Mark “Chopper” Read: The Australian Psycho!
“Chopper” Read is one of the most infamous criminals in Australian history, and also one of the country’s best-selling authors. He has been convicted for almost every crime there is, and he spent most of his younger years in prison. A biography of his life and the movie “Chopper” from 2000 has made him a well-known figure “down under”.
Mark Brandon Read was born in 1954, and he grew up in various suburbs around Melbourne, Australia. His father was a World War 2 veteran who loved guns, and he taught Mark how to use them early on. His mother was an extremely religious woman who belonged to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Read was a bullied kid, who often got into altercations and fights, and he was also beaten at home. When he was 15, his mother put him in a mental institution because he didn’t want to go to church anymore. According to Mark, his father got him out after 6 months during which he had endured 60 instances of electroshock therapy.
Read had toughened up during his stay, and when he grew to 6’2 in height, he was no longer bullied. Mark became a feared street fighter and was the leader of a young group called the Surrey Road Gang. They started robbing drug dealers and other criminals, since these victims couldn’t go to the police. Read explained that a blue-collar worker would fight harder to keep his 20 dollars, than a dealer who could just go out and sell more drugs. Chopper (a nickname he got from a popular cartoon at the time) and the rest of the gang, started to make a name for themselves, and criminals would hire them to take care of rivals. Read was notorious for using bolt cutters to remove the toes of the gangsters they kidnapped, even using a blowtorch or forcing them to eat razor blades so they would promise him more money.
Chopper in prison, as a kid and together with his sister Debbie
Chopper would spend almost all the years between 20 and 40 in prison (where he would learn to read and write), among other things convicted of armed robbery, assault and for kidnapping a judge. While serving time at HM Pentridge Prison he became the leader of a crew called “The Overcoat Gang”, since they used long coats all year round to hide their weapons. There was a prison war going on at the time, and Read and his gang were involved in countless acts of violence. One of his companions cut of both of Mark’s ears with a razor blade so he would be transferred away from H division, fearing for his life. Instead he was attacked and stabbed by his own gang, who felt Chopper had taken the prison war too far. There was a contract to kill Read (who survived after losing a lot of intestines), and some say that was the real incentive for the hit. The two attackers, Jimmy Loughnan and Patrick Barnes were some of his closest friends, and the reason Chopper was in prison at that moment was in fact for kidnapping a judge in order to set Loughnan free.
“Mad Mark” was released from prison in 1986, but it wouldn’t go long before he was in trouble again. The year after, he shot Siam “Sammy the Turk” Ozerkam outside Bojangles Nightclub in St Kilda, Melbourne. “Sammy the Turk” had pulled a gun on him first though, and he was acquitted since it was seen as self-defence. Chopper kept busy, among other things having a beef with notorious mafioso Alphonse Gangitano, and he was back in prison by 1990. Mark started to write a lot of letters to a journalist he felt had portrayed him wrong in an article, and these letters would be the basis of the hit novel “Chopper: From the Inside“. He was released again in 1992 and moved to Tasmania, but according to Read, he was framed for the shooting of Victorian Outlaws president “Sid” Collins the same year. Chopper plead not guilty, and he would be a free man again in 1998. While in jail, he got married to Mary Ann Hoge and they had the son Charlie before divorcing in 2001. He would later remarry with Margaret Casser and they too have a son together, named Roy Brandon.
Eric Bana in the movie based on Chopper Read’s life
After the success of his first publication, Read had continued to write a series of books about his life, and he was a famous man when he was released in 1998. His autobiographical works have sold over half a million copies, and the cult movie “Chopper” from 2000 only increased his fame. Eric Bana is the main role playing Read, and the two actually spent time together to help his performance. Chopper praised Bana for his effort, but has attacked the movie for being inaccurate on many points, and for the economic compensation he feels he is entitled too. I have seen the movie myself, and I enjoyed it, but I wouldn’t go as far as calling it great. Due to its graphic violence and language, many cinemas didn’t even want to show it, but that didn’t stop it from going to number one in Australia (First adults only movie to achieve that down under). If this doesn’t bother you, it is absolutely one to check out, and Bana really does a great job.
Since then, Chopper has toured around Australia with his own stage show, featured in commercials against drunk driving and domestic violence, and even released a rap album in 2006 called “Interview with a Madman”. He also has a beer named after him, produced in Rutherglen, Victoria (a small town known for another of Australia’s most famous outlaws, Ned Kelly). Chopper himself claims he never harmed anybody that didn’t deserve it, naming his “trade” as a “sanitary engineer” working with “garbage disposal”, saying that drugs had killed more people than he had killed heroin dealers. Some critics say that he has exaggerated his number of murders and fights to promote his books, and that he often brags about his exploits. Read himself says he sometimes mixes facts and fiction, but claims most of his stories are pretty accurate.
Mark is often described as charismatic, intimidating and funny (with some classic one liners), and despite his violent past and torture methods, many Australians seem to like him. He contracted Hepatitis C from a blood stained razor blade in prison, and was not expected to live long without a liver transplant. Chopper said he didn’t want one though, stating that who in their right mind would give a convicted criminal a liver before a 11-year old girl. In 2012 he was diagnosed with liver cancer, and was not predicted to live much longer. After an operation to remove the tumors later that year, he now claims to be “as good as gold”. After being stabbed and shot countless times, run over by a car, declared insane three times in his life, hit with an ice pick, had his ears cut off and at one point forced to dig his own grave, it is mind-boggling that Chopper has made it this far. Good or bad, most people agree that he has had quite an interesting and eventful life.
Trailer from the movie Chopper