Room 40: ‘People went in and came out psycho’
Room 40 is an innocuous-looking second-floor corner room of the Annerley Motor Inn off Ipswich Rd in the inner south of Brisbane.
Clean and comfortable, the room has incredibly developed a reputation for dark scenes that stretch back at least as far as the unsolved disappearance of brothel madam Simone Vogel.
And it's a history that reaches out, upsetting even the present day.
The motor inn had, in the 1970s, a notorious reputation for renting out rooms by the hour to prostitutes, and for guests using hard drugs. Police were frequent visitors.
Vogel, 42, had come up to Queensland from Sydney in the late 1960s and entered the massage parlour game, revolutionising the local scene with tasteful decor and themed brothels.
By 1977 she'd had enough with paying corrupt police - it was estimated she was handing over $40,000 a month to the Licensing Branch, and other police - and wanted out
THE PHONE CALL
Before she went missing on September 16, she received a phone call at her empire's Stones Corner headquarters and was overheard saying: "I'll meet you in the same parking spot that I met you at before."
She had with her $6000 in cash and some jewellery.
The word was she was about to buy her way out of the corrupt police system known as The Joke.
Enter taxi driver Bob Darby, who may unwittingly have taken Vogel for her last ride, and could also have the clue needed to solve one of Queensland's most enduring underworld mysteries.
On Friday, September 16, 1977, Mr Darby took his Black & White cab the usual route home - up Ipswich Rd, through Annerley and Moorooka, to Acacia Ridge, where he was living with a friend and his family.
Shortly after 4pm he was passing the Annerley Hotel when an attractive woman with strikingly blonde hair waved him down. He stopped. Perhaps there was one last fare left for the day.
"She said she was supposed to meet a friend at the Annerley Hotel and couldn't find him," Darby remembers.
"She said she'd come from the airport and had left her car there.
"I told her maybe she'd confused the Annerley Hotel with the Annerley Motor Inn, which was just up the road.
"So she hopped in and we went to the motel."
With the blonde woman sitting in the rear seat on the passenger's side, Darby turned right off Ipswich Rd and cruised his taxi down the driveway to the right of the two-level motor inn and into the rear courtyard.
The woman, looking up towards the rooms, saw a man leaning against the balcony railing in front of Room 40.
"That's my friend," she said immediately.
"That's the person I'm supposed to meet."
It was the last time she would be seen alive.
When current motel managers Jo and Jason Mappas were approached by The Sunday Mail and asked if they knew of a peculiar event that may have occurred at the motel all those years ago, they said: "Do you mean Room 40?"
The Mappas have managed the motel only since 2017, but said there had been several bizarre incidents associated with that single room.
"People went in there and came out psycho," Jo said.
"It became a running joke with the police and ambulance officers.
"Women would cut themselves in there. One man came out speaking gibberish.
"Whenever we called the police, they'd say, 'Room 40 again, Jo?'
"I often asked them if they knew if anyone had died in that room."
This year Jason completely renovated the room in an effort to "get the devil out of it".
The room was recarpeted, retiled, repainted and "bright" pictures were put on the walls.
"I'd always go in there and say, 'Hello Simone!' " Jo said.
"Whenever you walked into that room you got a chill.
"I'd really like to know what happened in there."
After dropping Vogel off, Bob Darby drove home and thought nothing of it.
Until a few days later, when he picked up a copy of the Brisbane Telegraph.
On the front page, he saw a large mugshot of Brisbane brothel madam Simone Vogel, who had vanished.
The report said grave fears were held for her safety.
Stunned, Darby told a friend: "That's her.
"That's the woman that was in my taxi last Friday afternoon. That's her."
Several months later, Darby reported his contact with Vogel to the police.
He was told to keep his mouth shut.
Now 75, Darby, who still lives in Acacia Ridge, said he was prompted to come forward again with his information following the 41st anniversary last year of Vogel's disappearance and presumed murder.
He said he went to his local police station, but his story was ignored.
"They said they'd get back to me but nothing happened," he said.
Darby's brief encounter with the brothel madam is a new piece in the Vogel puzzle. Vogel's car was ultimately found at the Brisbane airport. But she was never seen again.
Detectives who looked into the disappearance believed corrupt police may have been behind it.
Darby's account, if correct, puts her in Annerley and rendezvousing with a male at a motel that was familiar to those involved in the sex trade. Curiously, one of Vogel's most profitable brothels, "Golden Hands", was not far away on Ipswich Rd at Moorooka.
According to the Mappas, the renovation seems to have worked. They've had no incidents since.
Darby said that moment of dropping of Vogel had always haunted him.
"It's always been on my mind, you know?" he says.
"I've never forgotten it."