For the eight years up to 2015, father and son Gino and Mark Stocco were two of Australia’s most wanted men, and eventually the focus of the largest manhunt the country’s ever seen. During their time on the run, the pair found intermittent work, which they subsidised with sporadic crime sprees. For long periods they seemingly disappeared altogether, covering great tracts of country – anyone’s guess where they would next resurface. But inevitably they would collide with the world once again, sometimes with violent consequences. The Stoccos: Like Father, Like Son is journalist Nino Bucci’s gripping forensic account of their strange and chilling journey.
On the afternoon of 14 June 2013, western Queensland sergeant Liam Duffy received a call from the owner of a St George supermarket. She’d confronted a shoplifter, who’d ignored her and left the store, inadvertently walking directly towards the local police station. Duffy agreed to take a look but, as he’d been in first-aid training that morning, neglected to take his utility belt. The events that followed would spark a dramatic turning point in the Stoccos’ story. The passage below details what happened next.
Gino and Mark Stocco called it going shopping. The father and son walked into a shop, took what they wanted, and left without paying. They would go shopping for groceries. They would go shopping for farm machinery. They would go shopping for camping gear. Until they shopped too much in North Queensland and decided to leave their home town of Ingham. That was a dozen years, a couple of prison stints, a yachting adventure and tens of thousands of kilometres ago. They did not miss Ingham, and its whispers and its memories. The road was home now.
The Stoccos drove along a highway lined with tufts of cotton and dying weeds stuck in the red dirt, arriving in St George: a town with two supermarkets to shop in, and five highways to choose from after they did, so they could be on their way again.
The pair decided on the FoodWorks. It was smaller, likely to have fewer staff and customers, and was slightly closer to the edge of town. It was also on an intersection, so the pair could walk separate ways after shopping. Gino would do a lap of the block and go and fetch their ute, and then pick Mark up near the Balonne River.
The white automatic doors slid open and they strode inside. The supermarket was small, with only a few aisles down the middle, a deli along the right side, fridges and freezers along the left, and a fresh produce section at the rear. The pair separated, filling their pockets as they went. There were cameras in the store, but the Stoccos weren’t bothered. Stealing came naturally to Gino. He had been doing it for most of his life. And, gradually, he had helped his son understand the importance of theft. It was not merely a means of survival: without taking back what was rightfully theirs, there was no way to even out ‘the system’, and the world would remain unjust.
As Mark started to walk towards the registers and out the door, he was stopped by the supermarket owner. She had seen him stealing, and told him so. Mark did what he had been taught to do by his old man. He just ignored the woman and kept on walking.
Mark crossed Victoria Street, the main drag, and kept walking down Scott Street, towards the Balonne. He was anxious, looking behind him, making sure the woman at the supermarket had not called someone on to him. His dad would be there soon in the ute. The ute Gino had stolen from his sister. Keep walking. Then Mark heard the shout, ‘Stop, police!’ and saw a brute of a copper running towards him.
Mark started to run, and then turned at the cop, grabbing a packet of pilfered spaghetti from his pocket and hurling it at him. But he kept coming. So Mark pulled out a bottle of olive oil and held it above his head, threatening the cop. But still he kept coming. So Mark threw that at him too.
Sergeant Liam Duffy was not stopped by the olive oil. Soon he was on the bloke he would later find out was Mark Stocco, grabbing him and wrestling him to the ground. After a brief struggle, Mark submitted. ‘I don’t want to fight with you,’ he said. ‘Well, stop resisting then,’ Duffy answered.
Duffy had Mark pinned to the pavement with his hands secured, little more than 50 metres from the St George police station. But without his handcuffs, or anything else normally fixed to his utility belt, he faced the difficulty of getting up while keeping a firm hold on Mark, to walk him to the station. As he caught his breath and started working out what to do next, Duffy heard the distinct whir of a car being quickly reversed. And then he heard the driver pull up on the road behind him.
Duffy thought nothing of the reversing driver; perhaps it was a good Samaritan coming to help. Even if he had felt the need to look towards the sound, he would not have taken his eyes off the shoplifter he was straddling. Then he heard a voice: ‘Let him go.’
Before he could register what it all meant, Duffy was being punched in the back of the head. The barrage was unrelenting, dull thud after dull thud in the soft area just behind the ears, near where his spine plugged into his brain. Duffy knew from his police training that he was being hit in an area called the knockout triangle: get punched here hard enough, or long enough, and you’re out cold. So he stopped holding down the shoplifter and lifted his arms to either side of his head, elbows pointed straight ahead and forearms around his ears, hoping to block the onslaught. He still had his weight on the bloke, but as Duffy released his hands, Mark was able to get his arms free. And, as Duffy continued to be punched in the head, Mark started to push up from the concrete. Duffy went with it, getting to his feet by using Mark’s momentum, as Gino continued hooking into his head.
Duffy was standing now, Gino to his back and Mark standing at his front. He charged again at Mark, hoping to push him into the low metal fence surrounding a house on a corner block that overlooked the Balonne. Moving forwards would also get him away from the punches. Duffy came at Mark until he lurched backwards over the fence and into the front yard. But Duffy went with him and was catapulted further over the fence and into a bush.
Duffy’s vision was blurry now, his head swimming – as though he had dived deep into the Balonne and opened his eyes. He was in a tangle of dusty scrub under a willow, a frangipani and a yellow box. He could hear the doors of the vehicle slamming and it speeding away. He had never even seen the man who had tried to cave in the back of his head. Eventually he made his way to his feet and stumbled the short distance to the police station.
The extra police officers who had been in St George for first-aid training were quickly dispatched in all directions. It took a particularly vicious and desperate crook to belt the local sergeant on his lunchbreak within view of the police station. The officers would do everything they could to catch the two men who had felled one of their own. But Duffy knew it would be difficult to catch them; he had a description of the ute, but there were five major roads the men could have taken. And the roads south led to the New South Wales border, little more than 100 kilometres away, and freedom from the chasing pack of Queensland Police.
Duffy later said he reckons the efforts were hampered further by the fact the officers were not from the area, so did not immediately know in which direction to head. After a frantic few hours’ driving, and with darkness closing in, the police conceded they had lost the pair. They had escaped, almost certainly driving through the border towns of Hebel or Mungindi, further east.
Police turned their attention to finding out who the men were. Their first stop was the FoodWorks, to look at the CCTV footage. They noticed another bloke in the supermarket doing the same thing as the man Duffy had caught. He was shorter and older, with a thicker beard. Kim, the supermarket owner, had not noticed this man at all; he may have slipped out while she was confronting the younger man. Then one of the officers looked at the men more closely. She thought she recognised them, so she looked up a database of outstanding warrants in Queensland. And Mark and Gino Stocco stared back at her.