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Robbery could have been scripted in Hollywood

Ten years ago on Tuesday, robbers posing as road workers pulled off one of Victoria's fake van cleef earrings alhambra biggest hold ups, writes Paul Heinrichs.

No doubt they'll make a film of it one day.

Such was its meticulous planning that it's hard to believe "the Richmond job" wasn't performed by a bunch of old heist movie aficionados, out to prove true crime can outdo fiction.

Despite its audacity, and the potential for slip ups, it went as well as the clockwork on the Nylex sign overlooking the robbery site.

Posing convincingly as a roadworks gang, complete with overalls, a slow/stop sign, hard hats, a road concrete cutter and three vehicles, the robbers got clean away with more than $2.3 million from an Armaguard van they stopped at the entrance to the South Eastern Freeway from Punt Road in Richmond.

Police believe the Armaguard van was tailed from the city by a gang member in a white utility. Once the van was stopped by a man with the stop sign, another gang member opened the back doors with a skeleton key, surprising the guard in the back, John Johnston.

During the robbery, drolly humorous remarks were made that might have been scripted in Hollywood.

When the driver's watch had to be taken off so a robber could fit him into handcuffs, he was told: "Don't worry, I'm not a thief." When Mr Johnston complained that the handcuffs were too tight, he was told: "Don't worry, we've had these on before. You'll get used to them."

But it was no laughing matter for the guards, whose careers changed as a result of what happened that balmy morning of June 22, 1994.

The crew leader has never worked again. Severely traumatised by the experience, he eventually won a settlement from the Transport Accident Commission, and will be 62 this year. Mr Johnston returned to work at Armaguard but lasted only half a day on the trucks before breaking into a sweat and resigning.

To this day, no one has been charged with the robbery, but the detective who did most of the work on the case, Detective Senior Sergeant Ross McKenzie, believes he arrested and questioned all five suspects during a 12 month investigation. No one confessed, and there was little, if any, identification evidence. No suspicion attached to the crew.

In the view of Mr Johnston, the van was unsuitable for the run. For one thing, it had no bolt on the inside of the back doors. "This truck should never have done that job. If it had been a Charioteer (a more modern vehicle), that robbery couldn't have went through," van cleef earrings ebay replica he said.

Other details have emerged about the series of events, including the fact that there was no support car used on the day, the route taken had become routine each Wednesday and police later discovered that Mr Johnston's gun was not loaded.

Renowned in those days as a cheery Irishman, he is now 55, separated and, as he says, quite a bit more subdued.

For a long time his friends jokingly asked him when he was going to spend the money, and he joked that fake van cleef gold earrings he had buried it under his in ground pool. But the joke wore thin.

Since the robbery, he has received an $8000 payout from the Crimes Compensation Tribunal, and has continued to work as a security man, but in less threatening roles.

The Armaguard van's route took it from Carrum Downs, with a few detours, to the Reserve Bank in Collins Street, where the crew picked up two crates of money at 10am.

The trip back to Carrum Downs took them past the MCG into Punt Road, but as they turned into Harcourt Parade, which leads to the freeway, the traffic was banked up.

The man with the noisy cutting machine began to slice into the road near the front of the van, distracting the two men in the front. From his perch in the back, Mr Johnston could see three men dressed as workmen.

"Next minute, the back door flew open, and that's when I was grabbed. They grabbed me and put a gun to my head. It happened so quick," he said.

A second robber came in the back and helped pull the two men in the front seats through the gap. All three were tied by the hands and forced to stay down.

The truck was driven a few blocks to a lane in Richmond, and the crew were sat up, handcuffed to each other with plastic bags placed over their heads. The crates were unloaded and they heard a vehicle drive away.

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