True nature of Stoccos’ dreadful bond revealed
DETECTIVE Sergeant Tony Flanders believes the Stoccos' offending can be traced back to their unique bond as father and son.
The inseparable pair presented as two very different people to the experienced investigator with Gino described as "abrasive" and "narcissistic" while Mark seemed personable and intelligent but with a "blind loyalty" to his father.
They shared a misguided sense of retribution and paranoia, combined with an inherent lack of respect for authority that saw the simple farming men become two of the country's most notorious criminals in recent memory.
Mark and Gino Stocco began their eight-year-stretch "off the grid" after they were released from prison in 2007.
They had both served relatively short stints in custody relating to offences including criminal damage and robbery.
Once both were released they decided to go off the radar.
The Stoccos were both good workers and knew how to find work on farms. Trading light duties for room and board would become both their method of living and means to offend.
They began a crime spree where police say they stole everyday goods such as clothing, food or fuel from properties they had been living at before moving on.
At times they would allegedly damage machinery or buildings and Sgt Flanders said the offending was almost always motivated by a sense of retribution.
"Most of it was really petty offending, they would go from place to place, trying to fly under the radar," Sgt Flanders said.
"When something would not go their way or they'd have some disagreement with the property owners they'd do damage to the property or commit theft."
Queensland police said the father and son stole from shops to feed themselves in between farm stays and would take small items, such as kettles and towels, from motels they stopped at along their journey.
By 2011 they had made their way to Canowindra, New South Wales, where, after being sacked from their jobs, the pair slashed tyres of vehicles and set fire to a shed.
The pair would continue in their ways for several years, often staying at particular properties for lengthy periods until they returned to the Ingham region in 2014.
"They decided to go back to Ingham for retribution against a family they perceived had done wrong by them," Sgt Flanders said.
"We will allege they went to a shed in the middle of the night where there was a large amount of oil tanks.
"They drilled holes in the tanks and Gino crawled under a truck to drill a hole in its fuel tank.
"They lit the whole shed up."
The blaze caused in excess of a million dollars in damage, destroying the shed along with a new tractor, prized custom-made boats and a farming truck.
The Stoccos were already being sought in connection with a number of offences but remained "low-level offenders" until the arson.
"Dave Barron was a detective sergeant with the Ingham Criminal Investigation Branch and he really highlighted the Stoccos' offending," Sgt Flanders said.
"He had put together the offences they were linked to and was leading an investigation.
"He put them forward for the Australia's Most Wanted list."
The Stoccos returned to their nomadic ways but found it increasingly difficult to obtain work as their reputation spread through the media.
Their path led them to a cannabis property named Pinevale outside Dunedoo, in NSW.
It was here that the Stoccos' criminal activity would climax to cold-blooded murder.
They helped the "caretaker" of the property Rosario Cimone, 68, with the growing of cannabis hydroponically but grew increasingly uneasy with the relationship.
"They said they were made to feel like they couldn't leave," Sgt Flanders said.
"Their paranoia got the better of them and they believed that Mr Cimone was going to kill them so they decided to kill him first."
With Mark barking out orders to kill, Gino gunned down Mr Cimone with two shots from a pump-action shotgun.
The pair then stripped the 68-year-old and dumped his body in bushland on the property before making their way south.
A week later, with the authorities unaware of the murder, police attempted to stop the Stoccos because the car they were driving was reported stolen.
The Stoccos shot at officers who were attempting to pursue them.
Later that day, during another chase, the pair fired at police again.
Police searched for the pair for almost two weeks, during which time the Stoccos stole a vehicle and fuel in NSW and rammed a police car in Victoria.
The pair eventually returned to the drug farm, Pinevale, and were arrested by police on October 28, 2015.
It wasn't until then police discovered the Stoccos had murdered Mr Cimone. After eight years evading the authorities, the father and son were finally behind bars.
Sgt Flanders and Sgt Barron travelled to Wellington Correctional Centre in NSW, where detectives from four states had journeyed to question the Stoccos.
On February 4, 2016, the North Queensland investigators had their time with the crime duo.
Sgt Flanders said Mark Stocco was a peculiar character; ruthless enough to order the murder of a man in cold blood, yet strangely likeable during their interview. The detective was fascinated by the relationship between Mark and Gino.
"On the face of things he was a normal sort of a guy, relatable, but there was obviously a lack of respect for authority and this sort of blind loyalty to his father," Sgt Flanders said.
"We had this picture of Mark following Gino and committing these offences without hesitation.
"Everyone can have a close relationship to their dad but to follow them and participate in a crime spree that lasted years and ended with murder … it's almost beyond belief.
