‘Basil’, the missing member of the Hatton Garden team, may be being tracked at this very moment not only by the police but also other members of the Underworld chasing his loot. That reminds me of some of the fall-out from other high-profile robberies.
Over the years, the Brinks Mat gold job has left a trail of bodies — some say up to a dozen. In New York, the 1978 $5.8m Lufthansa snatch at JFK airport produced a not dissimilar number. In Australia, Ray ‘Chuckie’ Bennett planned the 1976 robbery of the Victorian Bookmakers Club (up to A$14m), while serving a sentence on the Isle of Wight. But he, the Kane brothers (who thought they had been deprived of the spoils) and at least three others never lived long enough to profit.
In all those robberies, at least everyone knew which side the police were on. Not so in the case of the 1970 Mayne Nickless security van job in Sydney. The robbery was planned by the master putter-up Leslie Woon, who discovered the guards always had their lunch in a car park before making a bank delivery. Shortly before noon on 4 March, when one of the security guards opened the van door to put out the rubbish, in came the robbers and out went A$587, 890.
Woon took his cut (and a bit more) and disappeared to Europe – never to be seen again. He was sensible. Working in Sydney at the time were the Toecutter Gang, named because of their predilection for snipping off joints. One of the robbers gave up $20,000 and the name of another member of the original team who foolishly wanted to hold on to his share. ‘Baldy’ Blair had his toes cut to persuade him to give up $90,000. He died from his injuries and his body was thrown into Sydney harbour in the mistaken belief that it would be eaten by sharks.
It was not. Instead, washed up in Botany Bay, the corpse led to all sorts of further trouble among the Toecutters.
But who led these people? Almost certainly prominent NSW detective Fred Krahe, a notably corrupt man who was into running brothels, abortion rackets and taking his share of thefts and robberies. Well, it takes a thief…
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor