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Vale John Kapetanovski
The following article by Sly of the Underworld about John Kapetanovski appeared in The Age on 31st December, 2011.
Former Detective Inspector John Kapetanovski passed away over the weekend.
LISTEN BELOW: Sly of the Underworld on 3AW Breakfast speaks about the life on John Kapetanovski
There is more than one way to be brave. There is the instinctive reaction to fight rather than run from an immediate threat. That takes guts.
And there is the will to battle rather than surrender to an enemy you know will ultimately win. That takes heart.
Career policeman John Kapetanovski ('Kapa' to his mates) has confronted both - a gunman who tried to kill him and a cancer that eventually will. The first time the reflex to throw up a hand diverted a bullet that would have ended his life.
This time the daily battle is to just prolong it.
"I can tell you cancer travels a lot slower than a bullet,'' he says from a chair in his lounge watching the Melbourne Test. He sits directly in front of the television as his peripheral vision is gone. On Christmas Day he woke blind but later that day his sight returned, although there is no way of knowing how long it will last.
The illness and the treatment has left him almost unrecognisable. Cancer has eroded his imposing physical presence and the steroids his swarthy good looks.
But the essence of the man remains; his passion for policing, sense of public duty, black humour and, most importantly, an overwhelming love for his family.
A quarter of a century ago, Kapa was just a fingertip away from being a dead police hero.
In 1986, he was seconded to the major crime squad to head the hunt for gunman Pavel Vasilof Marinof, who in June 1985 shot four police and narrowly missed a fifth.
The Bulgarian army deserter turned professional burglar and dubbed 'Mad Max' had built a shooting range in his house and turned himself into a marksman prepared to shoot police on sight.
After an eight-month search, Kapetanovski and his partner, Senior Detective Rod MacDonald, pulled over a panel van on the Hume Highway near Wallan driven by a suspect. Even though they were not wearing ballistic vests they decided to question the driver because they feared they would lose him if he reached Melbourne traffic.
Marinof fired twice at Kapetanovski - the first bullet passing through his chest into the bone of the right upper arm, while the second was aimed directly between his eyes.
Somehow the policeman, with reflexes honed from years of playing pennant squash, flung up his left hand. The shot travelled from the top of the palm through the inside of the middle finger, smashing three bones and destroying the top joint. But the bullet was deflected just enough to only crease his right eyebrow.
The gunman then shot MacDonald in the chest and began to drive off. MacDonald, though seriously injured, returned fire with his shotgun, killing Marinof instantly.
"It's hard to believe but it was almost slow motion," Kapa says. "I could see the bullet heading towards me."
Both police were officially recognised as heroes when they were awarded Valour Awards for their actions.
Kapa says he remembers the incident 'every time I shave', when he sees the finger missing the top joint in the mirror and he has to deal with chronic shoulder pain accompanied by the 'occasional nightmare'.
These days these are the least of his problems. He is battling cancer and has been told he has very little time left.
Actually it is wrong to say he is ''battling'' cancer. You battle what you can defeat - you endure what you can't.
Kapa knows he will not beat the disease ("no amount of willpower can stop it") but his legendary determination (some would say his notorious stubbornness) has enabled him to chalk up significant victories against the enemy within.
When he was in hospital critically ill the family wrote on a whiteboard in his room one of his remaining goals - to dance at his son's wedding.
On December 9 he was there to see son Christopher marry fiancee Leah. The father's dance was restricted to a simple jig while sitting in a wheelchair but the promise was met.
In a life filled with achievements it was one of his proudest days.
The next was Christmas with his family. He made that, too - although only just.
A few days earlier he felt so bad he thought he was about to die.
So far he has refused to return to hospital because "I know I will not come out".
He was diagnosed with lung cancer in September 2010 and after a series of operations, treatments and false dawns was told it had spread to his brain and spine as leptomeningeal disease. Last October he was told he had two to three months to live.
