Undercover cop Mark befriended paedophile Gregory Minehan who helped run an international dark-web forum brimming with paedophiles. Picture: Peter Morris
Undercover cop Mark befriended paedophile Gregory Minehan who helped run an international dark-web forum brimming with paedophiles. Picture: Peter Morris

‘Hospital or cemetery?’: How undercover trapped Charlotte

Previously  in Undercover, we revealed how operatives infiltrate gangs and pose as criminals to elicit confessions and damaging evidence. Now, in Part II, we reveal three of the Undercover Branch's most sensational missions.

This is the untold story of how an undercover cop working a pot deal helped capture one of the country's most despicable serial killers.

"Covert operations played a major part in the investigations of Lindsey Robert Rose, including the strategic placement of undercover operatives," said Andrew MacFarlane, the operations co-ordinator of Task Force Yandee, an investigation that has never been publicised.

Rose is currently in Supermax serving five life sentences for a string of murders committed over the 80s and 90s. They were revenge killings and brothel murders, stabbings with screwdrivers and fruit knives. While these were being carried out it in Sydney it wasn't until an operative working on Task Force Yandee, in 1996, that anyone connected them to Rose.

"It was a very complex investigation," MacFarlane said.


Andrew MacFarlane and an undercover colleague (in balaclava) worked 15 years as an undercover operative. They are pictured working on an operation involving IRA members in the 1990s.
Andrew MacFarlane and an undercover colleague (in balaclava) worked 15 years as an undercover operative. They are pictured working on an operation involving IRA members in the 1990s.

Only a core group of cops know about Yandee, a NSW Crime Commission investigation into a powerful and murderous crime family supplying cannabis across the eastern seaboard. At least eight murders had been linked to the syndicate, all carried out to protect its turf. "I was to purchase cannabis from one group of dealers and order larger amounts as my credibility grew," said Andrew Curran, the operative who worked the case, and who has given us permission to use his true identity.

Curran joined the Undercover Branch in 1995 and styled himself as a bikie during his undercover career. He wore leather vests, rode a motorbike, and filled one of his ears with piercings that left the lobe constantly sore.

To worm his way into their syndicate, Curran posed as a gun-runner, offering up grenades and machine guns supposedly 'stolen' from the army. "They didn't need the money, but they were gun nuts," said MacFarlane, who supervised Curran during the operation.

Ultimately, the family didn't take the guns, but they liked Curran and began selling him pounds of marijuana. One day, they got talking about one of their downline suppliers in Sydney, a gang of crooks who, even to them, seemed a little psychotic.

"They said: 'These guys we're dealing with, one of them is a bit of a weirdo and has murdered quite a few people," MacFarlane said. This was the first connection to Rose. "That started everything from the detectives' point of view."

A second stroke of luck was imminent. One of the alleged drug dealers in Curran's investigation had used an alibi for a murder who happened to be a serving cop.

When detectives hauled the cop in for questioning about the alibi, he offered up a tidbit he thought might save himself: one of his drinking buddies was a guy named Lindsey Rose who was boasting about having committed murders.

"Rose had mentioned (to the cop details of) some of the crime scenes which had never been released to the public," Macfarlane said.

Rose was charged in 1997 and pleaded guilty to the murders a year later.



Charlotte Lindstrom will go down in history as one the most glamorous targets ever dealt with by the NSW Undercover Branch. She was also one of its most ruthless.

"I couldn't believe how cold she was," said undercover Rob, who met with her twice as a ''hitman'', in May 2007, and took repeated instructions from her to kill two Crown witnesses. Few cases have captured the public's attention like that of Lindstrom: an alluring young woman seemingly blinded by love when she sought out contract hits on her fiance's behalf. She spoke in coded terms with Rob for what she wanted done.

"You can't really say to people, 'Do you want me to kill them?'," Rob explained. "You have to say: 'Now, we've gone through all this, just so I'm clear, do you want them in the hospital or in the cemetery?'"

Charlotte Lindstrom met with an undercover officer twice wanting to have two Crown witnesses murdered.
Charlotte Lindstrom met with an undercover officer twice wanting to have two Crown witnesses murdered.

