Thursday, 29 August 2013

Lady Detectives...

Lillian ‘The Rugged Angel’ Armfield

Lillian Armfield was the first woman appointed to the NSW police force – effectively the first woman police officer in Australia. Actually, she was one of two women appointed at the same time, but the other woman opted out shortly afterwards. Female officers were an experiment at the time: the NSW police force bent under pressure from various women’s interest groups to allow them amongst their ranks; Commissioner Bill MacKay, typically, saw female officers as a new weapon to throw at the criminal underworld and eagerly implemented the plan.

Lillian had to waive all her entitlements to keep her job: she signed away health benefits, superannuation and her pension to be part of the experiment. She was cautioned not to enter into situations where her life could be placed in jeopardy but, given the reality of the situations in which she found herself, this was not always possible. As a woman she was often granted access to places from which her male associates were barred and she was the instrumental means whereby many criminals were apprehended. Ironically, the more successful she was at her job the more the various women’s interest groups – the same groups that had allowed her to gain her job – demanded that she be removed from her office. Bill MacKay wasn’t the kind of innovator to allow this to happen, however.

Officer Armfield had a very black-and-white worldview and she was always sure of her judgement of right and wrong; nowadays she would be regarded as somewhat of a wowser, but her assessment of individuals and their capacity for good or evil was invariably impeccable. She was one of those rare individuals who could respect a person’s decisions even if she, personally, felt they were wrong. After thirty-four years of tireless service she retired without a pension or any similar gratuity offered to those women who came after her. Her police colleagues rallied around and collected enough funds to allow her to enter an aged person’s hostel and live comfortably the rest of her days.

Phryne Fisher (F)

Although normally restricting her activities to the southern city of Melbourne, Miss Phryne Fisher has been known to hit Sydney for the high life every once in awhile. In one of her well-publicised cases (published as Death Before Wicket) she spent time at the University of Sydney investigating a murder amongst that institution’s cricketing fraternity.

Phryne Fisher is the inheritrix of a large British estate and the title that accompanies it although, having grown up in Australia before coming into her fortune, she prefers the social freedom that that emerging country allows her, rather than the hide-bound prurience of England. She has the ‘triple-threat’ advantages of endless money, wide experience and feminine wiles which she brings to bear on her cases, along with her stubborn social conscience and a refusal to take ‘no’ for an answer. She has amassed a cadre of helpers to assist her, including her sometime drivers and stand-over men Bert and Cec’, her household staff – Mr and Mrs Butler – her tomboy ward Jane, all under the management of her strait-laced secretary Dot. Along with this crowd she enlists the help of her lushy woman’s-doctor friend, “Mac”, Detective Jack Robinson and his staunch cohort Sergeant Hugh Collins, as well as her sometime lover and entree into Melbourne’s sinister Chinese underworld, Lin Chung.

The incorrigible Miss Fisher is the creation of Australian author Kerry Greenwood and her novels have recently been made over into a television series by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) to generally warm acclaim. In the books, Phryne is a bit more sexually-adventurous than she appears in the TV show, but this is no serious setback: the novels are written with the benefit of hindsight and an aim towards highlighting the moral and social inequities of the time, especially as regards women, on the one hand, and immigrants on the other. This revisionist approach is not a bad exemplar for Call of Cthulhu players, although one wishes that Greenwood’s plots –which generally, are a hodge-podge of ideas stolen from the pages of Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham – could have been a little more original.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The White Hats...

Bad as the ‘Black Hats’ were in Sydney, and no matter how much the tenor of the times made Chicago of the same period look like a Sunday-school picnic, there were those who stood up against the mayhem and took a stand against evil. In this and the following lists we’ll look at the other side of the equation in Razorhurst.

As usual, or the purposes of this listing, individuals are listed in order according to their surnames; in the case of Chinese, Japanese and some other nationalities, the family name comes first and the individual will be placed according to these names, where known. Fictional characters are designated with an ‘F’.

William ‘Big Bill’ MacKay (1885-1948)

Police Commissioner Bill MacKay was born in Glasgow, Scotland, son of Murdoch MacKay, police inspector, and his wife Isabella. He joined the Glasgow police force in 1904 and was promoted to detective constable two years later. On 2 December 1909 he married Jennie Ross Drummond before migrating to Sydney; he joined the New South Wales Police Force in April 1910. His knowledge of shorthand led to his appointment in the administration section as chief clerk.

Early in World War I with Detective Nicholas Moore, MacKay attended meetings in the Domain of the Industrial Workers of the World to make shorthand reports which assisted in the prosecution of speakers. MacKay was made sergeant in 1922 and thereafter gained rapid promotion, partly as a result of the publicity he obtained in being credited with suppressing the Darlinghurst razor-gangs. By 1928 he was detective inspector in charge of the Criminal Investigation Branch and was sent for eight months to Britain to study police methods.

With the onset of the Depression, the police became increasingly involved in political surveillance as unemployment and the ensuing dissent became more widespread. MacKay was often in the forefront of such events as at lock-out of the Rothbury mine in December 1929, when police, guarding the mine, fought against the miners and a young miner was shot dead. By the time the “Old Guard”, the “New Guard” and the “All for Australia League” had become organized to fight against Jack Lang, McKay had inserted policemen into these groups, as well as the Communist Party of Australia. MacKay rejected the claims of the New Guard that its main cause of existence was to aid the police when the trade unionists and communists tried to seize power; he dealt firmly with a New Guard demonstration outside the Liverpool Street Court on 1 April 1932. The New Guard leader Eric Campbell condemned MacKay for not welcoming their proffered assistance and publicly impugned him for not having enlisted during the war.

With the dismissal of Lang and the election of the new premier, Bertram Stevens, MacKay was instructed on 7 June 1932 to increase surveillance on the Communist Party; his officers that year produced much of the material for the Lyons government and its attorney-general John Latham to launch proceedings against the Communists and declared them an unlawful association under the Crimes Act. MacKay was awarded the King's Police Medal in 1932 and appointed Police Commissioner in 1935.

In April 1936 he again left for an eight-month tour of Britain, Germany, Italy and the United States. MacKay was impressed by J. Edgar Hoover and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was even more impressed by the efficiency of the German police and the discipline of Nazi society, praising their labour youth battalions because, he said, they 'subordinate the individual to the welfare of the nation'. On his return to Sydney, he established the first of the Police Boys' clubs in April 1937 and, in the following year, what was to become the Federation of Police-Citizens Boys' Clubs.

