Jamie Gao was tall, handsome and just 20 years old when his dreams of making it big in the underworld led to him being shot dead and dumped in the ocean.
Gao was a young man with a bright future – graduating from the selective Caringbah High School in Sydney‘s south and being accepted into a business degree at UTS.
But, after a friend gave him a taste of the big money and high life the drug game had to offer, he ditched university believing he could build a similar business with bigger profits and lower risk.
That fateful decision ultimately brought him to a storage unit at Padstow in Sydney’s south west in May 2014, where he was murdered by two former NSW police detectives during a drug deal gone wrong.
Roger ‘The Dodger’ Rogerson and Glen McNamara were found guilty of Gao’s murder and both received life sentences.
They stole 2.78kg of methamphetamine with a street value of up to $19million from Gao after wrapping his body in a tarpaulin and dumping it at sea.
Rogerson, Australia’s most notorious corrupt cop, was also one of the NSW police force’s most decorated, having received more than a dozen rewards for bravery.
He died on Sunday in Sydney’s Prince of Wales hospital at the age of 83 after suffering a brain aneurysm at the Long Bay prison.
Both men maintained their innocence and fought their sentences but ultimately lost separate appeals in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal.
Their shocking crime has been detailed in a book titled Roger Rogerson: From Decorated Policeman to Convicted Criminal – The Inside Story, by Duncan McNab.
An extract is published below.
Drug dealer and aspiring gangster Jamie Gao was just 20 when he was shot dead during a drug deal that went wrong inside a storage unit in Padstow in Sydney’s south west in May 2014
His body was found floating off the coast of Cronulla in the city’s south days later
THE NEW FACE OF CRIME
The criminals that Roger Rogerson and Glen McNamara had faced in their police careers were mainly of the old school.
With a few exceptions, they were male, from poor or working-class backgrounds, had a basic education but not the opportunity for university or even six years of high school.
Many came from families who’d been involved in crime for generations. They were shoplifters, housebreakers, car thieves, armed robbers and safebreakers, who learned their trade through mentoring.
Their jobs were risky, the money was sometimes dismal, and the chance of being caught was high.
Prison was a paid holiday and a chance to network and get some professional development. The irony of getting it from someone who’d been convicted escaped them.
The contemporary breed of criminals is very different. They’re enticed into a business dominated by drugs like ice and cocaine, where the profits are staggering and the risk low.
Most finish high school and many have gone on to university – a finance or law degree are great sales tools if you’re looking at entering a life of crime rather than the ‘straight’ world.
Unlike the older crims, they don’t factor in getting caught, and many don’t quite understand the dangers and brutality of the world they’re entering.
Jamie Gao was one of these young men.
As he’d find out in 2014, a life of crime wasn’t like the one he’d seen so often in the Hong Kong action films he and his mates loved.
Heavily decorated former NSW detective Roger ‘the dodger’ Rogerson was found guilty for Gao’s murder and died in prison at the age of 83 after suffering a brain aneurysm
Rogerson was aided by fellow disgraced NSW detective Glen McNamara who worked as a private investigator and claimed that Gao was his informant for his next true crime book
Jamie’s family was well-to-do middle class, originally from Hong Kong. He’d grown up with his mother and grandmother in their large family home in a quiet street in Hurstville.
It wasn’t a flash home, but it was obvious the Gaos weren’t short of a quid.
Jamie went to Caringbah High School, one of the state’s selective schools that, according to the NSW Department of Education, ‘cater for gifted and talented students who have superior to very superior academic ability which is matched by exceptionally high classroom performance’.
Jamie was a tall, handsome lithe young man with long black hair that swept over his face. He was charismatic, funny and had an edge that made him stand out from his studious mates.
As Sydney crime writer and former detective P.M. (Pam) Newton wrote of Jamie in The Drum on 28 May 2014, ‘It’s the face that stays with you. The photo of the bright, beautiful boy, with the funky haircut, the shiny smile.’
And as Newton observed, ‘Sydney’s underworld isn’t glamorous – it’s cruel.’
Jamie didn’t have Newton’s insight, nor does it seem he did any research on the two older men he’d encounter just after his twentieth birthday.
Gao’s family was well-to-do middle class and lived in a quiet street in Hurstville. He went to Caringbah High School, a school known for its student’s ‘superior academic ability’
At school Jamie had a close group of mates, and following the HSC they went on to university and stayed close.
For Jamie, his higher education was a business degree at UTS, located near Sydney’s Chinatown.
One of Jamie’s friends, Bing-Jie (known as BJ) Wang, was Jamie’s ticket into the underworld.
Around late 2011, Wang was working as a drug dealer, pulling in big money and living the life that Jamie wanted.
BJ and his cohorts, the Lam brothers, ran a drug ring that was likely to be affiliated with one of the Hong Kong Triads, but they were clumsy.
They talked openly of their business on mobile phones and handled the packages of drugs without the sense to use gloves, thus leaving fingerprints and DNA evidence.