Originally a backpacker, Lindstrom arrived in Sydney with her boyfriend off a sailing holiday through the South Pacific in 2003. The plan was to stay in Australia just a couple of months on a working holiday visa, but by 2004 she'd split with her boyfriend and found Steven Spaliviero, a swarthy man twice her age who exhilarated with his worldly charm and smouldering mystique. An expert on drug labs and pharmaceuticals, he stored cash in strange places and revved around town in a sleek-looking Porsche.

"He fascinated me," she later told a psychologist, long after her arrest. "He made me feel important and special. He knew so much about everything, and he was manly. I felt really safe with him."

Business had been running smoothly for Spaliviero's criminal enterprise. His labs were churning out thousands of pills and kilos of ice, generating huge sums of money. Then, one day, a lab exploded by accident in the outer suburbs of Sydney. Dummy companies had been used to lease the warehouse and source the glassware, but police had found two Crown witnesses who could nail him to the crime. "I got greedy," he told me. "One thing led to another. I just kept doing them and doing them. Just greed, I guess."

On Charlotte's account, Spaliviero wanted to kill off these witnesses to scuttle his trial, but for weeks he'd been struggling to arrange a reliable killer. (Spaliviero denied this at his own court hearing, explaining that he was only trying to source information about the witnesses to discredit them.) A fellow inmate heard his gripes and, after cutting a deal with police, offered to put Spaliviero in touch with a no-nonsense professional. A few days later, on May 25, Charlotte arrived on the steps of Town Hall where Rob was waiting. She was carrying an envelope.

"What's this?" he asked.

"Information," she said.

Inside he found a photograph of the two witnesses (one of whom was the wrong person), an address where he could find them, and a mud-map of where they worked. "I've got to know exactly what he wants done," Rob said. "Does he want these people in the hospital or in the cemetery?"

"I think more so the cemetery," she told him, offering $100,000 for each slaying.

CCTV footage of Charlotte Lindstrom being arrested on George Street in Sydney in May 2007.
CCTV footage of Charlotte Lindstrom being arrested on George Street in Sydney in May 2007.

Lindstrom may have sounded like she knew what she was doing, but in reality the young model was almost laughably out of her depth. She knew nothing about the underworld, or Spaliviero's dealings. At one point, Rob prodded her with questions about a Hells Angels bikie who'd been lined up as the original hitman, but ultimately turned down the job due to cold feet. "Do you know anything about him?" Rob asked. Charlotte barely knew the bikie's full name. "He likes milkshakes," she said, trying to be helpful.

One benefit of ''hitman'' jobs is their speed. A drug job can get bogged down in paperwork approvals. They're also expensive, requiring thousands of dollars in buy-money that has to be approved at the highest levels of the police force. ''Hitman'' jobs, by contrast, typically need only one or two meetings to secure the evidence for an arrest. This is why Rob pressed Charlotte for cash - cash is intent, and intent is what plays well in court.

"All I need is five or 10 grand," Rob explained, telling her the money would pay for his surveillance of the targets, petrol, and a deposit on an overseas flight, which he would take once the job was finished. "I just want to get started," he said.

The next day Lindstrom strutted down George Street in blue jeans and dark glasses, her path shadowed by a surveillance team. She apologised as she sat down. Something had gone wrong with the cash. "On Monday I'll have all the information and I'll bring you some money as well," she promised.

This admission was all Rob needed. "He definitely wants them in the cemetery?"

"Yep," she said, without hesitation. "He definitely wants it done."

She laughed nervously as they parted ways and promised to bring $10,000 to their next meeting, heading back down George Street and into the arms of a waiting detective, the case scandalising the public as she cut a deal with prosecutors. She served two years in prison, delivering hours of teary evidence against her former fiance in the witness box as part of the deal, and left Australia almost immediately after her release (she was unable to be reached for comment).

"Last time I saw her was in the courtroom," Spaliviero said.

A jury would end up acquitting Spaliviero of soliciting the murders. His legal team was able to produce a handful of prison phone calls in which he implored Charlotte not to meet with Rob. "That got me off," he said.

"We then put it to Charlotte and said what does this call mean? And her exact words were - 'he told me not to go'."

In 2017 he was released from prison, having served 11 years for the original drug- manufacturing charges. "It was a bad situation," he said. "It's been 12 years now and I wish it never happened. It's one of those things that I'm putting behind me and moving on I guess."


By mid-2007 the NSW Undercover Branch was running on a steady diet of outlaw motorcycle gangs, unsolved murders, gun-running, drug- trafficking and other routine investigations. But one mission had never been attempted, not by any police force in the country - a deep-cover infiltration of a paedophile network.

