Search for the Stoccos: A look inside the investigation that roped the state's most wanted men

They were the father-and-son fugitives that wreaked havoc at properties throughout NSW.

But Gino and Mark Stocco weren’t your average criminals.

As well as stealing vehicles, slashing tyres and setting fire to hay sheds, they were also the types to shoot at police and kill in cold blood.

With both men behind bars and serving lengthy jail sentences for a four-year crime spree that ended with the death of Rosario Cimone in Elong Elong in October 2015, the Daily Liberal has taken a look inside the manhunt that not only led to their capture, but also the revelation of how heinous the bush bandits really were.

WHERE IT BEGAN

Gino and Mark Stocco were your typical itinerant workers who moved from property to property doing handywork on farms across NSW and Queendland in return for a place to live. They had been that way since 2001 when Gino separated from his wife, but invariably when the Stoccos left a workplace things didn’t end on the best of terms.

It was an advertisement in The Land newspaper which led the father and son to Canowindra in December of 2011.

Gino answered the ad placed by property owner Peter Fairley, and after discussions it was agreed he and his son Mark would work as caretakers on the Fairley property ‘Plenty’

The mixed farming property contained a main house, some sheds, machinery and a shearing shed as well as a cottage.

But just three months or so after starting work at ‘Plenty’ the Stoccos told Mr Fairley they would have to leave for a short period of time.

A property fire in Canowindra started the hunt for the Stoccos.

A property fire in Canowindra started the hunt for the Stoccos.

When he hadn’t heard from either man for about three weeks Mr Fairley ended their employment and the Stoccos returned, collected their property and left.

Unbeknown to them, in March 2013 Mr Fairley sold the property to the Tidswell family.

Come August 29, 2014, the Stoccos were travelling through Canowindra on their way to Victoria when they decided to pay a visit to the property in order to refuel shortly after midnight

In his judgment, Justice David Davies said “upon entering the property both offenders described themselves as becoming agitated and angry because of the way they perceived they had been treated by Mr Fairley”.

As a result of this anger, Gino Stocco used a battery drill to slash and puncture the tyres on several vehicles, including a quad bike, a tip truck, a hay rake and a fencing trailer.

Mark kept watch but also got in on the act by slashing the tyres of a nearby car.

After filling their vehicle with diesel, a malfunction meant that fuel continued to run from the tank and pooled near the workshop shed that housed a John Deere tractor.

A fire was lit but around the same time the occupants of the house were woken by dogs barking and saw torch lights in the shed.

After they were disturbed, the Stoccos fled in the Volkswagen Amarok they were driving, however its radiator was damaged when shots were fired at them as they left.

The pair parked the vehicle on a drain on their way towards the Nangar National Park and left on foot.

Police listed the Stoccos as suspects the same day.

MEETING ROSARIO CIMONE

Life can change fairly quickly, and for Rosario Cimone that was certainly the case in 2015.

In September of that year, the retired butcher and divorced father of three entered into an agreement with a person referred to by Justice Davies as ‘Person C’ to reside on a 385-hectare property called ‘Pinevale’ near Elong Elong.

Shortly after, Mr Cimone became acquainted with the Stoccos through a mutual friend, referred to as ‘Person B’.

They had been living in the garage of the Lurnea home of ‘Person B’

A few days after meeting Mr Cimone, the father-and-son left behind their work on a building site and were on the road to Elong Elong to live and work at ‘Pinevale’.

The residence at 'Pinevale' occupied by Rosario Cimone, and Gino and Mark Stocco.

The residence at 'Pinevale' occupied by Rosario Cimone, and Gino and Mark Stocco.

And just a few weeks later, Mr Cimone was dead.

During their recorded interviews, both men said ‘Pinevale’ was being used to grow cannabis in a hydroponic set-up established in a shed.

They also said a third person, called ‘Person A’, and ‘Person B’ had put Mr Cimone in as caretaker of the property to tend to the cultivation of the drugs.

However once ‘Person A’ and ‘Person B’ became aware that the Stoccos were wanted by police they cleared the property of material used to grow the cannabis.

Both of the Stoccos said that their work, aside from tending the cannabis operation, involved setting up irrigation, electrical work and building a pergola as well as general cleaning and maintenance work.

MURDER

According to the Stoccos their relationship with Mr Cimone deteriorated over time.

