Mark Caleo (left) arranged for the murder of his wife and brother-in-law. Picture: Danny Aarons
Mark Caleo (left) arranged for the murder of his wife and brother-in-law. Picture: Danny Aarons

The greed that led to wife’s brutal murder

MARK Caleo was a young man looking to go places when glamorous Rita Chye walked into his parents' Blakehurst cafe in 1984.

She was classy, immaculately dressed and obviously wealthy from the gold and diamond jewellery she wore, to the flash BMW 633 she drove. The fact that she was 12 years older and more experienced than 21-year-old Caleo made her even more attractive.

He saw her as his passport to the big time, a Supreme Court jury has heard over the past six weeks.

But the dream soured. He couldn't keep his hands to himself and she discovered his affair with one of her friends, Janice Yap.

 

Mark Caleo leaves the NSW Supreme Court at Darlinghurst during his trial. He’s been convicted over the 1990 murder of his then wife. Picture: AAP
Mark Caleo leaves the NSW Supreme Court at Darlinghurst during his trial. He’s been convicted over the 1990 murder of his then wife. Picture: AAP

Almost 30 years after he thought he got away with murder, the former high-flying restaurateur, 55, was today behind bars after being convicted of soliciting the murder of Ms Caleo on August 10, 1990.

However, a jury cleared him of soliciting the murder of his wife's brother Dr Chye on October 16, 1989.

The popular Hurstville GP was also owner of the Cauliflower Hotel at Waterloo and involved in property dealing with Caleo.

Rita Caleo was stabbed to death. Her husband has been found guilty of ordering her murder. Picture: Supplied
Rita Caleo was stabbed to death. Her husband has been found guilty of ordering her murder. Picture: Supplied

During the trial, it was alleged the trigger for Ms Caleo's death was a $50,000 reward for information about her brother's death which came with an unprecedented offer of a pardon for anyone who knew anything, the court was told.

"He knew that Rita Caleo knew what he had done with her brother and she was getting to the stage where she could inform on him," Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor Margaret Cunneen SC told the court last week.

 

Dr Michael Chye was gunned down as he arrived home. His killer remains unknown.
Dr Michael Chye was gunned down as he arrived home. His killer remains unknown.

Former Kings Cross bouncer and Tongan national Alani Afu, 51, was convicted of the contract killing of Ms Caleo, who he stabbed to death in a frenzied attack at the family's Double Bay home.

The identity of Dr Chye's killer remains unknown.

 

Tragically, the Caleos' two daughters, who were toddlers at the time, were asleep in the house while their mother was killed.

Rich and sucesful, Dr Chye also owned the Cauliflower in Waterloo.
Rich and sucesful, Dr Chye also owned the Cauliflower in Waterloo.

The pair were visibly upset as they sat in the back of the court for a number of days, watching their father in the dock.

Brought up by his second wife in Japan, they cannot be identified.

Mark Caleo and Afu had both pleaded not guilty.

 

Sex, lies and greed

It was Caleo's greed and arrogance that tore the family apart, while it was the stories he later told his mistress, Ms Yap, and two subsequent wives that helped bring him down, the court had heard.

Michael and Rita Chye's father was a high-ranking Malaysian police officer. In the early 1970s, Michael Chye moved to Sydney to study medicine. Rita followed and while the siblings did not come from a wealthy background, Rita had enjoyed the benevolence of a string of generous boyfriends.

 

Michael Chye moved to Sydney to study medicine.
Michael Chye moved to Sydney to study medicine.

They included Chang Hian Low, who had given her $150,000 cash to start a new life. Another time he handed her a bag containing between $25,000 to $30,000 cash as she dropped him off at Sydney Airport.

Mr Low was later jailed for bank fraud after Ka Wah Bank Ltd, of which he was a director, collapsed under debts of nearly HK$4 billion.

Malaysian businessman Chang Hian was one of Rita Caleo’s lovers.
Malaysian businessman Chang Hian was one of Rita Caleo’s lovers.

In Sydney, Ms Caleo bought a flat in Darlinghurst. An accomplished chef, she set up a successful Malaysian restaurant at Bondi which she was running when she and her brother used to pop into Mark Caleo's family's Blakehurst cafe, close to Dr Chye's surgery.

Within weeks of their first meeting, Caleo had moved into her flat. A year later, in July 1985, she became the first Mrs Caleo. He was 23, she was 35.

Bankrolled with her money and a flair for business, coupled with his charm and hard work, they opened a chain of Italian restaurants in Sydney and Kuala Lumpur, including a pub and restaurant in Brighton Le Sands and their flagship restaurant in the Queen Victoria Building, which was soon turning over between $2.5 million and $3 million a year after it opened in 1986.

