Read The Russell Street Bombing Online

Authors: Vikki Petraitis

Tags: #True Crime, #Crime Shots

The Russell Street Bombing

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THE RUSSELL STREET BOMBING

 

 

 

by

 

 

 

Vikki Petraitis

 

 

 

 

BLURB

In 1986 a bomb went off outside the main police headquarters in Russell Street Melbourne.

THE RUSSELL STREET BOMBING looks at the consequences of this shocking act of violence from the point of view of an entire city, the police force that was targeted, and in particular one 19-year-old victim.

THE RUSSELL STREET BOMBING

On Thursday 27 March 1986, Constable Carl Donadio was
19-years-old and had been in the police force for five months. After graduating
from the Victoria Police Academy, new recruits rotated through different areas
of the police force to gain wider experience. For the young lad from Ballarat,
every aspect of policing was fascinating. He'd joined up on a bit of a whim
because a good mate had applied. Ironically, the mate didn't get accepted and
Donadio did.

And because he'd joined the Force without much thought or research, Carl
Donadio found the rotating exposures to different aspects of policing
enlightening. His first stint was the St Albans police station, in the heartland
of the Melbourne's western suburbs. In the first couple of weeks, he and another
police officer had been called to a domestic dispute at a St Albans house. The
door was opened by a boy of about four or five years of age and to Donadio's
horror, the small child said, 'What the fuck do you want?'

The young cop started to tell the child that he shouldn't use language like
that, but realised he was wasting his breath when the kid ran up the front
passage way, yelling to his feuding parents, 'Mum! Dad! The pigs are here!' This
was Donadio's first glimpse of the hatred of police that could be passed on, via
the umbilical cord, from one generation to the next.

It was during his time at St Albans, that Carl Donadio decided where his
future direction lay as a cop. He was waiting at red traffic lights riding
shotgun with a more senior police officer.

'Don't look left,' his partner said to him.

'Why not?' Donadio asked, resisting the natural urge to look to the left at
the car that had pulled up next to them at the lights.

'They're dogs,' said the partner, using the police colloquialism for
undercover surveillance operatives. Sure enough, Donadio could see out of his
peripheral vision, an undercover hold up a police badge surreptitiously at the
window before they roared off after another vehicle.

Donadio was full of questions: how did his partner know they were dogs? What
did dogs do? And when his partner, who had worked in surveillance, told him
about life as an undercover operative, Donadio knew, then and there, that he
would pursue it as a career path. He reckoned that surveillance work would fit
with his policing philosophy - he was there to catch crooks. At 19, things were
simple. There were good guys and bad guys. And the cops caught the bad guys.

After a couple of months at St Albans, Donadio rotated through city traffic,
the Traffic Operations Group, and then the Records department. From there, he
landed a stretch doing court security. He would arrive at the Russell Street
police headquarters and his duty sergeant would allocate him a court to guard.
It was his job to sit at the back of the courtroom and provide protection for
the magistrate should any angry family members disagree with a sentence, or if a
crook got violent.

On 27 March which was Easter Thursday, Donadio was allocated a courtroom
across the road from the Russell Street police headquarters at the Melbourne
Magistrate's Court. It would be his last shift before Easter, and he was looking
forward to a couple of days off to spend the long weekend at home in Ballarat.
Aunts, uncles and cousins would all descend on the Donadio family home for one
of his mum's roast dinners. He was the only cop in the extended family and he
could regale them with some of his policing stories.

Working court security wasn't quite as interesting as St Albans. It was only
Donadio's third shift at the court - the first two had involved boring fraud
cases which had made the young cop look at his watch every couple of minutes -
mostly in disbelief at how slowly the time was going. But this case was a
criminal case and more interesting than the others.

Around 12.30pm, one witness finished his testimony, and rather than start the
next witness so soon before the lunch break, the magistrate adjourned early.
Donadio stayed behind to ask the Clerk of Courts a question about court
procedures. He was young and keen to learn as much as he could in his rotation
period. He chatted to the clerk for a while and then made his way out the front
door. He would head over to the Russell Street police headquarters to get some
lunch.

As Donadio was leaving the courthouse, another police officer, Constable
Angela Taylor, 21-years-old, flipped a coin with a colleague as to who go and
buy the lunches from the police canteen. Taylor had lost the coin toss and
crossed at the lights on Latrobe and made her way up to the south door.

As Donadio waited at the traffic lights on the corner of Latrobe and Russell
streets, he realised that he didn't know how to get to the police canteen via
the south door which was the closest door to Latrobe Street. He was new to the
Russell Street police headquarters and only knew the route to the canteen
through the north door a bit further up Russell Street. Rather than wait for the
lights to change, Donadio walked back up Russell Street past the Magistrates'
Court and began to cross the road, walking diagonally towards the north door
entrance to the police building.

