Police images of wanted murder suspect John Victor Bobak — photo Supplied
Police images of wanted murder suspect John Victor Bobak — photo Supplied

Coast’s most wanted man still on the run after 27 years

AN ordered hit, a biscuit company extorted for millions of dollars, two dead and a man on the run for nearly three decades. This is the bizarre and true story of the execution of SP bookmaker Peter George Wade and his partner Maureen Ambrose, by Ronald Henry Thomas and John Victor Bobak.

 

Where is John Victor Bobak?

Is he holed up overseas being protected by an outlaw motorcycle gang, like some suggest, has he simply, with age, moulded back into society, or is he dead?

He is one of Queensland's most wanted men, on the run for 27 years for his part in the execution-style murders of SP (starting price) bookmaker Peter George Wade and his partner Maureen Ambrose.

Bobak's partner in crime and former cellmate Ronald Henry Thomas is still serving two life sentences for the December 23, 1991, murders. The only positive sighting of Bobak since the murders was in Richmond, Tasmania in 1992. He would be 68 today.

Copypic of SP bookmaker Peter George Wade who was found dead after execution-style killing along with his de-facto Maureen Ambrose in their Surfers Paradise apartment on 23 December 1991. Qld / Crime / Murder / Victim P/ headshot (unsolved)
Copypic of SP bookmaker Peter George Wade who was found dead after execution-style killing along with his de-facto Maureen Ambrose in their Surfers Paradise apartment on 23 December 1991. Qld / Crime / Murder / Victim P/ headshot (unsolved)

THE HIT

Peter George Wade was connected. An SP bookmaker since his teenage years in Sydney, it is believed a Sydney lawyer had hidden away an illegal fortune for Wade, thought to be upwards of $2 million and would pass on cash when Wade called upon it.

In 1989 Wade moved to the Gold Coast and had gone into semi-retirement. It's thought at the time of his death, age 50, he had up to three people working hotels and was heard to have taken up to $70,000 in an afternoon's work.

Police would later claim the lawyer in Sydney decided to keep Wade's money and hired Bobak and Thomas to kill him for about $50,000 each.

The pair were career criminals. Thomas was 18 when he first killed a man in 1968. His mother, Joy Ellen Thomas, planned an armed robbery on a postal depot in Newtown in Sydney and was thought to have been directing the crime through a two-way radio when her son bashed an elderly nightwatchman to death. The mother and son received life sentences for the murder.

Clara and Dudley Sperry Downton dancing. Dudley, 59, a nightwatchman was killed during a robbery at Newtown PMG depot Minden on 8 July 1968. Ronald Henry Thomas was convicted for the murder also his mother Joy Ellen Thomas.
Clara and Dudley Sperry Downton dancing. Dudley, 59, a nightwatchman was killed during a robbery at Newtown PMG depot Minden on 8 July 1968. Ronald Henry Thomas was convicted for the murder also his mother Joy Ellen Thomas.

Bobak met Thomas in jail in the late 1970s and the pair got together when released from jail in 1990.

On December 23, 1991 Bobak and Thomas took the contracted hit on Wade.

The night before the execution, Wade and Ms Ambrose had been drinking together at the River Lounge Bar late into the night, before returning to their Del Rey Waterfront Resort unit on Whelan Street.

The complex had security cameras and a security entrance.

Thomas, unable to get past security, climbed a ground-floor railing, leaving behind finger and palm prints. Bobak had climbed on the roof directly above unit 34 where Wade and Ms Ambrose were sleeping.

Delray waterfront resort Southport scene of murder of Peter Wade and Maureen Ambrose.
Delray waterfront resort Southport scene of murder of Peter Wade and Maureen Ambrose.

Thomas was standing guard outside their front door.

Bobak was trying to cut a hole in the ceiling with a bayonet and fell through into the apartment. It's believed Wade woke up and scuffled with Bobak, before being shot.

Wade was shot three times, once through his left shoulder and upper arm.

The next tore through his upper back, lung and aorta and the last shot was fired through his left temple.

Ambrose was shot once in the face at point-blank range.

Murdered: Maureen Ambrose.
Murdered: Maureen Ambrose.

Hearing the gunfire, Thomas shot out the lock on the front door and as he came into the unit, Bobak accidentally shot him in the face.

Thomas left behind a significant blood trail, as well as a number of false teeth.

Four witnesses saw two people leaving the unit in a hurry.

It is believed the pair then drove to Bobak's home in Bilambil where they woke his partner, Amanda Jade Teasdale, who had trained as a dental nurse. She washed out Thomas' mouth and noticed he had no teeth.

A phone call was then made to Thomas' mum, Joy Ellen Thomas, who arrived at the home at 8am and picked up her son.

