The Bank Teller, The Irish Terrorists & The Muddled Investigation

Irish revolutionaries, a syringe full of poison with an even rarer antidote, a bomb, and an unsuspecting everyman… It sounds like the plot of an action-packed Tom Clancy novel.

But it all happened. No, not in America – right here on Australian soil, or sand, rather.

Back in 2009, it was the Gold Coast’s glitter strip that was the setting for one of the strangest true crime stories in local lore.

Considering the “GC” is also home to a bevvy of biker gangs and nightclub moguls, that’s truly saying something.

It all began in April, 2009 with then 49-year-old suburban dad John Thomas Forrester. The manager at the Mudgeeraba branch of the Bank Of Queensland was unbeknownst to him a mark for a small group claiming to be Irish revolutionaries.

He was carjacked on his way to work by the men, who injected him with a mysterious substance inside a syringe.

They said it was a very particular type of poison: a poison for which only they had the antidote.

Forrester was told he would only get the cure once he had completed a mission that they gave him: take $40,000 from the bank and deliver it to them.

He did as was asked and also followed the bank’s careful instructions about what to do in the event of being confronted with robbers: hand over the money, don’t be a hero and that “no amount of money is worth a human life.”

He was also threatened with a bomb, a bomb said to be waiting and active at the Bank Of Queensland. If he failed, they said it would be detonated.

As soon as the money was delivered to an address in a suburban park, Forrester called the police. Despite the obvious syringe marks on the back of his neck, they were immediately suspicious.

The story was outlandish, bizarre and reminiscent of an over-the-top Hollywood plot. A man who was originally treated as a victim quickly became a suspect, with police accusing him of stealing the $40,000 himself.

What followed was a two-year ordeal, with Forrester ordered to stand trial despite even police prosecutor Sergeant Greg Overton saying that the evidence painted him as a “saint”.

He was widely known as an upstanding member of the community, a good father and a seemingly normal, kind man.

The prosecution, on the other hand, struggled to find a financial motivation as to why the bank manager would steal from his own branch. He was charged with stealing, but there was no denying the case both for and against was weird.

After four hours of deliberations across two days, the jury eventually returned a verdict: not guilty.

On the day, Forrester hugged his family outside the court, relief and gratitude clear on his face.

“At this stage, I just want to put things behind me,” he had said.

The prosecution had been warned about going to trial, with Magistrate Michael Hogan saying that it was a “somewhat incomplete police investigation” and that they might “look carefully at the case” before going in front of a jury.

So six years down the track, where are they now?

The $40,000 was never recovered. There have been countless theories about what actually took place on that day, with Forrester’s high-profile lawyer Bill Potts providing probably the most realistic.

He theorises that the men weren’t actually Irish revolutionaries, but merely pretending to be to make the most of the situation.

Terrorists? Unlikely. It was more probable, he says, that they were “laughing down their sleeves at the moment”.

For a legal professional with a career spanning some 30-years, he adds that it’s “one of the most remarkable cases” he has every worked on.

As for Forrester … if you drove about 20 minutes inland from the Gold Coast’s famous beaches to the quaint, country-esque suburb of Mudgeeraba you could find him.

If you parked the car and strolled through the doors of the local Bank Of Queensland, his would likely be the warm smile that greeted you on the other side.

Now 55, Forrester is back working as the manager of the bank which was the setting for some of the strangest and most fantastical events in Australian true crime history.

Story by MARIA LEWIS

FRIDAY, JANUARY 23, 2015