By 1938, under the strain of inquiries and royal commissions into matters involving illegal off-course betting and police officers, MacKay became unwell and was nearly retired due to ill health. The Police Association of New South Wales openly criticized his arbitrary methods of promoting officers in the force and he turned on them in January 1942, posting all seventeen members of its executive to country outposts. The premier, William McKell, took onboard the administration of the Police Department and had the seventeen returned to their original positions. On the 9th of January 1943, another clash between MacKay and his force occurred over an incident in which two constables arrested a man in a public urinal, who turned out to be the editor of the Daily Telegraph for whom the proprietor, Frank Packer, interceded. The two constables were dismissed from the force because it was alleged they had an extensive record of making these types of arrests; one was later reinstated, but only as a result of active Police Association lobbying and a widespread sense of disgruntlement in the force.

In April 1942 under Curtin’s Federal Government, MacKay was appointed director of the re-organised Security Service, established to work with the army and maintain surveillance of enemy aliens and communists and to issue security clearances; this was as a result of his already having established a combined police and military intelligence unit within the police force in 1938. He sought to expand the Security Service, imagining it as an F.B.I.-style organization; however, he only ended up offending the Intelligence officers, and he returned to the Police Force in September. Nevertheless, he continued to expand the force's work in maintaining surveillance of local communists and other radicals.

During his time as Commissioner, MacKay set up the police cadet system, and established the vice, drug, motor and pawnbrokers squads in line with other international police forces. Known in the force as 'Big Bill' (he was 6 ft / 183 cm tall and weighed 15 stone / 95 kg), he had a reputation when young for smashing down doors. While this pugnacious ability to overcome obstacles was something of a trademark with him, particularly against those who opposed his administrative schemes, he developed with age a more subtle style of using information in his possession to place possible opponents in his debt. He spoke with a strong Scottish accent and was proud of his ancestry: he even converted the police military band into a Scottish pipe band dressed in the MacKay tartan. He also established a police air wing by purchasing an obsolete aeroplane rather than continue the expensive practise of hiring aircraft.

In 1946 MacKay suffered a recurrence of his old infirmity and, on the 22nd of January 1948, he died suddenly at his Edgecliff home while entertaining senior police colleagues. He was buried in Randwick cemetery.

Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte (F)

“...A man of medium height and build, dressed in a light-grey tweed. His tie matched his shirt, and so did the soft felt hat now resting on the edge of the writing-table. The visitor’s face was turned downward to the busy fingers engaged in making a cigarette, and with no little astonishment the sergeant noted that the man’s hair was fine and straight and black, and that his skin was dark brown. And then he was gazing into a pair of bright-blue eyes regarding him with a smile.”

-Arthur W. Upfield, Wings above the Diamantina, 1936

Bony is a half-caste aboriginal detective, famous in the series of outback-based pot-boilers penned by Arthur W. Upfield in the 20s and 30s, and which sold very well both in Australia and America. Raised by a straight-laced nurse at an outback station, who fondly named him after the French emperor, his skills of observation and logical deduction were honed by both his association with his mother’s tribe and his work as a police tracker for the Brisbane police force. In the later tales he rises to the rank of Detective Inspector and receives nation-wide recognition for his skills as a detective.

Disdaining standard procedure and protocol – “I have always declined to permit red tape to control me” – Bony thinks around obstacles both procedural and legal to ensure that his quarry is brought to justice. He affects an overly-educated verbosity to disarm the usual prejudice with which newcomers generally receive him and he cuts through class divisions by insisting that he be called ‘Bony’ by all comers, regardless of rank. He smokes like a chimney while cogitating and often uses the time taken in questioning witnesses to roll his own cigarettes.

Nowadays, these novels are a little difficult to read as they are bogged down with the stereotyping and sensibilities of a bygone age, much as Dorothy L. Sayers’ or Agatha Christie’s novels sometimes tread a fine line when it comes to discussing Jewish characters. Still, Upfield’s “blacks” are often the most engaging and pro-active characters in the narratives, despite being treated with a tinge of disdain. Readers should tread warily when dipping into these sources – although their observations of the Australian Outback and life there are wonderfully sketched and worthy of investigation – and try to see them as the artefacts of a past age that they are.


Monday, 26 August 2013

The Mad Dog...

William Cyril ‘Mad Dog’ Moxley (1889-1933)

Moxley, occasionally known to his criminal associates as ‘Snowy’, was disliked by practically everybody. Although he tried to curry favour with lawless types as well as the police, all he managed to do was irritate both sides of the equation. From the early 1920s, Moxley was a determined thief, usually targeting warehouses and shops in the inner city area of Sydney. At the same time, he was a trusted ‘phizgig’, or informer, selling information to the police, especially Police Commissioner Bill MacKay. However, it wasn’t long before MacKay suspected that Moxley was selling police information to the criminals as well: with Frank Fahy on his tail, he was discovered and dropped from the police payroll.

In time Moxley became listed in the Court Records as an ‘habitual criminal’, a qualification which many crims dreaded as it meant their sentences could be left open-ended. At his first sentencing as an ‘habitual’ Moxley was given 4 years with no opportunity for early release.

Upon leaving prison he quickly returned to a life of crime becoming embroiled in an attempt to blow a safe during daylight hours at a bank in the southern Sydney suburb of Sutherland. As usual he decided to play both sides of the equation and leaked information about the raid to the police. In return, after the scheme failed and all the criminals were caught, Moxley was left to go free. After their release in 1930, his associates in the bungled crime confronted him while driving down King Street in Newtown and one of them fired a pistol shot into the side of his head: he survived, after being rushed to hospital, but only after hundreds of fragments of lead had been picked out of his neck and skull.

Things got worse. Moxley began work as a timber-gatherer in the bush near Bringelly, south west of Sydney. One day in 1932, he surprised a couple making love near his camp. The man tried to assault Moxley and Moxley clubbed him with his shotgun barrel. He then badly beat the man and tied him to a tree while he beat and raped the woman. After this he made them lead him to where they had parked their car: he shot the man in the head, then walked the woman into the bush, shot her dead and buried her. He was arrested several days later after having been spotted driving their car around Sydney.