About 7am at Wade's unit block, a cleaner raised the alarm when he noticed the door to the apartment was ajar and blood smeared over the door.

Police found the couple's bloodied bodies, a hole in the ceiling, a bullet-riddled door, teeth and broken dentures scattered across the floor.

It is understood Thomas got word police were looking for him in the days after and handed himself into police on January 20, 1992, in Sydney. Bobak is still on the run.

 

Police comfit, an aged progression images of murder suspect John Victor Bobak — Photo Supplied
Police comfit, an aged progression images of murder suspect John Victor Bobak — Photo Supplied

RONALD THOMAS

The twists kept coming for years after the brutal slaying of Wade and Ms Ambrose.

During his murder trial Thomas contested the charges. He claimed he had fallen asleep at the couple's home after drinking heavily with the pair and woken when someone fell through the roof.

Ronald Henry Thomas serving sentence for Peter Wade / Maureen Ambrose murders in 1991.
Ronald Henry Thomas serving sentence for Peter Wade / Maureen Ambrose murders in 1991.

"The next thing, I distinctly heard one shot coming through the door," he told the court.

"I got to my feet and, at the same time, someone's foot started coming through the ceiling, then two legs appeared and a man dropped from the ceiling to the floor."

Thomas said the man from the ceiling jumped to his feet.

"He raised both hands, he had a gun and he shot me."

Thomas claimed one of two gunmen in the house recognised him and they spared his life.

In the Supreme Court, Thomas refused to name the man.

"I believe that, if I tell you his name, something similar would happen to me or my family. He told me that I could never tell anyone what happened or give his name, even to my own mother," he said.

Ronald Henry Thomas.
Ronald Henry Thomas.

"I was told that if these people couldn't get me, they would get a member of my family."

The jury didn't believe him and he was sentenced to two life sentences behind bars.

 

THE ARNOTT'S LETTERS

Six years after the killings, six people across Queensland and New South Wales received a threatening letters and a packet of Arnotts biscuits. The letter stated the biscuits had been poisoned and they threatened to put packets of poisoned biscuits on supermarket shelves.

The extortionist sent the letter and a small cardboard box containing poisoned Arnott's Monte Carlo biscuits to the NSW Police Commissioner, Mr Peter Ryan, the Queensland Attorney-General, Mr Beanland, the offices of the parliamentary committee of the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission and a Queensland newspaper on February 3, 1997.

The letter claimed Ronald Henry Thomas was innocent and that four Sydney police officers had framed him.

At the time detectives were focusing on trying to find Bobak as they believed he was behind the threat.

Photos of John Victor Bobak's tattoos. On his lower left arm a horse. On his upper right arm an eagle and a skull which covers his shoulder. The word ‘Ford’ is on his right lower arm and an eagle’s head and hula girl on the front. On his right upper arm is a spider’s web (on shoulder) and a snake on the front. On his left upper back is a skull. On his right upper back is a panther and left upper
Photos of John Victor Bobak's tattoos. On his lower left arm a horse. On his upper right arm an eagle and a skull which covers his shoulder. The word ‘Ford’ is on his right lower arm and an eagle’s head and hula girl on the front. On his right upper arm is a spider’s web (on shoulder) and a snake on the front. On his left upper back is a skull. On his right upper back is a panther and left upper

It read, "We always thought Ron would never get found guilty of murder, maybe a lesser charge for not helping the police and not telling on me, but not for the murders.

"I know that four Sydney police gave evidence and these four lied in their evidence. We are now going to prove this.

"You would have noticed along with this letter you have received one packet of Arnott's biscuits. DO NOT OPEN THEM. (They) are poisoned."

The letter demanded that the Sydney police officers be brought to Brisbane and undergo lie detector tests about their evidence.

"Failing to comply to our demands, a rush of Arnott's biscuits will hit stores throughout NSW and Qld," the letter threatened.

"This is not a one-off event, it will be a campaign of attacks until this is resolved."

The letter ends: "Meet the demands and requirements of this letter in full by Monday the 17th February, or the (food item) will go to the stores."

At the time Arnott's went into damage control and pulled all of its products from 3000 supermarkets in what was one of the nation's biggest food recalls. In total they withdrew 1 million packets of biscuits.

One hundred casual workers in Adelaide were also stood down from Arnotts.

At the height of the threat, then Arnott's managing director, Chris Roberts, described the situation as "every food manufacturer's worst nightmare". He said an extensive product recall was essential to consumer safety.