Ever the snappy dresser, Mark Caleo (left) leaves Darlinghurst Court this week. Picture: Danny Aarons
Ever the snappy dresser, Mark Caleo (left) leaves Darlinghurst Court this week. Picture: Danny Aarons

Caleo was a snappy dresser and loved the trappings of wealth. With the money they were making, he could indulge his passion: Flashing gold Rolex watches and collecting a fleet of luxury cars, including Mercedes, Porches and a Rolls Royce Silver Spirit.

Among the dozens of staff at Caleo's in the QVB was Mark's brother Gerard. Described in court as a "mini Mark", Gerard was said to idolise his older brother, dressing, walking, speaking and acting like him.

Mark Caleo loved being wealthy — the suits, the watches, the properties.
Mark Caleo loved being wealthy — the suits, the watches, the properties.

Another employee was self-confessed dope smoker Anthony Stambolis, who worked in a variety of roles from waiter to supervisor.

Mark and Rita Caleo's daughters were born in the late 1980s and the family bought and sold homes across Sydney's upper North Shore, until settling in a Double Bay townhouse with their live-in nanny Lai Chan Chor.

 

“Mini Mark” Gerard Caleo sports a similar look to his brother.
“Mini Mark” Gerard Caleo sports a similar look to his brother.

Cracks appear

 

In 1989, Dr Chye moved into a house not far away from them in Attunga St, Woollahra after putting his prized double waterfront block at Blakehurst up for auction.

At the auction in June 1989, Mark Caleo bought the block for more than $3 million, handing over a $300,000 cheque for the 10 per cent deposit.

 

Police at Dr Michael Chye’s Woollahra home in the hours after he was gunned down in 1989.
Police at Dr Michael Chye’s Woollahra home in the hours after he was gunned down in 1989.

But he discovered a caveat had been placed on the property by its previous owner, Dr Ameen Bham and stopped the cheque. His brother-in-law refused to let him renege on the contract and threatened to sue him after the caveat was lifted.

Caleo had already been ranting about Dr Chye's wealth and life as a single man with significant artwork.

"Why does a faggot need such a big house and car?" he was overheard saying at the QVB restaurant.

There was evidence that he specifically asked his solicitor about the clause in the contract relating to death or mental illness. It was explained to him that those two options were the only way he could get out of the house deal.

The botched Blakehurst sale was the final straw in the tension between the brothers-in-law.

Dr Chye had threatened: "If Caleo doesn't settle, I'm going to ruin him financially." Caleo went one step further, the court was told.

"If you don't stop pushing, you are going to find yourself dead," there was evidence he had told Dr Chye.

Four months after the auction with the sale still not concluded, the doctor was shot dead as he drove into the garage at his new Woollahra home.

 

Dr Chye’s Woollahra home. It was property that came between the brothers-in-law.
Dr Chye’s Woollahra home. It was property that came between the brothers-in-law.

His fast-acting killer would have only had a split second to get the shot right as the automatic garage door went down.

At the same time, staff at the QVB restaurant were starting to see signs of strain in the couple's relationship as Ms Caleo believed her husband was having an affair with Ms Yap.

Caleo told the jury during his trial that he and his wife had an "open relationship". He once came home a day early from a trip to Queensland to find Rita in bed with Mr Low.

He admitted he had been unfaithful himself a couple of times - but never with Ms Yap.

Ms Yap sold maternity clothes from her shop in the up-market Shangri-La Hotel in Kuala Lumpur and met Ms Caleo when Rita was pregnant. Mark Caleo told the jury that his relationship with Ms Yap was platonic until several months after his wife was killed.

Police search the streets of Woollahra after the doctor’s murder.
Police search the streets of Woollahra after the doctor’s murder.

The reason, he said, was because she thought she might have caught herpes from her husband. They did not have sex until blood tests showed she was clear.

Ms Yap's ex-husband Pink Kon Yap told the jury he had also believed his wife was having an affair with Caleo and had discussed what it was doing to the family a number of times over the phone with Rita during 1990.

"Rita said that she was the one … who put Mark Caleo into a good life here and then she said that, you know, if this affair goes on, she can always bring him down, yeah," Mr Yap said.

She wrote her husband out of her will but as they held everything in joint names, he was going to inherit it all anyway. And she wrote a letter which she left with her solicitor.

"In the event that my death is unnatural, direct the investigation to my husband Mark Caleo and Rick Damelian of Rick Damelian Used cars. P'matta. My brother's death is also their doing,'' the letter read.

Alani Afu.
Alani Afu.

The jury was never told about the allegations from the grave, because the letter - referred to in an earlier hearing - was ruled too prejudicial.

Mr Damelian, who sold Caleo some of his prestige cars, is not suspected of any involvement in the death of Rita or her brother, nor is he facing any charges in relation to the matter. He has denied any involvement.

As Rita Caleo was voicing her fears, her husband was indeed orchestrating her death.

Ms Cunneen told the jury he cleverly kept himself a few steps removed from the killer.

Restaurant employee Mr Stambolis claimed he had put Gerard Caleo in touch with the big Tongan, Alani Afu, who he knew from his drug-buying in the Cross.