At the trial, Bill MacKay made a formal statement on Moxley’s behalf to the effect that Moxley’s gun wound to the head had altered his personality: previously, Moxley had been relatively upbeat, but had become grim and dour afterwards. Moxley himself claimed to have no knowledge of the events in the forest after the man had first attacked him. The jury was not swayed however and Moxley was hanged for his crimes in Long Bay Gaol in 1933. In the police mug shots book of the period, someone wrote the words “Well Dead” alongside his picture.


Saturday, 24 August 2013

The King of Clubs & The Ghost...

The third of the trio of kingpins who held Razorhurst in their grasp was a nasty piece of work known as Phil ‘The Jew’ Jeffs who clawed his way to the top through sheer malevolence and who successfully made the switch from street thug to wheeling, dealing, raconteur. Cocaine and gambling was the tent pole of his unsavoury kingdom and he oiled his way adroitly through the deadly political minefield of the City’s underworld.

Another powerful figure of a different sort in the City’s murky underbelly was Joe ‘The Grey Shadow’ Ryan. It’s possible that he could have risen to successfully challenge the kingpins of Razorhurst (unlike the hapless Norm Bruhn) but he chose to play a hidden hand and vanished into the ether like his namesake.

Phil ‘The Jew’ Jeffs (1896-1945)
Phil ‘The Jew’ Jeffs started life about as far down the ladder as one could get. Born in Riga, Latvia, in 1896, his family emigrated to London where they abandoned him on the streets. He survived by stealing clothes from drunks and eating out of garbage cans, before signing on as a cook’s assistant on a tramp steamer heading for South Africa. He worked his way from there to Sydney, arriving in 1912. Phil Jeffs was not much to look at: thin and unprepossessing, with the large bulbous nose which earned him his nickname. Nevertheless, he was determined to amount to something and his chosen area of expertise was crime.

He started out in the Darlinghurst push, working as a cockatoo for two-up joints and mugging drunks. He soon moved to drug-running and the easy life of a bludger, which he spiced up with a bit of gingering and playing the ‘badger game’, in which he would break in upon his accomplice prostitute and her client, pretending to be the outraged husband: the victim would usually pay their way out of an imminent beating from Jeffs, who could summon a savage potentiality when required.

He dressed as a flashy spiv and carried a pistol and a knife with him at all times. He spent a lot of time toadying to crime figures more powerful than himself and was always quick to look for potential opportunities. He was also more than willing to enter a fight and his reputation for being completely careless of his or anyone else’s safety in these matters made others very wary of him. He started up sly grog shops throughout Razorhurst and peddled vice and cocaine like it was going out of style: all the while he took note of his customers – especially those whom he felt could be of value to his career – and consolidated his earnings. He was in and out of police custody throughout the 1920s, a known rapist, standover man, drug runner and all-round thug. His criminal dreams were becoming a reality – until he was shot in his home in 1929.

Jeffs’ wounds were serious. He was forced to retire from his activities and moved north of Sydney to the town of Woy Woy, where he lived as a recluse. His operations in Sydney were run by proxies and the cash kept rolling in. While he lay low, Jeffs had time to reconsider his approach and underwent a complete transformation: when he returned to the Sydney scene in 1932, he had turned from a razor-gang thug, into a suave, worldly-wise entrepreneur, in finely-tailored suits and with dazzling society women hanging from his arms. He had finished with the streets and had moved things to another level...

With his connexions and cash he opened up his own night spot – the Fifty-Fifty Club in the Chard Building on the corner of William and Forbes Streets. He paid bent cops to keep the raids to a minimum and to let him know when those they couldn’t prevent were about to happen; Frank Green and other gunmen were on his payroll as enforcers and his clientele included the bright stars of every social strata, from politics to crime. The Fifty-Fifty Club throbbed every night with jazz and dancing, fuelled by illegal alcohol and drugs; all of the windows were fitted with loops of twine so that champagne bottles could be hung outside during police raids and the staff were skilled in switching booze for ginger beer and instantly setting up bogus bridge hands to hide cocaine-sprinkled tables.

In time, Jeffs moved to larger digs in his new Ziegfield Club on George Street. This was an even larger affair with a greater degree of legitimacy. Even so, it was the scene of ‘Chow’ Hayes’ attack on a hated foe which saw him gaoled for life. Eventually, Jeffs sold off his string of night clubs, the last one – the 400 Club – closing its doors in 1942. Thereafter, he retired to Ettalong in Sydney’s north to enjoy his fabulous wealth. In 1945, the unremoved bullets still lodged in his body turned septic and he died of the poison at the age of 49.

Joseph ‘The Grey Shadow’ Ryan (dates unknown)

“Always impeccably dressed, very quiet ... but if you told anyone that Joe Ryan was looking for them, they’d go bush...”

-Greg Brown, ex-policeman and criminal records expert.

Also known as “Mudgee Joe” after his most famous heist, Joseph Ryan was the thinking man’s villain in the world of Razorhurst. Taking his line from bushranger legends and the wild-west cowboy traditions that were coming into vogue at the time, he graduated from the pushes with a record of break-ins and burglaries that netted him four months on the reform-school farm out at Emu Plains, west of Sydney. That time gave him pause to think about where his career would take him.

In the early 30s a series of attacks and hold-ups took place, the assailants brandishing guns and hiding their identities behind bandanas which obscured the lower halves of their faces. Later still, a mail train en route to Mudgee across the Blue Mountains was attacked and the masked attackers made off with a huge sum of cash and jewellery - £18,000, or about $1,350,000 in today’s money. Later still, the Canberra Mail had its mailbags containing £10,000 swapped for identical, sealed bags filled with old telephone books, with no-one the wiser until the mail was delivered. Although a gang of men was often involved with these crimes, they were directed by an imposing figure, masked and impeccably dressed – a figure the Police would come to know as “the Grey Shadow”.

Although arrested a number of times on suspicion regarding these events, Joseph Ryan was not convicted, either for lack of evidence or due to the charges being summarily dropped. On one occasion, he avoided a police dragnet for a number of months and was later apprehended for his involvement in a gold heist – in Birmingham, England. He was returned to Australia, arrested on the docks, and again, walked free.

It took the random discovery of part of the Mudgee Mail cash hidden in a farm outbuilding to turn the focus of police attention towards Ryan. The farm owner, Morris, confessed to being the getaway driver and to holding the cash for the robbers; he also identified Ryan as the ‘Shadow.

