Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read [28] [1] (17 November 1954 – 9 October 2013) was an Australian convicted criminal, gang member and author. Read wrote a series of semi-autobiographical fictional crime novels and children's books. The 2000 film Chopper is based on his life.

Early life

Read was born on 12 November 1954 to a former army and Korean War veteran father and a mother who was a devout Seventh-day Adventist. He was placed in a children's home for the first five years of his life. He grew up in the Melbourne suburbs of Collingwood, Thomastown, Fitzroy and Preston. He was bullied at school, claiming that by the age of 15 he had been on the "losing end of several hundred fights" and that his father, usually on his mother's recommendation, beat him often as a child. In an interview with 60 Minutes , he was playing "Russian Roulette" with himself and later asked the news reporter if she wanted to play, and she said no. He didn't take no for an answer and pointed the gun at her head and pulled the trigger. Luckily, there was no bullet in the chamber he shot at her. It was also revealed that Read had been molested as a child. Read was made a ward of the state by the age of 14 and was placed in several mental institutions as a teenager, where, he later claimed, he was subjected to electroshock therapy.

Criminal activity

When he was still young, Read was already an accomplished street fighter and the leader of the Surrey Road gang. He began his criminal career by robbing drug dealers, based in massage parlours in the Prahran area. He later graduated to kidnapping and torturing members of the criminal underworld, often using a blowtorch or bolt cutters to remove the toes of his victims as an incentive for them to produce enough money so that Read would leave them alive. [3]

Read spent only 13 months outside prison between the ages of 20 and 38, having been convicted of crimes including armed robbery, firearm offences, assault, arson, impersonating a police officer and kidnapping. [4] While in Pentridge Prison's H division in the late 1970s, Read launched a prison war. His gang, dubbed "The Overcoat Gang" because they wore long coats all year round to conceal their weapons, were involved in several hundred acts of violence against a larger opposing gang during this period. Around this time, Read had a fellow inmate cut both of his (Read's) ears off in order to be able to leave H division temporarily. While in his early biographies Read claimed this was to avoid an ambush by other inmates, by being transferred to the mental health wing, his later works state that he did so to "win a bet". The nickname "Chopper" was given to him long before this, from a childhood cartoon character.

Read was ambushed and stabbed by members of his own gang in a sneak attack when they felt that his plan to cripple every other inmate in the entire division and win the gang war in one fell swoop was going too far. Another theory is that James "Jimmy" Loughnan, a longtime friend of Read, with Patrick "Blue" Barnes, wished to benefit from a contract put on Read's head by the Painters' and Dockers' Union. Read lost several feet of intestine in the attack. At the time Read was serving a 16 and a half-year sentence after attacking a judge in an effort to get Loughnan released from prison. [6] Loughnan later died in the Jika Jika fire at Pentridge in 1987. [7]

In 1992, Read was convicted of shooting Sidney Michael Edward Collins in the chest. The incident took place in Read's car, which was in the driveway of Collins's residence at Evandale, Tasmania. The bullet was recovered from the back seat of the vehicle, and Collins named Read as the shooter. Pleading not guilty, Read was found guilty of grievous bodily harm, a downgraded charge from attempted murder, and sentenced as a "dangerous criminal" to indefinite detention. He walked free early in 1998. In 2002, Read was again questioned over the disappearance of Sidney Collins, who is still on the Australian Missing Person list after going missing in suspicious circumstances. Read admitted to murdering Collins in his last broadcast interview before death on the Australian 60 Minutes program aired on 20 October 2013. Read expressed no remorse for killing Collins, alleging he was "stupid" for being shot by Read on two separate occasions with Collins's own gun.

Read claimed to be involved in the killing of 19 people and the attempted murder of 11 others. In an April 2013 interview with the New York Times , Read said "Look, honestly, I haven't killed that many people, probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it."

In the TV series Tough Nuts , Read also spoke of his mid-1980s to early 1990s rivalry with Alphonse Gangitano. Read explained that he had a disagreement with Gangitano regarding an elderly neighbourhood hero whom Gangitano admired. It is alleged by Read that Gangitano burst open the toilet cubicle door with a number of associates and began a serious assault on Read who made his escape but not before spreading his faeces into Gangitano's face. [9]

Other activities

In 2001, Read was featured in an advertisement on behalf of the Pedestrian Council of Australia warning of the dangers of drunk driving. Read is seated at a kitchen table undoing his shirt and, while pointing to the numerous scars and injuries on his body, says:

In 2005, Read embarked on a tour of Australia performing a series of shows titled I'm Innocent with Mark "Jacko" Jackson [10] and later toured Sydney in a stage show with a new co-star, former detective Roger "The Dodger" Rogerson and throughout Australia with comedian and friend Doug Chappel. Read even made regular guest appearance on Doug Chappel's Melbourne International Comedy Festival show in 2008 called 'Comics Live in your Lounge' where the two of them would tell stories on stage together. [28]

In 2006, Read appeared in another commercial speaking out against domestic violence. On 13 March 2006, he released a rap album titled Interview with a Madman . He also appeared in the 2002 Australian comedy Trojan Warrior .

Read allowed use of his name to a beer called " Chopper Heavy ". The beer is produced in Rutherglen, Victoria, a town associated with Australia's most notorious outlaw, Ned Kelly.

He made the headlines again, on 15 December 2008, after being questioned by police about an alleged incident in Johnson Street, Collingwood. Read was attacked by a tomahawk-wielding man he said he had never met before. He said: "I ran to the panelbeaters and grabbed a pipe. I said, 'Come here now' and he jumped into a car and pissed off." [3] Read suffered a minor injury to his arm after being hit with the blunt end of the tomahawk. Read was questioned by detectives at Richmond police station before being released without charge. His alleged attacker has not been found.

Author

Read was an author of crime novels, selling more than 500,000 copies of his works. In later years he made recordings of voice narratives which also sold well.

Read's first book, Chopper: From the Inside , was collected from letters he sent while incarcerated in Melbourne's Pentridge Prison and published in 1991. It contains tales and anecdotes of his criminal and prison exploits. Further biographical releases followed in a similar vein. With the advent of Chopper 5: Pulp Faction , Read began writing fictional tales based on his experiences of criminal life. Attempts were made to ban a children's book written by Read titled Hooky the Cripple .

Public commentary and political views

Read frequently appeared on radio and television talk shows to promote his books. He had a column in Ralph magazine, was regular columnist for Zoo Weekly and the British FHM magazine.

Read's success in selling tales of his criminal past has prompted widespread calls to amend the Federal Proceeds of Crime Bill (2001)—which confiscates the proceeds of drug deals and robberies—to also apply to indirect proceeds of crime, including book sales, TV appearances, and the like.

Read described his political beliefs as "to the right of Genghis Khan ". In his book Chopper 2 , he lists Bruce Ruxton and American conservative G. Gordon Liddy as his political heroes.