Former Detective Sergeant Les “Chappy” Chapman has revealed the prime suspect in the 1990 murder of Ioannis “John” Fratzeskos died last year.
Former Detective Sergeant Les “Chappy” Chapman has revealed the prime suspect in the 1990 murder of Ioannis “John” Fratzeskos died last year.

Legendary detective reveals the killer who got away with it

THE prime suspect in one of the Territory's most baffling cold case murders died last year, a retired detective involved in the case has revealed.

Legendary former NT police officer Les "Chappy" Chapman ended his storied career in 2002 as a detective sergeant and said he still wondered how anybody could have been driven to kill Greek construction worker Ioannis "John" Fratzeskos at the Darwin post office construction site on Cavenagh St in 1990.

Mr Chapman said when heard of the prime suspect's death last year, he thought to himself: "What do you do?"

Ioannis
Ioannis "John" Fratzeskos, 59, was found murdered on a building site in 1990.

"We didn't get him in the end, it's not right," he said.

Fratzeskos, a quiet, hardworking migrant, was clobbered in the head with a besser block in the early hours of January 11, 1990.

Barely literate and unable to read a clock, Fratzeskos would often set out for work from his Stuart Park bedsit as early as 4am after waking in the wee hours, fearing he was already late for his shift.

The suspect's death and a story in the NT News last year about the Fratzeskos investigation prompted Mr Chapman to fill in the final chapter of a case which still dogs the detectives who worked it.

Detective Sergeant Les Chapman in the years he was investigating the murder of Ioannis Fratzeskos
Detective Sergeant Les Chapman in the years he was investigating the murder of Ioannis Fratzeskos

Mr Chapman won't reveal the suspect's name, only that the man was "heavily involved in the distribution of drugs" in Darwin at the time, was "in jail and out of jail all the time" and sported a bullet wound in his arm.

Mr Chapman first heard whispers of the man's involvement where he got many of his best tip-offs - at footy training.

"They'd trust you because you played for Nightcliff, and trust is a big thing," he said.

"This bloke, he said, 'Chappy, I know who killed the Greek chap'."

The murder of Ioannis
The murder of Ioannis "John" Fratzeskos, 59, on a building site in Darwin was front page news.

By that time, other detectives had performed a painstaking investigation into the murder, in an era well before DNA and when the few security cameras nearby were so grainy they barely helped to identiy those on the streets in the moments surrounding Fratzeskos's murder.

The strongest leads were from early morning dog walkers, one of whom, David O'Dea, described "heard a noise "like a scream, it sounded like it was aggravated and then it got to a certain point and then it suddenly stopped".

Mr Chapman was told to park his car around the block when he went to visit his source's house, where the source told Mr Chapman the suspect had confessed to Fratzeskos's murder.

"He told me who did it but wouldn't give a statement," Mr Chapman said.

"He was very scared of this person."

When Mr Chapman eventually confronted the suspect, who had a "good story" explaining his whereabouts on the night of Fratzeskos's murder.

"If it had gone to court he would have walked," Mr Chapman said.

Shortly after he retired, Mr Chapman revealed to the NT News he had gone to the forensics lockup when DNA became a more widespread investigative tool, hoping his suspect's DNA would have been on the brick, only for the civilian who was then in charge of the lockup to tell him the brick had been binned.

Police weren't as "politically correct" back then and definitely didn't dob on their own, but it still grates with Mr Chapman that nobody was ever brought to justice for Fratzeskos's murder.

"Every copper felt for him, he was just working as a labourer, saving for his family," he said.

The killer, he said, ought to have died in jail.