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Mark B. Read, 58; was criminal turned author

Mr. Read said his victims were worse human beings than he. In later years, he revised his murder toll downward.

Dean Lewins/Australian AP/file 2002

Mr. Read said his victims were worse human beings than he. In later years, he revised his murder toll downward.

NEW YORK — Mark Brandon Read — a notorious Australian criminal and self-described “murdering maggot” who spun tales from his violent history into a successful comedy routine and 10 top-selling books, including one illustrated for children — died Oct. 9 in Melbourne. He was 58.

The cause was liver cancer, his manager, Andrew Parisi, said.

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Mr. Read, a folk hero known as Chopper to his countrymen, claimed that all his books were based on his life, which he began as an unwanted child and proceeded through phases as a juvenile thug, mob enforcer, kidnapper, and contract killer.

His personal appearances — billed as stand-up comedy, though they were more like the monologues of a droll, unchastened executioner — filled large halls. “Chopper,” a 2000 Australian feature film based on his life, with Eric Bana in the title role, received worldwide distribution.

He also became a popular public-service announcer.

“I know most of you out there may hate my guts; I’m not a very popular person,” he said in an announcement against drunken driving in 2001, his rugged face bearing a broken nose. “But you drink and you drive, and you’re a murdering maggot, just the same as I am.”

Not all Australians were thrilled with his celebrity status. Some elected officials sought to amend the criminal code so that the state could confiscate the proceeds from the sale of his books and his performances.

Mr. Read’s record included holdups, stabbings, shootings, and a 1978 kidnapping attempt in which he jammed a sawed-off shotgun into a judge’s mouth and demanded the release of a friend in prison. He was incarcerated for 23 of his first 40 years and released for the last time in 1998.

Then there were the crimes Mr. Read claimed he committed but got away with.

In his first book, “Chopper: From the Inside,” a memoir published in 1991 with the help of two Australian journalists, Mr. Read described himself as “a human disposal expert” who killed 19 fellow criminals, and tortured uncounted others with his signature tool, bolt cutters, applying it to victims’ toes one at a time until his demands were met.

He claimed never to have hurt noncriminals, or “civilians,” as he called them. He said all his victims were worse human beings than he.

“One drug dealer I killed,” he wrote, “had bragged of overdosing about 50 prostitutes and junkies in a 10-year period.”

In later years Mr. Read revised his murder toll downward. He told The New York Times in April, after announcing that his liver cancer was terminal, that his victims numbered “probably about four or seven, depending on how you look at it.” And when public officials proposed barring convicted killers from profiting from books, he was quick to point out that he had never actually been convicted of murdering anybody. He was tried only once for murder and was acquitted on the ground of self-defense.

That was it, he said. Unless it wasn’t.

“Is it true that you put a man into a concrete mixer alive?” Linda Parri, a gossip writer for Perth Now who worked on his book tour in 1998, once asked Mr. Read, as she recalled the exchange recently in an article in the newspaper The Australian.

“Yeah, he was alive when we put him in,” she said that he had replied, and that he had added: “It’s very, very difficult to stick someone in a concrete mixer. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You have to feed him through head first.”

“And what did that chap do wrong?” Parri asked.

“I forget at the moment,” he answered. “I’m sure it was something quite bad.”

Mark Brandon Read was born in Melbourne to troubled, reluctant parents. His father was a war veteran who slept with a rifle and often beat him, he said, and his mother, a Seventh-day Adventist, told him that his birth was “not a gift from God.” His parents separated often, and Mr. Read said that by age 14, he was a ward of the state.

His children’s book, “Hooky the Cripple: The Grim Tale of a Hunchback Who Triumphs” (2002), tells of a boy who is abused by the village butcher and who, on his 21st birthday, lashes back. Illustrated with Gothic intensity by the Australian artist Adam Cullen — Hooky brandishes a bloodied knife on the cover — the book was described by a Melbourne reviewer as “curiously poetic.”

As with many aspects of Mr. Read’s life, his own accounts differ on the source of the nickname Chopper. At various times he said that it was the name of a cartoon character he liked, that he had earned it as a gang enforcer, and that he acquired it in prison after having his ears chopped off by a fellow inmate to gain a transfer from maximum security to a hospital ward. Whatever, Mr. Read had no ears.

He leaves his wife, Margaret Cassar; their son; and a son from a previous marriage.

A believer in God, Mr. Read was asked in an interview what he expected would happen when he finally met his maker. “I think, if anything, I’m owed an apology,” he said. “I don’t think he was very fair with me.”

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