That winter, the Sex Crimes Squad had been handed intercepted letters between a prison inmate and his lover on the Mid North Coast, a former NSW police officer named Gregory John Minehan. (He is not to be confused with another former NSW police officer, also named Gregory John Minehan, who lives in the Riverina and is totally unrelated to the case.)

Within these letters were details of an international dark-web forum brimming with paedophiles, a private, members-only site where predators could share their infatuations and grooming efforts. The website had a logo, a small blue triangle arranged in a spiral-shape, which featured prominently in the letters, and Minehan, it emerged, was one of its most established moderators. He was 39 years old, a father of two, and had enjoyed ample access to teenagers while running PCYCs in regional towns like Kempsey, Armidale and Muswellbrook. He would be the main target of this operation.

To prepare for the assignment, undercover operative Mark would visit the Sex Crimes Squad each afternoon on his way home from the Undercover Branch and sit in front of a vacant computer desensitising himself. Police use a 1-10 system called the COPINE scale to determine the severity of child pornography, rating the most graphic and violent images between 8 and 10. To acclimatise to this role, Mark made himself look at hundreds of images. "I could see three dead people at a car accident and it wouldn't affect me," he said, referring to the routine tragedies police observe each day. "This was different."


He also listened to recorded conversations between paedophiles held by the squad's archives, studying their language and code words, like the way they called each other ''Boy Lovers'', or ''BLs'' for short. At times he wondered why he volunteered for this work; another operative had been given the assignment, but pulled out due to the demands. "It still makes me sick thinking about it," he said.

With a detective's assistance, Mark registered a profile and scrolled through Minehan's posts, noting the way he offered advice and mentored other users, and posting replies with similar questions to establish a connection. Soon, they were communicating privately.

Paedophiles are lonely, sick people living in a sad and friendless world. Encountering a like-minded soul is rare, which is why Minehan eagerly arranged a meeting with Mark in person, and drove for nearly seven hours just to have a beer with him at Brighton Le Sands RSL club.

A broad-shouldered bloke with light-coloured eyes and a sandy mop of hair, they clinked glasses and broke the ice with general chitchat. Mark talked about his fictitious cafe consultancy business, coffee machines, his dreams to open up his own showroom. "It's not very exciting," he said. Minehan spoke about the kitchen he was trying to install. "It's coming up all right," he said. "I did all the painting and stuff like that."

In the likeable, easygoing drawl of a tradie, Mark laughed on cue at Minehan's jokes and steered the conversation into his own made-up backstory, telling Minehan that his marriage had been compromised by a sexual encounter with a 14-year-old boy, a friend of his son's, and that his wife was close to leaving him. The story had been designed to resonate deeply with Minehan; like Mark, he, too, was separated from his wife, had two children, and, according to intelligence holdings, maintained a strong sexual interest in 14-year-old boys.



Minehan came out of this meeting trusting Mark like a brother, delivering him a slew of allied contacts all over the state - a graduate schoolteacher in Griffith, a man staying with his grandmother in Coonabarabran, a truck driver living at a caravan park in Orange. Mark met with all of these men while supposedly travelling for his consultancy business. At the caravan park he sipped beer with the truckie and watched reel-to-reel footage converted on to a computer file of three boys being abused.

"It goes for about eight minutes," the truckie said. "I can make a copy for you."

"How old do your reckon they are?" Mark said.

"They're probably about 12 or 13. Maybe 11?"

Then, the text messages started. He was deluged with calls and contact from these men at all hours, sometimes just to fantasise about their urges. One night Mark received an eight-page work of fiction from Minehan depicting them both abusing a 14-year-old boy. Another time he called Mark at 2am claiming to have a boy held captive, prompting a frenzy of activity behind the scenes to save the child. Just as a squad car was about to roll out for a raid, Minehan revealed he was kidding: there was no child.

But this type of risk - a child being groomed or molested during the operation - became a routine threat that at any time could force the detectives to show their hand. Each of the targets spoke incessantly about boys they were trying to cultivate, or ''tune'', as one man called it. Minehan in particular had a fascination with a child living on his street, a young boy he'd begun contacting.

Eventually, detectives viewed the risk as too high, raiding his home amid fears for the boy's safety.


