Who Killed Peter Mitris? A Lurid, True-Life Tale Of Drugs, Murder, Criminals, and Comic Books
Who Killed Peter Mitris?
On April 17 1991, Peter Mitris, comic store retailer, comic book collector and dealer, and drug importer, armed robber, and drug dealer, vanished into thin air. Despite an extensive search, he was never seen again.
The great Jack Kirby once famously said to a fan, “Comics books will break your heart.” If he had said that comic books would eventually kill you, he’d still have been right. In the case of Peter Mitris, it wasn’t the comic books that killed him though, it was a combination of brass knuckles and the ocean. For close to three decades now the mystery of Peter Mitris has both titillated and puzzled the Australian comic book world. The rumours, the myths and speculation of what happened to the man who helped organise the first real international comic book convention the country had seen, and, through his store, bought and sold comic books, including a near perfect Action Comics #1 have been spoken in hushed tones by those who claim to know.
In those half-truths and rumours lay the truth. Peter Mitris, one-time comic book dealer had a very dark side of drug importation and crime, which eventually caught up with him and led to his demise, and a grisly demise it was. How many knew of this dark side and demise is open to more speculation, but, here, finally, is the truth of what happened to Peter Mitris, once and for all.
Old friends, Peter Mitris and Richard Rae, were also partners in a Sydney comic store called Comic Empire[i]. Both had strong connections with the Australian comic book scene, both were collectors, both were dealers, and both were artists. Mitris had done his university training as an architect, Rae had worked for K.G. Murray and eventually became a publisher, and, in doing so, he published at least one comic book with Mitris’ art[ii].
Those who shopped at Comic Empire have mixed memories of it. Where most found Rae to be a bit of a fantasist, if not an outright bullshit artist, Mitris was considered to be down to earth and friendly. “I quite enjoyed his company,” “Normal enough bloke. Into comics. Didn’t give off a drug importer vibe. Nor would he. Very normal Greek boy,” “Never had an issue with him,” and “Lovely. Friendly. Honest,” were some of the comments that were sent to me when I told people I was writing about Mitris. One story, however, shows the difference between Rae and Mitris.
“When some reprobate stole my X-Men collection,” says ‘B[iii]’, “Richard Rae bought it off the thief. When Peter found out they matched the ones that I’ve been looking for he handed them back. 100 comics.” Many were wary of Rae, including Mitris himself. To counter the problems he was having with Rae, Mitris hired a man called Ken, first as a part time worker which eventually turned into a permanent position. This caused further tension with Rae, as Rae viewed Ken’s employment as an effort to undermine his own position, resulting in Rae becoming bitter towards Mitris.
In 1986, Rae and Mitris organised the Australian Comic Book Convention, which was held in Sydney, over a weekend at the Opera House. For the first time in Australia, international guests were invited, in the form of Stan Lee, Will Eisner and Jim Steranko. All three were promised return plane tickets, accommodation, and expenses for two people each, but Lee wanted first class tickets. Rae wrote to Lee accepting this request only for Lee to discover that he’d be flying economy when the tickets arrived. Faced with a long plane trip in cattle class, Lee pulled out.
Mitris was helping finance and organise the event, but the name on all the advertising was Richard Rae. Mitris was hoping to auction off his copy of Action Comics #1, which was in perfect condition, and, indeed, the comic was used as the centrepiece of an on-site auction run by Mitris. Despite attracting a bid of $8,500, Mitris didn’t sell the comic, and later offered it, through a fan magazine, for $18,000. It is unknown if he ever did sell the comic.
Mitris left the organisation of the convention to Rae. Both men were using drugs at the time, funnelling profits from both Comic Empire and the convention into powdered goods, and as such, the convention suffered. Those who walked into the event on the first day were greeted by the sight of Will Eisner sitting on the edge of the stage – nobody had set him up with a booth. Steranko wasn’t even there – he arrived two days later on the Sunday. In order to pad the convention out, a visiting John Dixon was press ganged into being an official guest. It got worse for those attending that first day. Both Rae and Mitris both knew at least a week before the convention that Lee wouldn’t be turning up, but Rae continued to promote Lee as a guest. The first the public knew of Lee’s no show was on the first day when questions were asked about when he’d be arriving.
convention panel consisted of Eisner and Frants Kantor sitting on the edge of
the stage being interviewed by Frank Maconochie, who was launching Phantastique.
As the weekend went on, chairs and a table were set up on the stage and artist
Alex Drescher, who had a natural talent for speaking, was asked to be the panel
moderator. The panels themselves consisted of the same people, rotated, being
asked the same questions. As both Phantastique and Cyclone Comics
were having their launches at the event, the likes of Gary Chaloner, Dave deVries,
Glenn Lumsden, Steve Carter, Frank Maconochie, and Des Waterman were also put
onto adhoc panels. The panels weren’t planned, Rae would simply grab who was
nearby, throw them onto a stage and then make an announcement over the PA
So poor was the organisation that an official photographer wasn’t even considered, leaving the only photographic evidence of the event in the hands of those with portable cameras. After being bailed up and yelled at by Steranko in full view of the public, Rae organised a dinner for Eisner, Steranko, Dixon and their wives at the famous Beefsteak and Bourbon Bar in Kings Cross, and then failed to turn up, leaving Drescher and deVries to play hosts. In short, it was a mess, but people did turn out, contacts and friendships were made and solidified and, in that regard, those who were there still look back upon it with fondness – the birth of an era for Australian comic books.
The convention, while considered a success, was actually somewhat of a financial failure due to the expenses and drugs, and further widened the rift between Mitris and Rae to the point where Comic Empire was wound up and the two men went their separate ways.
Rae entered into a series of dubious activities, the results of which still haunt him to this day. Mitris kept his hand in with dealing in comic books, but rumours began to spread that he was also dealing in other, illegal, products. None of this could be proven at the time and those who saw Mitris in the years between 1986 (the Convention) and 1991 (when he went missing) all say that, while a bit standoffish at times, was still his friendly self. But Mitris was, indeed, hiding a secret life, a life of crime. This all ended when he appeared to vanish into thin air, never to be seen again.
Then April 1991 came around and Mitris disappeared.
Speculation began almost immediately. A person who knew Mitris, and had some business dealings with him, who I’ll call ‘A’, told this author that Mitris had been kidnapped and tortured, eventually being thrown off the Sydney Harbour Bridge. When asked how he knew this, ‘A’ claimed that he, himself, was also kidnapped at the same time, and was not only there when Mitris was thrown into the Harbour but was forced to assist in the deed. I pointed out that, if he didn’t help Mitris, and did help throw his body off the Bridge, this could potentially leave him open to accusations of being an accessory, especially if ‘A’ had never given his account to the police. The reply was silence.
The rumours about Mitris only increased as time went on. Other accounts had Mitris entering a witness protection plan, leaving his family behind as he established a new life in either a new state or a new country. Mirtis changed his name and is still in Sydney somewhere, but he hasn’t been seen by anybody who knew him for three decades now. Mitris was murdered and dumped into the ocean or was chopped up and fed to pigs.
Ultimately all of the theories were just that, theories. What really happened to Peter Mitris is close to some of those theories, but the truth is far more gruesome. Here, finally, is the truth, taken from court documents, as to what happened to Peter Mitris.
Ultimately four men would be named as playing a part in the disappearance and death of Peter Mitris. They were, Nicholas Constantin, Peter Konomos, who was Mitris’ cousin, James Taousanis and Steven Kouroumalos[iv].
Mitris, Constantin, Konomos, Taousanis and Kouroumalos were heavily involved in the importation of cocaine. The five men also dabbled in armed robberies. The armed robberies were collectors chosen by Mitris and the main targets were rare comic books, which Mitris would then sell to other contacts that he had. In these robberies, Mitris would not be present as he believed he’d be recognised. However, when it came to drug dealing and importation, he was more hands on[v]. The preferred method for Mitris to import his drugs was paper, magazines and comic books, which were then bundled up and sent to his home address. The cocaine was impregnated into the pages of the product in the bundles. As he was known as being a comic book dealer, it was a perfect way to smuggle drugs – nobody would look twice at packages of comic books and magazines being sent to a comic book dealer. However, this particular shipment went missing. Mitris’ wife opened the package, believing that it was addressed to her and, discovering a pile of blank paper between the magazines, threw it into the bin. The shipment was worth an estimated $30,000 and Mitris didn’t have the drugs, nor did he have the money.
Konomos and Taousanis were also mad at Mitris over an armed robbery gone wrong. Mitris had set up a fellow comic book dealer to be robbed at gunpoint, with the target being rare, and highly valuable, comic books, which Mitris would then on-sell to his comic book contacts. The robbery went very wrong when the comic books stolen turned out to be modern day comics worth a fraction of what was expected. As with the drugs, Konomos and Taousanis fully expected Mitris to make good on the deal, which was estimated to turn a profit of approximately $100,000. All told, Mitris was in the hole for an estimated $150,000[vi].
