Mark Brandon Read, AKA Chopper, was a gangland legend who came out of the shadows to become a celebrity and bestselling author, helped along by an acclaimed movie starring Eric Bana. In a exclusive, Mr Grape tells the story of this complex man, and reveals the lost Chopper interview ….
Accused of killing at least nineteen men and wounding hundreds more, Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read had the distinction of being Australia’s most infamous criminal.
Just looking at the list of injuries that have been inflicted on him shows that he lived in a world of violence: shot, sliced with razor blades, hit with bats, iron bars and choppers, had his stomach slit from neck to navel and been stabbed 17 times.
It is amazing how anyone could survive a world like this, but he did.
Many of his enemies didn’t.
Mark Brandon Read was born on the 17th November 1954 in Melbourne, Australia. His father was a veteran of the War in Vietnam, and his mother was a devout member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. As a result, Chopper had anything but an easy upbringing.
From the time when he was 5 until he was 15, he was bullied relentlessly, and at the age of 14 he became a ward of the state and was placed into a mental institution.
During his time in the institutions he received 60 sessions of shock treatment.
It was a 15 year old Chopper who first got a taste of revenge; he shot a man who had severely beaten him up a year before.
By his early 20s he graduated to kidnapping and torturing other criminals, for the sole purpose of stealing their drug money.
Then, and now, it ranks as one of the most dangerous professions in the world, but Chopper had long since become fearless, and he was exceptionally violent.
He would often use one of his favourite weapons of torture, a pair of bolt-cutters, to cut off his victim’s toes one by one.
But his main weapon of choice was a blow-torch, as he stated years later: “There is nothing better than the smell of burning flesh in the air”.
He apparently loved the smell so much that he once tried to remove some of his tattoos using one.
It was around this time he became known as a stand over man, which is a thief who specializes in persuading other thieves to surrender their valuable items. His partner in this endeavour was his best friend ‘Mad’ Charlie.
They would run into massage parlours and gambling joints, give everyone a good flogging and steal their money.
Even though he was a criminal, Chopper always prided himself in having impeccable manners.
“My old man taught me manners,” he would say. “Just because I am a criminal it does not mean I have to disrespect anyone or that they can disrespect me. You always say please, thank you and excuse me. ‘Excuse me can I have that bottle, thank you; sorry now I am going have to hit you over the head with it. Bang. Oh sorry I didn’t think there would be this much blood, I do apologise.’ I can’t tolerate rudeness, if I can be polite then everyone can.”
He was still robbing from drug dealers.
He once told a friend: “Why rob a straight guy of $20 when you can rob a drug dealer of $10,000 and he can’t go running to the police!”
Chopper was convicted of many crimes including armed robbery, firearm offences, assault and kidnapping.
Over his life, he spent nearly half of it in prison, (23 years 9 months). Between the ages of 20 and 38, he only had 13 months of freedom.
Most of the other prison inmates would do their best to avoid him, as he had a reputation for being a psycho. Certified insane 3 times at ages 14, 19, and 23, it would be normal for Chopper to run around the prison brandishing a tomahawk, and he could mostly do whatever he wanted without any repercussions from the prison staff.
Whilst in prison Chopper was a member of a crew called the ‘Overcoat Gang’ (they wore overcoats to conceal their weapons).
The Overcoat Gang were involved in a bloody feud with a rival gang called the ‘Painters and Dockers’, who were a powerful organisation with a reputation for violence, and they didn’t hesitate to kill.
Billy Longley was one of the main members of the gang until he fell out with them.
Soon afterwards, the ‘Painters and Dockers’ went after him.
Being very friendly with Billy, Chopper told them: “If you want him you will have to go through me.”
Talking of the Gang feud Chopper said: “I refused to be defeated, which is what they tried to do to me.” The conflict lasted for five and a half years.
In the five years he served at Pentridge Prison, he was ‘alleged’ to have attacked 63 men and tried to have 11 more killed. At one point 25 contracts were put out on his life.
At this point Chopper tried in vain to get transferred to a different prison but the authorities wouldn’t allow it.
Everyone in the prison knew his life was in danger, but Chopper was causing so much trouble for the staff they thought it would be better to let his enemies get on with it and put him away.
He asked for a meeting with the prison governor, and after being refused transfer he said: “I’ll get transferred, wait and you will see”.
That same evening he got another prisoner, Kevin Taylor, to slice his ears off with a razor blade. They transferred him straight away. Years later this story gave Quentin Tarantino the idea for a scene in his movie Reservoir Dogs.