A sudden impact sent him flying fifteen metres up the road. He landed on his
backside and, momentarily stunned, thought that he must have been hit by a car.
But then he saw plumes of smoke. He knew it wasn't a car that hit him.

At the same moment, but on the opposite side of the road, Angela Taylor was
caught in a fireball...

 

Inspector Bruce Knight of the Victoria Police Special
Operations Group was looking out his office window. A bus picked up a group of
passengers outside the entrance to the Russell Street police headquarters and
traffic lights at both ends of the block went red, momentarily emptying the
street of traffic. It was 1pm and the day had been slow. He wondered to himself
what he was going to do to fill in a couple of quiet hours and was just about to
say as much to a colleague when he heard the explosion.

Before his eyes, he saw what looked like a car bonnet come flying up past the
window. At the same moment, an explosion shook the building raining debris in
the usually quiet city street. The SOG was normally called out to such events;
this time the action had come to them.

Hundreds of other occupants of the Russell Street police headquarters were
rocked by the explosion as well. Windows all over the building shattered and
fine black dust blew out of the wooden roof and covered desks and equipment
inside the building. Shocked police officers of all ranks looked out their
broken windows and saw thick black smoke funnelling furiously from the source of
the explosion - a car parked right outside their front door.

The first indication to the wider policing community that a major incident
had occurred at Russell Street came over the police radio:

Russell Street 750:
...I presume you heard that loud explosion
D-24:
Russell Street 750, it's totally shattered our windows.
Russell Street 750:
Copy that 306...a loud explosion's took place outside the front of the complex. There's mess everywhere.
D24:
Copy that Russell Street 306. All units approach with caution just in case there's a second... Russell Street 150, we just had a large explosion occur outside the building - a car bomb, it seems. Shattered all the windows of this office. Received.

Members of the highly-trained SOG launched into their precision response.
Dressed in their customary dark overalls, everyone on duty in the SOG offices
raced down three flights to the street below. The scene looked more like a
street in war-torn Beirut than down-town Melbourne.

The epicentre of the blast was a car parked outside the south entrance to the
building. From the outset, it looked like the results of a bomb rather than an
accidental explosion. Injured people lay moaning on the ground and fires from
the blast were sending palls of thick smoke over the city. Many people had been
hit by pieces of shrapnel forced outwards by the explosion with the velocity of
bullets. Nobody was prepared for something like this to happen, but, for the
Victoria Police Special Operations Group, scenes like this were exactly what
they had trained for.

The first priority for the SOG was to clear and contain the area. Inspector
Knight and his men removed the wounded as quickly as possible because a second
bomb was a real possibility, indeed a series of small explosions continued to
emanate from the bombed car. Civilians - ordinary people enjoying a lunch break
- also helped drag the wounded away from the blast site. Fire engines screamed
to the scene, and chaos reigned. Fierce flames radiated out from the explosion
site which had ignited an unmarked police car parked directly behind it. It too
burnt furiously.

Having been caught in the full force of the bomb, Angela Taylor staggered
across the street into the Magistrates' Court where she was helped by lawyer
Bernie Balmer. Seeing her, he was confronted by a sight he would never forget.
One of her shoes was on fire, her shirt was nearly torn from her body, and with
each breath she took, blood pumped out of her. He smothered the flames and
gently sat her down on the floor and asked for her name. She said it was Angela.
The lawyer telephoned for medical assistance and did the best he could to
comfort the badly injured policewoman.

Meanwhile, Carl Donadio tried to stand up, but his right leg had gone numb.
He felt for a wound and was shocked when his fingers disappeared inside a deep
gash in his thigh. He realised that it was a car exploding outside the south
door that had thrown him down the road, and since the first explosion was
quickly followed by several other smaller ones. He knew he needed to find cover
quickly. He dragged himself to the gutter near the wall of the Russell Street
police building. Two female police officers, Selena and Vanessa, helped him to
the relative safety of the wall. A couple of civilian women were there also.
Donadio shouted at them to get as far away as they could.

Vanessa removed her shirt and wrapped it around the gaping wound in Donadio's
leg, while Selena fashioned a tourniquet to keep it in place. Sitting on the
footpath, Selena rested her downed colleague's head on her lap and spoke gently
to sooth him, but as soon as Donadio lay flat, he started gasping for breath.
Until that moment, he had registered that he'd been injured, but when his
breathing became laboured, he realised that he might be in more serious trouble.
The more he tried to breathe, the more it hurt and he started to panic. Both
Vanessa and Selena urged him to keep calm. Selena told him that there was some
blood on the back of his shirt and he might have punctured a lung. When Donadio
considered this, he knew that it felt similar to when he'd punctured a lung
playing footy after a knock to the ribs. But this felt worse though. From
experience, he knew it was vital to calm down because panicking only made
breathing more difficult.

When he stabilised his breathing, the policewomen tried to take his mind of
things. Referring to his face, which had only sustained a small cut above his
right eye, Selena said, 'You still got your good looks though.'

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