In the 1950s, before legal off course betting, there were thousands of SP bookies in back alleys and pubs. Then there were the Big Eight – the illegal bookmakers who established the market and controlled much of the industry.
One of the most enthusiastic punters was Deputy Prime Minister and Chief Secretary Sir Arthur Rylah, who had the perfect betting system: if he won, he would be paid; if he lost, he would not be charged.
Perhaps that is why the government was not so keen on changing the system. Certainly, his bookmaker (one of the Big Eights) was always welcome to park his car in the precincts of Parliament with a wave to the guard. No one knows if it was bravado or if he had the unofficial keys to the city.
When the bookmaker passed away, among his possessions was a note to his partner: “I think we may have lost a client. Sir Arthur is getting married today.
It is on Parliament letterhead.
This would be Sir Arthur’s second marriage on October 9, 1969, to his longtime mistress.
His first wife, Lady Ann Rylah, author and guide commissioner, had died seven months earlier. She was found unconscious in the back garden of her sprawling Kew home with a head injury. She and Sir Arthur had separated months earlier.
Lady Ann was a vet who usually put on her work boots at the back door. This time, she apparently walked several yards past the shoes and was in socks and a vet’s uniform when she collapsed.
The homicide quickly found that there were no suspicious circumstances. An autopsy performed by pathologist James “Mack the Knife” McNamara revealed that the death was due to brain hemorrhage.
Many believe that the bleeding is due to a violent blow from a garden spade. No one seemed to be wondering why she was shoeless as she apparently made her way to the kennels in the back.
The cremation took place four days later. The designated homicide officer was Detective Inspector Jack Ford – also a prodigious gambler.
I once interviewed a homicide squad detective of that time about the case. He paused, then said Ford’s best friend did it: “There wasn’t a lot of paperwork.”
At the time, there was growing evidence that some members of the homicide squad were receiving bribes from abortionists. Sir Arthur has opposed an investigation for years.
In 1970, he reluctantly announced a judicial inquiry under William Kaye, QC, with a very narrow mandate. The following January Sir Arthur announced his resignation before the findings of the inquiry were tabled.
The Kaye investigation uncovered a corrupt payment system for some of the team members. Ford, his boss, Superintendent Jack Matthews, and former Detective Martin Jacobson have been jailed.
There was another side of Sir Arthur. In 1963 my father Fred, a policeman, was in Hong Kong extraditing a corrupt lawyer when he met Sir Arthur and Lady Ann on the steps of Government House just before Christmas.
“What are you doing here?” asked Sir Arthur. When Fred explained, Sir Arthur told him, “Come home for Christmas to see your family.”
Fred stepped back, predicting that the government would not pay for a second trip to pick up the suspect.
Sir Arthur promised he would. And, unlike bookmakers’ promissory notes, this time he kept his word. My dad came home and was shown a battery operated Qantas Boeing 707 with flashing lights and working stairs.
Get caught with your pants down
Before Tom (No) Blamey became Australia’s sole Field Marshal, he was Victoria’s Chief Police Commissioner from 1925 to 1936, with a habit of misplacing both the truth and his pants.
On October 21, 1925, three police officers raided Mabel Tracey’s brothel in Bell Street, Fitzroy, and were greeted by a naked man who was showing (among other things) police ID, calmly saying: ” It’s fine boys. I am a policeman in civilian clothes. Here is my badge.
The badge was numbered 80 – Tom Blamey’s. He claimed it was stolen from his key ring, then dropped off three days later in his Naval and Military Club mailbox. Although his deputy said he saw him on the chief’s desk hours before the raid, No-Blamey survived.
Ten years later, when the head of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, Superintendent John Brophy, was shot dead in his car along with two female friends, Blamey enthusiastically joined the cover-up.
The first version was that he “was accidentally hit in the right arm while handling his gun”. Yet he was also shot in the cheek and chest (he survived because a blow deflected the loop of his braces).
When the accidental injury story failed to fly, Blamey said Brophy was shot while surrendering to an informant in connection with armed robbery investigations. Yet there was no manhunt.
The correct mail was that Brophy was shot by a jealous husband while Blamey was in the backseat, pantless.
The cop with the secret past
In the 1950s, a teenage schoolboy was driving home through a bay parking lot frequented by older men for sinister purposes. Sure enough, the boy was invited into a parked dark Buick sedan, where he was assaulted.
The boy was assaulted several times in the man’s small apartment in St Kilda.
Almost 40 years later, the boy was a man who had secured a position of power and status, so much so that he was invited to an official police dinner with other influential people. On the walls of the reception hall, photos of some of Victoria’s most respected cops were dropped. One was the man in the Buick.
The “green light” murder
When the man with the beard stood up and shot dead notorious armed robber Ray “Chuck” Bennett on November 12, 1979, in front of the police and inside the old Melbourne Magistrates’ Court, he knew exactly what he was doing and where he was going. According to an insider, this was because the killer had been smuggled into the court complex the day before – hidden in the trunk of a cleaning car by two detectives for a dress rehearsal.
The courthouse was a maze of hallways and doors inaccessible to the public – yet the killer ran straight to a hidden indoor parking lot off the street to a corrugated fence where the tin had been peeled off for his escape.
The number one suspect was gangster Brian Kane, who wanted revenge on Bennett after he and two other men were acquitted of the murder of Brian’s brother, Les.
As a detective at the time told me, “We decided to stay with the Kanes, not because of the Kanes themselves, but because they were more predictable, they had rules, they caught and killed theirs and took care of theirs.
“Around two in the afternoon, an informant told Angus [Detective Senior Sergeant Angus Ritchie, chief of the consorting squad] ‘it was an internal job of your office’.
Brian Kane was shot dead at Brunswick’s Quarry Hotel in 1982. His murder has still not been clarified.