For a man who had spent his professional life fighting for justice, his natural reaction was to reflect on the injustice of this medical death sentence.
"I felt that after the Mad Max thing and all I have done for the community that it seemed so unfair that this should happen to me."
Doctors say the disease is not hereditary although the investigator in him remains sceptical as his father and two brothers died of lung and brain tumours.
But he is now too busy saying his goodbyes to family and friends to poison his limited time with bitterness.
Like so many of his generation he was not always there for them; policing always came first - when he retired he ''handed back'' 470 unused sick days.
"I hope they [his three children, India, Christopher, Isabella from his first marriage and Alexandra from his second] have forgiven me for all the school concerts and birthdays I missed because I gave everything to the job."
Not that it was always his ambition to be a policeman. His first choice was to study law but he couldn't go to university because he was expected to work with his father in a series of bakeries in Victoria and Tasmania.
The family arrived from the then Republic of Yugoslavia in 1957 when he was six. Unable to speak English, he was taken to his first school in Fitzroy by local migrant kids who asked him his name.
When he said ''Nake'' they said they couldn't possibly introduce him with such a foreign-sounding name and christened him John. It has stuck ever since.
They then asked who he supported in the footy and when he said he didn't follow the code he was told he was now a Collingwood supporter. That also stuck for life.
He worked in the family bakeries, as a taxi driver, bank teller and Ford stock checker before joining the police force in 1973 - "a job I loved for 35 years".
A natural investigator with a keen mind, a sharp memory and a strong work ethic, he gravitated to the sharp end of the force - special response, armed robbery, organised crime and prison squads.
He also worked for the National Crime Authority and his career ended with an unhappy stint at the troubled Office of Police Integrity, which culminated with him winning an unfair-dismissal case against his former employer.
The cases he remembers with the greatest satisfaction are the happy-ending ones, such as saving a newborn child in one of Australia's most bizarre abductions.
A woman befriended a 26-weeks pregnant woman, claiming that she was a district nurse assigned to her case. After the birth the woman arrived at the home of the new mother, saying she was there to provide respite. She drugged her victim's tea, then tried to burn down the house, hoping police would believe both mother and child died in the blaze.
The sedated mother was badly burnt but police found the kidnapper in Williamstown 36 hours later with the unharmed baby.
"She couldn't have children and she was celebrating finally having her own child," he recalls.
There has been a steady stream of visitors to see him, so much so that wife Margaret Lewis (a serving police inspector) has had to pull rank and manage his appointments so he is not left exhausted.
"She is remarkable and done more for me than you could reasonably ask from anyone. I am very proud of her."
When he sees old mates from the job they talk of the moments that made them laugh, rather than crimes that left people in tears.
Such as when he and his partner from the armed robbery squad, Danny Walsh, conducted a series of early-morning raids. ''Danny insisted on kicking in the door. He went back about 20 metres, ran up and gave it a flying kick. He didn't know it was reinforced steel and he bounced off vibrating like one of those cartoon characters."
Not to be outdone, he insisted on repeating the act during the next raid.
This time he missed the lock, leaving his foot caught inside the flimsy door. Kapa walked up and tried the handle.
It was unlocked.
"Danny asked me to help him get out of the door but I said I should probably go and arrest the crook first."
Kapa, 60, can feel his body shutting down and accepts that survival "is no longer in my hands".
Yet he continues to endure. There will be no medals for this confrontation but those who know him can see that while John Nake Kapetanovski is running out of time he is not running out of courage.
LISTEN: Sly of the Underworld honours Detective Inspector John Kapetanovski on 3AW Breakfast:
I am man sadly missed by allBarry Dickson Thursday 29 March, 2012 - 8:29 AM
Thank you John, what a wonderful account of a courageous man and a life well lived, your words touched my heart. So sad that bad things happen to good people. I always enjoy listening to you.
Thank you again JohDn.Beverley Aloisi Thursday 29 March, 2012 - 12:55 AM