It was a portent of what was to come.
Before she could walk she saw drug abuse, before she could talk she witnessed mindless violence and before she was old enough to go to school she was an orphan.
She was in the family home when Allen and his half-brother Victor Peirce used a chainsaw to dismember the body of bikie Anton Kenny before putting the remains in a barrel and dumping them in the Yarra.
A former model who lived there as Allen’s sex slave, imprisoned by threats and a constant diet of illicit drugs, was playing with Jade and her sister in a bedroom at the time. She heard the shots when Kenny was executed. “Dennis told me to take the kids to his brother’s place.’’
Jade was too young to comprehend. ‘‘I never felt scared. I felt safe and loved. I remember the violence but it wasn’t scary because that’s all I knew.’’
The chaotic violence around Allen was off the map. Bodies in the backyard, family members ordered to clean blood stains, hostages beaten with bats and brooms and a man shot dead while changing a record. His body was never found.
How many people Allen killed is anyone’s guess. A police task force put the total at 11, which included deliberate drug hotshots inflicted on sex workers that were initially written off as self-inflicted overdoses. Those who should know in the underworld consider the figure conservative.
Sissy was part wife, part accomplice and part prisoner. She was beaten, once left overnight chained to a washing machine, bashed with a gun butt by Allen, stabbed and dumped in the boot of her car.
Allen’s sister-in-law Wendy Peirce told me: ‘‘Dennis opened the boot. Sissy was in there with her throat cut. It wasn’t ear to ear but she lay there just gurgling. It was awful. I was helpless.
“He just slammed the boot shut and I spun out. He told someone to drive her somewhere and just leave her in a Dumpmaster. I got her dropped off at a railway station so someone would find her and take her to hospital. That saved her life.’’
By the time he was 30 Allen was making between $70,000 and $100,000 a week, owned several Richmond properties, had become a feared gangland boss in the area and was protected by corrupt cops. He took to wearing gold chains valued at more than $100,000, as if to confirm his occupation as drug dealer. He was a throwback – an old-fashioned borough boss – a crook who ran a small area around Cubitt, Chestnut and Stephenson streets in Cremorne, between Richmond and the Yarra.
Jade’s memories, understandably, are sketchy. She remembers parties, gold lights, her father sharpening giant knives on a stone, and fish tanks filled not with colourful species but piranhas and small sharks. There is a picture of him apparently giving her a cigarette when she was one.
Her babysitter was cousin Jason Ryan: ‘‘I looked up to Jason. He would give me chips with sauce.’’
Years later Jason Ryan would become a key police witness against members of the family charged with the October 1988 ambush murder of police constables Steven Tynan and Damian Eyre in Walsh Street, South Yarra.
Her uncle, Trevor Pettingill, was one of the four men acquitted of the police murders.
She says she was supposed to be raised by Victor Peirce. A career armed robber and gunman, he was also acquitted of the murders. In May 2003 he was shot dead in Bay Street, Port Melbourne.
In August 1986 Sissy, 27, hanged herself in Pentridge Prison, leaving a note to her two daughters that she was sorry but just wanted the pain to stop. Jade was four.
The following year Allen died of heart disease brought on by massive drug abuse. He was 35. At the age of five Jade was an orphan. She says her father, wealthy from drug dealing, made out a will to look after his two daughters. His mother Kath Pettingill was executor: ‘‘We were supposed to have had a Catholic education. There was nothing. She has had nothing to do with us.’’
Jade says even now she would like Pettingill to hand over any items from her father. She went to seven primary schools, spent most of her time crying in toilets and was told a series of false stories about her parents’ death, including that they died in a car crash.
She said that it was only when she read The Matriarch that she learned the truth. ‘‘I was 12 or 13. It had a massive impact on me.’’
Sissy’s mother, Heather Hill, took on the task of raising the two girls. Heather had six daughters. Three died, two from overdoses and one a suicide.
‘‘I resented my mother [for taking her own life]. As a mother I don’t understand how she could leave her kids,’’ says Jade. But she says she loves her father, even though he was a killer.
She remembers being left at the bottom of steps in Housing Commission flats to play by herself while family members took drugs inside. ‘‘Nan was a recovering alcoholic. She tried her best and always tried to keep us away from that [Allen] family.’’
We meet in a trendy cafe in Carlton. She is nervous, laughs readily then is moved to tears as she talks of her darkest times. She is a fighter but the battles have taken a toll.
Eventually she moved to Queensland to live with Sissy’s sister, Kellie Carter-Bell. But Kellie was caught in a toxic, violent relationship. The father of her children hunted her down and attacked her, plunging a knife into her heart. Amazingly, she survived. (After more than two decades of violence Kellie escaped and is now a powerful advocate against family violence.)
‘‘She moved to me in year seven. Jade had seen so much,’’ says Kellie.
Jade went on the run – making a small amount of cash as a teenager from baby-sitting.
The 24-year-old father of the children Jade looked after started to drop around home during the day when his de facto wife was at work. ‘‘He drove me around in a nice car, bought me clothes and gave me speed,’’ she says. ‘‘I now know I was groomed.’’
By the time she was 17 she was pregnant. The father beat her. ‘‘My son learned to crawl over to me when he was bashing me on the floor.’’
They would go to a country property where he would shoot at targets. ‘‘I was so scared he was going to shoot me and bury me there. They would never have found the body.’’
Soon it began the usual spiral – lost years, drug addiction, bad friends and a twilight existence. The prospect of a second child made her face reality. She escaped her violent partner, hid in a women’s refuge and eventually returned to Melbourne.
Jade Allen hates seeing her father portrayed as a monster – even though he was. She detests her grandmother Kath Pettingill, feeling she failed to provide any help when it was needed.
She could have gone down the same path as many of that clan – drugs, self-destruction and premature death. But somehow she didn’t.
Three of her four children live with her. They have a three-bedroom public housing flat that is the family oasis. ‘‘It is our little castle,’’ she says.
Kellie Carter-Bell says: ‘‘She is an amazing woman. Her strength is amazing. She has struggled, then thrived, struggled and thrived again. She has fought her demons and won.’’
Jade is proud of her home: “I have OCD so I am always cleaning. If I stop, I think, and thinking is not always a good thing.’’
Eventually she turned her obsession into a business. She is a one-person professional cleaning company, often preparing Airbnb accommodation for the next visitors. She speaks with pride of being able to make a living: ‘‘I want to protect my children.’’
Jade, the survivor, has done the near impossible. She broke the cycle.
John Silvester is a Walkley-award winning crime writer and columnist. A co-author of the best-selling books that formed the basis of the hit Australian TV series Underbelly, Silvester is also a regular guest on 3AW with his “Sly of the Underworld” segment.