All four men in the syndicate began to place pressure on Mitris. They wanted the drugs, the comic books, or the money, in full. Pressure was placed upon him and threats made to both his life and that of his family. It is here that some people still believe that Mitris went to the police and gave evidence and either entered into witness protection or merely fled the city, cutting all ties with his family and friends, vanishing forever. The truth was far more gruesome.
The following is taken from the evidence given by Kouroumalos, Constantin and a man who was only known as “Mr Brown”, and whose name remains supressed after all these years. As such it remains the only account ever given, under oath, as to what happened to Mitris. The evidence was given during the trial of the only person charged with Mitris’ murder – James Taousanis[vii].
On the 17th of April 1991, Mitris was picked up by Konomos, and driven to Kings Cross to view a property. Once there, Mitris was told to wait while Konomos ran an errand, and, suspecting nothing, he complied. Konomos then returned with Taousanis and Kouroumalos, and all four men drove off.
The car stopped in the Surry Hills area and the occupants changed positions, so that Taousanis was seated in the back with Mitris. Taousanis then produced a Glock pistol, which Kouroumalos had previously seen in his possession, and began to beat Mitris about the head with it.
“You ripped us off on a package that was worth a lot of money,” Taousanis began to yell while beating Mitris. Mitris, fearing for his life at the sight of the pistol, strenuously denied having ripped the others off. Taousanis was having none of it. “You fucked up the robbery,” he continued. At this point tape was produced from the glove box of the car and was used to seal Mitris’ mouth. His hands were tied behind his back with plastic electrical cord. Turning to the other men, Taousanis then spoke to them. “Let this be a lesson to anyone who fucks me around or steals off me”.
Shortly after dark, the car carrying the four men arrived at a house in Petersham. According to Kouroumalos, Mitris was escorted to the house and taken to an unlit room. What Mitris saw must have made his blood run cold. The walls and floor of were covered in clear plastic and the one window was covered with paper. The room was completely bare except for a chair, upon which Mitris was taped to. Taousanis put on knuckle dusters and began to beat Mitris about the head and body, saying that this was what happened to anyone who robbed him. Eventually Mirtis’ cousin, Konomos, asked for the knuckle dusters and also beat Mitris.
Kouroumalos has always maintained that he left the room but was called back. Taousanis then asked him if he wanted to bash Mitris but he declined. “I want nothing to do with this,” he told Taousanis. Turning to Konomos, Taousanis, grinning, said, “Did you see the way I broke his neck?” By this stage Mitris was covered in blood, slumped in the chair and was, mercifully, unconscious.
The three men left the room, leaving Mitris, who was still breathing, tied to the chair. They got back into the car and drove off. While dropping Kouroumalos off at Marrickville, Taousanis and Konomos gave him a strong warning. What had just happened to Mitris could just as easily happen to him if he did the wrong thing by them. Kouroumalos got the hint and, instead of going to the police, went back home.
Taousanis and Konomos then arranged for an associate, named in court as being Fred Massih, to use a fake name, Mustafa Mahamad and buy a boat. This was done on 26 April, eleven days after Mitris went missing. Shortly after, Mitris’ body was wrapped in plastic, bound with tape and weighed down. The boat went out to sea and Mirtis was consigned to the deep. His body has never been located.
In August 1994, a fisherman, Mark Peterson, was fishing in the Hawkesbury River when he brought a body to the surface. The decomposed body was wrapped in plastic, with a noose around the neck and tied to a steel cross by wire. The cross was attached to a steel frame, resulting the man being known as The Rack Man. Facial reconstruction was released to the media and people noticed that he bore a striking resemblance to Mitris. The corner found that the Rack Man had suffered serious head injuries before being dumped, the same as what was rumoured to have happened to Mitris.
The Rack Man was proven not to be Mitris though, as the body was the wrong height. People still suspected that the Rack Man was Mitris though, but, in 2018, the Rack Man was formally identified as a Sydney gambler named Max Tancevski. Tancevski allegedly owed less money than Mitris, and there is evidence that the same thing happened to both men – both were bashed in the head, bound, and gagged and dumped into the sea. Unfortunately for Mitris, he was dumped further out than Tancevski.
In 1999, James Taousanis was formally charged with the murder of Peter Mitris. He pleaded not guilty. Evidence was given by Constantin, Kouroumalos and “Mr Brown”, with Konomos having gone back to Greece[viii]. “Mr Brown” gave evidence that Taousanis had wanted to climb the crime ladder in King Cross and had boasted of doing ‘a boat job’ on Mitris. Constantin and Kouroumalos both in gaol, gave evidence about the day in question. In his defence, Taousanis produced a diary that had been in the possession of the National Crime Authority since 1991, and which, it was claimed, proved his whereabouts on the day in question. Taousanis lawyer then told the jury that it was uncertain if Mitris was dead, or that he had survived the beating and died elsewhere.