A power struggle had ensued with claims that Mr Cimone saw himself as the boss, an idea the father and son took umbrage with.

Person B and Person C visited ‘Pinevale’ between October 3-5, and in an interview with police the latter noted that Mr Cimone had seemed ‘agitated’ during the visit.

On the morning of October 7, 2015, Mr Cimone had an argument with Gino and Mark Stocco, and according to Gino Stocco, Mr Cimone had produced a shotgun.

He told police that, fearing they would be shot in their sleep, he and Mark agreed between themselves to kill Mr Cimone.

In his recorded interview, Mark Stocco said that after attempting to leave the property and failing, Mr Cimone returned and said “I’m going to ring Person A and sort this out”.

PULLED THE TRIGGER: Gino Stocco fired the shots that killed Rosario Cimone.

PULLED THE TRIGGER: Gino Stocco fired the shots that killed Rosario Cimone.

Fearing they would be kicked off the property, Mark told his father “just kill him, he’s going to tell Person A”.

Mark Stocco then retrieved a 12-gauge Remington pump action shotgun from underneath his bed, which had previously been stolen from a property near the Queensland town of Cecil Plains.

After handing his father the firearm and telling him to “shoot him”, Gino replied and said “no, tie him up, tie him up”.

But, at the further urgings of his son, Gino walked out of the house carrying the firearm, removed the safety catch and pumped the shotgun once.

He approached Mr Cimone, who was standing near his car, and shot him in the stomach from a distance of about two metres.

Mr Cimone doubled over before Gino pumped the firearm again and shot him in the stomach area again. The victim died almost immediately.

COVERING THEIR TRACKS

After a failed attempt to lift Mr Cimone’s body onto the back of a Mitsubishi Triton ute, the Stoccos dragged his body to a raised concrete pad, propped him up and then transferred him to the back of the vehicle.

They drove along an access path before turning into scrub, where they dumped the body, face up onto the ground.

After dragging the corpse a little further into thicker terrain, Mark Stocco removed Mr Cimone’s clothes and placed leaves and branches over his body.

All of Mr Cimone’s clothing, with the exception of his work boots, were placed into a drum which was then covered in methylated spirits and diesel, and set alight.

The boots were kept as they were “good boots”.

All of Mr Cimone’s other clothes were retrieved from the house and burnt, in order to give the impression that he had simply left the property.

After pocketing $50 that was in one of the pieces of clothing they also picked up the cartridge shells, washed the back of the ute, packed their belongings and left.

FIRING AT POLICE

Gino and Mark Stocco had been on the radar of police in NSW and Queensland for a while, even to the point of appearing on television program Australia’s Most Wanted.

With a trail of property damage and stolen items behind them, including the shotgun and ammunition used to kill Mr Cimone, communication had been made between Local Area Commands across the length and breadth of NSW.

But when they fired shots at police in the southern part of NSW, the papers were stamped urgent and substantial resources were put into capturing them.

Nine days after the killing of Mr Cimone, on October 16, 2015, a highway patrol officer based at Holbrook was patrolling in Henty when he saw a silver Nissan Navara being driven by Gino Stocco, with Mark Stocco in the passenger’s seat.

The vehicle had been stolen from the Chinchilla home of Gino’s sister and her husband in November 2013.

The Automatic Number Plate Recognition software inside the highway patrol vehicle recognised the registration number as belonging to a grey Suzuki Swift stolen from Orange in March of 2015.

A pursuit ensued, and at one point Gino and Mark swapped seats, and Gino started loading an SKK semi-automatic rifle located in the front of the Navara.

After 23 minutes on the run, the Navara stopped and the police officer pursuing slowed down and then stopped, about 70 metres away.

It is at this time that Gino pointed the rifle out of the passenger’s side window and fired five or six shots at the police car.

The officer then reversed the vehicle and headed back towards Henty, however with a severed brake hose behind the front passenger’s side wheel the vehicle soon stalled.

By this stage two other police officers in the region were soon to be involved.

Matt Shaw was one of the police officers to be shot at by the Stoccos.

Matt Shaw was one of the police officers to be shot at by the Stoccos.

A Wagga Wagga-based highway patrol officer and a senior constable from Holbrook, came across the Navara on Mangoplah Road, with Gino back in the driver’s seat.

The Stoccos turned onto a dirt road and a pursuit once again ensued before Gino turned the vehicle so Mark, armed with the SKK rifle, was facing the two police cars.

