How come you’re so bloody accurate about the Mackay murder? (DM2)

How come you’re so bloody accurate about the Mackay murder?

On the Monday after The Area News article was published, on 20 August 2012, I received an email from John Higgins, a journalist I had previously tried to contact. The title of his email was: “How come you’re so bloody accurate about the Mackay murder”. It read:

In my old age, I have decided to write a book about my life.
A large part of it described my time as editor of the Leeton newspaper and my work with Don Mackay.
Many times, I’ve found your stuff on the internet and compared what you write, to what I know.
You’ve reported stuff which was only known to Don and I.
I can’t work out where you get your stuff from, and can’t believe that you could be so bloody accurate.
So much of your stuff is exactly 100% accurate.
I find that astounding.
John Higgins

For  a “controversial author”, it was wonderful to receive such a ringing endorsement, especially because I immediately recognised the name. I had tried to contact John Higgins unsuccessfully over some years because I knew he was a local journalist who had been in contact with Don Mackay on the day of his disappearance. In 2007 Kevin Meade wrote a story in The Australian about my research on the Mackay murder and he ended it with a quote from a reporter called John Higgins about how he had told Don about Fred Krahe arriving in Griffith the day of the murder and Don saying “I wonder what his job is this time?”

I had not heard this quote before so I googled “John Higgins” but John Higgins is a much more difficult name to google than John Jiggens. I got too many hits. I waded through them, but I couldn’t find the quote Kevin Meade had used. Later, I tried to contact Kevin Meade to find his source, but found he had died. Kevin and I had gone to Banyo High School together. He was a year younger than me so the news of his death was unsettling. I gave up trying to contact John Higgins then, assuming I had hit a dead end, so it was wonderful to be in contact with John Higgins finally. I rang him up and we talked about matters, including our rather similar sounding names. He told me that at one stage his friends had given him the nickname “Jiggins” (from J. Higgins, I suppose), and when my articles started appearing on the internet, people assumed it was him, using a pseudonym!

But how to answer his question: Why am I so bloody accurate about the Mackay murder?

From what I have observed the major methodology of crime reporters is to cultivate influential detectives, generally by sharing a few beers together at some ‘watering hole’, and getting tips and even the occasional police file left (accidently, of course) on the hotel table. In the social sciences this methodology is dignified by some researchers who call it interrogating Key Informants (KI); the use of the acronym, KI, making it sound a lot more scientific than it is. Critics, like me, describe this method somewhat more accurately as listening to pub gossip.

By contrast, I call my style of history doing ‘history by numbers’ and regard it is being far more scientific. My technique relies on numerical analysis, rather than pub gossip; consequently, it is more difficult to understand. I numerically analyse trade figures: in this case Australia’s marijuana trade. Evan Whitton told me that my great insight into the Mackay murder was to know that the size of the plantation at Coleambally meant there was an international drug smuggling conspiracy involved in the Mackay murder, which is correct. I know this because I can do the maths. I am world-class in estimating the size of illicit drug markets: I have written award-winning academic papers and major encyclopaedia articles on the subject and have been published in leading academic magazines. I can read the drug seizure figures the way financial analysts read the stock market. It is a weird power and you have to read my academic papers and be numerate as well as literate to fully understand my method.

In short, the size of the Coleambally crop told me that Don Mackay was killed by an international drug smuggling syndicate. The Coleambally plantation was 375,000 marijuana plants, approximately 60 tonnes of cannabis. The only people who could move such a large quantity of pot, I reasoned, had to be an international drug smuggling ring who were major players in the US drug market, because there is no other market that can absorb that quantity of cannabis. So my starting hypothesis was that Don Mackay was murdered because he had uncovered an international drug smuggling conspiracy that operated in the US market, and I worked backwards from this Because it was an era of massive seizures, there were other seizures that also seemed signs of an international drug smugglers operating out of Australia in the 1970s. So I was led to Murray Riley, Bela Csidei and that led me to Frank Nugan, the Nugan packing shed and Fred Krahe. I started from the hypothesis that Mackay was killed by an international drug smuggling conspiracy and found links along the way that confirmed this hypothesis, which showed me I was on the right track. I knew the secret that Don Mackay was murdered to hide, not because someone in a pub told me, but because I employed the traditional instrument of economic history.

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