The gangland murders that remain a mystery
TWENTY years ago, Melbourne was at the start of a wave of unprecedented gangland carnage.
More than 30 people were to die in an era of underworld killings sparked by drug industry conflict, revenge and, in some cases, plain hatred.
In 1999, four men died in execution-style homicides typical of the period.
All became the subject of far-reaching homicide inquiries but the murders of brothers Gerardo and Vincenzo Mannella, Dimitrios Belias and Joe Quadara remain unsolved.
DIMITRIOS "JIM" BELIAS
It was the sort of meeting which probably rang no alarm bells for Dimitrios "Jim" Belias.
The shady world he inhabited meant a night-time rendezvous in a St Kilda Rd car park complex was nothing out of the ordinary.
But Belias had not read the play and he would pay with his life on September 9, 1999.
There was no indication he feared for his safety that day, attending a series of meetings, the last of which was at the Rockman's Regency Hotel.
There, he showed an associate a piece of synthetic moissanite, a diamond simulant he had been trying to sell as the real thing, along with other fake gems.
Belias was seen at 6.50pm talking in his mobile phone in St Kilda Rd, before making a short walk to an underground car park.
He was shot dead there.
The moissanite - valuable in its own right - and other pieces he had been trying to sell were never recovered.
Fake gems were far from the only Belias venture that could attract trouble.
"The deceased … worked as a debt collector, although he was also involved in a number of illegitimate businesses that focused on gambling and loan scams," the coroner wrote.
"He was a very heavy gambler with a past history of failed business ventures, association with underworld criminal figures and having criminal convictions for deception offences."
In 2014, police divers searched a stretch of the Yarra as part of a rejuvenated probe.
Spent ammunition taken from a Strath Creek property was also tested.
Investigators have in recent years examined whether the Belias murder was linked to the same figures responsible for two other execution-style killings in Melbourne.
They are the deaths of Maryanna Lanciana as she slept at Werribee in 1984 and the park ambush of George Germanos at Armadale in 2001.
At one point, police came to suspect a Belias associate, Milorad Dapcevic, was also murdered after providing investigators with a statement in relation to the St Kilda Rd killing.
It turned out he was alive and well and living in Montenegro.
A $1 million reward remains in place for the Belias murder.
Hitmen of the gangland war era knew the car could be used as their greatest trap.
Many victims of the time died in a vehicle or as they climbed in or out of one.
Fruiterer Joe Quadara was another.
The hit team who shot Quadara waited in a car park at the Malvern Rd, Toorak, Safeway, knowing Quadara would arrive for work in the early hours of May 28.
Four cigarettes seized by investigators from where the killers' dark-blue Toyota Camry was parked indicated the suspects were there for some time.
When Quadara arrived for his produce manager job at 3am, they struck.
As with many of the murders of the period, two guns were used on the victim.
He was shot 15 times to the head and torso in a brief and brutal crime.
A truck driver and a cleaner arriving for work found Quadara's
An inquest was later unable to unmask the killer of killers, whose DNA had been found on the cigarette butts but not identified.
Coroner Heather Spooner noted that the investigation had been frustrated by "the hesitant nature of those associated with the criminal element."
The killer of Vincenzo Mannella clearly had very good mail on his movements.
Mannella had only just arrived back at his Fitzroy North home after a business meeting when a gunman struck with lethal efficiency as he sat in his car.
The 48-year-old, who was believed to be associated with the Calabrian mafia group, Ndrangheta, had a lengthy criminal past.
He had done jail time over a shooting in the same suburb in which he would die.
January 9, 1999, started like any other day.
Mannella woke up and had breakfast with his family about 9am.
He left home, returning seven hours later for a barbecue dinner with family before meeting an associate at Brunswick cafe, Covo Sportivo.
The pair moved to a nearby Italian restaurant, Curley Joes, where they met with two men who had driven up from Shepparton to discuss a business deal.
The four drank beer and sang before Mannella got back in his car to drive home.
Mannella was parked in the driveway when his wife, Nancy Giorgio, heard several popping sounds in the street about 11.40pm.
He had been shot several times in the head.
Ms Giorgio discovered her husband lying bloody in the driveway.
Paramedics were called but he could not be saved.
Mannella had no known employment in the five years before his death but had previously worked in the fruit and vegetable industry.
In 1981, he was sentenced to nine years imprisonment over the shooting of a long-time associate in a street in Fitzroy North.
Court records state Mannella shot, Salvatore Care, twice at close-range in the stomach and right side after he was refused entry to the victim's espresso shop.
Care tried to run but was shot another four times, including twice in the back as he laid face down and bleeding on the footpath.
Geraldo Mannella - the younger brother of Vincenzo - was to die nine months later in the same brutal fashion.
He was outside the Fitzroy North home of his surviving brother, Salvatore Mannella, when he was shot in the legs then head on October 20.
Two men, one armed with a handgun, were never found.
On the day of his death, Mannella, a crane driver, went to work at a building site on Collins St in the city before driving to his brother's home to help him weld a shotgun safe.
The brothers drank wine and ate dinner until about 8pm when Mannella got up to leave.
His sister-in-law, Rocchina Lobosco, walked him out to his car parked in the driveway when two men approached from the opposite side of the street.
Mannella tried to run but was shot in the legs, causing him to collapse.
On the ground he was then shot several times in the head at close range.
Both males fled the scene in a blue station wagon, as shocked neighbours emerged from their homes and performed first aid on the man.
Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.
Police believe Mannella was also a Ndrangheta mafia associate and have not ruled out the possibility the two killings are related.
In 2017 the Coroners court heard the brothers' killers were unlikely to ever face justice.