Eventually, Ryan went to trial for the train robberies. In court he was well-dressed, precise and commanding; by contrast, those of his old gang who turned snitch and gave evidence against him were slovenly and ingenuous – the judge discounted their testimony, calling them wretches and liars, “soiled in their characters”. The trial ended with a hung jury result; a second hearing exonerated Ryan; in later years, all those who gave evidence against him were attacked, beaten and slashed, one surviving on the sheer luck of a jammed pistol. Morris was gunned down, two full magazines of ammunition pumped into his body, in the Rocks at the south end of the Bridge. Although Ryan went to trial for his murder, during which the judge ruled that Ryan and an accomplice had performed the killing, lack of evidence and testimonies from eyewitnesses placing Joe elsewhere at the time, saw the case dismissed. Police of the day had no doubt that the Grey Shadow had filled Morris with lead for his treachery.

Afterwards, Ryan simply fell off the radar, and vanished from out of the police spotlight. Whether he was still criminally-active or turned over a new leaf, none can say. What remains is a criminal record showing only a four-month stay in a remand centre, and some inferences drawn from the courts over evidence which vanished – like a ghost!


Friday, 23 August 2013

Kate Leigh's Crowd...

Tilly Devine’s opposite number in the Underworld was the notorious Kate Leigh. From an unpromising start in the Bush she dragged herself up by the bootstraps to become one of the most infamous figures in Sydney’s history; the Australian novelist Ruth Park based a character on her in her book The Harp in the South. Kate had a Robin Hood streak to her nature and threw massive Christmas parties for the impoverished citizens that thronged her neck of the woods; but that streak didn’t run too deep, and she was always ready with rifle, razor and hatchet to dish the sort of rough justice she felt was required...

Kate Leigh (1881-1964)

“If you were sweet with Kate, she’d do anything for you and give you anything. But if you crossed her, she’d shoot you”
-‘Chow’ Hayes.

Born on a property outside of Dubbo beyond the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Kate endured her upbringing until the age of ten, when she left for the bright lights. Her trip got cut short: she ended up in a Parramatta reformatory school for homeless girls and stayed there for four years. On her release, she supported herself by working as a waitress in the inner city suburb of Glebe during which time she married her first husband Jack Leigh, by whom she had a daughter, Eileen.

Jack, a petty thief and ne’er-do-well, thought himself a hard man and decided that he would beat up their landlord in lieu of paying the rent: the landlord took the two of them to court. Kate lied that Jack had beaten the man after finding him in bed with her, with the result that both of them were sent to gaol for five years, he for aggravated assault and she for perjury. When they were released, they parted and never saw each other again.

Kate started a new career as a prostitute and thief. She ran a string of brothels and worked as a bail broker for her gangster associates. By 1914, she had shacked up with Samuel ‘Jewey’ Freeman in Sydney’s most infamous slum, Frog Hollow, on the escarpment beneath Riley Street in Surrey Hills. It was while living there that she, Freeman and his sidekick Ernest ‘Shiner’ Ryan planned the great Eveleigh Railway Workshops payroll robbery.

The Eveleigh Railway Workshops outside of Redfern were the headquarters of the City’s rail network and every week the payroll for its employees arrived at a back road entrance in a horse-drawn wagon, guarded and driven by two men. The wagon held two boxes, one carrying £3696/19/6 and the other £3302/13/6. On the 10th of June 1914, two men in a grey car, wearing handkerchief masks and motoring goggles, intercepted the wagon as the boxes were being unloaded and made off with them at gunpoint. The crime caused a sensation: that it took place in broad daylight; that the assailants were armed; and that it was the first time in Australian criminal history that a car had been used in the commission of a crime, ensured that it made the front page of every newspaper in the land. Things unravelled quickly however: the number plate of the vehicle had been seen by a witness and led to the car mechanic who had abetted the heist; the inside man on the wagon was identified; the Melbourne fence to whom the cash had been sent in order to launder it, fled to Tasmania and was never caught; and Kate, who perjured herself in the witness box providing alibis for Freeman and Ryan, was sent to gaol for seven years. Only £600 of the stolen money was ever recovered. Kate declared that if sticking with a man earned you seven years, she’d never stick by another ever again.

Released two years early for good behaviour, Kate settled in to consolidate her life of criminal activity. She established sly grog shops from Woolloomooloo to Haymarket, sold cocaine and other drugs, ran illegal gambling clubs, fenced stolen goods and sold information to the police. She made money hand over fist and warily defended her turf from Tilly Devine’s and Phil Jeffs’ rackets. Dark, petite and attractive in her youth, she transformed into a large, blowzy ogre as she aged: she attended the Court sessions as if she was going to the theatre, taking her massive collection of rings out of the bank for each occasion and heckling the proceedings from the public gallery. The tabloids hung on her every word and deed, recounting her involvement in every underworld activity, real or imagined. During her life she was arrested on 103 occasions for crimes ranging from shoplifting to murder and was imprisoned thirteen times. As the 1950s began and a new wave of younger criminals began to take over, Kate faded into the background - poorer due to the unwelcome attentions of the taxman - finally dying from a stroke in 1964.

John ‘Chow’ Hayes (1911-1991)

John Hayes earned the nickname ‘Chow’ because his flat face and mean squint made people think that he was part Chinese. He grew up in the inner west of Sydney, disdaining school and aligning himself with the Railway push. He spent his days selling newspapers and working scams to make money from tourists newly arrived from out of town and listening to the older gang members and their plots to break into and burglarise the local warehouses.

When he graduated from the push, Chow went to work with Kate Leigh as her enforcer in Razorhurst. He went wholeheartedly into the gang lifestyle and made a terrifying reputation for himself: never one to control his impulses, Chow could transform instantly from a calm, politely attentive listener one minute, into a raging tiger the next. In one of his most notorious encounters, he travelled with his target on a tram for some distance, reasoning with him along the way; then, when the tram stopped, he grabbed the metal hook which was used to connect it to the electric cable and beat the fellow into a bloody pulp.