Chopper says of the scene: “I can’t believe Quentin Tarantino nicked my idea, the scene in the movie where they cut the blokes ears off. It’s just not right. There was hardly any blood in the scene. Trust me, when you cut a blokes ears off there is a lot of blood, a hell of a lot. It just bleeds and bleeds and does not stop.
“When I told Taylor to cut mine off he was sawing at my ears with a razor blade. I could hear the blade cutting my flesh. It sounded like someone scratching their finger nails down a chalkboard. Just cut the bloody things off I told him”.
It was while in prison he sustained most of his other injuries.
He had his stomach slit by a convicted murderer, Greg ‘Bluey’ Brazel, during a prison brawl in 1979.
The following day he burst his stiches doing push ups to get fit enough for a revenge attack.
Another incident was depicted in a scene from the movie, Chopper, where he was stabbed 7 times in one attack by his close friend, James ‘Jimmy’ Loughnan, who was a member of Choppers ‘Overcoat Gang’.
The reason behind the attack was Jimmy’s wish to benefit from a contract a rival gang had put out on Chopper. In the attack, Chopper lost several feet of intestine and a lot of blood.
The irony of it is that at the time Chopper was serving a 16 and a half-year sentence for attacking a judge in an effort to get Jimmy released from prison.
On another occasion, he nearly died when he was stabbed in the heart by another prisoner.
“There was a bloke in H Division we called Hello Buddy.,
“All he did was go around saying ‘Hello Buddy.’ One day he walked by and I never said ‘Hello Buddy’ to him, so he stabbed me in the heart with a 17 and a half inch screwdriver which was sharpened to make it into an ice-pic.
“I was lucky it went in between my arteries. 3 days later Hello Buddy was dead. Somebody had stabbed an ice-pic in to his heart”.
In 1987 he came to the attention of the general public when he hit the headlines with the shooting of the drug dealer, Siam ‘Sammy the Turk’ Ozerkam, outside Bojangles Nightclub in St Kilda, Melbourne.
Talking of the shooting he says: “As I’ve said in my books, it’s quite simple really.
I pulled my shotgun out and went ‘Bang’ and its goodbye Turk”.
Chopper has always maintained it was a case of self-defence and not murder.
In 1992, Chopper was convicted of shooting Sydney Collins in the chest. The incident took place in Chopper’s car, which was in Collins’s driveway.
A bullet was recovered from the backseat of the vehicle. Collins named Chopper as the shooter.
Chopper pleaded not-guilty, but was found guilty of grievous bodily harm.
He was sentenced as a ‘dangerous criminal’ and detained for an indefinite period, to be released only at the Governor’s Pleasure.
He eventually got out in 1998.
In 2002, Chopper was questioned over the disappearance of Sydney Collins, who to this day is still on the Australian Missing Person’s list after going missing under suspicious circumstances.
A movie called ‘Chopper’, staring Eric Bana as Chopper Read, was released in 2000.
It had been based on his autobiography and quickly became a cult classic. Chopper himself had asked Eric Bana to play him.
As a first starring role, it quickly catapulted Bana to Hollywood success. Chopper wasn’t so fortunate:
“The Chopper movie is a good movie but some of it isn’t true. Eric Bana did an ok job for his first role. He is now a major movie star because of it, good for him … but it would have been nice to get some money from the movie.
“I got nothing, zilch, zero…”
Chopper did find success as a writer and wrote over a dozen autobiographical books.
His first sold in excess of 500,000 copies on its first print run.
Having contracted Hepatitis C during his time in prison, allegedly using a blood-stained razor to shave, Chopper revealed in March 2008 that he had only two to five years to live.
At the end of April 2012 he announced, on a social network web-site, that he had terminal cancer; he had been visiting Brisbane when he started to have heavy haemorrhaging and was rushed to the hospital.
Soon after he was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer.
He spoke to reporters at the time:
“A transplant would save me, but why would anybody give a 53-year-old Chopper Read a liver over and above an 11-year-old girl with liver cancer?
“They wouldn’t, and I wouldn’t ask. I need a transplant, but I don’t want a transplant. Depending on which doctor you listen to I have 6 weeks to 6 months to live.”
In late September 2013 Chopper was admitted to the Royal Melbourne Hospital because of his failing health.
He died on the 9th October 2013 at the age of 58, in Parkville, Victoria.
In later life Chopper seemed to mellow and spent most of his time painting, writing and spending time with his family.
After a life of violence Mark Brandon ‘Chopper’ Read found peace, but it will be as Australia’s most notorious criminal that he will be most remembered.
