The hotelier, the hitman and the shock jock
1 February 2012
They’re letting Andrew Kalajzich out of jail soon. It’s been 25 years since the Manly hotelier, Chamber of Commerce president and Tourism Commission bigshot went down for his part in the 1986 murder of his wife, Megan, who was shot twice in the head as she slept. The big iron door closed on Kalajzich a couple of years later.
The hit itself is a complex tale of pure hubris and dumb lunacy that would be grimly comic if it wasn’t for the long and, for the taxpayer, very expensive , campaign run by shock jock Alan “The Parrot” Jones to overturn Kalajzich’s conviction.
The very bare bones of the story are that Kalajzich, a womaniser, had grown tired of his wife. In 1985 he began a none-too discreet search for a hitman to bump her off. His first port of call was his disco manager, Warren James Elkins, who provided the boss with three guns because he felt “threatened”. The tools obtained, Kalajzich told Elkins he wanted somebody bumped off. Elkins, obligingly, asked around, and through a friend came up with Franciscus Wilhelmus (“Bill”) Vandenburg, who asked his mate at Kurri Kurri, who asked around and came up with a reputed hitman, George Canellis (aka Noel Sherry). By now just about every petty crim on the East Coast knew something was afoot.
Canellis agreed to do the hit for $30,0000 ($5000 upfront ) with a $5000 discount if the weapon was provided. All this arranged, Elkins told Kalajzich and Kalajzich revealed that his wife was the target.
Trouble was, Canellis took one look at Megan Kalajzich and decided it was a domestic. Canellis didn’t do domestics. He gave the rifle and silencer back to Vandenburg but kept his deposit. Kalajzich, idiotically, wanted his money back but Vandenburg, who couldn’t pony up five grand and didn’t want to pester Canellis for it decided to do the job himself even though he’d never used a gun in his life.
His first attempt on Megan failed because he didn’t cock the rifle. He bashed her over the head, breaking off the silencer, and fled. Plan B was that Mrs Kalajzich should be shot while she slept next to her husband, who the gunman would fail, accidentally, to kill. Several attempts to enter the Kalajzich home, arranged by Kalajzich, failed for one reason or another but on the night of 27 January 1986 Vandenburg succeeded.
It was Canellis’s turn to panic. He wondered whether the murder weapon had been the rifle he’d handled and decided to talk to the cops. The whole tragi-comic conspiracy began to fall apart.
1986 was also the year The Parrot pulled out of a Liberal preselection bid for the seat of Wentworth and the year he supported the ludicrous “Joh [Bjelke-Peterson] for PM” campaign – a sort of forerunner of the Pauline Hanson push.
In 1989 Kalajzich wrote to Jones who soon after, with his researcher Tim Barton, visited Kalajzich in jail. In November that year the High Court refused Kalajzich’s application for special leave to appeal. In December he applied to the NSW Supreme Court for a judge to direct an Inquiry but in September 1992 the application was dismissed as “fantasy”.
That was the signal for Jones to start a noisy on-air campaign for a special judicial review of the case. It was full of high-flown sentiment. To hear Jones tell it, his listeners would have thought Kalajzich’s conviction was as dangerous and important an example of state-sanctioned injustice as the celebrated Dreyfus case. “It is much larger than the man Kalazjich. It goes to the very heart of our system of the administration of justice”, the Struggle Street Guru opined.
In September 1993 Jones – who had by then reached the status of being almost a mini-Murdoch and was widely feared by the political elite – triumphed. The NSW Solicitor-General overrode the Supreme Court and recommends that the Kalajzich case be reviewed.
The exhaustive inquiry, headed up by retired NSW Supreme Court Justice John Slattery QC, ran for a year. In the wash-up, Slattery concluded, from all the material presented – including additional evidence –there was “no doubt” about Kalajezich’s guilt. The whole unnecessary farce cost the taxpayer $5million.