In May 1995, a master crook did the seemingly impossible- walked out of Kerry Packer’s Sydney office with 285kg of gold bullion — and got away with it.
In May 1995, a master crook did the seemingly impossible- walked out of Kerry Packer’s Sydney office with 285kg of gold bullion — and got away with it.

Rolled gold robbery: Rogue charmer’s $5m Packer heist

In the first week of May 1995, a story began unfolding in Sydney.

A total of 285kg of gold bullion worth $5.4m had been stolen from Australia's richest man under the nose of 24-hour security.

The gold had been lifted from a safe in Kerry Packer's Australian Consolidated Press headquarters in the CBD and the theft, leaked to the press on May 1, had police baffled.

Businessman Kerry Packer seemed unfazed when he left the ACP building after the theft was revealed, telling the Telegraph the bullion was insured. Picture: Jeremy Piper
Businessman Kerry Packer seemed unfazed when he left the ACP building after the theft was revealed, telling the Telegraph the bullion was insured. Picture: Jeremy Piper

Police had agreed to an information blackout while the matter was investigated but not even a $500,000 reward attracted vital information to crack the case.

No one has ever been charged for the crime.

For years, it was speculated the culprit was known to the family and in October 2013, The Daily Telegraph revealed the sensational story behind Australia's largest and most puzzling gold bullion robbery, including the fingerprint in the safe and where the security guards allegedly were on the night of the theft.

Then, on November 2, 2013, reporter Janet Fife Yeomans filed this exclusive report, for the first time publicly identifying the thief - and how he did it.

 

Businessman Kerry Packer's office safe from which $5.4 million in gold bullion was stolen in 1995. Picture: Tracey Haslam
Businessman Kerry Packer's office safe from which $5.4 million in gold bullion was stolen in 1995. Picture: Tracey Haslam

 

Here is the article in full from November 2, 2013, from the archives:

 

HOW A CRIMINAL GENIUS STOLE PACKER'S GOLD

Media mogul Kerry Packer not only knew the thief who stole $5.4 million in gold bars from his office, they dined at the same restaurants, at the same time, at different tables.

But the two men never acknowledged each other.

In one of Sydney's most notorious unsolved crimes, a master safecracker broke into Mr Packer's office in the former Australian Consolidated Press building in Park St in April, 1995, cut through the safe at exactly the right spot to open it and made off with gold bullion weighing 285kg - now worth about $12.5 million.

 

1995: Inspector John Wilson of the NSW Police special crime unit speaks to media during the investigation into the theft.
1995: Inspector John Wilson of the NSW Police special crime unit speaks to media during the investigation into the theft.

A detective who worked on the case admitted: "Mr Packer was well aware of our inquiries and our major suspect.''

Legendary restaurateur Giovanna Toppi knew both of the men who frequented her restaurants La Strada at Potts Point and Machiavelli in the city. She knew Mr Packer as one of her best customers - and the stocky career safecracker as a good friend of her late husband Walter.

But Ms Toppi, 78, said she had no idea how her husband's friend made a living.

 

 

For at least some of the time that the two men circled each other, police believe the master crook was having a secret affair with Mr Packer's former secretary, Pat Wheatley.

That was how they believe he got the inside information about the gold bullion locked in the old Chubb safe hidden inside the drinks cabinet in Mr Packer's office together with a jar containing "scrap'' gold including nuggets and gold wire and a gold and silver necklace.

That was how they believe he got the inside information about the gold bullion locked in the old Chubb safe hidden inside the drinks cabinet in Mr Packer's office together with a jar containing ``scrap'' gold including nuggets and gold wire and a gold and silver necklace.

Puzzled at how he got past private security guards, detectives were later told by a former employee that the guards commonly spent much of their shifts in the pool, gym or on the squash courts at the neighbouring Hyde Park club which was part of the area they were paid to keep secure.

 

How it happened: Kerry Packer’s gold bullion theft.
How it happened: Kerry Packer’s gold bullion theft.

When Ms Wheatley died in 2008, aged 64, she left property worth around $2.5 million, including an art deco Bellevue Hill apartment with harbour views and her Bowral home which had three bedrooms, three ensuites and a tennis court. She had sold her other eastern suburbs unit before moving to Bowral.

The criminal suspect, now 74, lived nearby and police conducting surveillance saw them visiting each other around the time of the theft.

The crook sold his own unit two months ago and moved elsewhere in the eastern suburbs. He could not be contacted for comment at the new address.

May 2, 1995: the Front page of The Daily Telegraph Mirror revealing the theft.
May 2, 1995: the Front page of The Daily Telegraph Mirror revealing the theft.

Although he was short in stature, he told detectives during his one and only arrest in the 1970s for breaking into the Chubb safe factory in Waterloo that he had a distinctive tattoo on his penis - the initials B and E, or possibly the entire phrase "Breaking and Entering".

"He wasn't much to look at but you could probably call him a charming rogue,'' a former Detective said.

Detectives revealed the identity of their suspect to Mr Packer during an expletive-filled meeting in the months after the theft. They were summonsed to Mr Packer's office after he heard that one section of the media was planning to write a totally ridiculous account of the gold theft with a scenario police had totally discounted. The story had come from a prisoner serving a sentence for drug dealing.

A police mug shot of the man believed to have been involved in the theft of Kerry Packer's gold.
A police mug shot of the man believed to have been involved in the theft of Kerry Packer's gold.

"Mr Packer thought police had given the media the story and was fuming,'' one of those present said.

It was then that detectives told him the identity of their major suspect.

Someone who used to dine with Mr Packer at La Strada has confirmed that the media tycoon knew that the fellow diner was a top safecracker, but said Mr Packer had never confided that the man was behind the theft of his gold.

"He was pretty well known, the safecracker," the source said.

No-one has been charged over the theft and the gold has never been found.

A bar of gold bullion. Police were baffled by how the 285kg of gold was removed without arousing suspicion. Picture: Grant Turner
A bar of gold bullion. Police were baffled by how the 285kg of gold was removed without arousing suspicion. Picture: Grant Turner

Detectives had information that the bullion was taken to Melbourne where it was melted down and that the doctor-turned-crime figure, the late Nick Paltos, was involved through contacts he had in Melbourne.

Dr Paltos, who did time in jail for smuggling $45 million worth of cannabis into Australia and for perverting the course of justice, had spent 12 years as superintendent of the casualty department at Sydney Hospital.

When he took up private practice in Woolloomooloo, Kerry Packer was one of his patients.

Mr Packer died in 2005. La Strada has since closed its doors in Macleay St, Potts Point.

For some time while he was still under surveillance, police followed the safecracker to Machiavelli most days.

 

Warren Brown’s cartoon at the time, after Australia’s then richest man was looted.
Warren Brown’s cartoon at the time, after Australia’s then richest man was looted.

 

He now appears to have slipped back under the radar, which is how he has lived most of his life.

"He was the ultimate professional," one former Detective said.

"I don't know if my husband knew. He never tell me. What I know? I never see him for years,'' Ms Toppi said yesterday.

"Mr Packer, he was the best customer of mine. He was a lovely man, I wish he was still here.''

 

This article was originally published on The Daily Telegraph website in 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Rolled gold robbery: Rogue charmer's $5m Packer heist

The ACP building where on the weekend of April 29-30 1995 the theft occurred.
The ACP building where on the weekend of April 29-30 1995 the theft occurred.


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