What follows is an interview which I conducted with Chopper some years back.
Previously thought lost, it has recently been unearthed and for only the second time here it is.
MG: Hi Chopper, how you doing mate?
CR: Not too bad mate.
MG: Chopper is it ok for me to ask you a few questions pal?
CR: Depends what they are Ha-Ha,
Yeah go on but I’ve got to go out in half an hour.
MG: The last time we spoke you were telling me a few stories about your time in Pentridge Prison, can you remember anymore?
CR: There was this disgusting mess of a human being over here (Reginald Edward Isaacs), he got a seventeen year sentence for the sexual mutilation and murder of a seven year old boy.
They let him out early and three weeks after they let him out of what was supposed to be a life sentence, he got arrested for the sexual mutilation and murder of a three year old girl.
Well this fucking pervert was in the same prison as me but he was in the condemned cells, which were segregated from us right?
Me and my mate ‘Mad’ Charlie Hegyalji shared a cell together and we have to do a few chores every night when everyone else was locked in their cells. The prison officers hated this mongrel as much as us cons, so on this particular night instead of going through the south gate, they told us to cut through the condemned cells.
No one at all was allowed anywhere near his cell as he was on strict isolation.
When I went past I saw his door was open, so I peered inside and noticed his observation door was open as well, so I looked in and here was this sicko lying on his bed.
He popped his head up and said: “Listen mate can you tell one of the screws to close my doors for me?”
I said “Don’t worry about it mate, we will close it for you.”
Well they left it open on purpose knowing that I would be going past there. There were no guards around at all, so me and Charlie went into his cell.
I bashed him to the ground and Charlie stood on his body. I then got down on my knees and tried to break this blokes neck manually, but I couldn’t, so I got up on his bunk and jumped off on to the top of his skull, “BANG”, then again “BANG”, then again “BANG”.
His skull was cracked by now so I then jumped off the bunk onto his chest, and that’s when they recon I made him into a paraplegic … but he wasn’t.
His legs were still kicking. So I looked down at his knee caps which were still twitching and he was still alive.
I took his shoelaces out of his boots that were on the floor next to his bunk and tied his hands behind his back, then got his sheets and wrapped them around his neck and then tied one end to the top railing of the observation railing, then dropped him over the edge.
He was seven inches off the ground, and was kicking and squawking all over the bloody place, so we left him there and me and old Charlie went down to the old hospital.
As we were in the hospital doing what we were supposed to be doing, I said to Charlie: “I don’t think I should have tied his hands behind his back Charlie”
He said “Why not?”
“Well people that commit suicide don’t tie their hands behind their own back Charlie”.
At seven o’clock that morning they found he had committed suicide and taken him off to the morgue. The doctor who was there would never give anyone up, he knew not to.
So anyway, they called me and ‘Mad’ Charlie up at the inquest as they knew we had walked past his cell.
They were going on about how this bloke got bashed up bad, so I said: “Well how the bloody hell are we going to get into a locked cell?”
They said: “Well you must have gotten a key.”
I then said: “How the bloody hell can we get a key?”
They were trying to blame us but they couldn’t, as they couldn’t explain why the cell door was unlocked, or they would have been done for negligence.
They ended up losing the medical evidence book. It would leave in the same van as us when we went in to the coroner’s court, and it would go back the same night in the same van. But this was the only evidence they had against me and ‘Mad’ Charlie.
In the end they had to dismiss the whole case and claim that it was a normal suicide.
To this day that young girl’s mother and father still send me Christmas cards.
MG: Wow that was a bit graphic mate.
CR: In the old days we used to get these sick fuckers, and I would get a broom handle and stick it up their bum right, about ten/twelve inches up their ass.
The problem is that when you get to about 15 inches up their ass it goes slip slide and they would start crying their bloody eyes out, and when you get to about 20 inches they would go quiet and then there would be a drop of blood and shit on the end of the broom handle.
They would be quiet because they were dead.
The broom handle would go up through the upper colon, pass through the lower colon, go through the stomach muscles and then pass through the stomach and go through their heart, and when it hits the heart they stop breathing right.
I did that about three times to these mongrels…
MG: Everyone would say that’s what you should do with these monsters, but in this day and age, they get treat better than normal people.
CR: Because of what we did in the early 1970s they brought in the protection legislation that protects the whole country, and now these cocksuckers are safe. All because what we did in the early 70s, how we were killing them, bashing them, fucking them up the arse with broom handles, they brought in a whole new protection legislation.