 

Former Kings Cross bouncer Alani Afu is arrested by police.
Former Kings Cross bouncer Alani Afu is arrested by police.

Brutally slain

 

On the last day of Ms Caleo's life, she had organised a dinner party for some girlfriends. She had lunch with her husband who then went home. He said it was to pick up business cards. The Crown said it was to open the balcony door to the bedroom so the killer could get in. Caleo spent that evening at their Brighton Le Sands restaurant.

At 1.30am the next morning, the nanny, Ms Chor, was woken in the bedroom she shared with the Caleos' daughters, then aged three and 18 months by a shuddering sound or a vibration. She then heard Ms Caleo cry out.

The nanny found her boss lying in a pool of blood on the floor of the ensuite. She had been viciously stabbed 23 times and some jewellery stolen. Forensic experts found two types of blood in the bathroom but before DNA testing, there was no way to determine from whom it came.

 

But Afu still bears the scars on his left hand today where he cut himself as Ms Caleo fought for her life.

Afu was hired to carry out the murder of Ms Caleo. Picture: 7 News Sydney
Afu was hired to carry out the murder of Ms Caleo. Picture: 7 News Sydney

Waiting for him outside the Darling Point home was Mr Stambolis, who was driving the getaway car, and in the front seat was Afu's then-16-year-old pregnant girlfriend, a Kings Cross stripper. She also gave evidence at the trial.

Three days after his wife was killed, Caleo cashed another cheque for $10,000. It was Afu's payment and the next day, on August 14, he spent it all on a black Holden Statesman.

 

Afu still bears scars on his left hand from cutting himself during the murder of Ms Caleo. Picture: 7 News Sydney
Afu still bears scars on his left hand from cutting himself during the murder of Ms Caleo. Picture: 7 News Sydney

Caleo claimed he often dealt in cash and used it to pay suppliers for his restaurants.

Four months after the murder, he slipped out of Sydney Airport to visit Kuala Lumpur with Ms Yap. CCTV footage captured them at the airport.

 

Cold case

 

Detectives remained suspicious of Mark Caleo but as the case slipped into the files of unsolved homicides, he got on with his life.

Then, just after 6.30am on February, 4 2015, police came knocking on the door of his Ramsgate home. Wearing a grey suit and pink shirt, Mark Caleo was charged over the murders of his wife and brother-in-law.

Homicide officers Jon Oldfield and Tamar Kilani were armed with fresh evidence, including statements from wife number two Yuko Okamoto, and number three, Maria Teresita Lee.

Decades after the murder of his wife, Mark Caleo was arrested by Homicide Squad detectives.
Decades after the murder of his wife, Mark Caleo was arrested by Homicide Squad detectives.

The court was heard Ms Yap remains too afraid to give evidence. In evidence given to the committal proceeding, a friend asked Caleo in 1995 how he had lost most of his money and he told her: "I had to give it to Janice because she knew too much. Whoever I am with now, be it either a girlfriend or wife, I will never tell them everything."

 

Mark Caleo’s next two wives provides statements to police, leading to his 2015 arrest.
Mark Caleo’s next two wives provides statements to police, leading to his 2015 arrest.

 

In 1995, he married Ms Okamoto and the plan was for them to live most of the time in her native Japan. Within three years they had separated but she brought up his daughters.

Ms Okamoto told the jury that in 1996, Caleo told her that he had hired a hitman to kill Dr Chye because Dr Chye had threatened to kill his two daughters. There was an element of bravado in his story - he painted himself as a hero saving his kids.

In 2003, Ms Lee became wife number three. She told the jury her new husband told her his first wife died of cancer - then she looked on Google and saw Ms Caleo and her brother had been murdered. She had confronted him: "Did you kill her?"

He told her that she was being ridiculous.

Caleo claimed he hired a hitman to kill his brother-in-law to defend his children.
Caleo claimed he hired a hitman to kill his brother-in-law to defend his children.

 

"If you didn't kill her, why did you tell me she died of cancer and you didn't tell me she was murdered at your place?" she said she had asked him. He did not respond.

Mark Caleo's brother Gerard, who was running the Hard Rock Café in Bangkok, was also arrested and charged with Ms Caleo's murder, soliciting to murder and being an accessory to the murder. The charges against him were thrown out at committal after the court heard that Mr Stambolis had given 11 different versions of his story and had admitted telling lies to save himself from prosecution.

 

Anthony Stambolis.
Anthony Stambolis.

Mr Stambolis, who now claims he was only taking Afu to the Double Bay house for an "insurance job" to steal jewellery and not to kill, has never been charged with anything to do with her murder.

He acknowledged during the trial that he had changed his story a number of times but was now telling the truth to police.

"I have given them Mark Caleo finally, after all these years," he said.

“I have given them Mark Caleo finally, after all these years”. Picture: AAP
“I have given them Mark Caleo finally, after all these years”. Picture: AAP


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