How Australia’s most wanted men snapped
GINO Stocco was so talented with his hands that his mates thought he could have made himself a millionaire.
His Venetian parents were two of hundreds of Italian migrants who made it to scorching hot sugar cane plantations in far north Queensland to make a better life for themselves while Europe was tearing itself apart in the early 20th century.
He had a comfortable childhood in Ingham and met a partner who would become his wife. They had two children Mark and Christina who were always well presented.
His talented son Mark even went on to study civil engineering at James Cook University in Townsville, where he met an attractive, career-orientated girl.
But, according to an astonishing new book The Stoccos, Like Father, Like Son, by investigative journalist, Nino Stucco, things started to fall apart for Gino and Mark very quickly.
It was a dark downfall which was so disturbing that it led them on an incredible eight-year rampage around Australia, on which they committed an unknown number of desperate offences that included robbery, arson, assaults and even murder.
Mr Stucco writes that a local who knew Gino for 30 years is convinced she knows the "turning point" that made Gino snap and bring his son under his dark influence. It was Gino's breakup with his wife Connie.
The book describes how Gino, who moved away from the sugar cane industry, as the price of sugar slumped and a cane-cutting venture with his father Peter failed, and opened a petrol station on the Bruce Highway between Townsville and Cairns.
He even built a giant three-tonne, concrete slice of watermelon, which punters could walk inside, to attract tourists, but the business was far from a success.
The failing business took its toll on Connie and Gino - who received his first criminal conviction and a fine of $80 when he was 26.
It didn't take long for Gino to make a bad name for himself locally as he continued stealing from other businesses and committing petty crimes.
Mr Stucco discovered that Connie was well-liked but Gino was a domineering husband who controlled every part of her life. Fed up, she escaped thousands of kilometres away to Werribee, Victoria where she had grown up.
According to the book, Mark was a shy boy, who was well-behaved and excelled in his studies. He always had a fascination with numbers and was later diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
Although he studied hard and made his way to university, he didn't quite fit in with the rugby league-obsessed contemporaries in North Queensland.
Despite this, he had a close circle of friends at university and he met a girl who he dated for over two years.
But, Gino - who had finally given up on his hopes of salvaging his marriage - started building a house in Douglas, near James Cook University, and Mark agreed to start helping him.
Mr Stucco writes that Mark later said there was a "tug of war" between his girlfriend and his father. She was understood to be unhappy about Gino's increasing influence on her partner and the pair broke up for reasons that aren't exactly understood.
Mark later told police this break-up was a "big turning point" in his life and "all hell broke loose" soon after.
He dropped out of university and set up a petrol station with his dad in 2001. When that failed, they fell into a life of petty crime, which led to short stints behind bars.
When both were released from jail in 2007 after serving time for robbery, criminal damage and other charges, they decided to go "off the radar" because they were "disillusioned with the whole system".
Gino and Mark bought a boat and began an eight-year crime spree that culminated in the cold-blooded murder of 68-year-old Rosario Cimone.
NSW and Victoria police ramped up their search after the Stoccos opened fire on a police officer near Wagga Wagga, generating headlines across the country.
For eight years they travelled between north Queensland, NSW and Victoria working on farms and building up secret stashes of stolen goods - including guns - along the way, as well as a great knowledge of rural back roads they could use as escape routes.
By August 2015, Gino was on a list of Australia's 20 most wanted fugitives after three particularly nasty acts of revenge involving extensive property damage and theft.
When the couple the Stoccos were working for on the outskirts of Sydney discovered this, Gino and Mark left and weeks later ended up working on an illegal cannabis farm at Elong Elong, near Dubbo, where Mr Cimone was a caretaker.
Again, arguments started, but this time Mark ordered his dad to kill Mr Cimone, who was shot and buried in a shallow grave.
The murder forced the Stoccos back on the road.
Police didn't know about the murder when they initially spotted the Stoccos in their stolen 4WD near Wagga Wagga a few days later and tried to give chase. The Stoccos retaliated by opening fire, triggering what would become a 12-day hunt for the pair, before police cornered them back at the property where Mr Cimone was buried.
In March 2017, Gino and Mark received a head sentence of 40 years for murder but Gino was given a non-parole period of 28 years, while Mark was sentenced to 30 years non-parole.
Justice David Davies said the pair had shown no remorse and referred to a psychiatrist's report which found the pair had developed an "anti-authority belief system" from years living isolated, itinerant lives in the bush.
- with Wires
The Stoccos, Like Father, Like Son is published by Penguin Random House.