M'bah bank $1.7m raid mystery lives on
ON NOVEMBER 23, 1978, $1.7 million destined for the regions workers' fortnightly pay packets was stolen from the Bank of NSW Murwillumbah Branch, just a stone's through from the police station on Main St.
The biggest heist in Australia's history, worth $8.8m today, put the town, previously only known for its annual Tweed Valley Banana Festival, on the map.
When a bank official poked his head into the looted safe and declared 'they got the lot', the robbery slogan was printed on t-shirts, reported globally, and garnered as much attention as the man thought to be behind it.
Crime history books all point to Graham "The Munster" Kinniburgh as the chief safe-breaker of the Magnetic Drill Gang, thought to be behind the robbery.
It's been claimed the "perfectionist" mobster practised cracking safes in warehouses before the raid and shot well-known crook Steve Sellers, for trying to claim a slice of the bounty afterwards.
'The Munster' was shot dead in 2003 by Lewis Moran and was never charged, but was suspected of at least another 14 raids using the gang's signature diamond-tipped drill.
It's assumed that after breaking in through the back door, thieves used the tool to make a small hole in the safe, to feed through a medical cystoscope with an attachment to it, to open the lock's tumblers.
With one thief working on the lock, and another cutting a hole in the ceiling of the bank for an emergency escape route, it's thought the robbery took several hours and up to five men.
At 7.30am the next day, a security guard found a back door to bank ajar, and the vault inside locked.
Chubb locksmiths tried to break the safe but failed, so Tweed Shire Council workmen broke through the vault wall instead, where police found $1.7m in $50 and $1 notes missing.
For 39 years crime buffs and historians ponder the same unsolved questions about the case.
One question arose over why it took to 7.30am to find the door ajar, another about whether the robbery was an "inside job".
Murwillumbah Historical Society researcher Joan Cuthel was 24 at the time of the robbery.
She retired as a Tweed-Byron Credit Union bank teller, down the road from the robbery, the year prior, to rear children.
"It was just a huge deal for this small area, a lot of people were fascinated, it was just a huge amount that was stolen," Mrs Cuthel said.
"There was a sign out the front of the bank the next morning which said: 'We apologise for any inconvenience', and that was a bit of a giggle.
"People thought it was an inside job, and that went around town for quite a while.
"The fact that it hasn't been solved, it makes you feel as if it as if something has been hidden or swept under the carpet."
Former Tweed Shire mayor Max Boyd, who was a councillor at the time of the raid, said it was not a "great way to publicise the town".
"It's not the sort of thing that you jump for joy about it, I didn't see it as any great thing for Murwillumbah," Mr Boyd said.
In its April 2017 newsletter, Murwillumbah Historical Society's treasurer, Max Willoughby, for the first time reported that a senior Sydney policeman was "unusually" transferred to Murwillumbah five months before the robbery.
He retired there in August 1979, and was later named in the Royal Commission into Alleged Intercepted Telephone Conversations as having been "deliberately untruthful" in admitting his links to prominent Sydney crime figure, George Freeman.
Freeman ran illegal casinos protected by corrupt policemen and had wide networks to Victoria, where 'The Munster' came from.
However no current evidence exists to prove a link between the Murwillumbah police man and the robbery, and a $250,000 reward never resulted in any leads on the case.
In 2013, Tweed Byron LAC police crime manager, detective inspector Brendon Cullen told The Tweed Daily News he would review the evidence, but no further announcements have been made.
The cold case remains a strong part of Tweed's history, on display at the Tweed Regional Museum.
Its exhibit includes: two T shirt designs by a local company no longer in business, a souvenir glass with 'bank job' image, the front page of the Tweed Daily the day after the robbery and a copy of the single 'Murwillumbah Bank Job', released by the Bullamakankas in 1979.
Tweed Regional Museum director Judy Kean said the robbery remains fascinating.
"Given when it happened, 1978, relatively recently, it's unusual for it not to have been solved," Ms Keen said.
"It was very well planned and executed so this added to the fascination.
"Every local who was around at the time has a theory story about really happened - even now - this keeps it very topical."