Now they get special welfare workers, go to a special jails, computers, TV’s, they get looked after like kings, they never see anyone outside their own type group, so they are kept safe from people like me. I asked the government why these mongrels were getting a pension and special treatment, the reply I got was: “Well you have only got yourself to blame Chopper.”
I asked them “What do you mean?”
“Well that last bastard you fucked up the arse with a broom handle, well that went to parliament and that was the case that got the protection legislation passed.”
All because of something I did. Bastards.
MG: You attempted to kill a few people in your time, can you tell me a little about that Chopper?
CR: Out of the eleven attempted murders that happened in Pentridge, I was questioned over the first nine. You know if the victim never gave you up, they couldn’t take you to court.
So that time I bashed Brian Kane over the head with an iron bar about six times, in front of the governor, the doctor, the screws everybody and they all made statements against me but Brian Kane refused to make a statement.
Brian said: “I saw my attacker and it was NOT Chopper Read. I know Chopper Read quite well and I will go to court and say it was NOT Chopper Read.”
Because he refused to identify me, they wouldn’t take it to court. That’s how I got away with what I did, because none of my enemies would give me up. They were all good blokes basically, that’s why I didn’t kill them. I just bashed them.
MG: Because they were good blokes you only shot them Ha-ha.
CR: Yeah, of course. I’ve been questioned over thirty-three shootings, but I was only guilty of eleven of them. I used to shoot them and then take them to hospital; I used to say to them: “The reason you are going to hospital is because you’re a good bloke.”
They admit what they had done was wrong and that they deserved to be shot. It depended on their temperament where I pointed the gun … the gut or the head. If they were low dogs you just kill them, but if they were good blokes, you would just shoot them and take them to hospital.
Just say if you and I had a fall out right, and I shot you in the stomach. I have to put you in the car and take you to hospital.
MG: Oh thanks.
CR: Well I can’t let you die. I might know your wife and kids, so I would just shoot you, to teach you a lesson so you would pull your socks up and not do what you did again.
You’re a good bloke, you’re a solid bloke, and would not give me up, so that’s why I would take you to hospital.
There was only one bloke that give me up and that was that Sid Collins. I got convicted of that one, but on the eleven other cases I never got given up.
MG: Did none of them seek revenge after they came out of hospital?
CR: No, they got treated like heroes when they got out of hospital. They had been shot by Chopper Read and taken to hospital, so they must be good blokes.
MG: Is that true that in the movie ‘Chopper’ that outside of Bojangles when you shot Sammy the Turk, he tried to shoot you first?
CR: Yeah, he tried to shoot me first. Well that’s my story …
MG: I see you have started selling them photos of Sammy the Turk with his eye hanging out?
CR: Yeah, Yeah Ha-ha… I put them in frames you know! I also write “Sorry Sammy” at the top. He was a heroin dealer, but apart from that he wasn’t a bad bloke, he wouldn’t have gave me up or nothing.
Like I say he was alright, it’s just he tried to kill me you know. He took me out of the back of Bojangles and tried to kill me, so he got killed himself, simple really.
MG: How are your shows going mate? I got that DVD you sent me it was brilliant, very funny.
CR: Oh, did you watch it? We have the raffles, auctions and then the main show you know. You know Jacko who toured with me, I had to sack Jacko, he was a thief.
MG: Really? What happened there?
CR: Yeah he’s a fucking thief; he got caught with his hand in the till. But he’s not a bad bloke though. He got questioned by the police when I shot Sid Collins and no one could find his body.
Homicide questioned Jacko, and Jacko did the right thing, so I can’t condemn him too much, he’s a thief that’s all, he wouldn’t give you up in the police station.
MG: It just goes to show Chopper, when there is money involved you can’t trust no fucker.
CR: For a while there I was making $34,000 a month doing the shows, and sometimes it just didn’t add up. Jacko was always in charge of the money, and I just trusted him implicitly. Margaret caught him stealing off me and I caught him with his hand in the till and that was that.
I waiting till he was on stage with me and sacked him in front of everyone, it nearly broke his heart. In front of the whole crown I said: “Jacko you got caught with your hand in the till, so you’re not working with me ever again”.
He is a good bloke and would never give you up, it’s just he can’t keep his hands to himself.
Right I’ve got to go Margaret is waiting for me, can you hear her Ha-Ha.
MG: Right no bother Chopper, take care pal.
CR: Give me a call later in the night, ok. Right got to go take care mate.
This article was originally posted in Goodfellas & Faces magazine.