Chow learned to work the legal system of the time and was in and out of gaol all of his life. He learned early on that it was possible to rack up a number of sentences, for which he would be out on bail, and then plead guilty to a greater offence and serve his other sentences concurrently with it. In this way he could fold two or three two-month gaol terms for, say, bad language or resisting arrest into one six-month sentence for aggravated assault and work them all off in half a year. In most cases, he could rely on Kate Leigh to bail him out or, if she couldn’t, she would send him care packages to whichever gaol he ended up in. Despite his criminal activities, Chow found the time to marry and to raise several children all of whom, for the most part, he kept separate from his shadow life. Except on one fateful occasion:

Chow had cause to find grievance with one William ‘Bobby’ Lee, a small-time hood and former boxer who worked as a bouncer in a two-up joint, and who had seen an opportunity to boost his reputation by shooting the infamous Chow Hayes. Unfortunately, when he raided the gunman’s house and fired several shots through the living room window, it wasn’t Chow but his nephew Danny Simmons who he killed. Later on in June of 1951, Chow and his long-time associate in crime, Joey Hollebone, took their wives out for an evening at Phil ‘The Jew’ Jeffs’ infamous Ziegfield Club. Encountering - by chance or otherwise – ‘Bobby’ Lee, Chow calmly walked over to him in the middle of the crowded Club and pumped five .45-calibre bullets into him: Lee died 12 hours later. A six-week manhunt unearthed Chow and Hollebone and they endured three murder trials before Chow was sent to prison for life.

Released on good behaviour in 1967, Chow drifted around the edges of his former criminal existence before attacking a man who picked up the change left for a waitress in a pub: he put the man’s eye out with a wine glass. He went back to gaol for another 5 years and finally went straight after his release.

Raymond ‘Gaffney the Gunman’ Neil (1904-1929)

“Come outside!”
-Neil’s last words

Gaffney the Gunman started his criminal career at a tender age: in 1919 aged 14, he was gaoled for breaking and entering; in 1923 he was placed in prison again for twelve months, for the theft of a relative’s watch. The severity of this sentence was explained by the judge asking him if he’d learned the cost of a criminal life; Gaffney shrugged and simply said that he’d been to gaol before. Yes, replied the judge, but you don’t seem to have learnt anything from it. Thus, the twelve-month stint.

After, leaving prison he went to work for Kate Leigh as an enforcer for her operations. His reputation as a thug with little regard for the safety of himself or others began to spread: in 1928 he was arrested after a particularly nasty affray in the company of Thomas Craig – wanted for questioning in the cold-blooded shooting of a bookmaker – and two notorious stand-over men, William Thompson and Francis “Bullet” Wilson (see picture above).

In the wake of this and other incidents, Gaffney decided to make a play for Nellie Cameron, igniting the fury of Frank Green. Things came to a head and Gaffney shot Green in the shoulder, forcing him to retire wounded and seek medical attention at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Before the police could come to question him, Tilly and Jim Devine collared him and drove him to their eastern suburbs bungalow in Maroubra: Green told them en route that Gaffney had threatened to finish the job that he’d begun.

Good as his word, Gaffney arrived outside the bungalow that night in a taxi, with a posse of thugs in tow. He fired a shot at the house and ordered Green to step outside to resolve matters. As he stepped over the low garden fence to gain the front door, Jim Devine shot him above the heart with a .303 rifle he’d secured just for the purpose. Gaffney fell dead instantly, and ‘Big Jim’ escaped a murder charge by pleading self-defence. Gaffney was just 25.

Tilly Devine's Crew...

Razorhurst was the territory of three main crime bosses; incredibly enough for the time, two of those crime lords were women. Never let it be said however that either Tilly Devine or Kate Leigh were shrinking violets; on the contrary, they were both hard as nails and rough as guts, as the saying goes, and more than a match for any man stupid enough to cross them. Today we look at Sydney’s Queen of Sleaze, empress of the city’s fleshpots, Tilly Devine.

Matilda ‘Tilly’ Devine (1900-1970)

From low beginnings in the slums of London, Matilda ‘Tilly’ Devine rose to the heights of notoriety as one of the queens of Sydney’s underworld. Plain and petite, but with a vicious temper and incredibly poor impulse control, Tilly gave as good as she got on the streets of Razorhurst and laughed all the way to the bank.

After marrying ‘Big Jim’ Devine in London, Tilly took to life as a Sydney brothel owner with gusto. Safe from legal recriminations due to the legal loophole which allowed women but not men to profit from the efforts of sex-workers, she and her husband built a string of bordellos throughout the city and lived large off the proceeds. Having been a prostitute herself in London, Tilly was quick to select girls that showed promise, teaching them various tricks of the trade including the practise of ‘gingering’, or stealing from clients whilst they were engaged in sex.

After attempts by Norman Bruhn to claim her empire, Tilly and Jim encouraged associations with notorious gun- and razor men such as Guido Calletti. When Jim decided that addicting their whores to cocaine was more profitable than paying them in cash for their efforts, Tilly began to encroach on the drug-running operations of Kate Leigh and Phil Jeffs and things grew ugly between them.

Tilly was brought up on many charges throughout her life and went to prison on many occasions. On one occasion she was barred from visiting Victoria after misbehaving there and was summarily gaoled for returning at a later date to see the Melbourne Cup; on another occasion she was released from prison on the promise that she would return to England, a promise she of course refused to keep. Regardless of the consequences, she always resisted arrest and kicked, punched and slashed her way to gaol. Her knock-down, drag-out stoushes with Kate Leigh were legendary and her screaming fistfights with Jim Devine, a tasty morsel for the tabloids. She openly resented being named in the newspapers as the ‘Queen of the Underworld’, but it was felt that she was secretly proud of the title. The only person who seemed to put the Fear of God in her was police sergeant Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell, for whom she was always placid and compliant.

Tilly separated from Jim in the 1940s and re-married. She outlived her second husband after losing most of her ill-gotten gains to back-taxes and she died in 1970 after a stroke, from complications due to cirrhosis of the liver and stomach cancer.

James ‘Big Jim’ Devine (1892-1966)

Jim Devine was a ‘digger’, one of the ANZAC forces who left Australia to fight for Britain and the Commonwealth in the fields of France. He was extremely tall and heavily built, with piercing blue eyes that emanated a deadly menace. After the Armistice, he stayed on in London and settled into the easy life of the ‘bludger’, earning a living from bullying prostitutes out of their earnings. In this way he met Matilda Devine a ‘working girl’ from the Camberwell district in London. They soon married and Jim decided that they could earn a better living in Sydney than in England.