Their stupidity resulted in them being arrested in May 2012 for drug trafficking, but the arrest of his friends didn’t deter Jamie Gao.
Instead of learning that crime was a dangerous business, by being arrested and also risking offending brutal gangs such as the Triad – he went the other way.
He believed that he was smarter and could build a similar business with greater profit potential and less risk of being caught.
It’s likely Gao’s relationship with Wang also put him on police radar.
Around late 2011, one of Gao’s university friends was working as a drug dealer, pulling in big money and living the life that Jamie wanted
The Daily Telegraph on 31 May 2014 reported the AFP had been interested in him from around late 2011 because of his connection to drug importations.
One legal source told me Jamie had also come to police attention because of a few deals he’d done with large numbers of cheap mobile phones used for pay-as-you-go customers – popular in the drug trafficking business for single use then discarded, thus making electronic surveillance difficult.
Police also confirmed they were looking at links between Jamie and casino high roller Peter Hoang who was shot dead at Croydon Park on 7 September 2014, and the former Bakers Delight franchise holder Paul Nguyen, who went missing on 1 May 2014.
Police were suspicious the three were involved in drug trafficking and money laundering.
In early 2014, Jamie met Misaki Takebayashi who was from Japan and studying at UTS. Misaki had rudimentary English and even less Cantonese and Mandarin, but the two fell fast for each other.
However, while she knew her boyfriend had interests other than study and her, she had no idea of his growing involvement with drug trafficking.
Jamie had his first direct brush with police when he was arrested for unlawfully detaining 19-year-old student Jaiwei Yu, and assaulting him causing actual bodily harm.
Gao and two other young men went to Yu’s home unit in Sydney’s Carlton, allegedly to sort out one of Yu’s flatmates, Alex Li, over his bust-up with a girlfriend.
Yu said the girl had wanted revenge and Jamie had taken on the job as standover man and punisher.
Unfortunately for Yu, Alex wasn’t home at the time, so Gao decided Yu would do.
The three men took the slightly built man out to their car, manhandled him into the boot, took him for a brisk drive around, and finally stopped at a park where he was unloaded, and taken into the park where Jamie punched him in the mouth.
The three left him.
Unfortunately for Jamie and his crew, Yu and Li weren’t intimidated and went to the police. Gao was arrested on 22 March and faced his first time in court on a criminal charge at Kogarah court on 15 April 2014.
The case was later adjourned to 10 July and then withdrawn, because by then Jamie was dead.
Gao had just gotten his foot in the door of organised crime when he ran into his first trouble with the law but before any charges could be laid he had already been murdered
Another lawyer source told me the incident with Yu wasn’t Jamie’s only standover venture, telling me he’d kidnapped and assaulted a Sydney businessman over a debt.
The police had also visited Jamie’s home in early 2014 with a search warrant looking for drugs, but the visit hadn’t resulted in charges.
His mother Katherine said in a statement, ‘Since the drug search with the police I would talk to Jamie about drugs and he told me he wouldn’t do that. He was cranky that he was involved in this and kept saying that the police always have eyes on him and that he hasn’t done anything wrong.’
In late February Jamie flew to Hong Kong where he caught up with a mix of Sydney and Hong Kong friends and relatives, and allegedly with Triad connections made probably through BJ and the Lams.
Duncan Mcnab writes in his book how Gao was lured into a life of crime after seeing one of his uni friends reaping the benefits of the gangster life
It was on this trip Jamie was likely to have started work on the deal that would eventually lead to his murder.
The original deal he put to the alleged Triad heavies was 10 kilograms of ice on credit, with payment in full as soon as it was sold.
Jamie, by that stage well entrenched with the Rogerson/McNamara team, had a tantalising opportunity for the Triads – access to the outlaw bikers and their distribution networks.
The bikers didn’t mind where the product came from so long as it was of good quality, and for the Hong Kong criminals, traditionally insular in who they dealt with, it was an opportunity to plug into Australia’s most successful distributors.
It was a win for everyone – in theory.
However, the Triad heavies had generations of experience behind them and decided that while they’d risk a shipment to a new network, the risk would only be three kilograms.
If that deal worked to their satisfaction, then the amount would increase. Jamie didn’t have a choice and readily agreed.
The Hong Kong connection would arrange for the drugs to be couriered to Sydney from their sources in mainland China and delivered to Jamie.
Two trusted Triad henchmen would be sent to Australia to keep an eye on Jamie and the deal. Gao’s likely involvement in organised crime was why the NSW Police Robbery and Serious Crime Squad became involved when his disappearance was finally reported.
This is an edited extract from Roger Rogerson: From Decorated Policeman to Convicted Criminal – The Inside Story, by Duncan McNab, RRP $22.99, Hachette Australia, available now
Roger Rogerson: From Decorated Policeman to Convicted Criminal – The Inside Story, by Duncan McNab, is available now