Identikit of fugitive John Victor Bobak 15/01/92, suspect in Arnott's biscuit poisoning extortion attempt in Queensland, also sought by police for murder. Queensland / Crime / Police / Identikits 1992
Identikit of fugitive John Victor Bobak 15/01/92, suspect in Arnott's biscuit poisoning extortion attempt in Queensland, also sought by police for murder. Queensland / Crime / Police / Identikits 1992

"The reality is the threats are a threat to our customers, and Arnott's concern for the welfare of our customers is paramount," Mr Roberts said.

"This is a very bad day for Arnott's, I think this is a very bad day for the food industry and I think this is a very bad day for the community of Australia."

Investigators turned their attention to a former Sydney solicitor turned drug dealer, Justin Birk Hill, who Queensland Police wanted to talk to in relation to the double murder at the centre of the extortion.

Hill was sentenced to a maximum eight years jail for his role in a major drugs racket.

The Adelaide Supreme Court heard he financed and set up contracts for an Adelaide Hills factory producing amphetamine and ecstasy.

But it is the double murders of SP bookmaker Peter George Wade and Maureen Ambrose, and Hill's admitted contacts with a number of bikie gangs, which now interest police.

Two weeks after the public were made aware of the extortion attempt, Thomas, who was still locked up for the double murder issued a statement through his lawyer Chris Nyst.

"My name is Ron Thomas. I was wrongly convicted of two murders and now I am serving life imprisonment for them.

John Victor Bobak is still wanted.
John Victor Bobak is still wanted.

"I have been told all about the threats that have been made to Arnott's, apparently on my behalf or in an attempt to somehow change the injustice that has been done to me.

"I want everyone to know that I had no part in these threats. I don't know who made the threats and I have never asked anybody to make them. But I do understand how people feel about what was done to me and I want to thank those people for trying to do something.

"But this is not the way. I want to make that very, very clear …

"I want to make the strongest possible appeal to whoever has done this not to take these threats any further and to withdraw the threats immediately. I don't want any innocent people harmed in my name. If anything were done with these biscuits, innocent people could be hurt and I don't want any part of that."

THE DNA

Years went by, before in March 1999 police thought they made a DNA breakthrough. Information began to swirl DNA had been lifted off the back of a stamp and an envelope of one of the extortion letters. It was thought to be a woman's DNA.

On May 29, 1999, Joy Ellen Thomas, Rodney Thomas' mother and convicted murderer, briefly appeared in Murwillumbah Local Court, where her extradition to Queensland was ordered.

 

Qld's most wanted — John Victor Bobak headshot
Qld's most wanted — John Victor Bobak headshot

 

The following day Thomas was charged with four counts of extortion in Brisbane Magistrates Court, the court also heard Arnotts lost an estimated $22 million in sales because of the extortion threat.

On the first day of her committal hearing in December 1999, prosecutor Paul Rutledge told the Brisbane Magistrates Court a stamp on a package sent to Brisbane solicitor Andrew Boe yielded DNA material that was matched with Mrs Thomas. "The statistical probability of such a match is one in 2900 billion," he said.

Mr Rutledge said police found bottles containing the same poison detected in the biscuit.

Also found was the address of lawyer Andrew Boe and the names of two of the police officers who had given evidence against Ronald Thomas.

Mr Rutledge said police found letters written by Joy Thomas that contained the same spelling mistake as the Arnott's extortionist.

"Among those letters the word received appears R.E.C.I. E.V.E. D,'' he said.

"That spelling mistake is consistent with the spelling of the word received in the demand letter.''

Joy Ellen Thomas, alleged Arnotts extortionist, walks free from Brisbanes Supreme Court, with family and legal members after her case was struck out due to DNA evidence concerns. pic Lyndon Mechielsen 26/04/02
Joy Ellen Thomas, alleged Arnotts extortionist, walks free from Brisbanes Supreme Court, with family and legal members after her case was struck out due to DNA evidence concerns. pic Lyndon Mechielsen 26/04/02

Mr Rutledge said the pale-coloured, fine dog hair found inside the demand packages was consistent with the type of animal found at Joy Ellen Thomas's home.

One animal hair was found in the cream of one of the biscuits.

Mrs Thomas was committed to stand trial, although denied any link to the extortion.

Years passed again and then in April, 2002, the case against Thomas began to crumble. There were concerns about the DNA evidence.

Joy Ellen Thomas taken on 14 December 1999.
Joy Ellen Thomas taken on 14 December 1999.

On April, 26, 2002, the case against Joy Ellen Thomas was dropped and she walked free from court, after the court was told a forensic biologist, acting for the Crown, had changed his opinion about key DNA evidence.

The last time Joy Ellen Thomas was heard from, she was attempting to get compensation and an apology from the Queensland Government.

Police comfit, an aged progression images of murder suspect John Victor Bobak — Photo Supplied
Police comfit, an aged progression images of murder suspect John Victor Bobak — Photo Supplied


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