"He had an enormous respect for Gino … believed his father had taught him how to be man and how to live life."
The nature of the Stoccos' relationship came into question while they were in custody awaiting their date in court.
Rumours circulated Wellington Prison where the pair were being held, that the father and son had been sharing a bed and "spooning" in their cell.
"We asked if any part of their relationship was or had been sexual and Mark denied that," Sgt Flanders said.
"He denied they had been 'spooning' or sharing a bed but didn't shy away from the fact they had a very close relationship."
Mark's memory was of particular interest to Sgt Flanders and incredibly helpful to the investigators.
He was able to recollect offences the Queensland Police would allege the pair committed, even minor property crime, in pinpoint detail.
"Some of the alleged offences included stealing food from shops because they were hungry," Sgt Flanders said. "Mark could remember what shop it was and even the type of biscuits that had been stolen."
Sgt Flanders said it was interesting that although Gino was the dominant personality of the pair it was Mark who ultimately ordered his father to pull the trigger and kill Rosario Cimone.
Whether interviewing an innocent witness, vulnerable victim or ruthless killer a detective must create some level of rapport with the person sitting across from them in the interrogation room. This was near impossible with Gino Stocco.
"It was very, very hard to build a rapport with Gino … not like it was with Mark," Sgt Flanders said.
"I'd say he's got an abrasive personality and without trying to diagnose him he came across as very narcissistic.
"He had a sense of his own self-importance, a sense of grandeur and to him everything (him and Mark) did was someone else's fault.
"He thought he was better than other people."
Sgt Flanders said Gino's sense of entitlement fit hand-in-hand with his lack of respect for authority.
Despite his inflated sense of his own self-worth Gino was reportedly not held in high regard by those in the Ingham community prior to his criminal offending.
He was known to be dodgy, but the extent of his law-breaking would far exceed what anyone would have predicted. Sgt Flanders said a lot of the problems in the early part of the Stoccos' crime spree stemmed from Gino's marriage breakdown.
Police will allege the $1 million arson committed at a cane farm just outside Ingham in August 2014 was committed by the Stoccos because the land owner had assisted Gino's ex-wife Connie following their separation.
"They decided to gain retribution against this family," Sgt Flanders said.
"Mark's words were 'they had helped mum … we had a grudge against them'."
Despite his gruff nature, Gino was honest with police, making full admissions to his offending.
Often such confessions are viewed in the eyes of the law as an expression of remorse, but Sgt Flanders said Gino expressed no such emotion.
Sgt Flanders said Gino had a tremendous love for his son.
"He was extremely close with him but it was kind of strange," he said.
"He expected his son to be close with him because that's what he commanded … with other close family members he (Gino) felt betrayed because he didn't have that close relationship.
"I have no doubt that had Mark at any stage turned away from Gino he would have been treated the same way."
The Stoccos were described as modern-day bushrangers but they didn't go down in a blaze of glory.
The pair suffered a beating as they attempted to fight off arrest but their ultimate fate would be sealed much more quietly.
Gino and Mark Stocco pleaded guilty to a vast array of offences committed in New South Wales, including the murder of Rosario Cimone, shooting at New South Wales police officers and arson.
Justice David Davies sentenced each of the men to 40-year head sentences with Mark to be eligible for parole after 30 years and Gino capable of being released after 28.
Gino was 59 and Mark 37 at the time of sentencing in March 2017.
MORE CHARGES AWAIT
Should the pair outlive their New South Wales prison sentences authorities in Queensland, Victoria and South Australia will be racing each other to bring the Stoccos to account for the crimes alleged against them in the various states.
Sgt Flanders said 82 charges were ready and waiting for the Stoccos in Queensland, most notably the alleged million-dollar arson, which carries a maximum sentence of life behind bars.
The pair will also face burglary charges relating to a farm outside Stanthorpe where it will be alleged they stole a number of guns, including the shotgun that would ultimately be identified as the murder weapon.
"Gino will be eligible for parole in New South Wales in 2043 and Mark two years after that," Sgt Flanders said.
"An arrest warrant has been taken out and the moment they get released from custody in New South Wales, Queensland police will travel down to New South Wales and apply down to the courts where (Gino and Mark) will be formally charged with the Queensland offences.
"You can only imagine the other states would be lining up to charge them as well."
In stark contrast to their notorious antics during their eight-year stretch on the run, the Stoccos have by all accounts led an uneventful life behind bars to date, with no notable incidents in jail.
Sgt Flanders' hours with the pair will always stick in his mind.
They were, for a time, Australia's most wanted criminals, but he will remain most intrigued by their unique personalities and strange criminal bond as father and son.