Arriving in Sydney, Jim and Tilly soon realised that if they wanted to operate a brothel, they would have to register everything in Tilly’s name to capitalise on the legal loophole that stipulated no man could earn money from the sexual activities of women. Jim, terminally lazy, saw no problem in letting Tilly run the business, as long as she kept the money rolling in. Soon they had a string of brothels from Darlinghurst to Woolloomooloo and they were living very well indeed.

‘Big Jim’ as he was known was a highly capable standover man and kept a keen watch on the other predators that roamed the streets with their greedy eyes on his empire. It was he who had the idea of addicting Tilly’s whores to cocaine for which they would work in lieu of cash. He carried a razor but preferred to use his fists to respond to threats; on one occasion, while holed-up in his and Tilly’s plush Maroubra home, he used his old army rifle to despatch Raymond ‘Gaffney the Gunman’ Neil, who had tried to kill one of their enforcers. ‘Big Jim’ beat the murder charge by claiming self-defence.

Tilly and Jim split in the early 1940s and Jim went south to Melbourne where he obtained work as a storeman and packer. On New Year’s Eve in 1950, he showed up unexpectedly at a party at Tilly’s house during which he punched her and dislocated her jaw. He died in 1966.

Dulcie ‘the Angel of Death’ Markham (1913-1976)

“There’ll never be another like pretty Dulcie Markham”

-Inspector Frank ‘Bumper’ Farrell

Some people are unlucky in love; Dulcie Markham was downright cursed. She was born in 1913 to wealthy north shore parents but split from them to become a prostitute in Kings Cross. She had a Hollywood glamour-type beauty, with large grey eyes and pale blonde hair: in many ways she was much more beautiful than Nellie Cameron but lacked Cameron’s discernment and wit. Tilly Devine cared little about Dulcie’s intelligence and soon had added her to her stable of whores where her various attractions could earn up to £100 a night, a huge sum at the time.

As far as the men in her life were concerned, Dulcie’s sights were aimed lower than Cameron’s: where Nellie wooed and won the first lieutenants of the various crime bosses – people like Guido Calletti and Frank Green – Dulcie dallied with the grunts, a string of unknown thugs, hustlers, pimps and bravos who had a nasty knack of killing each other over her. In time, it became a by-word that going with Dulcie Markham meant that death was near, and she picked up nicknames like ‘The Black Widow’, ‘The Hoodoo Girl’, or the one by which she is best known, ‘The Angel of Death’.

For legal reasons, she floated in and out of Razorhurst, often disappearing to Melbourne to try her luck in that city. Inevitably things would go wrong: her tryst with Melbourne gunman ‘Squizzy’ Taylor, ended with him being gunned down while in bed with her (of course, this was the story promoted by the Sydney tabloids at the time, to beef up her mystique). She was with Guido Calletti when he was shot as he attempted to take out the Brougham Street Gang and attended his funeral, weeping dramatically over his coffin.

In 1955, Dulcie was thrown from a balcony by a man she refused to name but who was thought to have been a client. She never fully recovered from the injuries sustained in that fall and had trouble working from that time on. Probably as a result, she tried to go straight from then on and she largely succeeded. She married an Irish sailor without a criminal record and lived peacefully with him until the early 1960s when a piece of her past caught up with them: an unnamed assailant broke into their home and brutally bashed Dulcie’s husband, who left her shortly afterwards. Then in 1964 she married again, once more to a man without criminal notoriety, and lived happily with him at Coogee Beach until dying of asphyxiation in 1976, from having fallen asleep with a lit cigarette.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Triangle Of Hate...

Guido Calletti (1904-1939)

Calletti was the son of immigrant Italian greengrocers but left the life of fruit stalls for the glitz and glamour of Razorhurst. Wild as a youth in the Darlinghurst push, he had been sent to a Boy’s Reformatory Work Farm in Gosford, north of Sydney. According to ‘Chow’ Hayes, this was simply a school for hardened criminals and, in the case of Calletti, it proved true.

Guido was a sucker for a pretty face and he fell hard for Nellie Cameron. This set him firmly against many others who claimed her affections including Norman Bruhn and, especially, Frank ‘The Little Gunman’ Green: their feud was long and bitter.

Calletti was tough as nails, a good shot and fast with a razor: traits which set him apart from many other hoodlums who talked the talk but never followed through. As his reputation grew, Calletti began to dress the part, wearing expensive suits and flashing cash on all sides. It was a case however, of making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear: Guido was foul-mouthed, coarse and barely literate, often asking others to read to him of his exploits as reported in the daily newspapers.

His run-ins with the law saw him in and out of gaol for a string of offenses; when he turned to murder though, things became more difficult. Once, he avoided a manhunt only to be captured when the police followed Nellie Cameron to his hideout. He tried laying low in Queensland and Melbourne but was inevitably chased back to Sydney.

While on the run in Queensland, Guido married Nellie, who stayed there to avoid criminal prosecution in her home town. Calletti returned to Sydney where he resumed his sordid ways, taking up with Dulcie Markham as her lover. Executing a poorly thought-out plan to extort cash out of a betting syndicate known as the Brougham Street Gang, he brazenly entered their headquarters with Markham on his arm: the lights went out, guns went off, and when the lights came back on, Calletti was lying on the floor riddled with bullets. When asked who had shot him, he said “I don’t know” and passed out. He died later in hospital without regaining consciousness.

Guido Calletti’s funeral was a lavish affair attended by some five thousand onlookers. Nellie Cameron, prevented from attending due to legal constraints, sent a massive wreath, while Dulcie Markham, dressed in black, threw herself dramatically across his coffin. When it was over, Sydney’s vilest and flashiest thug was consigned to the pit of memory and none but the daily tabloids were the poorer for it.

‘Pretty’ Nellie Cameron (1910-1953)

Some women are attracted to danger. Many of them tiptoe in and then retreat sharply when the realities of that danger become apparent; Nellie Cameron jumped in wide-eyed and drained the poison chalice to its last drop.

Nellie came from a respectable upper middle class family on the north shore. She had been educated at an exclusive girl’s school and was destined for life as a debutante and society matron. To general surprise and horror, she quit the northern suburbs and headed to Razorhurst to become a prostitute and gangster’s moll. It was generally said that Nellie was not unusually attractive (unlike Dulcie Markham’s ‘blonde bombshell’ allure), but she had spirit, wit and a genteel poise that made her seem a prized rose amongst the thorns of the underworld.