Three shots were fired but hit the dirt about 20-30m in front of the marked vehicles.

Fearful that they would continue to be fired upon, both officers reversed away from the scene before continuing the pursuit at a distance.

Shortly after they sighted the Navara on a property where the vehicle and the rifle, which was stolen from the same Queensland property as the shotgun that killed Rosario Cimone, were abandoned.

ALL BETS ARE OFF

Once they had fired at police, the Stoccos went from being petty criminals to the state’s most wanted men.

Police didn’t know at the time they had killed Rosario Cimone, but according to Detective Senior Constable Robert Jackson, the father and son helped bring about their own demise by assuming Mr Cimone’s corpse had been found.

“Police were aware of them from the early days,and there were reports on these two fellows to basically keep an eye out for them because they had caused so much harm,” Det Snr Con Jackson said.

“We would receive emails to keep a lookout because they’re in the corridor, they would work on properties, have a discrepancy and would cause some damage on the property, be it letting tyres down, setting fires to hay sheds, whatever the case may be.

CCTV images of Gino and Mark Stocco during their time on the run.

CCTV images of Gino and Mark Stocco during their time on the run.

“But we heightened the lookout after they started shooting at police. Certainly from October 2015 it became more of a targeted response to get these blokes because they’ve increased their criminal activity to a point where, unbeknown to us at that stage, Mr Cimone was murdered on the property.

“They may have thought police may have known that that, in actual fact we didn’t until they were arrested.

“The murder of Mr Cimone wasn’t evident until they were arrested on October 28 and in all the information they’ve supplied to police they admitted to killing him on October 7.

“They were wanted because police were actively pursuing them, and that’s why they shot at those officers down around Wagga.

Businesses in the southern part of the state were taking no chances.

Businesses in the southern part of the state were taking no chances.

“They, upon themselves, have heightened that response from police by shooting at police down near Wagga, so it’s probably it’s to their demise that they did that.

“It showed to police that they would have taken all avenues, including to shoot at police, with no intentions of coming peacefully, I’ve got no doubt about that.

“Ultimately by doing they have increased the police presence 100 fold because that has gone to the next level, even though we didn’t know they had murdered Mr Cimone by that stage, by shooting at police you don’t know what the next thing is they are going to do.”

TARGETING ORANA

After escaping police in the Riverina, and as they had done countless times before, Gino and Mark Stocco went off the grid.

They used the cloak of darkness to travel in a stolen white Toyota Landcruiser, and CCTV footage showed them fuelling the vehicle up at a service station in the Victorian town of Euroa at 6.30pm on October 18.

Four days later, police received another vital piece of information..

A CCTV image of a vehicle allegedly being driven by the Stoccos filling up at a petrol station.

A CCTV image of a vehicle allegedly being driven by the Stoccos filling up at a petrol station.

“Everyone was centred around the southern part of NSW looking for these two fellows, and rightly so because that’s where they were,” Det Snr Con Jackson said.

“But we received info on October 22 about a concern for welfare by the property owner of Pinevale for the lessee Mr Cimone, who hadn’t been seen.

“We knew the Stoccos had been on that property prior to that, back in September, and we knew that they’d left, but they had links.

“It’s a property that’s out past Elong Elong that’s not easily accessible.

“It’s off the main road, it’s several kilometres in there, it’s bordered by the Goonoo Forest. The property itself is cleared and uncleared, there’s two residences on there.

Detectives attached to Orana Local Area Command and based at Dubbo Police Station were called in as part of the investigation.

Detectives attached to Orana Local Area Command and based at Dubbo Police Station were called in as part of the investigation.

“We went out there to make enquiries about the concern that they had for Mr Cimone.

“There was nothing that seemed out of place, there was no other person on the property, there was nothing adverse we could see on both residences.

“The vehicles were parked where vehicles would be and there was no evidence of a dispute.

“Based on the appearance myself, marked police, Detectives Wallace and Magann and the dog squad left the property

“But even though we went out there on a concern for welfare, we went with a sense of urgency, in numbers, but as a result there was nothing there that we deemed to be out of the ordinary.”

BEGINNING OF THE END

On October 26, four days after police searched Pinevale, another piece of intelligence hit the desks of the Orana detectives that signalled the beginning of the end for Gino and Mark Stocco.

“Some fellows from National Parks and Wildlife went through the Goonoo Forest, came across a camp and saw the young fellow they described as similar in appearance to Mark Stocco and the white Landcruiser, so they contacted police,” Det Snr Con Jackson said.

“Police have attended as quickly as they can, again in that concerted effort, Detectives Wallace, Magann and Heckendorf, so they’ve gone out there and commandeered a vehicle, and gone off in the direction where the campsite was.

“They’ve put on bullet proof vests, you’ve got to go in with the feeling you’re not chasing a boy scout.

“They’re chasing these fellows that have a propensity to shoot at police, to shoot at anyone.”

But that search was again unsuccessful.

The sheer size and density of the Goonoo made it almost impossible for the officers to chase the fugitives.

Wanted: Gino and Mark Stocco.

Wanted: Gino and Mark Stocco.

“They’ve come back to the campsite where they’ve left in a hurry, that was obvious from the things they’ve left behind,” Det Snr Con Jackson said.

“Our evidence team, crime scene, forensics go out there, examined the scene, obtained swabs and DNA.

“We’ve got an urgent response for them to get results from that, which comes back as a match so we know 100% that they’re there.

“As the crow flies to this property it’s probably under 2km, there is a gate and forestry access road that links to the property and in close proximity to the two residences.

“But this was good info, no other person would be hidden away in that forest if they didn’t need to be.

“Talking to Detective Magann, he puts them probably less than an hour behind them.

“From there, that property is probably seen as a safehaven for them, they would know the back ways into there.”

GAME OVER

Knowing police were on their tail, Gino and Mark Stocco have scarpered back to familiar territory - Pinevale.

Once again, they have made a move that has helped pin them for their greatest crime, the murder of Rosario Cimone.

Police manning one of the rugged roads near 'Pinevale'.

Police manning one of the rugged roads near 'Pinevale'.

“They’ve gone back there, and specialist police have come in, it’s a high-risk incident and we have to make that response,” Det Snr Con Jackson said.

“All the necessary things in place but as for how those specialist police have gone about the capture I have no idea.

“The police that do that are very adept at their job. We have police that will lay in a hole and watch a place for days on end if required.

“I don’t know what happened out there but those specialist units have done the training, that’s why they come into it.

“There’s no point saying ‘Jacko knock on the door’. You can’t do that, you’d end up bloody hurt.

“But the end result of having these fellows in custody is a show of good teamwork by different sectors of the NSW Police

Superintendent Clint Pheeney speaks after the capture of Gino and Mark Stocco.

Superintendent Clint Pheeney speaks after the capture of Gino and Mark Stocco.

“They’re slippery, they’ve shown they are slippery, they’ve shown they can get from one end of the state to the other undetected.

“But by putting all those pieces of the puzzle together, by containing all that information they’ve decided to target that place.

“We have to start somewhere. We may have been lucky, but I’d like to think it would be put down to good police work and the tenacity of the NSW Police, from the Orana CI unit to Wagga highway patrol, to the tactical operations unit in Sydney, to our Queensland counterparts, and rural crime investigators that have had interactions with farmers along the way as well.”

VICTORY

Shortly after being arrested, Mark Stocco made admissions and assisted in the location of Mr Cimone’s body.

After initially denying knowledge of Mr Cimone, Gino also made admissions and the pair participated in ‘walk through’ crime scene interviews.

News eventually filtered through to the Dubbo station, where Det Snr Con Jackson and his colleagues celebrated their role in the ‘win’.

“To see footage and those blokes with their faces in dirt and hands behind their back is excellent,” he said.

“Given Mr Cimone lost his life, there was millions of dollars worth of damage, and victims were unnecessarily targeted, that sense of achievement is there and it comes from any job.

“There’s no better privilege than to investigate someone who has been murdered. To find the culprits and get a good result.

Police images of Mark and Gino Stocco handcuffed after their capture.

Police images of Mark and Gino Stocco handcuffed after their capture.

“I love the job we do because we end up with that result. I imagine it’s the same with the blokes that actually arrested them, that’s an achievement for them.

“It’s quite difficult because when we were out there on October 22 we were wandering around the property looking for anything out of the ordinary.

“Knowing now they have admitted to murdering Mr Cimone, and that he was laying there at that time, is probably the one little regret because it would have been helpful to recover him sooner. But we got them in the end.”