that the purpose of these digressions was to demonstrate that the complainant would not have been a credible Crown witness in any proceedings against members of the Queensland Police. The report dwelled extensively on contradictions and inaccuracies in the complainant's statements, and reprinted sixty pages of transcript of Barry Mannix's testimony to the Tribunal. It concluded: 'It is clear that we have discovered a large body of convincing evidence that is available to be led by the Defence in the event that any police officer is charged with an offence arising from these allegations'. (Queensland 1986, p. 114).

The report proposed nothing in the way of remedy or compensation for Barry Mannix. Indeed, it appeared to equate his misfortune with that of the Queensland Police:

The fact is that the system has allowed the incarceration in prison for some four months of a lad innocent of the charge on which he was being held. BARRY MANNIX has been hurt by his incarceration just as the investigating police have been hurt by the subsequent strain of having to undergo our exhaustive investigation (Queensland 1986, p. 117).

In addition to suggestions regarding the staffing and supervision of major investigations, the Tribunal's major recommendation was to introduce a 'wider system of recording that which transpires between police and suspected persons at important interviews' (Queensland, 1986, p. 117). Thus the Tribunal merely echoed recommendations of the Lucas Inquiry of some years previous regarding the sound or video recording of interrogations.

The Tribunal's report was criticised in Queensland Parliament as a whitewash, and was the subject of a critical report on the ABC's '4 Corners' program. In response to these criticisms, the Queensland Police Minister declared that he was entirely satisfied with the report of the Tribunal and that the case was closed. According to the Vice-President of the Queensland Police Union, the six detectives who had been involved in the Mannix murder investigation, were prepared to take legal action over potentially defamatory allegations in the aftermath of the report. As the Union official said: 'The detectives have been monitoring media coverage of the reaction to the report very closely' (Telegraph, 25 March 1986).

Two men were convicted of the murder of Kevin Mannix and sentenced to life imprisonment. Their two accomplices pleaded guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to six years each.

Barry Mannix changed his name by deed-poll and left the Gold Coast. In a media interview his mother said 'what frightens me is that it is true what the public says - you can't win against the police'.

One wonders, in light of Barry Mannix' experience, whether other Queenslanders might be inhibited from lodging complaints against police, or whether they might choose instead to suffer in silence.

The Queensland Government continued to express its support for the Police Complaints Tribunal and its practices. The Chairman of the Police Complaints Tribunal, Judge Eric Pratt, did not seek reappointment to the Police Complaints Tribunal at the conclusion of his term. Toward the end of 1988, the Queensland Government announced that it would introduce videotaping of police questioning of suspects in due course.

References

  • Queensland 1977, Report of Committee of Inquiry into the Enforcement of Criminal Law in Queensland, (Lucas Report), Government Printers, Brisbane.
  • Queensland 1986, Report by Police Complaints Tribunal: Barry James Mannix, Police Complaints Tribunal, Brisbane.
  • (Brisbane) Telegraph, 25 March 1986.