Undercover Simon was parachuted into the middle of a bitter dispute between two warring video shops.
Undercover Simon was parachuted into the middle of a bitter dispute between two warring video shops.

Everyone grudgingly expected this would kill the months-long covert operation, because surely Minehan, a former cop, would figure out Mark had betrayed him; he was one of the only people who'd known about his infatuation with the child.

But Minehan never suspected anything. When he was finally granted bail, Mark was the first person he called to tell him what happened, an indication of how he trusted his new best friend. The detectives were stunned.

"That was a great win," Mark told me. "It doesn't happen much in the undercover world. Not much honour and trust among thieves."

He held a total of 15 face-to-face meetings with Minehan and the rest of his syndicate, enough for synchronised arrests to unfold on December 15, 2007. In Griffith and Orange, Port Macquarie and elsewhere, detectives pounded on doors and hauled in the low-level players, seizing thousands of computer files and incriminating documents.

To arrest Minehan, Mark was asked to drive to his home and meet with him one last time on the pretence of needing more videos. The detectives wanted the arrest done outside, so there'd be no risk of material being destroyed.

To make this happen, Mark arrived boasting a new-model satnav that could play videos off a USB stick, perfect for the long drive home. "How good's that?" Mark said.

Minehan scoffed at the notion, but Mark insisted the satnav worked, urging him to come to the car and take a look. "I've got to plug it into the cigarette lighter," Mark explained, turning on the engine. As Minehan inspected the device a Johnny Cash song, Ring Of Fire, started playing through the stereo, a premonitory tone filling the car.

"And it burns, burns, burns," Mr Cash sang, as a dozen officers surrounded the car, ending the seven-month operation.

Detectives seized 2300 still images and 70 videos from Minehan's computers, one of which, a judge noted, "depicted a boy aged around 10 whose feet and hands were bound by rope behind his back". He was given a four-year minimum term, receiving discounts for his guilty plea, remorse and special circumstances, namely that he would serve the sentence in protective custody. Had he actually abused a child it is likely he would have received a higher sentence, but as he told a psychiatrist he had never acted on any of his sexual fantasies.

Other complicating factors would be offered in his defence, including a diagnosis of depression, bipolar disorder and the fact that he'd self-reported his infatuations several times in the months and even years prior to his arrest.

He successfully appealed in 2010 and received a further a nine-month reduction. Comment was sought through his lawyer.



Not all undercover assignments are complicated, or require months of preparation.

In late 2008 an undercover, Simon, was parachuted into the middle of a bitter dispute between two warring video shops in Fairfield, one of which had been torched to the ground - twice - sending the terrified owner fleeing abroad.

Local police had struggled to build a case against the chief suspect, a man named John who owned a nearby Civic Video store. "It's obvious what's happening in Fairfield," John said cryptically to Simon during their first meeting, at which he pretended to be an investor looking to buy the Video Ezy franchise. "There's only going to be one store in Fairfield, let's just get that straight," John continued, "you don't have to believe me but … it gets personal."

For the next half-hour Simon assured John that he posed no threat to his Civic Video business. All he wanted was a front to "move a bit of cash around", implying that he was buying the store to launder cash.

Simon repeated himself to make it abundantly clear - he was not in Fairfield to compete with Civic Video. John relaxed upon hearing this, dropping his surly attitude and offering Simon an alternative deal: why not buy out the Civic Video instead? It was more popular and profitable, and John assured Simon that he would be left alone. No firebombings. No funny business.

"I just need your word," Simon said, hoping this would be John's moment of confession.

"You have it," John replied.

"I need you to say it."

But John wouldn't say the words Simon needed, so the operative tried a workaround. At their next meeting, Simon mentioned a cafe he owned that wasn't making money. A terrible lease agreement prevented him from selling. "The shop's insured for a good amount," he said, floating an idea to burn it down with John's help. Soon, they were discussing specifics. "How is it done, alibis-wise? What does it cost?" Simon asked.

"$30,000 each job," John said, outlining in uninhibited detail what he paid for the Video Ezy attacks, and how he used a six-man crew for each job. Simon had the proof he needed.


The witnesses were due to testify against her boyfriend Steven Spaliviero.
The witnesses were due to testify against her boyfriend Steven Spaliviero.
Lindstrom offered the undercover officer $100,000 for each slaying.
Lindstrom offered the undercover officer $100,000 for each slaying.