‘Pretty Nellie’ loved associating with danger: she joined Tilly Devine’s stable of prostitutes and soon became her most sought-after girl. In this way she soon met the heavy hitters of the Razorhurst scene: Norman Bruhn, Frank Green and Guido Calletti. She dumped Bruhn fairly early on as a bad prospect and then spent years vacillating between Green and Calletti, spurring them on into ever more violent paroxysms of jealous rage. She was with them when they were attacked and arrested and was dealt her fair share of harm: by the end of her career, she had been stabbed, slashed and shot and, from all reports, had given as good as she’d got.

After she was shot in a drive-by shooting, Guido Calletti whisked her off to Gosford to avoid being arrested in a Sydney hospital, and from there took her to Queensland where they were married. After recuperating, the newly-weds returned to Razorhurst and tried to go straight, but the temptation was too much for Guido: both of them were soon once more on the lam and Nellie fled to Queensland to avoid arrest. She remained there for the rest of her life, not even daring to return for Calletti’s funeral.

Frank ‘the Little Gunman’ Green (1905-1956)

Frank Green was an enforcer for Tilly Devine who, apart from being a ruthless ‘kill-you-as-soon-as-look-at-you’ kind of fellow, had the very, very bad luck to fall in love with Nellie Cameron. Frank’s short stature and gimlet-eyed stare earned him the sobriquet ‘The Little Gunman’ and he was renowned as a villain with whom to be reckoned. He started out as a standover man, leaning on SP Bookies and sly-grog operators for a portion of their take; after Norman Bruhn’s push for power, he aligned himself with Phil Jeff’s forces and added a solid body-count to his burgeoning reputation.

And then along came Nellie Cameron. Her dalliance with Green was the start of a vicious feud between Green and Guido Calletti: Cameron wafted between them like a gorgeous, un-catchable butterfly, while her paramours punched, shot and slashed each in a haze of blood. After Calletti and Cameron eloped to Queensland, Green settled down to less high-pitched criminal intensity. He famously claimed that no bullet would ever get him and, in the end he was right: in 1956 while drunk and arguing with a prostitute he had taken up with, he was stabbed through the heart by a 30-centimetre long cooking knife and died. When Kate Leigh was asked if she’d any regrets about her violent dealings with Green she responded, “Hell no; but if I do find out where they bury him, I’ll go and dance on the bludger’s grave.”

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Norm Bruhn's Razorgang

For the purposes of this listing, individuals are listed in order according to their surnames; in the case of Chinese, Japanese and some other nationalities, the family name comes first and the individual will be placed according to these names, where known. Fictional characters are designated with an ‘F’.


Norman ‘Norm’ Bruhn (1894-1927)

Sydney’s criminal underworld established itself relatively quietly, like a miasma oozing its way through a substrate. Once established and beginning to consolidate, all that remained was to test the limit of its power. Norman Bruhn was the catalyst that started the explosion.

Bruhn was a standover man and bludger, a thug who would rather take what others had than earn anything of his own. For awhile he ran between the camps of Tilly Devine, Kate Leigh and Phil Jeffs before deciding to take over their empires for himself. Bruhn ran with a colourful gang of villains including George Wallace, ‘Razor Jack’ Hayes, ‘Snowy’ Cutmore and a gay African-American man with platinum-dyed hair known only as ‘Nigger’. For awhile, Bruhn claimed the attentions of Nellie Cameron who, when asked why she went with him replied, “When I wake up in the morning, I like to look down on something lower than myself.” With dreams of being an Underworld kingpin dancing through his head, Bruhn launched a massive attack against his enemies.

Sadly for him, his opponents were better armed, tougher and much less fired by fanciful dreams of power. Set against the grit and muscle of enforcers like Guido Calletti, Frank Green, ‘Big Jim’ Devine and ‘Gaffney the Gunman’, Bruhn marched into a meat-grinder and was sent packing. He lived long enough to be gunned down in a gutter and died later in hospital in excruciating pain without naming his attacker.

George ‘The Midnight Raper’ Wallace (????-1948)

Norm Bruhn’s pack of nasty ne’er-do-wells included a motley array of eccentric types who cleared out, or were cleared out, after he was bugled to Jesus. Chief amongst them was George Wallace a former wrestler turned pickpocket whose favourite gag was to bet punters that he could guess their weight by lifting them off their feet; he invariably tried to lift their wallets while doing so. After awhile he turned his hand to burglary and standover tactics and, after he teamed up with Bruhn, earned himself the nickname ‘The Midnight Raper’ due to the treatment he offered the prostitutes who Bruhn gave him to oversee if they failed to provide expected returns after their shifts. He was also not above slashing the girls’ faces if they failed to perform as required. As a sideline to his everyday duties he traded in cocaine and was a severe addict of his own merchandise. He, along with Bruhn and his cronies, became notable figures in the ‘Cocaine Wars’ which began with Bruhn’s death and ended with Phil Jeffs in majority control of the trafficking.

Wallace was in Brisbane avoiding a court appearance when Bruhn was shot in 1927; upon his return he ran afoul of the Kelly brothers and became embroiled in a stoush and got walloped on the head with a hammer, retiring wounded from the fray. After that he succumbed to a bout of acute paranoia in the Plaza Cafe on King Street, smashing the fittings and slashing the owner with a razor before being brought down and captured by the other patrons. He was fined a relatively modest £2 and fled Sydney for good, wandering around Australia’s other capital cities in search of opportunities. Finally, he washed up in Perth, where he tried to stand over a miner outside the European Club: he was stabbed seven times with a carving knife for his pains and died fifteen days later on the 7th of December, 1948. There were other nasty operators who acquired colourful monikers during the razor days, but few of them embraced their titles with as much relish as Wallace.

