After nearly three decades as a prisoner and a fugitive on the run, bank robber and prison escapee Russell Cox (aka Melvile Peter Schnitzerling) will be released from prison and paroled back to Queensland this week. The media and Police Forces in three States dubbed him “Mad Dog” but he was neither mad or a “dog” (prison jargon for an informer). Men who did hard time with him at Grafton, Katingal, Jika Jika and H Division called him “The Fox”. It was a mark of respect for a man who still retained principles inside the world of maximum-security prisons: A dinosaur in today’s unprincipled world of criminality.
My first recollection of “The Fox” was at the Central Industrial Prison (CIP) at Long Bay State Penitentiary on Friday August 8, 1975 when I heard gunshots about 2.30pm. Gunshots are not a daily occurrence inside prison. When the tower screws started shooting onto the road outside the walls I knew there was an escape in progress.
Three prisoners, Allan McDougall, Marko Motric and Russell “The Fox” Cox, all serving time for armed robbery, had made a break from Long Bay’s Metropolitan Remand Prison. A 0.25 calibre Beretta had been smuggled into the jail and the trio had trailed a delivery truck into the caged section of the front gate area before using the pistol to overpower the prison guards on duty.
Prison Officer Paul Cafe was dragged from the truck and taken hostage while the gate-keeper, PO Sam Pavich, was forced at gunpoint to open the weapons cabinet. McDougall grabbed two Smith & Wesson 0.38’s from the cabinet while Motric and Cox positioned Cafe on the bonnet of the truck as a human shield that prevented warders shooting at the vehicle. Cox drove the truck to short-lived freedom while shots were exchanged with the tower screws.
The trio proceeded to a boom gate leading onto Anzac Parade under the protection of their human shield but the truck was rammed by a bread van. Another exchange of gunfire blew the tyres out. The three prisoners abandoned the truck and proceeded on foot still using Cafe as a shield. Another exchange of gunfire resulted in Cafe, Motric and Cox being wounded. The prisoners were overpowered, handcuffed and dragged into the secluded Observation Section of the CIP while Cafe was rushed to Prince Henry Hospital for treatment.
Both prisoners were bleeding profusely from their gunshot wounds when warders dumped them naked onto the floor of the OBS cells and left them there to die. Motric had a bullet wound to the head and both men were in shock. An ultimatum was relayed to prison medical staff. If Cox and Motric did not receive immediate medical treatment the jail population would blow up. It was a tense situation inside the CIP the next morning as the prospect of a full-scale riot increased.
The impasse ended about 2pm when prison authorities reluctantly allowed Nursing Sister Crowley and Dr Tony Graham into the OBS to treat the two injured prisoners. Dr Graham ordered immediate surgery for both men and insisted on their removal from the OBS cells.
At 5pm, 26-hours after they had both been shot, Cox and Motric, were transferred to Prince Henry Hospital for urgent surgery and the prospect of one of the bloodiest prison riots at Long Bay State Penitentiary had been averted.
Shortly after the August shoot-out I was transferred back to Grafton where the rehabilitation therapy of “reception biffs” and baton whippings occupied my jail time. “The Fox” and Motric were transferred up there shortly afterwards.
The Spring of ‘75 gave birth to a rumour that Grafton Jail, the Alcatraz of the NSW prison system, would be discontinued as a punishment jail. The floggings and brutality inflicted with impunity upon “intractables” by Grafton prison guards since 1943 abruptly ended. A high-tech multi-million dollar escape-proof punishment block built inside Long Bay Jail replaced Grafton. It was called Katingal Special Security Unit. I became the third intractable transferred from Grafton into the new incarceration process.
Katingal was a sterile, windowless, concrete bunker. It housed 40 cells, segmented into 8 identical cellblocks that were colour-coded to minimise disorientation. Each was a self-contained unit with five cells, a shower cubicle and workshop-recreation area. The central control panels situated in the observation galleries between the cellblocks electronically operated everything. The observation galleries were separated from the cellblocks by steel security grilles.
The cells measured 84 square feet and permanent fixtures doubled as furniture. A stainless steel unit set into the wall served as a combination toilet and water fountain. The food hatch doubled as a table, and a large concrete slab served as the bed, complete with fireproof blankets and a mattress. Each cell was under continuous surveillance from an observation spy hole in the rear wall.
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