Millions have been entertained by the viral video of a man being arrested after a ‘succulent Chinese meal’. But when out of the blue this Falstaff figure called author Mark Dapin thirty years later, it emerged his story went to the heart of the Australian underworld over decades, connecting a celebrated prison playwright, Mr Rent-a-Kill, and two uncaught serial killers. An extraordinary true crime cult classic in the making.
Whether you know it as the ‘succulent Chinese meal’ video (as it appears on T-shirts) or ‘democracy manifest’ (as it’s taught in schools), chances are you’re one of the millions of Australians who’ve seen Jack Karlson getting arrested outside a Brisbane Chinese restaurant in 1990. The Guardian has called it ‘perhaps the pre-eminent Australian meme of the last 10 years’.
When someone named Jack Karlson called Mark Dapin out of the blue, though, Dapin hadn’t heard of him. But during their conversations over the following months, a more complex and darker picture than that of the baritone larrikin began to emerge. Zelig-like, Karlson had been in the background of many of the most notorious incidents in late-twentieth century Australian crime: co-author of infamous prison-playwright Jim McNeil; early collaborator of Charles Billich, one of Australia’s most commercially successful artists; associate of hitman Christopher Dale Flannery (Mr Rent-a-Kill).
But most shockingly of all, Karlson’s life story turned out to be the way into cracking the mystery behind a number of unsolved murders, by two serial killers.
The result is an extraordinary, deeply revealing portrait of Australian crime from the 60s to the 2010s – a portrait of carnage.