“Mr Brown” produced notes, which he claimed, proved that Taousanis had killed Mitris, but these notes were made in 1996 and not handed over to police until September 1997.
Ultimately the judge, realising that Taousanis and the other men involved in the trial had their own motives to harm the other, and seeing inconsistencies in their evidence found them to be unreliable. Plus there was no body to either verify, or discredit, the claims. The first murder trial had resulted in a deadlocked jury and both the Crown Prosecutor and Taousanis’ lawyer agreed that the evidence, as it stood, was insufficient to find Taousanis guilty. Despite finding that the details of Mitris’ demise, and the lead up to it, were accurate, the presiding magistrate agreed that the evidence was flawed. He duly found Taousanis not guilty and acquitted him.
The chapter of Peter Mitris was now closed, seemingly forever. Those who killed Peter Mitris may never be held to account for the crime. No matter his crimes, his family didn’t deserve to be robbed of Mitris, there is no body, there is no closure for them.
As for Mitris’ one-time business partner Richard Rae, he has led a very varied life since those heady times in the 1980s. His fall from grace came, not suddenly, but over an extended period of time. His life has been one of alleged crimes, but on a different scale to Mitris. In his time, he has misrepresented himself as both a publisher and packager. He has stolen ideas from others and claimed credit. Over the years, he has commissioned art from artists both locally and overseas, none of which was ever paid for. He has been alleged to have taken art under false pretences from Australian artists, such as Stan Pitt, Hal English, and others, which he has sold, or attempted to sell, with varying degrees of success. He has misrepresented art, attempting to sell art that has been inked over photocopies as being originals by the likes of Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko. All of this made him a pariah, not only in the Australian comic book scene, but also worldwide.
When his activities became too much for people to deal with, he faked his own death, and resurfaced under an assumed name, again trying to sell items from his ‘estate’. Those who paid for the items never saw them. Just like Lazarus, Rae eventually ‘rose from the dead’ and resumed his activities. Rae’s best-known scam incredibly didn’t involve comic books or art, came when, after being sacked as One Nation’s press secretary, he was involved in the leaking and publication of photos that were alleged to be Pauline Hanson naked in 2009. Much like everything that Rae has been involved with since the 1980s, the photos were proven to be fake.
Despite the flaws of both Rae and Mitris, and despite the tragic end of Mitris’ life, their importance in the overall history of Australian comic books since 1980 cannot be denied. Comic Empire is still fondly remembered by those who used to shop there. Both men are remembered as being approachable and, depending on the person telling the tale, friendly.
The 1986 Australian Comic Book Convention was the fourth such convention in Australia, after two earlier attempts in Melbourne[ix] and one in Sydney[x], and the first convention to feature international, non-Australian guests. That the convention had its issues and was haphazard could be put down to the drug intake of Mitris and Rae, along with sheer incompetence. But the 1986 Convention was the last such convention until OzCon began in 1992. It can be debated that OzCon would have happened without the 1986 Convention, but without Rae and Mitris leading the way and providing an example, both of how to, and not to, do things, it can also be argued that it might have taken longer to get off the ground. The 1986 Convention paved the way for OzCon, Supanova, Armageddon, ComicCon Downunder OzComic Con and any number of smaller such conventions in Australia.
If that was the legacy of Peter Mitris and Richard Rae, then history would be kinder to both men. Sadly, it isn’t the case.
[i] Located at 105 Bathurst St, Sydney.
[ii] Peter Mitris is credited as an artist on The Super Hero Book (Western Colour Print), 1983.
[iii] Names of people not involved in the crimes of Mitris will be identified with a letter instead of using their names.
[iv] All names in this section have been taken from court files and records and are a matter of public interest.
[v] At least one person spoken to in the preparation of this article has said that he bought heroin from Mitris at Comic Empire on five occasions, but that Mitris always berated him as he didn’t want the shop to be known as a location where drugs could be freely bought and sold.
[vi] Worth approximately $291,332 in 2019 as per https://www.rba.gov.au/calculator/annualDecimal.html
[vii] Ironically, the charges of drug dealing, and importation were challenged by Taousanis, but the armed robberies were not.
[viii] He subsequently disappeared.
[ix] 1979 and 1980