Bruhn’s gang included many and varied colourful characters, along with Wallace, whose idiosyncrasies and practises were good fodder for the tabloids of the day (in stark contrast to the soldiers of Devine, Leigh and Jeffs who, in principle, maintained a much lower profile). Frank ‘Razor Jack’ Hayes, the taciturn albino who let his cutthroat do his talking for him and John ‘Snowy’ Cutmore, the associate of Melbourne’s notorious ‘Squizzy’ Taylor who worked with Bruhn during his self-imposed exile in Sydney, are perhaps the best known. There was also Lancelot Macgregor Saidler, aka ‘Sailor the Slasher’, known for his brutal attitude and behaviour towards everyone on the planet with the sole exception of Chinese children, on whom he doted; and the Kelly brothers – ‘Siddy’ and Tom – who broke away from Bruhn after he ordered ‘Razor Jack’ Hayes to slash ‘Siddy’s’ throat (he survived).
These are the leading lights of Razorhurst.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Two-Party Politics & the "Motherland"

Australian politics is based upon a system of proportional representation whereby local electorates vote for representatives to speak on their behalf in the House of Representatives, one of the two houses which form the Government body. The other House is the Senate, which comprises legislative heads in charge of various political portfolios and their opposition or ‘shadow’ ministers. In charge of the Government is the Prime Minister; in charge of each Australian state is the Premier, both of whom are elected by the people. A silent partner in all of this is the Governor General, a representative of the Monarch of England and the Commonwealth, who ensures that the interests of the Crown are served at all times.

Over time, Australian politics have devolved upon the interests of two ideological groups: a right-wing largely upper-class party called the Liberal Party and a left wing, worker-focussed organisation known as Labor. Occasionally, there have been other parties or independent representatives, however, for the most part, Australian politics has always been a two-party race. In the 1920s and 1930s, the ideological divisions between the two factions reached fever-pitch proportions.

At this time, echoing trends in Europe, both Communism and Fascism enjoyed widespread interest among the peoples of the world as viable alternatives to current political and economic models. The Revolution in Russia stimulated Communist sympathies across the globe, while the National Socialist reforms being enacted by Hitler in Germany also struck chords with many individuals. Germany had suffered terribly after the First World War, at the hand of the League of Nations and the Versailles Treaty, and endured horrible privation in trying to repay War Reparations; the rise of Nazism was generally seen as a noble effort to lift Germany out of a crippling poverty. The Revolution of Russia and the Spanish Civil War actively demonstrated to many that old, stifling forms of dictatorial or monarchical leadership could be replaced with dynamic governments, by the people, for the people.
In Australia, the First World War had shown many that this country had the skills and wherewithal to hold its own on the page of World Government. The actions of the ANZACs in Gallipoli and on the Western Front in France had proved that we were a force with which to be reckoned. However, the victories gained and glories won on the fields of battle had swiftly turned to ash: soon after the Armistice, Britain had slapped its colony with a War Reparations bill – complete with a crippling interest rate - to cover the cost of feeding and outfitting Australian and New Zealand soldiers whilst fighting on their behalf and for ‘allowing’ them to participate. Vast sums were required and the amount was split across the six states and two territories, in proportion according to the average amount of income each region could generate: New South Wales, of course, got hit the hardest.

The timing couldn’t have been worse: times were hard; the world economy was fluctuating wildly; the gulf between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ was growing wider almost daily and the world was slowly coming to terms with returned soldiers stricken with shell-shock and missing limbs, as well as a new female workforce that had just started to find its feet before being relegated back to the kitchen. The ‘war to end all wars’ had not, in fact, quelled the lowering storms massing over Europe, nor could it halt the inevitable crash which saw a rain of bankers on Wall Street. Jack Lang, Labor premier of Australia’s oldest and richest colony, saw that his time had come.


Jack Lang began his political career as a local representative in the west of Sydney. He worked with members of the lower classes: the blue-collar workers, the union men, the war widows and the homeless. He worked alongside Communist sympathisers who felt that Communism was the way forward for Australia and, while he listened to what they had to say, he never threw himself behind their cause. Uniquely, Lang had an unswerving insight into the realities of those poor and dispossessed Australians who struggled to survive in the between-Wars period.

Lang’s political career saw him attain the Premiership of New South Wales at just the right time. In those days, political debate and rhetoric was not broadcast to the masses as it happened via some intricate media network; rather, the candidates took to the hustings, crying out their policies and ideals from soapboxes at rallies in parks and community halls. Lang was a powerful and persuasive speaker: his delivery commanded respect; his every gesture conveyed sincerity; his every word, fellowship in the face of trying opposition. The local Liberals were afraid of him and they melted away in the face of his attack like snow.

Once in power, Lang bitterly attacked the British War Reparation Bill: he argued that such monies as were being commanded were better spent re-building much needed infrastructure to support local industry growth. Later, in a better economic climate, the repayments could begin or, better still, be waived entirely in favour of favourable trade treaties with a stronger, more productive Australia in a better time. This was shocking, mutinous talk, as far as the Liberal Government and the other State Premiers were concerned: Mother England had commanded and the political majority saw no other option but to heed the call.

Lang prevaricated: he organised secret talks in Melbourne with the other State leaders and sifted their feelings about the matter. Most of them (off the record) felt that Lang was right, but knew that their own legislatures were too powerless to resist the commands of the Australian Government. It was a fact that the Federal Government had political weapons which it could bring to bear against a recalcitrant State and only New South Wales had the economic clout to weather these. In disgust, Lang abandoned his fellow leaders and went back to Sydney to build a bridge.

Sydney Harbour had long been a barrier between the two halves of the city. The southern side of the Harbour, where the Settlement had originally sprung up, was noisy, dirty and full of crime; nevertheless, it was where the money was being made. The northern side became a place for elegant houses, where the nouveau riche built mansions in the new Federation Style and prided themselves on their expansive gardens and tennis courts. Still, the Harbour lay between both halves and only a ferry ride, or a long-distance car trip (for those fortunate enough to own one) could overcome the division. It was a micro-sized ‘Tyranny of Distance’ along the lines of the one that had separated the original Settlement from Mother England.

There had been a lot of talk about the possibility of a Harbour-spanning bridge. With unemployment rising dramatically, Lang decided that the time to build one had come. He launched a competition; the winning design was announced; plans were drawn up and work began. By the time it was finished in 1932, it had helped thousands of Sydneysiders weather the storm of economic disaster and had become a universal symbol of connexion between the two sides of Sydney’s coin. It had galvanised a population and a nation along with it, one people focussed upon a single goal.

Sadly, it was the end for Jack Lang. His achievement, perceived by other sides of the political spectrum as self-serving hubris, was the spur to motivate the Governor to dismiss him from office, in the Crown’s best interests. Jack, ‘The Big Fella’, faded into political obscurity and was heard of no more.